We traveled a month through India last year in October. We spend the initial part of our vacation in the Northern States of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh before we took a flight to Cochin. The contrast between the Southern State of Kerala and Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh is huge. While the North part was mostly dry, Kerala is super green with lots of palm trees. We absolutely loved all the monuments we saw in the North but at the same time, we were also happy to have arrived in Kerala where everything is a bit more laid down. We loved the seemingly endless lush green nature of Kerala, a paradise for nature lovers and for those who want to relax for a few days. In this blog post, we share our complete Kerala itinerary.
If you have the time you might want to combine the North and South of India in one trip. We have a varied 14-day India itinerary that does exactly that.
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Best time to visit Kerala
The best period to visit Kerala is from September to March although it can rain occasionally until December.
We had some daily scattered showers in October. They usually occurred somewhere during the afternoon but not to that degree that it affected our travel plans.
Kerala has an overall enjoyable climate whole year round. Most visitors prefer the above period because it’s warm but not too hot and there’s only a small chance to have vacation days ruined by rain. There are some popular activities in Kerala in this period. One is the Kumarakom Boat race in September and October and there is also Cochin Carnival which is widely celebrated in January.
This is the most popular tourist season and that is reflected in the hotel prices. You will have to pay more for your accommodation, certainly around the year-end period.
As of April, the temperatures start rising towards 30 degrees and more. Most tourists avoid Kerala during these months.
It’s a great time to explore the region if the heat doesn’t bother you, the hotel rates are lower and there will be fewer crowds. In general, there will be plenty of sun during the daytime. Chances of heavy showers and thunderstorms towards evening increase as April ends and May kicks in.
June, July, and August is monsoon season in Kerala. The temperatures are hot an humid and almost daily there will be some heavy showers. Floods are not uncommon during this time of the year so it may be difficult to get around.
If your travel plans are limited to this time of the year and you are looking for a nature destination, we would recommend you to consider a trip to Borneo.
Kerala travel tips
Cheap Flights to Kerala
If you want to score cheap flights to Kerala we advise you to have a look at Momondo and Skyscanner. Both are flight aggregators that compare several hundreds of booking sites and give you an overview of the best flights and the cheapest sites to book them.
Momondo and Skyscanner are both very good at finding good deals, of the two, Momondo is probably the one with the most intuitive user interface.
Those who are always on the lookout for the best deals should join the Dollar Flight Club. Joining is free and once you’ve joined you will get alerts in your mailbox whenever cheap flights out of your home airport have been found.
I recently joined the club and already saw some incredible deals. Joining is free and it can literally save you thousands of dollars.
With the exception of residents of Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives everybody needs a visa to enter India.
Recently the country has introduced e-visas. You can find out if you’re eligible to apply for an e-visa on the governments e-visa website. The website also lists the fees. These vary by country. (see point 4 of the instructions)
Note that the Indian government charges the fee regardless of whether your application has been approved or not. The fee is seen as a processing fee and therefore non-refundable. It’s always charged, even if your application would be rejected due to an unclear picture or unreadable scan of your passport.
This made us a little uncomfortable and we decided to apply for our e-visa through a visa agency so that our information would be subject to an additional review by the agency before it was finally submitted.
When you want to apply for the e-visa yourself make sure to do this directly on the official government website. Ignore sites that falsely claim to be official like the one below, they add significant service charges to your application, more than the VisaHQ visa agency. The official e-visa site run by the government is https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/.
Take a car and driver
We always prefer to explore a country on our own. Primarily for the freedom that it gives us but also because it feels more authentic if you mingle with the locals on public transportation and in the streets.
We did some research but it wasn’t really easy to find something that worked for us. There’re buses that go to the hill stations but you would need an additional taxi or tuk-tuk to get to your hotel as many of them are spread out across the region and not really within the limits of those stations. Then you will also have to make arrangements with a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you to the various sights, or you could book an organized tour.
In the end, we opted for a private chauffeured tour as it looked much easier. We arranged everything with Pepper Kerala as we found many good reviews of the company online.
To book a private chauffeured tour you need to provide the company with your planned itinerary. This is because the price not only depends on the number of days but also on the number of kilometers that you will travel. If you’re not sure about your itinerary you can finetune it together with the company.
