Kerala Suggested Itineraries – 1 week

This is the first in a new Kerala India Travel series on suggested itineraries for trips to Kerala. I have received many queries from people who are unsure about the best places to visit in Kerala, and what’s possible within a certain time frame. These suggested itinerary articles should give you some ideas for planning your trip.

Many people visit Kerala on short trips of around 1 week. Luckily, as Kerala is a compact state it is possible to see some of the highlights in this timeframe, especially if you hire a car and driver. I would recommend focusing on the Kerala backwaters. They are unique to Kerala, and one of the most beautiful, relaxing parts of India.

Here are some suggestions for 1 week itineraries in Kerala:

Backwaters Experience

The Backwaters Experience focuses on my favourite part of the state- the beautiful backwaters. A full day’s sightseeing in Fort Cochin is enough to take in the Chinese Fishing Nets, art galleries, colonial architecture and an evening Kathkali performance, and then it’s time to head out of the city.

Spend the rest of your week sampling the full range of backwaters experiences, using Alleppey as your base for an overnight houseboat trip, canoe ride and local homestay.


Kathkali Performance in Cochin

Backwaters & Beach

Cochin-AlleppeyMarari Beach-Cochin
The Backwaters & Beach route is similar to the above Backwaters Experience, but includes a day or two at the beach. You’ll still have time for a houseboat trip and homestay, but the trip will be more rushed.

Unspoilt Marari Beach is the ideal beach to include on this itinerary as it is located only a short taxi ride from Alleppey, and an hour’s drive to Cochin airport for your departure.

Backwaters & Hills

I wouldn’t recommend the Backwaters & Hills itinerary in a week for travellers using public transport. It can take 6-7 hours on the bus from Cochin-Munnar, and the same back down to Alleppey. However with a car and driver the trip can be done in much less time.

You’ll be able to enjoy the highlights of Fort Cochin, before wandering in luscious tea plantations in the cool mountain air of Munnar, then head back down to Alleppey to explore the backwaters.

If you are more interested in wildlife than tea and pretty mountain views, then you could substitute Periyar Wildlife Sanctaury for Munnar, for the chance to see elephants and monkeys. Visiting both would be too rushed in just a week though.

Kerala Backwaters

Kerala Backwaters

Keralan Coast

Cochin-Alleppey-houseboat to Kollam-Varkala-Trivandrum
If you are arriving in Cochin or Trivandrum and leaving from the other, the Keralan Coast itinerary is the best use of time to combine backwaters and beaches. It starts by following the same route as the above Backwaters Experience but you’ll take an overnight houseboat from AlleppeyKollam, saving you time and exploring some of the quieter backwaters.

From Kollam you can head straight for Varkala, or spend half a day on the fantastic village canoe trip run by the DTPC Tourist Office. The lively beach scene and clifftop views of Varkala beach are only 30 minutes away, and it’s another short hop from here to Trivandrum. On a short trip there are better places to spend your time than Trivandrum, so arrive here just in time for your departure.

Hopefully these suggested itineraries will give you some ideas of places to visit in Kerala on a 1 week visit. If you have less than a week I would recommend focusing on just one of the locations detailed above – preferably the backwaters. If you have longer than 1 week then see our suggested itineraries for 2 weeks in Kerala.

For more information about the destinations covered above read our Backwaters, Beaches, Canoe Trip, Houseboats, Homestay and Top 10 Places to Visit articles.

Making Sense of Indian Trains


Negotiating the Indian railway system can feel daunting to a first time visitor to India. We’ve all heard horror stories of people hanging out of doors and travelling on the roof of overcrowded trains, and the huge amount of bureaucracy involved in booking a ticket. Luckily there’s only a certain amount of truth in the stories!

In the previous post Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip (Part 3) we suggested that train travel is one of the best ways to travel around Kerala. It can be a bit confusing, but it is possible to travel comfortably and easily by train in Kerala. Here are some tips to help you along your way.

1) Everyone should try a train journey once – Travel by train is a great choice if you are on a budget, but even if you aren’t it’s an interesting Indian experience that’s not to be missed. It’s a great way to meet local people, watch the beautiful scenery go by, and even sample local foods (sold on platforms and by roaming vendors on the trains).

2) Start with short journeys – If you are worried about travelling by train then start with a short journey. The good news is that as Kerala is so compact, you rarely have to travel long distances by train. The Keralan coastline in particular is well connected by train. Here’s some sample approximate journey times:

Trivandrum-Varkala – 45 minutes
Varkala-Kollam – 35 minutes
KollamErnakalum/Kochi – 3-4 hours
KochiKozhikode – 5 hours
Ernakalum/KochiKannur – 7 hours

3) Trains aren’t available on all routes – There aren’t many trains available inland, especially in the hills, so you’ll need to reach Munnar or Periyar by car or bus.

