23rd May 2018
As you may have realised by now if you’ve seen any of my Instagram photos or previous India posts, I had a pretty awesome time on the #tripofalifetime with Kerala Blog Express. We spent fifteen days travelling around Kerala, doing all sorts of different activities. With such a packed schedule it’s hard to decide which places were my favourite and compiling a list of all the things I enjoyed the most and the most beautiful places in Kerala was a tough job. If you’re planning your own trip to Kerala, this bucket list is a pretty good place to start if you want to know about all the best things to do and places to visit in Kerala, India!
The bloggers of Kerala Blog Express Season 5 and the KBE bus. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
Best places to visit in Kerala for adventure activities
If you’ve read my blog before, you know I love all sorts of outdoors and adventure activities, so I couldn’t help but start this Kerala bucket list with all the best adventure activities you can do in the region.
Kayaking in Dharmadan, Kannur
Kannur is a region in the north of Kerala, where it is possible to go sea kayaking. I had been kayaking before, in Dubrovnik and Thailand, however the backwaters and mangrove surroundings made it a completely different experience. Despite it being salt water the sea is actually pretty calm as you are not in open sea, but surrounded by a system of mangroves which make it an easy place to kayak also for beginners. In certain canals close to the mangroves the water is also very shallow, so no need to worry about falling over!
Me and Karla from @karlaroundtheoworld kayaking in Kannur. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
Go hiking in Wayanad
As you may have seen before on my blog, I love a good hike. Be it up a volcano at night in Indonesia, along the coast of Italy or up a mountain in Canada, I’m always up for a good hike with scenic views. In Wayanad we had the opportunity to go on a short hike in the hills around the village of Wayanad. At the time we were visiting trekking was actually forbidden in Kerala, due to a recent fire started by hikers that caused a number of deaths. However we were still able to go on a short 30-minute hike, and the views over the valleys and tea plantations were well worth it. Hopefully by the time you visit Kerala the trekking ban will have been lifted and you’ll be able to go on a proper hike in the beautiful landscapes of Wayanad.
Epic views after our hike in Wayanad, India
Bamboo rafting in Wayanad
You’ve heard of rafting, but have you heard of bamboo rafting? I hadn’t until I went to Wayanad. As you may have guessed by now, Wayanad is a good region of Kerala for adventurous activities. On the Vythiri river it is possible to go on bamboo rafting tours, which generally last 60 minutes but you can ask for a longer one if you want to spend longer cruising the river in this unconventional way. The bamboo rafts are, as the name implies, rafts made out of bamboo branches.The driver will normally be positioned at the front and use a long pole to direction the raft. There is a dry and cushioned seat at the back for you to sit, so that at worst you only get your feet wet.
Bamboo rafting in Wayanad, India
Repelling in Wayanad
For the real adventure junkies reading, this will probably be the most adventurous activity on this list. While in Wayanad we had the opportunity to try repelling. I had been rock climbing before (only indoors so mostly bouldering) and this was completely different. Instead of climbing up a rock, you are launching yourself off it to reach the ground. Launching might be a bit of an exaggeration. You’re all tied up and secured, and you slowly make your way down from a high rock with little jumps. The rock isn’t too big so it’s not too scary if it’s your first time, but it’s also a good adrenaline rush for the adventure fans out there.
My friend Teresa of @broganabroad repelling in Wayanad, India
Quad biking on the beach in Kannur
After your adventure kayaking, why not try some quad biking? Always in Kannur, it is possible to go quad biking on the beach. This is actually a driveable beach in India, so you will be able to drive with your car on the beach all the way up to the quad rental place. No need to worry if you’re not an excellent driver, there isn’t enough traffic to interfere with your quad biking!
Me and Karla from @karlaroundtheworld quad biking in Kannur. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
Best places to visit in Kerala for epic outdoors activities
The following activities are some of my favourite things to do outdoors in Kerala that didn’t quite fall into the adventure bucket, but are also all about being outdoors and exploring.
Visit the tea plantations in Munnar
Exploring the tea plantations of Munnar was one of my absolute favourite things to do in Kerala. We spent a whole morning driving around the tea plantations in 4WD jeeps along dirt track roads, stopping at all the most scenic points and walking amongst the tea trees (fun fact; they may look like bushes but they could actually grow to 4-5 metres like proper trees)! We also saw some of the local tea pickers and learnt about the process by which fresh tea leaves become the tea we drink.
