The Indian state of Kerala is one of the country’s most treasured tourist regions and is renowned for its sleepy backwaters – a magnificent network of lagoons and rivers spanning 900km. Kochi (Cochin) is the main centre and its historic Fort area enjoys a picturesque setting by the Arabian Sea. The busy coastal towns in the south-west offer traditional sun and sand holidays, whilst further north on the Malabar the coastal landscapes are less touched by development. Inland lies Munnar, a spectacular mountainous area covered in tea hills offering a host of outdoor pursuits, as well as quiet spice and rubber estates and Periyar for wildlife.
Kerala has a similar sub-tropical climate to the west coast of Sri Lanka. The best time to visit is between late November and mid-March when you can expect lots of blue skies and modest humidity. From mid-March onwards, humidity levels rise, but the weather is still predominantly dry. Expect May to July to be wet. The shoulder season, in August and September, offers improving weather (although there is still some rain) and lower prices than peak season. Then the north-east monsoon – less disruptive than its predecessor – again brings rain in October and much of November. Munnar, in the hill country is cooler: 20-35C at the hottest times of year, 10C-20C in peak holiday season, with its spectacular waterfalls losing intensity from January to May.
Kerala, a coastal state in India's south west, is perfectly placed for a combination holiday with Sri Lanka or the Maldives. There are no direct flights to Kerala from Europe but Kochi (Cochin),now one of the busiest airports in India, connects to the major Indian hubs as well as Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Far East. Trivandrum (which now goes under the virtually unmanageable name of Thiruvananthapurum) also offers good India links.
Places to See
- Take a languid trip down Kerala’s backwaters
- Explore the historic centre of Fort Kochi
- Relax by beaches or tranquil lagoons
- Go on a wildlife safari through the jungles of Periyar
- Try trekking and boating amid Munnar’s mountains
- See traditional festivals and try local cuisine
There is so much to enjoy in Kerala. A boat journey on Kerala’s tranquil backwaters is one of India’s most rewarding experiences, and Kerala’s traditional rice barges, known as houseboats, are a popular accommodation option. Fort Kochi has some of the best-preserved examples of early colonial buildings. Thrissur claims to be Kerala's cultural capital and is the best centre for Kathakali dance, whilst Kannur is the place to see the ancient spirit-possession ritual of Theyyattam.
Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram),Kerala’s laid-back capital, is set on seven low hills in the deep south and is close to Kovalam’s golden beaches. Varkala, boasting white-sanded beaches backed by dramatic red cliffs, has grown in popularity in recent years. Munnar, a one-time colonial hill station, has sprawling tea plantations, gushing waterfalls, and untouched wilderness with exotic flora and fauna, making it a great destination for trekking, mountain climbing, birdwatching, boating and cycling. There are wildlife opportunities, too: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary attracts 300,000 visitors a year, and there are bird sanctuaries at Kumarakom and Thattekad.
Kerala came to prominence as ships from the East came in search of spices, gems, gold and silk. Trade links were first fought over by the Cheras and the neighbouring Cholas, who were repelled by the end of the 11C. The Europeans, led by the Portuguese general Vasco da Gama, arrived in India in 1498, followed by the Dutch and the British. All brought new ideas, lifestyles, religions and cuisine which remain a part of Kerala's heritage. The majority of the population is Hindu but up to a quarter of Kerala's inhabitants are Christian, and there is also a sizeable Muslim population.