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I visited Kerala in South India from mid-November to early December 2023, and the Trip to Kerala was like life changing moment for me its around two week tour.

It is both a declaration of love to the beautiful state of Kerala and a practical guide that should help you plan a trip there. I will therefore try to answer most of the questions you may have!

How travel to Kerala?

Kerala is exuberant nature and memorable landscapes. Forget your cliches of dry and dusty India because this small state is particularly green, covered in rice fields and coconut trees as far as the eye can see. All along the coast, backwaters have formed into a network of peaceful and incredibly beautiful lakes, lagoons and canals. Finally, Kerala is sandwiched between the ocean which offers long golden beaches and the Western Ghats mountain range, one of the most important biodiversity reserves on the planet.

That’s not all: we admired the architectural heritage of old Fort Cochin, discovered a powerful temple housing a fabulous treasure in Trivandrum, hiked in the tea plantations of Munnar, waited for sunsets over the ocean, chatted with enthusiastic neighbors on the train, collected a crazy amount of smiles and tasted one of the best cuisines in the country. Finally, for lovers of alternative medicine, Kerala is also the birthplace of traditional Indian Ayurveda.

Strange, with all this, that tourism is not more developed. Our little fingers tell us that the mere mention of the word “India” scares away a good number of candidates who would otherwise come (and return) to Kerala. You won’t be the only tourists either, far from it, but if that bothers you, just deviate a few centimeters from the classic circuit to find yourself practically alone!

Is it difficult to travel Kerala, South India?

No. Kerala makes life easier for its visitors for a lot of reasons:

  • It concentrates varied landscapes on a small territory,
  • It is calmer and less dirty than the rest of India,
  • Scams are less numerous there,
  • Accommodation and restaurants abound,
  • Transportation is efficient,
  • The locals speak English,
What is More ?

It seems to us that this region of India adapts well to all styles of travel: we loved visiting it with the bag on our back while sleeping in guest rooms, but other travelers with more budget will easily find establishments to suit their tastes. We also met many families and it’s hardly surprising. Kerala is probably the most suitable Indian state for traveling with children.

Details of the six stages of our two-week tour in Kerala
Trivandrum: Temple, genuine atmosphere and beaches (2 days)

We arrived in India at Trivandrum airport (full name is Thiruvananthapuram). This city turned out to be zen and airy, enough to help us get our bearings gently. It has no “must see” monument, as they say, but it is possible to spend one or two busy days there, between visits and sunsets on the beaches of Kovalam or Shankumugham.

Munroe Island, the backwaters far from civilization (3 days)

Attention, huge crush! Without realizing it, we found ourselves on a peninsula called Munroe Island, near Kollam, and… time stood still. Imagine a sweet and simple life under the coconut trees, with a handful of cheerful and welcoming inhabitants, 100% natural meals prepared by the manager and served with a giant smile, bike rides and, above all, a memorable sunrise during a canoe ride on the backwaters.

Alleppey, the great city of the backwaters (2 days)

We are still in the backwaters, but the atmosphere changes completely. The city of Alleppey is the stopover chosen by the majority of travelers to explore the lagoons and canals. The city is teeming and the demands of the touts are tiring. But, if ever at this point of your Trip to Kerala, you have already fallen in love with India, you will appreciate the joyful animation of its beach. Another beach called Marari, a few kilometers away, is beautiful, uncrowded and more suitable for swimming.

Munnar and the tea plantation region (3 days)

This is the step we were most looking forward to and it did not disappoint! We loved walking through the tea plantations, coming across cows grazing on the precious leaves and watching the first rays of the sun through the mist. Be careful, warm sweater required, umbrella recommended!

Cochin, its fort, its fishing nets and its tourists (4 days)

Cochin was not love at first sight, but it was a pleasant, even comfortable, stopover in the middle of our stay. The main activity is to stroll through the old center with its colonial architecture and, possibly, stuff yourself in its excellent restaurants. The famous Chinese fishing nets are photogenic at sunset, but you will have to deal with the crowds and the souvenir sellers. That said, Cochin is a good place to start if it is your arrival city in South India.

Kannur, the wild beaches of northern Kerala (2 days)

Just before sliding into the state of Karnataka, we made a final stop near Kannur and more precisely in the village of Thottada. Quiet atmosphere guaranteed with immense beaches, surprisingly clean and little-known. Yes, it still exists in this country and it’s very appreciable! Finally, this northern region of Kerala is famous for its Theyyam ceremonies, as mystical as possible.

Which part visit to Kerala?

If we did it again, we wouldn’t change anything about our steps. We found our circuit varied and the movements fluid and without hitches. You should know that we are in a rather turtle-esque mood when traveling, so you can manage to condense our itinerary into twelve days, or even ten if you are really hares. But when nature is so beautiful and soothing, it’s a shame to want to run!