Dancing around the tea plantations of Munnar, India
One of the local women that work as tea pickers in the tea plantations of Munnar, India
Cruise the backwaters in Allappuzha
Another extremely popular outdoors activity in Kerala, and also one of my favourites, is cruising the backwaters. Kerala has a system of internal waters that is 900km long, as you can imagine, it makes for a pretty epic cruise backdrop! We did an overnight cruise on a luxury houseboat and spent almost 24 hours on the backwaters, surrounded by palm trees, other boats and the occasional village. We boarded around lunch time, and after a lovely curry we got to sit at the prow with the captain, enjoying the view and listening to his stories of the area.
A traditional kettuvallom boat surrounded by the palm trees of the Kerala backwaters
Sunset over the backwaters of Kerala, India
Explore the beaches
As a region Kerala has its entire Western side on the sea, with 600km of shoreline on the Arabian Sea, there are quite a few beautiful beaches out there! During Kerala Blog Express we visited a number of different beaches in different areas of Kerala. My favourite beaches were the ones in the north of Kerala, since they were completely off the beaten track and had a beautiful tropical paradise vibe to them. However if you’re looking for less deserted beaches one of the best places to visit in Kerala for this is Kovalam, in the south.
Enjoying one of the untouched beaches in Kerala, India
Best places to discover local culture in Kerala
One of the highlights of the trip for me was discovering the local culture in Kerala. We saw incredible things and did lots of fun activities, however meeting local people and learning about their culture from them is what made Kerala Blog Express a unique experience for me. The following are examples of activities and things you can do to get closer to the locals while in Kerala.
Stay in a homestay
Unfortunately during my time in Kerala I wasn’t able to stay in a homestay. However we visited a number of homestays throughout the trip, where we were welcomed with incredible hospitality. In Munnar we were able to spend longer at Kollenkeril Homestay and talk to the families that run homestays in that region. They let us try examples of the food they would cook their guests and showed us how they prepared it. In some homestays it is also possible to do activities such as cooking classes, weaving classes and more. Staying in a homestay is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the Indian culture, since by living in their home you will be part of the family and treated as such.
One of the amazing families that welcomed us at Kollenkeril Homestay and treated us to homemade sweet and savoury treats
Sargaalaya arts and crafts village
If you’re looking for authentic and hand made beauties to take home as souvenirs, this is the perfect place. At the Sargaalaya arts and crafts village you’ll be able to see the local artisans at work, transforming raw materials into beautiful vases, bags, sculptures, paintings, jewellery and much more. By purchasing products here you can directly contribute to the local economy, all while learning about how these products are made.
One of the local artisans of Sargaalaya village at work
One of the local artisans of Sargaalaya village at work
Live a “day in the life of the locals” in Kumarakom
If you want to truly learn about traditional life in Kerala from the locals, Kumarakom is the place to do so. We spent a whole afternoon in Kumarakom visiting different parts of the area and experience village life in Kerala. Here we had the opportunity to see and learn how the locals in villages live, the kind of daily activities they go about and how they work. We learnt how to climb coconut trees (see my poor attempt below), how to weave coil ropes and how to intertwined carpets. The best part for me was spending some time with the local villagers, playing with the children and listening to the elderly’s stories of their lives.
Me attempting to climb a coconut tree in Kumarakom, India
My friend Maria (@travelling.buzz on Instagram) learning how to weave a carpet
Eat a traditional meal on a banana leaf
Living in London I’ve had my fair share of Indian food and curries, but needless to say these tasted nothing like the food we had in Kerala. On a number of occasions we were served meals on the traditional banana leaf and without cutlery, to be eaten with our hands (don’t worry, you can ask for a fork if you’re not comfortable with that). These are usually a selection of lots of different types of curry, rice and chutneys. Being Italian I’m not very good at handling spices and hot food so I was afraid I’d struggle a bit in India. If you think you’ll have the same issue just ask! Everywhere we went people were happy to give me a heads up if food was spicy (although bear in mind a local’s “medium spicy” is different from ours)!
Me enjoying a traditional banana leaf meal in Kerala, India. Photo by Backpackers Wanderlust
Best things to do in the cities of Kerala
I’ve spoken a lot about outdoors and nature activities, if you’re a city lover, here are the best things to do in Kerala’s cities!
Visit the Sweet Meat Street (or Mittayitheruvu) in Kozhikode
If you’ve been looking for a place to do your shopping, this is it. Despite the sweet street name this market actually has lots to offer also in terms of clothing, electronics and other food. It’s the perfect place to get that saree you’ve been meaning to get your mother in law, those colourful travelling pants for your teenage cousin and much more. Thanks to the excellent conversion rate from INR (Indian Rupee) to GBR / EUR / USD or any other Western currency, you can freely shop without breaking the bank. Just remember you will have to fit everything in your suitcase when it’s time to leave!
