Jamie’s guide to Kerala

Kerala was a wonderful intro to India. It was our first time visiting the country and have read and heard much about it, and found that Kerala was a relatively laid back place to explore the sights and sounds of India, without too much of the craziness we’ve heard about. The food was tasty, but did get a bit too heavy and repetitive for our taste buds by the end of the trip. I had read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things when I was in high school, and so subconsciously maybe always wanted to visit Kerala. So it was happy coincidence when after we decided to go to Kerala, I realized that’s where the novel is set, and re-reading it, re-appreciated her description of her homeland. It was amazing to see the words on the page come to life and the images in her book stick in the mind long after we’ve arrived home.. highly recommend reading that book if you plan to visit Kerala.

Itinerary

Day 1 — fly into Kochi and settle into hotel at Fort Cochin

Day 2 — explore Fort Cochin.

Day 3 — Kochi to Munnar (4–5 hours), settle in

Day 4 — explore Munnar, relax

Day 5 — Munnar to Thekkady (2–3 hours), settle in

Day 6 — boat cruise at Periyar Tiger Reserve, relax

Day 7 — Thekkady to Kumarakom (3–4 hours), enjoy epic landscape on the way

Day 8 — relax in Kumarakom, village canal tour

Day 9 — embark on houseboat, stay houseboat

Day 10 — houseboat and then transfer to airport and fly out

Traveling between places

Our driver Bino Augustine

We called a few tourist taxi companies and settled on Babu and Best Holidays (+919447422551), came recommended by Harish at Kaivalyam Retreat in Munnar. They had cheapest quote of 8500 INR for 5 day driver for 500 km. Other place I called, Deepak at earthytours, quoted 10500 INR for 5 days, 600 km. Having a driver take us around was key, as it was relatively inexpensive (compared to China we later found out, India was much more affordable). Many of our hotels were down steep dirt paths, which would have been a pain to get to if we had to hire our own local transport from bus/train. Overall we were happy with Best Holidays and would recommend them.

Staples of Kerala tourism

  1. Ayurvedic spa — try it. It’s unique. They use a lot of oils, and its all about moving the energy around in your body. One complaint though is they should have donut holes in their massage tables. We went to Ayurville in Fort Cochin, as well as got the massage at Niraamaya Cardamom Club in Thekkady.
  2. Kathakali — local dance drama. Interesting. They sell it hard. I’d recommend if you’ve read / are reading The God of Small Things, just to better understand her description of it. Cool to see unique culture. I would also recommend the Kalarippayat more — the martial arts. We saw it in Fort Cochin and were entertained.
I watched Kathakali in Munnar. The costumes are otherworldly and the performances are bizarre and haunting
We watched Kalarippayat martial arts at the Kathakali Centre in Fort Cochin
Bark of a cinnamon tree, smelled like cinnamon! Amazing how the trees are so alive with the spices that make this region famous.

3. Spices and tea — markets in Fort Cochin, and can visit plantations in Munnar / Thekkady. Very cool that a lot of locals we met all knew the different trees and which spices they produced.

4. Houseboat — it’s the main thing and it’s not cheap, but very cool experience. I think it’s worth it (pay more and get a nice one)

Where we stayed

  1. Fort Cochin — Spice Fort ($110/night). Comfortable, central, good restaurant and service
  2. Munnar — Kaivalyam Retreat ($75/night). Highly recommend. Tree house, yoga, spice plantation hike and tea garden hike. Family run.
  3. Thekkady — Niraamaya Cardamom Club ($70/night). Recommended — a bit remote, but nice setting and nice meals, service. Not quite as personal as Kaivalyam but more of an “established business” as opposed to family run
  4. Kumarakom — Vivanta by Taj ($110/night). Recommended. It’s a bit older but classic. Lots of activities, relaxing. Ravindrum was awesome. Food is pricy but solid
  5. Houseboat — Hashim / Ayana’s houseboat ($400/night). Recommend. Nicer than other boats we saw, more modern and catered to foreigners. Excellent meals and ambiance

Top experiences

  1. Eating biryani with our hands with our tuk tuk guide at local place in Old Kochi

2. Hiking through tea plantation to waterfall in Munnar

3. Boat cruise in Periyar Tiger Reserve — we had low expectations and had pleasant experience. Ask for a seat on upper deck. We went for 3:30 cruise and saw lots of wildlife (birds, boars, deer, but don’t expect tigers or elephants)

On the boat at Periyar Tiger Reserve

4. Village tour on canoe from Vivanta by Taj at Kumarakom — the slow paced backwater experience, without the disruptive motor sound. Bring an umbrella! Walking around Ayemenem and observing local village life in the early AM

Canal boat cruise in Ayemenem. We got this arranged through Vivanta by Taj, and enjoyed it more than the one we got as part of our houseboat package.

5. Houseboat — the main event. Pricy, but didn’t disappoint

The houseboat was pretty damn chill

Notes on Fort Cochin

Chinese fishing nets are overhyped. St Francis church and the Santa Cruz basilica both cool. We got sold into getting taken around by a charismatic tuk tuk driver, which was a plus and minus. Plus in that we covered a lot more ground, and got to know a local, and had some unique experiences we otherwise would not have. Minus in that he took us to a Kashmiri shop where we fell into their sales tactics and overpaid for an antique.. get Ayurvedic massage at Ayurville, get some masala chai at Teapot

Other notes

Keralans are indeed very friendly. Many locals said hi to us, and while people did look inquisitively at us, we didn’t feel too out of place

The head wobble is very pronounced here and I personally got a kick out of it. In case you’re wondering it means yes / i understand / good

We came in late august and it’s end of monsoon season. We expected more rain than we got. It rained a bit most days but definitely not that bad.

Very impressed by the level of service we got everywhere we stayed. So much better than China (on average). Better than a lot of places I’ve stayed in the States as well

Any other questions.. give us a shout!