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Kerala Tourism: A Complete Guide to Travel and Tours in Kerala

Kerala, a state in Southern India is known as a tropical paradise of swaying palms and tropical beaches. It is a narrow strip of coastal territory draped along the Western Ghats in a cascade of lush green vegetation, and reaches to the Arabian sea. Also referred to as “God’s Own Country”, the sheer title presage the magnificence and bounties of nature and gracious hospitality with which Kerala is blessed. Due to its eclectic diversity both in term of geography and heritage, Kerala offers plethora of options when it comes to things to do and places to visit in this nature’s wonderland.

Table of Content for Kerala tourism beginners guide
  1. Introduction to Kerala tourism
  2. Top tourist destinations in Kerala

  3. Getting around in Kerala
  4. Climate in Kerala
  5. Ayurveda in Kerala
  6. Eating in Kerala
  7. Homestays in Kerala
  8. Hotels in Kerala
  9. Dos and Dont's for international travels in Kerala
An introduction to tourism in Kerala
The chief appeal of Kerala lies in its meandering network of backwaters, tropical beaches, hill stations and wildlife sanctuaries. Not to mention the architectural and cultural heritage which includes temples, forts, Kathakali and Mohiniattam dance forms. A veritable tourist paradise in India, Kerala is also a favored honeymoon destination owing to its charming countryside, lush surroundings, endearing backwaters and paradisiacal beach escapades.

Another foremost aspect adding to the romantic appeal of Kerala tourism is Ayurveda and yoga. Kerala tourism gives you an opportunity to explore various spectacular destinations in ‘God’s Own Country’ not to mention it’s green tourism initiatives to promote responsible tourism and reduce the carbon footprints of the traveler while at the same time empowering the locals to become a direct beneficiary of the tourism activities.
Top tourist destinations in Kerala
Alappuzza is one of the major tourist attractions in the state. This spectacular place is often referred to as the “Venice of the East” because of the network of lakes, lagoons and water channels, and its verdant natural beauty. Ketuvallams promenading in the serene backwaters and lush rice paddy fields and pastoral environs adding to the mystique of backwater cruise at Alappuzza is one of the most alluring aspects of Kerala tourism. But it’s not just the foray into the backwaters of the famous Nehru Snake Boat Race. A tour to the pastoral countryside of Alleppey is definitely worth stopping for to soak in some tropical village life before making a beeline for the backwaters. Also, when in Alappuzza, make sure that you gorge on that mouth watering seafood and an eclectic variety of authentic South Indian cuisines. But a backwater cruise in the calm coconut fringed water channels on board Ketuvallams is a must. Ketuvallams used to be traditional rice barge and offer an authentic experience of culture of Kerala.
Draped along the Western Ghats, Munnar is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the lowlands of Kerala. Owing its salubrious climate to rolling hills, scenic hillocks roofed with tea gardens and craggy peaks often isolated yet enticing, Munnar is one of the most fascinating hill stations of South India. The major tourist attractions of this place are Eravikulam National Park, Devikulum, Pothanmedu, Attukal, Nayamakad, etc. But don’t go for the usual in Munnar if you are looking forward to enjoy the real charm of Munnar. Head to the surrounding hills and serene countryside of Munnar, only then will you discover the authentic lure of this bucolic retreat.
Lying on the shore of largest freshwater lake in India, the Vembanad a part of the Kuttanad, you can actually stop here in Kumarakom to smell the fragrance which impregnates the air. Those who’ve read Roy’s God of Small Thing’s set in a village adjoining Kumarakom must have a general idea of the backdrop. Tourism in Kumarakom normally revolves around Vembanad Lake and backwaters. Backwaters here consist of spectacular lakes, channels, rivers, inlets, lagoons and canals. A ride in Ketuvallams –refurbished traditional thatched rice barges – is a must if you are visiting Kumarakom.

Kumarakom is one of the most visited places in Kerala after Alappuzza. The Kumarakom bird sanctuary spread across 14 acres of land and marshes is one of the most popular bird sanctuaries in the country and a haven of migratory birds. This sanctuary is a home to birds like Egrets, Darters, Herons, Teal, Bitterns, Brahminy kites, Marsh Harries, Waterfowl, Cuckoo, Wild ducks etc. which are seen here in abundance. Siberian Staorks migrating here every year is another major attraction of this birding paradise in Kerala.
Kovalam name to fame was the discovery of its pristine beaches in early 1970s by hippies. An erstwhile backpacker’s paradise, Kovalam has developed into a world class tropical beach paradise in Kerala. It is a favored destination of honeymooners and those looking forward to a rejuvenating time in sand and sun. Another important factor contributing to tourism in Kovalam is Ayurveda and wellness activities to invigorate your body, mind and soul.