The other solution, if you have less than twelve days, is to eliminate Trivandrum in the south and Kannur in the north in order to concentrate on the stages in central Kerala. The classic minimal circuit is Cochin – Munnar – Alleppey, which we recommend adapting by replacing Alleppey with Munroe Island. The route is then easily achievable in the form of a loop, with Cochin airport as the arrival and return point.

If the tourist crowds don’t scare you, you can include a stopover in Varkala, famous for its beach overlooked by a cliff.

Finally, for those who wish to extend their stay in India, it is easy from Kannur to continue towards Mysore, Hampi, Goa or Mumbai.

How to make the best memories Kerala’s backwaters?

All travel agencies present the houseboat cruise as the highlight of a stay in Kerala.

Our opinion: think twice. Not only are these boats shamelessly expensive, but there are also too many of them, which causes traffic jams on the canals and large-scale pollution.

Here are three alternative options:

  • From Alleppey, opt for a ride on a colorful boat. This simple choice will make you have a good time. Just take a stroll along the main Alleppey canal and negotiate directly with the boatman. The prices are reasonable, even if you privatize the boat.
  • Always from Alleppey, take the public ferries. We had fun sitting in the first one to leave, the only tourists among the locals who board these boats as they would take the bus. The landscapes are magnificent, the price is unbeatable and the environmental impact is minimal.
  • Otherwise, forget Alleppey and find a little-known place to sleep in the middle of the backwaters. The island of Munroe Island, for example, is our mega favorite in Kerala (you will begin to know that!). We were, by the looks of it, only about ten tourists on the whole island. We didn’t stay at the water’s edge but a five-minute walk away, with bikes to explore the surroundings, along the banks and across the bridges. Finally, the local residents offer canoe tours, alone in the world. There are certainly other gems of this type to discover in Kerala.
Culinary in Kerala

We already found Indian food excellent, especially South Indian food, but Kerala takes that to the next level. Our advice: rather than trying to discover it only through its restaurants, choose accommodation that will prepare real local cuisine for you to dine on, one that only uses fresh produce, with lots of exotic fruits and lots of coconuts. And as Ayurvedic medicine primarily involves food, you will leave Kerala with a fantastic treat!

If you’re ready to convert to a savory breakfast, you’ll discover a new type of pancake every day. Just specify that you don’t really like chili!

Fruit juices are also formidable. But our guilty pleasure is the dosa, a very simple pancake, very fatty, crispy and so good. Not sure if this is all very Ayurvedic! It seems that Indians enjoy it for breakfast or dinner, but not at lunchtime, production stops.

Similar to dosas but thicker and softer, uttapams are also worth tasting. Our favorite version is the tomato and onion ones.

Finally, a great classic of Indian cuisine is the thali, a sort of garnished platter to be eaten with the (right) hand of course, and even more appetizing when served on a banana leaf. The Kerala thali is certainly the healthiest in the entire country. The sauces of the north are replaced here by piles of small, fresh and tasty condiments.

India is a paradise for vegetarians and Kerala is no exception. Even though coastal Keralans cook a lot of fish, they will be able to prepare lots of tasty dishes for you. Besides, if you are not vegetarian but are worried about getting sick, sticking to vegetarian dishes is a good idea in the country.

Don’t let the fear of illness ruin your Trip to Kerala. In seventeen days there, we ate everything we wanted without any problems to report. Just avoid ice cubes and tap water (many Keralais don’t drink it themselves). We ended up discovering that the water in a carafe placed automatically on the table in restaurants was filtered by antibacterial devices.

Types of accommodation in Kerala

Kerala accommodation offers one of the best value for money in India. Prices are not as low as in Southeast Asia for example, but they remain very reasonable. For €20-25 per double room, you will easily find guest houses that are seriously managed, clean, with a friendly welcome and breakfast included. Naturally, don’t expect luxury, but the comfort is at a very decent level. Moreover, we appreciated that the majority of accommodation in Kerala are guesthouses, because otherwise, the traditional Indian hotel is a large, impersonal and disorganized establishment as possible. Unless you pay the price of luxury, of course.

Do you need to book your accommodation? Yes, if you are targeting the peak tourist season, which runs from mid-December to mid-January in Kerala. Outside of this period, it is not essential to book. It’s just better for finding the best deals or for traveling in a small group. For our part, at the end of November, we managed by booking three weeks before departure. Depending on the stages, there was still choice, sometimes less, but we would not have been on the street.

Oh, by the way! India being the strangest country in the world, here the word “hotel” means restaurant. It’s a good idea to reserve a table instead of a room! In the street, do not ask passers-by for directions to a hotel, but to a “room”.

What transport to visit Kerala?

Many travelers to India say that the country is already too complex and choose to complete their tour by hiring the services of a driver. In our opinion, this represents a large unnecessary expense, which you could reinvest in housing for example. The gain in terms of “freedom” is minimal in our opinion, and then you would limit exchanges with the locals (apart from the driver, obviously). Because in India more than elsewhere, discussions with seatmates are an integral part of the trip and create the best memories.

