Known as ‘God’s Own Country’, picturesque Kerala is a must on any travel bucket list. The more laidback pace of life is the perfect introduction to India and is a stark contrast to bustling destinations such as the Golden Triangle. This wonderful state right at the bottom of India has so much to offer, from tantalising cuisine, wonderful wildlife, mesmerising culture and lots to explore.
Getting to Kerala is surprisingly straightforward, with direct flights from London and flights with one in-airport transfer from many major UK cities. If you’re wondering when to visit, December and January can be very busy, and the monsoon season from June until the end of August is best avoided. From the end of September is our favourite time, when the greenery comes to life after the heavy rain.
To inspire you to venture to God’s Own Country, we’ve completed the tricky task of narrowing it down to ten of the best reasons to visit Kerala.
Prepare yourself for an explosion of flavours, vibrant colours and amazing aromas – Keralan food is absolutely divine and something you will remember vividly from your trip. Being a coastal state, many dishes feature freshly caught fish, but there are also plenty of vegetarian options on offer, along with meat, unlike many other destinations.
Keralan regional cuisine includes Keralan fish curry, Karimeen pollichathu (fried fish), Fish moilee, Malabar Parotta (pancakes), pumpkin and lentil curry and Palada payasam, a rice dessert flavoured with cardamom. Your food might come served on a large green banana leaf and be accompanied by delicious homemade appam, roti or dosa bread.
You can really engage with Keralan cuisine by taking part in a local cooking demonstration, where you’ll be shown how dishes are prepared before getting to sample them for yourself.
For inspiration, check out our Top 10 South Indian Food Recipes.
The wonderful Kerala backwaters are a labyrinthine network of lagoons, lakes, interconnected canals, rivers, and inlets formed by more than 900 kilometres of waterways and are a must-see on any trip to this state. Glide along the tranquil waters to see villagers working at the water’s edge, passing wildlife and workers toiling in the paddy fields.
For a truly magical experience, you can spend the night aboard your own private houseboat. You can gently drift along while your own private crew prepare and serve your meals. The houseboat moors at night to prevent getting tangled in nearby fishing nets, and you can experience the bliss of being rocked gently to sleep after watching the twinkling stars.
Kerala is home to a wide variety of animals such as the Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Leopard, Sambar Deer, Langurs, Flying Squirrels and around 453 varieties of birds including rare species such as the Indian Grey Hornbill and Oriental Bay Owl.
One of the largest sanctuaries in Kerala is Periyar National Park which you can explore on foot, jeep, boat or raft and where you might be able to catch a glimpse of a tiger if you’re lucky. The Western Ghats is a wildlife lover’s paradise, as it is home to fourteen wildlife sanctuaries surrounded by trekking trails. Elsewhere there is a variety of bird and wildlife sanctuaries to explore, along with the chance to spot monkeys by the side of the road!
A highlight of any visit to Kerala is the chance to look around a spice, coffee or tea plantation. You can learn about how aromatic regional spices, refreshing tea and speciality coffee is grown, and get the chance to sample them too.
There are many plantations across the state, with the largest being in Munnar, Periyar and Wayanad. There’s nothing better than meandering through a vibrant field of green leaves in the sunshine looking out over wonderful scenery. Pure bliss.
One of the advantages of visiting a coastal state is the opportunity to spend some time on wonderful beaches. The beaches of Kerala are very well kept and offer wonderful views. You can relax in a hammock, sunbathe or enjoy a spectacular sunset. And if you’re a fan of watersports, you’ll find kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving and snorkelling, parasailing, windsurfing and water skiing all on offer.
Some of the best beaches in Kerala include Kovalam and its jaunty lighthouse, serene Marari Beach surrounded by coconut groves and Varkala with its line of beach shacks and shops.
There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Kerala. God’s Own Country is home to the Western Ghats, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. This mountain range dates back further than the Himalayan mountains and stretches from Tamil Nadu through most of South India. This hotspot of biological diversity is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
In Cochin, you’ll find lively bazaars and upscale restaurants, all shrouded in a colonial vibe from British rule. The pre-historic Edakkal Caves in Wayanad are worth a visit to see the exquisite rock and wall carvings, as is Bekal Fort with its water-and Observation Tower affording panoramic views.
Kerala is jam-packed with a fascinating culture. In Cochin, you’ll find an amalgamation of different cultures reflecting the state’s various residents over the centuries. Discover the Jewish synagogue known for its spectacular Chinese tiles, Belgian chandeliers and period furnishings; the Gothic Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi; and Mattancherry Palace known as the Dutch Palace that showcases scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana in detailed frescoes and murals.
The perfect way to end an evening is to watch a performance of Kathakali, a 17th-century classical dance. This exciting combination of dance and drama features exaggerated facial expressions, and if you can arrive early, there’s often the chance to watch the dancers apply their theatrical make-up.
All year round Kerala plays host to a variety of celebrations and events. These explosions of colour and culture include extravagant parades featuring lustrously decorated sculptures, traditional and modern music and dancing, sacred rituals and snake boat racing. In August or September, Onam is a 10-day harvest festival in remembrance of King Mahabali who brought happiness and prosperity, and Theyyam is an 800o-year-old dance ritual depicting tales of Indian folklore and legends. For a more chilled out time, there are well-being, yoga and walking festivals.
Joining in the fun of a festival is a great way to be part of community celebrations and will create magical holiday memories and fantastic photo opportunities.
After a long tour, why not relax and unwind with a soothing Ayurvedic therapy or massage. Kerala is famous for Ayurveda, one of the oldest forms of traditional medicine that has been practised in India for thousands of years. ‘Ayurveda’ translates as the ‘science of life’ from ‘Ayur’ (‘life’) and ‘Veda’ (‘science' or 'knowledge’).
Ayurveda can also help cure ailments as well as help calm and restore your mind, body and soul. You’ll find Ayurvedic centres or spas in many of our accommodation options.
The hill stations of Kerala are a wonderful choice for something a little different. In the heat of summer, you can escape from the harsh rays of the sun to the cooler hill stations. Athirapally is home to magnificent waterfalls at around 80 feet high, while Thekkady offers nature walks through its varied habitats and diverse forest.
In Wayanad, discover exotic flora and fauna along with tea, coffee, spice and rubber plantations and in Munnar you’ll find the tea museum, rolling tea gardens and the beautiful neelakurinji flower that blooms once every 12 years.
We hope we have inspired you to visit Kerala. Take a look at our suggested Kerala tours or get in touch to start planning your adventure.