Kovalam beach has three semi-circular shaped beaches, which are separated by rocky enclosures. Although the main beaches have become too crowded, thanks to the rapid urbanization of Kovalam, you can still discover the exotic beauty for which Kovalam is romanticized internationally as you wade deeper into the coastline. Shopping for souvenirs and the mouth tingling cuisines served for the platter are two other activities which keep travelers busy in Kovalam.
Wayanad meaning “Land of the Paddy Field” is a verdant hill county draped along the Malabar Coast in Kerala standing testimony to a pre historic culture dating back to Mesolithic ages. Wayanad is known for its cascading waterfalls, picturesque mountains, wildlife sanctuary and responsible tourism initiatives. A medley of green rice fields, frolicking wildlife and surprisingly less visitors makes it an ideal retreat after sun and sand of the low lying planes in Kerala.

Wayanad is one of those few destinations in Kerala which has retained its immaculate environment owing to lesser pressure of tourism and responsible tourism endeavors in place which has roped in all the stakeholders involved in tourism. Set at the convergence of history, culture and wildlife abounding in scenic sub-Savannah forest, Wayanad is a fascinating destination set amidst the Western Ghats and Deccan Plateau.
One of the oldest seaports in the Arabian Sea, Kollam has witnesses the rise and falls of many empires through the trade route of which it was integral part in the days of yore. Be it the Romans, Chinese, Arab, Dutch and the Portuguese who later went on to colonize this part of subcontinent before conceding it to British, Kollam is a very special place in history of India as the commercial hub of ancient sea routes and trade with its ever in demand spices and cashew.

Kollam is also a secret gateway to the backwaters of Kerala with most alluring part being its exclusivity and remoteness, thanks to which it still retains a rustic air about it. Pastoral countryside, antiquated character and the street and bazaars suffused with nostalgia, Kollam offers this and much more to those looking for serene outings in Kerala. Get a taste of the unblemished character of Kerala and its culture as you wander through the lush countryside teeming with coconut groves and cashew plantation. There are lakes and calm waterways and then there is serenity which makes for an invigorating getaway in this sleepy little town.
Fort Kochi
History permeates the air and environs of this water bound region south-west of main Kochi. Fort Kochi is suffused with the nostalgia of past, dating back to when Portuguese were granted the city back in 1503 by then Maharaja of Kochi. The eponymous Fort Kochi built by the Portuguese is one of the major attractions till date. The rule of this tiny emerald changed many hands including the Dutch and the British and a stroll in the street or particularly along the beach with Chinese Fishing Nets in the background is reminiscent of its colonial heritage witnessed in its culture and architecture.

When in Fort Kochi, a trip to the Fort, Chinese Fishing Nets and St. Francis Church is a must for the tourists. Other major tourist attractions standing testimony to the rich heritage and colonial legacy of this fascinating coastal county are Santa Cruz Basilica, Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry/Dutch Palace Vasco House believed to be the residence of legendary explorer Vasco da Gama. Besides these major attractions, a variety of cuisines, museums, beachfronts and islands ensure that tourists are on their toes when they visit this charming little town in Kerala.
Thekkady (Periyar Tiger Reserve)
Home to Periyar National Park, Thekkady is known for its scented spice plantations, abundant wildlife blossoming nature and liberal hospitality. The chief attraction of this tiny hill town is the wildlife sanctuary known for its variety of flora and fauna. Spread across the entire district is quaint spice plantations and hill towns which hold captivating prospects for small treks and mountain walks. The splendid artificial lake formed by the Mullaperiyar Dam across the Periyar adds to the charm of the park.  This is the only sanctuary in India where you can have the unique experience of viewing wildlife at close quarters from the safety of a boat on the lake.
By Bus
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) runs an extensive network of buses between most cities in Kerala. They’re not the fastest or most comfortable things on earth, but are consistent and most of the time punctual. Private buses ply the routes covered by KSRTC and some private buses even ply those not covered by KSRTC. Private buses are comparatively comfortable but there timings are a bit erratic.

By Train
Trains are good for long distance travel within the state. Most trains are long distance trains with stops at many of Kerala's stations. Short distance trains are mainly intercity passenger trains, connecting only major cities like Kochi, Trivandrum, Palakkad, Alapuzha, Kollam, Kottayam, Kozhikode, Kannur and Thrissur. For more information on train you may visit the website of Indian Railways click here for information or click here for direct booking from IRCTC Website.

By Taxi
Taxis are a good but expensive way to cover short distances. Negotiate the price before you get into the taxi. Ambassador/Indica Taxis are the big players.