Most companies will be able to book your accommodations as well but you’re free to arrange your hotels yourself if you prefer.
Your driver will be waiting for you at the airport in the arrivals hall. From this point on you have all the freedom about how you fill in your days. We were well prepared and had a list of things that we wanted to see and do. Our driver always had some extra suggestions ready. Each evening we made the final arrangements with him for the next day.
It worked out really well and turned out to be a comfortable way to visit Kerala.
We booked our personal driver with Pepper Kerala and we were very happy with this decision. Our driver was always on time, he drove us safely around and gave us a lot of information about India and the local customs.
Tipping in India
There’s something strange about tipping in India and it took some time before we got a hold about when and how much we should tip. Tipping, in India known as Baksheesh, is not common and didn’t exist before tourism became popular in India. You will hardly ever see a local give a tip.
Westerners introduced the custom of tipping, maybe because poverty can be confronting, but our driver was quick to remind us that we didn’t need to be overly generous. The Baksheesh has already found its way in the culture and staff in restaurants that see a lot of tourists now seems to expect tips from foreigners. We sometimes noticed how we got treated differently than an Indian couple sitting at the table next to us. Mostly regarding the bill because the service was equally good regardless of skin color, language or origin.
We usually tipped about 10% in restaurants. Make sure to check the bill for a service charge before you tip. Some restaurants will add this automatically, others don’t. We did try to hand the tip subtly to our waiter because we often noticed how restaurant managers were quick to collect the tips that were left on the table and they just disappeared in their own pockets.
The tipping policy was not any more clear in hotels. We noticed how luxury hotels seemed to have a no-tipping policy. We had some small rupees handy (the guideline is 50 rupees per bag) each time we arrived in a hotel but the porters in most luxury hotels were very fast to leave to the room. We often didn’t have the chance to hand over the tip. On the occasions were we did they were overly grateful. Less luxurious hotels often showed a completely different picture. Hotel porters in these hotels would put on a whole show and acted like our bags weighed at least 50kg each. They clearly expected a tip and did not make a start to leave the room until we handed them the Baksheesh. We tipped the first group with pleasure, but the 2nd group gave us a bad feeling.
If you have a car with a driver it is also expected that you tip your driver for good service. Our driver was always on time and even acted as a guide whenever he could. He would tell us more about the places that we visited and would always offer suggestions about the places where we could go to. If you’re happy with the services of your driver the suggested tip is 200 INR per day per person. If you’re sharing a driver with a larger group you can lower these amounts, a tip of 800INR/day is very generous.
We encountered various small scams but luckily nothing that was too bad. Most of them occurred in Rajasthan but you will be confronted with them in all public and touristic places all over India, even in temples.
Do not accept any free things that are offered to you. Once you have accepted the so-called gift they will ask money in return.
Overall we had the impression that things weren’t as bad in Kerala as in Rajasthan but we prefer to share our tips anyway.
A small piece of advice is to not be annoyed too much by these scams. If you allow them to influence your mood it will just ruin your experience. Let it go and move on. It’s not worth to ruin your trip over it.
Know how much you need to pay
We experienced how Indians shamelessly dared to ask a twentyfold of the official price for snacks or drinks. A coke in an ordinary Indian supermarket was suddenly more expensive than what we would pay in a fancy bistro along the Champs-Elysée. Although you clearly know that this cannot be correct it’s hard to negotiate a fair price if you do not know this price. After we overpaid once our driver showed us where could find the official price.
All drinks and snacks should have the price printed on them (see pictures below). If the bottle or package is not showing the price or the price has been barred just move on and find a trustworthy seller.
We visited most sites with our driver and when we did he told us the entry fees we needed to pay. Most of the time these were also clearly indicated at the ticket offices. Prices for foreigners are more expensive than those for locals. Luckily the difference is not that big here than it was in the North were foreigners often paid the fifteenfold or twentyfold of locals.
Most entrance fees can be paid with credit card or cash. Monuments which are run by the government often have some discount for credit card payments. When paying cash make sure to check your change, short-changing is not uncommon in India.