4) Allow for delays – Although most Kerala train trips are short there can be delays, so if you have the budget and are on a short time scale then consider taking a taxi for the shorter journeys.

5) Choose a higher class for longer trips
– There aren’t many long trips within Kerala itself, but if you are arriving or leaving to a destination in other parts of India it’s likely that you’ll be taking an overnight train. This is when choosing your class becomes more important, as it can make all the difference to the comfort of your journey. The class system can be a bit confusing at first, with many options on offer.

There are only a few trains with First Class or AC1 carriages, so generally I’d recommend AC2 (Air Conditioned two tier) for those prioritising comfort over price. These have the most space and comfort with only 4 people in each compartment, and curtains for privacy. This is the best option for really long journeys when you are spending a day and a night on board. There will only be two of you on the long padded seat (which acts as a berth at night) so there’s plenty of space to stretch out.

AC3 (Air Conditioned three tier) is similar to AC2, but with an extra tier (i.e three berths vertically). This doesn’t make much difference at night, but during the day there will be 6 people in the compartment, so there’s less space to spread out. There are also no privacy curtains.

Sleeper Class is the way the majority of India travels. The layout is similar to AC3, but there’s no A/C, no bedding is provided, and it can get more crowded. Many adventurous travellers prefer to travel in sleeper class because they feel they get to meet ‘real Indians’ as opposed to the middle classes who travel in AC2 and 3. It’s also very cheap.

Sleeper Class is fine for short journeys during the day, but you might want to consider a bit more comfort for long trips.

There’s a great breakdown of the different Indian rail classes,  complete with photos, at The Man in Seat 61.

6) Book online for long trips – You don’t need to book in advance for short journeys, but overnight trains often book up, especially AC2 and 3 during peak season.  You can book these trains online at up to 3 months in advance and receive an eticket which you can print out.

You’ll need to register before you can book. The website can be slow at times, so if you have problems try again later. We used the site throughout our Indian travels, and although it can be frustrating it’s still much easier than dealing with the bureaucracy and queues at Indian train stations.

If you just want to know the train timetables then visit Indian Rail.

If you get stuck then feel free to leave a comment below or contact me, or check out the helpful forum at IndiaMike, where there are lots of posts about Indian trains. Enjoy your Indian train journey!

Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip (Part 3)

Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip is a multi-part series full of practical advice to consider when planning your trip to Kerala, India. Part 1 looked at the best time to visit Kerala, and what to take and wear. Part 2 focused on visas and whether it’s necessary to book in advance. In Part 3 more commonly asked questions are answered.

What’s the best way to travel around Kerala?
One of the best things about travelling around Kerala is that the state is one of the smallest in India, without the huge distances you’ll find in other parts of the country. You won’t need to travel by overnight train here, and most attractions are only a few hours apart. The main options for getting around are train, bus and rented car with driver.

Travel by Train – Train journies can be one of the highlights of travelling around India, with an extensive and pretty efficient network. It’s certainly cheap, and in the higher classes can be comfortable and spacious. The train class system is very complicated in India, so we’ll be discussing this in more detail in a later post.

Trains are the ideal way to travel along the coast between the main hubs of Trivandrum-Varkala-Kollam-Alleppey-Kochi and further North to Kozhikode and Kannur. Most of these journies are short and pass by beautiful Keralan scenery.

Travel by Bus – Trains are always more comfortable than buses in India, but aren’t an option in all parts on Kerala. To reach the popular tourist destinations of Munnar and Periyar you’ll need to travel up the winding roads by bus or car.

Buses from Kochi-Munnar or Periyar take 5-6 hours, and may be delayed, but the trip is very cheap. The journey is much quicker (3-4 hours) by car, but obviously this costs much more.

Travel by Car – A good option if you aren’t on a tight budget is hiring a car and driver (self-drive isn’t recommended on the crazy Indian roads). This is costly compared to public transport, but still affordable. This is a good idea if you are on a short trip and want to visit quite a few different places. You’ll also have the option to stop off at attractions between destinations.

You can choose to hire a car for your entire trip, or just to take you from one place to another.

How do I exchange money?
There are plenty of ATMs in all of the larger towns in Kerala – just stock up before you travel to the smaller villages and backwaters. There are also plenty of moneychangers who can change most major currencies.

Do I need to take malaria medication?
This is a difficult question to answer as experts differ on whether malaria medication is necessary for Kerala or not. You should visit your doctor or travel clinic to get the latest advice.

If you do decide to take malaria medication, it is readily available without a prescription in Kerala pharmacies, at much cheaper prices than abroad.

Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip (Part 2)

Part 1 of Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip covered the commonly asked questions of when is the best time to visit Kerala, and what to take and wear. Part 2 has more helpful tips for planning your trip.