Kerala has three distinct seasons:
Summer from from mid-February to mid-May. It's really hot and temperatures can go up to 35°C in the afternoons.
The monsoon in place from mid-May until early September. Expect heavy showers.
Winter mild and lasts from about mid-October to early February. Heavy rains occur from the last week of September until until early November, due to the retreat of the South-East monsoon. There is no snow in Kerala, although it is quite cold and misty in the mountain regions.
Ayurveda in Kerala
An ancient Indian art of healing and wellness, Ayurveda is a holistic medicinal tradition of natural therapies handed over generation after generations since the Aryan and Vedic period of history. Ayurveda, suffused with the ancient wisdom of longstanding therapies and treatments have still been kept alive here and this makes the holistic journey in Kerala all the more meaningful and invigorating.

The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit word “Ayu” which stands for the integrated relation of body, sense, mind & the soul; and “Veda” means Science. Thus, Ayurveda can be translated to “Life science”. Grounded in the principal of five elements and 3 humours, Ayurveda focuses on energy chakras to restore the natural balance and harmonize your body, mind and soul. Kerala’s salubrious atmosphere, bucolic countryside and serene beaches and abundance of natural herbs and medicinal plants – thanks to its richly vegetated forest and location amidst fertile Western Ghats -  makes it a popular Ayurveda tour destination in India.

An array of spa therapies sessions encompassing and inheriting wisdom of Ayurveda and Vedanta to pamper and breathe a new life into your body, mind and soul at various luxury hotels as well as destination spas and Ayurveda centers across major destinations in Kerala will elevate your senses, restore your natural balance, help you find inner peace and let you rediscover your spirit. For Ayurveda holiday packages in Kerala, tourists can either check into some of the luxury five star hotels which are properties of respected names from hospitality industry or they can choose to stay in special spa centers as per their liking and budget.
Eating in Kerala
Kerala cuisine is distinctly different from food elsewhere in India. The major difference that one can easily notice is dominance of rice as staple food and popularity of non-vegetarian dishes which includes beef and pork normally proscribed elsewhere in India. Seafood is an important part of Kerala's cuisine. In regions bordering the backwaters and lakes, traditional cuisine includes fresh-water fish like Karimeen (Black Pearlspot), Prawns, Shrimps, Kanava (Squid) and an array of other mouth watering delicacies.

Food in Kerala tends to include a variety of spices and most of them are extremely fiery. Kerala also has its own fair share of famous vegetarian cuisines and normally only vegetarian foods are taken during festival days, particularly Onam. One of the favorite for any food connoisseur traveling to Kerala is the sadhya, a traditional buffet in Kerala served in particular during Onam on a plantain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items served in it along with various desserts and sweets.
Homestays in Kerala
The new trend in global tourism is the concept of home stays. In India this is still in nascent stage but is gaining acceptance already. The notion of homestays is based on the realization of the “home away from home” concept. The homestays are becoming popular around the globe as it gives a chance to understand the culture and community the host family lives in. Everything is so natural just like home which inculcates respect, engenders understanding and goes a long way in making travel a journey to rediscover oneself along the way.

Tucked away in verdant plantations, serene beaches, amidst coconut fringed backwaters, along the paddy field in a bucolic village or any of the places with a distinct characteristic epitomizing and oozing with local culture, lifestyle and unique flavor of the land and its people, homestays definitely go a long way in bridging the cultural gaps between the host and the guests while offering an authentic local experience of holidays to the travelers.
Hotels in Kerala
Thanks to the growing popularity of Kerala as a global tourist destination owing to its amazing diversity, equitable climate, vast stretches of coconut fringed backwaters and bounties of culture and nature, a number of big names from hospitality industry have come up with exclusive properties in prime tourist destinations in Kerala. With tourism being one of the most important source for the state's coffers, a wide variety and choice of accomodation is available for tourists across the world, suiting individual tastes, cultural preferences and all options that fits everyone's pocket.

This rapid brush with urbanization has ensured that tourists never fall short of accommodation options when holidaying in Kerala. Be it for Ayurveda, yoga, backwaters, beaches or Responsible Tourism, hotels in Kerala offer pampering and comfortable accommodation to guest and there are hotels and resorts in Kerala catering to the different budgets, occasions and discerning of the tourists. Hotels ranging from tourist lodges to 5 star hotels and theme resorts are present in almost all major cities in Kerala. In addition to plush hotels and resorts, there are youth hostels, home-stays, travel dormitories and small lodges catering budget tourists and backpackers.
Dos and Don'ts in Kerala for international tourists

  • To be on safe side, foreigners are requested to register and submit their itinerary at the Foreigners Registration Office
  • Use bottled water for drinking 
  • Don't consume alcohol in public as it is frowned upon 
  • Do not interact with lone strangers when using public transport however interactions with families is considered okay 
  • Make sure that you are fully clothed and covered when visiting places of religious importance 
  • Nudity in any form is frowned upon for both genders and the rule applies more especially to women
For further queries or assistance regarding tours to Kerala please feel free to visit the website of the Indian Luxury Trains.