Local transport in Kerala is certainly a little outdated, but efficient. We took trains and buses between the big stages, and tuk-tuks (called rickshaws in India) inside the cities. The main problem with Indian trains is reservation. It’s better to do it early, but it’s not easy during a short stay. Buses do not have this problem and it is always possible to find one at the last minute. Something rare enough in India to be underlined, most of Kerala’s stations are equipped with prepaid rickshaw stations, which avoid scams or tedious negotiations.

At worst, if you are only half convinced, it is everywhere possible to find a taxi available the same day to get to the next town or to wander around, without hiring a driver for the trip. entire stay.

How to communicate with the locals?

No, the Keralais do not speak Indian (it doesn’t exist), nor Hindu (it’s a religion), nor Hindi (little practiced in South India), but… Malayalam. A singing language which, it seems, is one of the most complicated in the world, to the point that the Indian secret services used it to communicate! But rest assured, the majority of Keralans you will meet have a good command of English. In addition, they are very patient, gentle and welcoming. They will never let you down if they feel you need information.

Keep in mind the human Nature of Kerala

We are such fans of Kerala that we may forget to tell you about its flaws. The region is particularly calm, easy and clean for India. We said well for India. Most of the country’s disadvantages are therefore present, in a toned down version. Everything is not always well organized, the towns, villages and beaches are more or less dirty, the touts cheat, the rickshaw drivers scam… But nothing unbearable or that could tarnish the trip, unlike other corners of India, mainly in the north, tough on the nerves!

When to go to Kerala?

There are two periods to avoid. That of the monsoons from June to October and that of the unbearable heat in April and May. That leaves the months of November to March.

For our part, visiting Kerala at the end of November, just before the start of the high tourist season, we were spoiled by idyllic weather. Only a few rains the first three days and never too hot.

If you are wondering about the wisdom of coming to Kerala after a difficult monsoon, know that we were there just three months after the worst floods in a long time and it was simply not noticeable. The Keralans had quickly cleaned everything, cleared it, repaired it, and were waiting for the tourists.

Finally, if you are traveling to Kerala around the end of year holidays, know that this state is one of the most Christian in India. You will certainly fall under the spell of their decorations, paper stars hanging everywhere.

Safety in Kerala

India is generally a safe country. Forget the news items you may have heard, they are spread over a population of 1.4 billion people and therefore very rare. And the state of Kerala is probably even safer than all the others. Go there without fear, including with children.

Driving on the road can be a little thrilling at times, but we didn’t witness any accidents. You have to believe that Indians have good reflexes.

For your health, be up to date with your vaccinations and consult your doctor to complete them. It is also strongly recommended to leave covered by travel insurance in the event of a problem (hospitalization, repatriation). Good news: despite the bodies of water in the backwaters, malaria is not present in Kerala.

Do an Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala

Apart from a few so-called “Ayurvedic” massages, we have never tested real traditional Indian medicine. However, many travelers come to Kerala with the idea of a “treatment” stopover, which generally combines slightly exotic treatments, more or less gentle yoga, cuisine adapted to your dosha (Ayurvedic profile) and… a lot of relaxation.

We have not tested this type of retreat, so we are far from knowing how to advise you on the technical details, but after digging around and reading a lot of reviews, two categories seem to stand out. Some centers are very simple, they are more like clinics in the medical sense, with little comfort and quite advanced Ayurvedic techniques (even extreme in our opinion!). And others focus everything on comfort, the beauty of the place and proximity to nature with a certain tendency to charge enormous prices.

A well-rated establishment is this one. It is a bit between the two profiles, not too luxurious but pleasant all the same, with an attentive medical team and reasonable prices (which do not include treatment).

Traveling to Kerala with a local agency?

As you will have understood, we think that Kerala is ideal for a first trip to India and that it is relatively easy to travel there independently. If, despite everything, you are reassured by the idea of being supported, we advise you to take services Delighted Journey. He is local agencie and helps you organize your tailor-made trip. You can indicate your desire for discoveries, but also the level of support desired (accommodation, transport, guide, group trip or not… everything is possible). See their proposals for Kerala (the quote request is free).

Choose Kerala or Tamil Nadu?

You may be wondering which of these states to choose for a trip to South India. Response from Normands: both are good choices! That said, we must admit that we have a preference for Kerala. Nature is more beautiful and better preserved, the homestays are friendly and the general atmosphere is more zen. A really very gentle introduction to a first trip to India.

Tamil Nadu wins on the heritage and adventure front. Tamil culture is complex, indecipherable, and offers more surprises around every corner. The trip will be a bit “roots”, perhaps more suited to backpacks than wheeled suitcases. Pondicherry is a city apart. It is not officially part of Tamil Nadu.

We add a third line of thought: the state of Karnataka which, technically, is also located in South India. Between the magical Mysore Palace and the historic sites of Hampi, Badami and Bijapur, it has a lot to offer. But be careful, for these last two stages, you arrive in tiring India, not recommended for beginners!

Trip to Kerala by Delighted Journey