The chances are smaller that they will try to pull short-changing tricks on you if you clearly show the notes that you hand over or even mention how much cash you give them.
Something else we experienced, although in New Delhi, is that people pretended to be ticket vendors although the entrance is free. This happened at the Jama Masjid mosque. Scammers stopped us at the entrance and rather aggressively asked us to pay 300 INR per person and an additional 300 INR for each camera. Because we knew the entrance was free we ended up only paying the camera fee and saved 600 INR.
Read also: 2 days in Jaipur, a detailed itinerary.
If you plan on visiting any monuments look up the price online before you go.
Adapter for electrical appliances
India uses a mix of electrical plugs type C (also known as Europlug), D and M. The type C plug is similar to what is used in most European countries. The type M plug has three round pins in a triangular pattern and looks similar to the Type D plug, the only difference being that its pins are much larger. Type M pins are used for bigger appliances.
Since we are from Belgium, we did not need an adapter.
If you have problems to use type C plugs in Type D sockets you should try to insert an object with a fine tip into the top hole while inserting the plug.
Maybe it was the temperature that was slightly more pleasant or maybe the kitchen hygiene is just better, whatever the reason was, once we arrived in Kerala we were released of the famous Delhi belly.
We still obeyed the following rules:
Avoid drinking any tap water or brushing your teeth with it. Try to steer clear from any food that may have been washed in it like salads and order any soda’s without ice.
Indians have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world. India has 500 million vegetarians, that are more vegetarians than the rest of the world put together. The country offers perhaps the world’s most fabulous choice of vegetarian food so it may be a good choice to go veggie for the duration of your stay in India. Undercooked or rotten meat can do a lot more harm than a badly prepared vegetarian dish.
Expenses abroad can be seriously inflated by fees from your bank or credit card. That’s why I’m a huge fan of my N26 account. The account is available to most EU residents. The checking account is free as well as the associated Mastercard and there’s no exchange rate provision when you use to card for payments abroad. There’s a 1,7% exchange rate provision when you withdraw money abroad but even that is free with the premium Black Mastercard.
The app is another great feature of the card, you can follow your expenses in real-time and instantly block your card if you see any signs of fraud.
When paying cash double-check the amount you hand over to the cashier and double-check the notes you get back. Shortchanging is, unfortunately, a common practice in India.
Also, check the quality of the notes you get back. It doesn’t matter so much for small notes (anything up to 100INR) but don’t accept any notes over 100 that are damaged or have been written on. We had one 500 rupee note with some yellow marks on it and it took us a while before somebody wanted to accept it.
We stayed in both 3, 4 and 5-star hotels. The level of service in all of them was excellent but we noticed how the cleanliness was significantly lower in 3-star hotels. We found dust on the shelves, old worn towels, raffled carpet in the corridors, sticky tables in the restaurant and pigeon poop all around the pool. What we didn’t find was toilet paper in the public toilets. 😊 Not what we would expect from a 3-star hotel but you have to keep in mind that the standards for cleanliness are different in India.
Indian cities are often very hectic and noisy and we were often happy that we could relax in a comfortable hotel after a busy day.
We would recommend taking slightly better hotels then you usually take so that you can unwind and relax after a hectic day.
Last but not least… I’m not sure how good or bad Indian hospitals are. I do want to believe that they have a higher standard of cleanliness than the average Indian restaurant but still, I rather don’t experience it myself. We never had anything serious happen on any of our journeys around the world but we never take any risks, better safe than sorry… That’s why we always travel with good travel insurance.
Kerala itinerary 7 days
In this 7 days Kerala itinerary you will discover most of the Kerala highlights.
Day 1-2: Kochi (Cochin)
If the use of Cochin and Kochi gets you confused you’re not alone. Both names refer to the same city. Kochi is the official name but many people still use the unofficial Cochin which was used by the British occupiers.
Kochi is the major airport in Kerala. The airport is served by many domestic and international flights.
Depending on how late you arrive in Kochi we would recommend staying one or two nights.
