Top Things To Do in Kerala, India
Known by locals as “God’s Own Country”, Kerala is full of brightly colored, leafy, green coastlines, calm backwaters, scenic hills, serene beaches, and dense spice and tea plantations. This lush, green region in India is a stark contrast from the crowded, traffic congested India that I had been used to traveling through for the past month. Whether you want to roam the streets of Fort Kochi, learn about tea in Munnar, or walk on the golden, sandy beaches of Marari Beach, Kerala has something for everyone! There are so many things to do and see in Kerala, so I have listed my top things to do in Kerala below.
Visit Fort Kochi – The Fort Kochi area has its own unique charm, and it’s buzzing with tourists and traders from all over the world. There are remnants of rich history that can be found around every corner. When roaming the streets, you will find spice shops, cafes, old churches, cemeteries, architecture influenced both by the Dutch and Portuguese, craft stalls and art shops. There is also a plethora of cheap homestays and restaurants to choose from during your stay. Whether you choose to stay for a couple of days or longer like we did (10 days to be exact), Fort Kochi is sure to have something for everyone! The vibe is laid-back; it’s a place you travel to enjoy all that it has to offer while you relax.
Catch a Fish in a Chinese Fishing Net – Located in Fort Kochi, along the shore, you can see the iconic, cantilever Chinese Fishing Nets in operation and even try it yourself (for a small fee of course). These large fishing nets typically require a team of 4-5 fishermen to operate; a pile of rocks is tied to one end of a large bamboo pole while the other side contains the net. A group of men raises or lowers the pile of rocks, and a man walks on the bamboo pole to balance the weight. It is truly a sight to see.
Catch a Kathakali Performance – While in Fort Kochi be sure to watch a Kathakali performance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre. Kathakali is a unique, ancient form of storytelling through dance and facial expressions that originated in the 17th century. Plan on arriving prior to the showtime so you can watch the performers apply their colorful, elaborate makeup. The performer’s costumes are grandiose and simply fascinating.
Learn How to Cook a Keralan Cuisine – In Fort Kochi, you can also try booking a cooking class. Cooking in Kerala is all about the spices! Keralan food is typically served on a large, green banana leaf and the food is eaten with your fingers (without utensils). Coconuts grow all over Kerala’s coastline, therefore, coconut, coconut milk, and coconut shells are commonly used in dishes. Our cooking class was more of a “cooking demonstration”. Rather than us doing actual chopping and cooking of the food, we mostly listened and watched how our cook was preparing and cooking the various vegetables, food powders and spices. Although we did not mind this type of cooking class; as it allowed us to interact with the family that hosted us and to ask a lot of questions, this type of cooking class may not be for everyone, as it was not very “hands on”.
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Ride a tuk-tuk – While in Fort Kochi make sure to take a tuk-tuk ride. Although Fort Kochi is easily navigable on foot alone, a tuk-tuk ride is always a nice way to get from Point A to B fast and cheap! You can walk from the Chinese Fishing Nets to Jew Town in 35 minutes (~3km). Just know that in Fort Kochi the tuk-tuk drivers will try and make a “deal” with you when negotiating tuk-tuk prices. They may ask you to make a stop or two at a spice market in the hopes that you to make a purchase for which they will receive credit or the “government building” where you will fill out a “tourist survey” and they can receive a free can of gas for a discounted tuk-tuk ride. Although there is no harm in this, this can be very time consuming on your part.
Eat at The Tree Loft – During your stay in Fort Kochi, if you are looking for some cheap, delicious, South Indian food, head on over to The Tree Loft. This place rocks! During our stay, we must have eaten here at least five times! They have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The location is so neat; it mimics sitting in a tree house, there is a flat-screen TV to watch all of the sports events, and there are books to read and board games to play!