Exploring the street markets of Kerala. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
Wandering around the Sweet Meat Street. Photo by Shan Samad @inst.shan @keralatourism
Check out a martial arts exhibition in Kozikhode
Kerala is the home of Kalaripayattu, a martial art that was created in Kerala. If you’re a sports fan you can’t not pay a visit to a martial arts centre in Kerala to witness a Kalaripayattu training session. We visited a Kalaripayattu centre in Kozikhode, where the local men showed us examples of the martial art in action, displaying examples of how you would fight with different weapons.
The Kalari martial arts exhibition (sorry, don’t have any photos of them actually fighting as they were moving to quickly to capture!)
Visit an Ayurveda centre
Kerala is also the home of Ayurveda, where these treatments were created. Ayurvedic medicine was created more than 3,000 years ago and is based on the belief that human wellness and health relies on a delicate balance between the body, mind and spirit. Ayurvedic massages are a key part of the Ayurvedic therapy, and believe in balancing the mind and body through oils, music and bodyworks. In Thrissur we visited an Ayurveda Museum, where we learnt more about these ancient therapies. Since it was born in Kerala, there are a lot of Ayurveda centres that you can visit to receive massages and learn more about Ayurvedic treatments.
My friend Veronica (@siniciliya on Instagram) enjoying an Ayurveda massage. Photo by @saraindubai
Do a sunset cruise in Kochi
If cruising the backwaters in Allapuzha wasn’t enough for you, there are more cruise opportunities around Kerala. In Kochi it’s possible to go on a sunset cruise of the river, which will take you up and down along the banks of Kochi and give you the opportunity to see the orange sunset over this beautiful city.
Sunset in Kochi during our Kochi sunset cruise
Where to stay in Kerala
Over the fifteen days we spent in Kerala we stayed in almost as many hotels, as we were moving around every night. I am by no means an expert in accommodation in Kerala however the ones I personally stayed at and can recommend are the following.
Located on the bank of the Vembanad Lake you will find Lakesong Resort. Lakesong Resort is an entirely green resort, which through a number of different practices aims to keep their carbon footprint down. All the staff is also employed from villages and towns in the area, so as to give opportunities for development to the local area. The rooms are lovely but what I loved the most is the beautiful garden they have, where you can walk around and relax after a long day exploring Kerala.
Exploring the gardens of Lake Song Resort
It might seem weird to recommend a big western chain like the Marriott in the same article where I’ve just recommended staying with a local family in a homestay, however the Marriott in Kochi really went above and beyond to ensure we had a lovely stay. We had an amazing traditional banana leaf dinner, which combined to a buffet breakfast with traditional breakfast food from all the regions of Kerala really enables us to taste the best that Kerala has to offer.
My friends Karla (@karlaroundtheworld) and Tasha (@backpackerswanderlust) enjoying the sunrise over the rooftops of Kochi from their room at the Marriott. Photo by Backpackers Wanderlust
Sea Shell, Kannur
Sea Shell resort in Kannur was one of my favourite places we stayed at because of the amazing service by the staff and lovely position on the beach. We were welcomed with warm smiles, music and dancers. The resort is located on top of a cliff, with beautiful views over the ocean and a staircase that will directly connect you to the beach. If you can, make sure to get a top floor and corner bedroom, you will have the best views and biggest balcony!
View of the beach from our room balcony at Sea Shell Resort
Vythiri Resort, Wayanad
While in Wayanad we stayed in a lovely resort a short 10-minute drive outside the town centre of Wayanad. Stepping into Vythiri Resort feels like stepping into a jungle hideaway. With all the forest surrounding it Vythiri Resort is the perfect place to disconnect from the online world and relax, just make sure to lock your door when you leave your room, or monkeys might go inside! All the rooms are spacious and beautifully decorated; if you feel like treating yourself you might want to book a honeymoon villa, split on two floors these have a pool on the bottom floor that you can see from your bed thanks to the glass floor!
The honeymoon villa at Vythiri Resort with glass floor over the private pool
Ramada Cochin Resort
If you want to stay in Kochi, one of Kerala’s main cities, but feel like you’re still in a secluded beach / country resort, Ramada Cochin Resort is the place for you. Ramada boasts a beautiful pool, easily accessible from all the bedrooms, with a great view over the lake. With a variety of both Western and Indian choices for food it was also one of my favourite places to eat in Kerala.
Breakfast with a view over the pool of Ramada from the balcony of our room
Have you been to Kerala, India, before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! If you think there are other awesome things to do and places to visit in Kerala that I have left out please let me know, I would love to include them! This is just a list of the things that I personally did and loved in Kerala, I’m always open to hearing what other travellers have done! I hope you will find this Kerala bucket list useful in organising your own Kerala trip.