Our driver was waiting for us at the arrivals hall. In hindsight, we can now tell you that we are glad we had arranged one. Although the distances that you will cover to visit these Kerala sights are nothing compared to the kilometers we traveled in the Northern part of India it is still a much more comfortable way of traveling.
Read also: 45 Amazing facts about India you should read before you go
I’m not sure if you have ever been to Rajasthan. If you have we can tell you that Kerala will be a whole different experience. It could just as well be another country. It’s a very tropical city with lots of water and palm trees and if somebody would have told us that we were no longer in Indian but in Thailand instead we could have believed him.
Here we share the best things to do in Kochi.
Things to do in Fort Kochi
Kochi is the economic capital of the state of Kerala. It is a big city but the highlights are all located in the same part of the city called Fort Kochi and can be covered in a half day. We visited the Chinese Fishing Nets, the Pardesi Synagogue, and the St. Francis Church. Along the way we walked through Princess street, the place to hunt for souvenirs, snoop around bookstores or relax with a drink and some food.
Next, we went to the Mattancherry Palace, also called the Dutch Palace. It’s a beautiful small palace with some awesome mural paintings. It can in no way be compared to any of the palaces we visited in Rajasthan. The museum does a good job in showcasing the many differences in the life of the Maharaja between the north and the south of the country.
Kochi is also a good place to attend a Kathakali dance show. This is a story play that originated in Kerala and is still unique to this region. The show kept us amused for the full hour. Although we lost the storyline somewhere halfway, the costumes, make-up, and acts alone justify attending the show. The make-up is done in such a way that you might think that the actors wear a mask.
You can see a similar Kathakali show in Munnar if your agenda wouldn’t allow you to attend the show in Kochi.
Where to stay in Cochin
Le Méridien Cochin
We stayed in the Meridien Cochin and had a wonderful time. We had a very big comfortable room and enjoyed the delicious breakfast. The staff was very accommodating and even invited us to the miss Kerala election that was held in the hotel. We would definitely stay here again if we would return to Cochin.
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Cochin on Booking.com: BOOKING
Day 3-4: Munnar
From Kochi, we continued our journey towards the hill station of Munnar.
Driving time: 112 km- approximately 4 hours.
Things to do in Munnar
Munnar is a great location to spend 2 days. Best of all is that temperature is really enjoyable as it is higher up in the mountains. It might even feel a little chilly when you’re acclimatized to the temperatures in the other parts of India.
So bring a warm jacket or sweater.
The main tourist attraction of Munnar are the many tea plantations. You can’t miss them, all roads in the area zigzag through the plantations. The sight is so spectacular that I think we may have asked our driver a hundred times to stop for a picture.
Several tea plantations are open to visitors. Some of them have a small museum where you can see how tea is made in the factories. There’s also the tea museum that tells more about the history of tea in this region.
For an even more authentic experience, you can book an organized tour that takes you on the unpaved routes deep into the fields. You will meet some of the tea pickers and see how they still mostly manually pick the leaves. Did you know that they collect around 100kg of leaves every single day?
We loved the tea plantations so much that we would almost forget the other sights of Munnar. Once we sort of had enough of the impressive vistas on the tea plantations we headed to the Mattupety Dam, Echo point and Top Station. Except for Top Station, the sights in itself are not that special but the roads that take you there are all the more. Along the way, you pass several photogenic waterfalls as well as many more incredible vistas.
Munnar is also surrounded by some beautiful national parks. Eravikulam National Park is located half an hour outside Munnar and is the habitat of the almost extinct Nilgiri Tahr. Almost 2 hours North of Munnar is Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary where you can spot elephant and deer (and even leopard if you are really really lucky).
Hiking is another excellent way to witness the beauty of the region. Several gorgeous hikes and trekkings can be done ranging from easy to rather difficult but most are unmarked and require a guide.
In the evening you can attend the Kathakali as well as Kalarippayattu shows. The latter is a very energetic martial arts show.
Where to stay in Munnar
Fragrant Nature Munnar
The Fragrant Nature Munnar hotel is gorgeous and beautifully situated on the top of the valley amidst the jungle. It is surrounded by tea and spice plantations. The hotel has comfortable and well-equipped rooms and is run by helpful and accommodating staff. The view from the room is outstanding.