Volunteer at one of the Orphanages – We love to give back when we travel. India has many orphanages that need the help of time and donations. We opted to spend an afternoon with the 55 boys of Don Bosco bringing soccer balls, basketballs, cricket equipment and needed supplies that the headmaster suggested. They were extremely easy to coordinate with and schedule a visit. It was a highlight of our time in Kerala.
Visit Jew Town – Located in Fort Kochi, Jew Town is full of interesting history and stores selling handmade soaps, crafts, needlepoint items, and antiques. It is said that the Jews first arrived in India from Judea. These Jews became traders amongst the locals and were called “Malabari Jews.” Later, “Sephardic Jews” expelled from Spain arrived in India and were known as the “Paradesi Jews”, literally meaning “foreigners”, a clear division between the earlier immigrants. This latter community of Jews traded with the kings and Portuguese and built what is known as the present day, Paradesi Synagogue. While in Jew Town we had the pleasure to meet Sarah Cohen, 94 years young, the oldest, living Paradesi Jew in Jewtown.
Take Time Out for Tea Time in Munnar – Located approximately 4 hours east of Fort Kochi, the perfectly manicured, rolling, green hills of Munnar intermixed with shades of orange, pink, and red stretch on as far as the eye can see. To compete with the landscape, were the ever-changing skyscape of colors; hues of blue skies with puffy white clouds that would change to gray skies with rolling fog and mist. The air was crisp, cool and clean. During our time in Munnar, we took a guided tour of The Talayar Tea Factory which included lunch at the beautiful Talayar Valley Bungalow estate. The tour was a great introduction to how tea leaves are picked, dried and made into bulk product, however, the tour lacked the history details of the tea factory itself as well as an extensive explanation between the differences between the different types of tea we sampled (black, white, green, etc.). It did rain during our tour, which is common weather in November for Munnar. Just make sure to check the weather and wear appropriate shoes as it was very muddy and slippery on the tea plantations during this time.
Sunbathe and Relax at Marari Beach – Located approximately 1.5 hours from Fort Kochi, Marari Beach is simply beautiful and pristine. The beach is lined with coconut trees and has soft, golden sand that goes on for miles only to be interrupted by brightly colored, wooden fishing boats and sunbathers. During our week-long stay, we stayed at Marari John’s Beach Villas via Airbnb, and it quickly became one of our favorite stays in India! It was located just steps away from the beach. The room was very clean, had a very comfortable bed, A/C, wifi, and had a very nice, private, shower/ bathroom. Each room also had two big comfortable chairs located outside on the balcony where you could read a book, work on your computer, or drink a cup of coffee. The best part was that John’s mother was such an amazing cook! She will make you breakfast, lunch, and dinner upon request for an extra fee. Each meal was the best vegetarian, Indian home-cooked food served under an outdoor, thatched roof table at the time we requested. It was simply amazing. John’s place was so peaceful. I highly recommend this place!
Cruise the Backwaters of Kerala – Home to the famous backwaters of Kerala (approximately 1.5 hours from Fort Kochi), Alleppey is an intricate maze of canals, lakes, inlets, and rivers known as the Kerala backwaters. At different places, the saltwater sea meets the freshwater of the rivers, and one can see green, palm-lined landscape, and diverse wildlife. There are houses and villages and people going about their day; fishing, making coconut rope and washing laundry in the backwaters, it feels like time has stood still. We opted to take a canoe to the villages along the backwaters. This option allowed us to enter the narrower channels of the backwaters versus taking a larger houseboat that is restricted to the main waterway. This option is also cheaper and allows for you to meet other travelers provided you are not booking a private tour. Our backwater tour also included a traditional Keralan, home-cooked breakfast and lunch with our tour group by a local family who lived in the backwaters. Make sure when booking your backwater tour to ask if the canoe has a top cover as our first backwater tour in Kochi did not and you will most likely be in the direct sunlight for several hours. Our backwater tour guide in Kochi did provide an umbrella which helped to shade us from the direct sunlight.
Traveled October 2017