The hustle and bustle in India, the land of a billion people, can feel a little overwhelming at times, but this small state at the south western tip of the country is a great place for an affordable, long-haul beach holiday.Kerala views | from Pure Offers
Kick back, unwind, eat some fantastic Indian food and indulge in a spot of natural Ayurvedic healing. Like Goa, Kerala has gorgeous beaches, and towns and cities full of history. But unlike Goa, it boasts stunning backwaters, a vast and beautiful network of rivers, canals and lakes stretching far inland.
Getting there/around Kerala
You can fly into either the capital of the state, Thiruvananthapuram, in the south, or Kochi, midway up the coast. The rest of Kerala is well connected by rail and road. The trains are pleasant enough and you’ll find people rushing past every couple of minutes with hot tea and coffee and plenty of delicious Indian snacks.
If you’d rather travel by car, then it’s easy to hire a driver to get you around. Look out for the classic Ambassadors that you find all over the country, and make sure you agree a price with the driver before leaving.
The coastline is dotted with lovely beaches but one of the best is at Varkala, about 35km south of Kollam. The 1.5km long sweeping beach is backed by red stone cliffs which glow scarlet as the sun sets on the sea. The cliff top, reached by a winding stone staircase, has tons of cafes and bars where you can enjoy a drink and a bite to eat.
Further up the coast, Alappuzha Beach is also very popular. There’s a 140-year-old pier and a small park nearby if the kids get bored.
No trip to Kerala is complete without a trip on the backwaters. Travelling along this huge network of waterways will give you a real insight into the local way of life, and it’s also incredibly peaceful and relaxing.
Take in a small area on one of the passenger ferries, or hire a houseboat (known locally as a kettuvallam), complete with a skipper and chef, so you can drift as you please for two or three days. Elsewhere, be sure to check out the Chinese fishing nets, the markets, the Jewish quarter and the palace in Kochi.
Family attractions in Kerala
The whole family will enjoy a performance of the spectacular Keralan dance, Kathakali, where actors/dancers in flamboyant costumes with vividly painted faces re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana.
There are no words and the plays are told through exaggerated eye, hand and tongue movements. The stories can often last for eight or nine hours, but you’ll also find much shorter performances of one or two hours, so the kids should be sufficiently entertained.
Day trips from Kerala
Try and get up into the Keralan hills (known as the Western Ghats), home to several wildlife sanctuaries. Periyar is the most popular in all of southern India and if you’re lucky, there’s the chance to spot elephants, tigers, bison, antelope, wild boar and many varieties of monkeys and birds. It can get cold and wet in the hills so bring some waterproof, warm clothing.
Eating out in Kerala
If you like Indian food, you’ll be in heaven in Kerala. Dishes in the south are deliciously spicy, but the focus is more on taste than pure heat. The seafood is to die for, and at many coastal resorts you can see the catch of the day displayed on porcelain tables. Pick your favourite fish and see it whisked away for slow cooking in a tandoor oven.
If you’re looking for a taste of home, you may struggle however, although the upmarket hotels will often have a western-style menu.
Kerala’s not the place for you if you like to party, so don’t expect to dance the night away to the latest thumping beats. Check out a traditional Kathakali performance or try and catch a Bollywood movie during your stay. Don’t worry about the language barrier as most Indian films are very visual.
Otherwise, while away the evening enjoying a quiet drink in your beachside bar, cafe, or restaurant or book yourself an early evening Ayurvedic massage at your hotel.
India’s incredibly cheap wherever you travel and sandalwood carvings, textiles, bronzes, spices, tea, jewellery, leatherwork, masks and music are all great buys in Kerala.
All the major towns and cities have vibrant local bazaars which are an experience in themselves. Be sure to take in the sights, sounds and particularly smells of Kochi’s spice market.