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Cochin on Booking.com: BOOKING
Day 5-7: Alleppey-Kumarakom-Cochin
Kumarakom and Alleppey are both nice places to end your vacation in Kerala. They are located on opposite sides of the Vembanad lake. We ended our vacation with some quality time in a resort in Kumarakom but you can also spend some relaxing days in Alleppey.
We have included a short comparison between the two to help you pick the best destination for your vacation.
Driving time: 175 km- approximately 4-5h
Should you go to Alleppey or Kumarakom?
This depends on what you want to do. If you want to cruise the backwaters and stay a night on a houseboat you might want to choose for Alleppey. The boats leave from both locations but Alleppey has by far the biggest choice for a backwater cruise.
You won’t find a lot of resorts in Alleppey, these are all located along the lakeside in Kumarakom.
Kumarakom is the most flexible of the two as it allows you to combine a stay in a resort with an overnight cruise in a houseboat. Some of the resorts have their own houseboats and offer this as a package.
You should know that although a Kerala backwater cruise lasts almost a full day the boat will only sail for about 6 hours. Local regulations reserve the lake for the fishermen at night, all houseboats need to dock by 5:30 PM. The majority of the 6 hours are also spent on the lake, most Kerala houseboats are too large to navigate the narrow channels of the backwaters where you can really experience daily life.
The small boats called Shikara offer an alternative way to see the backwaters. You can charter these per hour as a couple or family.
An advantage of these small boats is that they can navigate the narrow channels and because it’s a private tour you can ask the driver to stop if you want to take pictures. We saw a lot of colorful birds so there’re plenty of picture opportunities.
We arranged a 2-hour Shikara boat ride. It seemed like 2 hours was enough although the scenery is really stunning. This cruise was one of the highlights of our trip to Kerala as the backwaters are so peaceful and beautiful. I think the backwaters might be the reason why they call this state “God’s own country”.
If we would go back we would definitely opt for a Shikara again.
The Shikara boats leave from the Kavanattinkara boat jetty in Kumarakom. This is close to the entrance of the bird sanctuary and your boat ride will actually take you along part of the edge of the sanctuary. The sanctuary is a nice place to enjoy nature but the dense forest will make it difficult to spot birds.
You can combine your boat ride with a visit to the sanctuary, just know that you will probably see more birds during the boat ride than during your forest trek in the sanctuary.
This region in Kerala is also famous for its Ayurveda massages. Ayurveda is a buzzword that’s popping up all over the world. What you may not know is that it originated in India several thousand years ago. It’s a way of life that revolves around creating peace and harmony in the body by aligning different energy channels, called chakras. The Ayurveda oils that are used have medicinal and detoxing properties. You should try an Ayurveda massage if you currently suffer from insomnia or high levels of stress. We had our massage at an Ayurveda Massage Center but you will see that most hotels offer these massages as well.
If you like to combine a backwater tour with a massage, this is the perfect tour for you.
Where to stay in Alleppey
Angel Queen Houseboat
A lovely boat with a top deck for great viewing. The boat has comfortable bedrooms with ensuites. The meals that are served are delicious and the scenery divine.
A good option for a relaxing and comfortable trip.
Where to stay in Kumarakom?
Park Regis Aveda Kumarakom
Classy resort with beautiful rooms that look out over the pool. Excellent food and service at the restaurant. Very courteous and friendly staff. The hotel offers a complimentary sunset cruise.
A beautiful peaceful place on the lake.
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other resorts in Kumarakom on Booking.com: BOOKING
We had an amazing week in Kerala. The backwaters are incredibly beautiful and although this is the third time that we visit tea plantations they keep on inspiring us to snap hundreds of pictures.
Kerala has everything you need for a lovely vacation. There’re fantastic hotels in all price classes. One thing I noticed about hotels in India is that the service is always excellent. Cleanliness is somewhat troublesome in 3-star hotels (we did not stay below 3-stars) but the service remains spotless.
Nature lovers as we are we were definitely charmed by the beautiful nature of the state. If we would come back we would certainly do some trekkings and maybe even try one of the bounty beaches to relax afterward.
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