Do I need to book in advance?
It is definitely possible to travel around Kerala without booking anything in advance, even during peak season. There are plenty of accommodation options, so you’ll always find somewhere to stay, and this option gives you the most flexibility for changing your plans.

However if you are on a short trip or have somewhere in mind where you really want to stay, then go ahead and book. It’s also always a good idea to book your first few nights in India to help you settle in.

Regarding transport, you won’t need to book buses and you can always find a car and driver when you get there. Internal flights are cheaper in advance so you may want to book these. You may also consider booking overnight trains if you want to travel in one of the higher classes (First or AC2) as these book up quickly.

Overall I wouldn’t worry too much about booking eveything in advance. In India things never go quite as planned so it’s best to be able to go with the flow and accept any changes to your plans. You’ll enjoy yourself more if you don’t let delays bother you.

One thing we learnt in India is that ‘Everything is Possible’. Somehow in India you can always find someone to help you, find a way somehow for things to work out.

Do I need a visa for India?
One thing you will want to arrange in advance is your visa. Citizens of all countries except Nepal and Bhutan need a visa. These are usually valid for 6 months from the date of issue (not when you arrive in the country) and can be obtained from the Indian embassy or high commission in your home country.

Postal applications can take a while so make sure you allow a month or so if you can’t attend the embassy in person. When applying in person there are often long queues (especially in London), so you’ll need to arrive early and it can take all day. You can avoid these by paying a visa agency to get your visa for you.

Part 3 of Kerala India Travel Tips looks at the best ways to travel around Kerala and how to manage money and malaria.

Kerala India Travel – Tips to Plan Your Trip (Part 1)

These Kerala India Travel Tips should help you plan your trip to Kerala. Here are some commonly asked questions from first time visitors. Part 1 covers when to visit, and what to take and wear. Part 2 focuses on visas and whether it’s necessary to book in advance, while Part 3 discusses transport, money and malaria.

When is the best time to visit Kerala?
The best time to travel to Kerala is during the winter months (December – February), when the weather is hot, sunny and dry with average 30 degree celsius (86 F) temperatures. You’ll find the biggest crowds then though, especially from end December to mid January.

From March the temperature and humidity increases in the build up to the monsoon, which arrives with heavy rains in June.

It isn’t impossible to travel during the monsoon though – it doesn’t rain all day, and you’ll find lower prices and fewer crowds. This is considered the best time for Ayurvedic treatments, but not for beach holidays.

What should I take?
As little as possible, especially if you are travelling by public transport, which is very cheap but can be crowded. You’ll only need light cotton clothes for the warm weather, with a jumper for the cooler climate in the hills (such as around Munnar).

You can buy clothes very cheaply in India, and even have them custom made for you at reasonable prices.

Suncream is expensive so it’s best to bring your own. Locally made insect repellant (such as Odomos) is cheap and seems to work better than the foreign stuff. You can even pick up malaria pills such as the antibiotic doxycycline without a prescription at any pharmacy, and at much lower prices than abroad.

A small torch (flashlight) is a good idea as power cuts are quite common in India.

What should women wear?
All visitors, but particularly women should dress modestly when travelling in Kerala. It is fine to wear bikinis at the beach resorts, but away from there you must wear loose clothes that cover your shoulders and knees to avoid stares and offence. On remote beaches and in backwater rivers it’s best to cover up to swim by wearing a tshirt and sarong or long shorts.

Men and women should both wear long trousers or skirts when visiting temples and churches.

What would you like to see on Kerala India Travel?

The Kerala India Travel website was set up to help visitors to this beautiful area of India plan their trips. Kerala is a popular destination for first time visitors to India, and it can often be overwhelming planning a trip here.

We’ve had a number of emails recently from readers looking for particular information for their trip to Kerala. It’s always great to be able to help people out, so we’d like to open this up further to other readers.

What would you like to see on the Kerala India Travel website? Do you have any questions or suggestions for articles? What do you find most confusing about planning a trip to Kerala and India? Or do you have any Kerala tips you’d like to share with other readers?

We want to make sure that the information we provide at Kerala India Travel is helpful and relevant to you.

Which Kerala Beach is Right For You? Part 3 – North Kerala

The Kerala coast is lined with beautiful, palm-backed beaches. In the past two posts at Kerala India Travel our Kerala Beach Guide has outlined the different options from the busy southern resorts in Part 1 to the central beaches in Part 2. If you really want to get off the beaten track though then head to North Kerala.

Kappad Beach

Kozhikode (previously known as Calicut) is the capital of Northern Kerala, a region known as the Malabar Coast. Most visitors to Kerala don’t venture this far north, so there are plenty of quiet beaches along this coast.

You can start your beach hopping just 16 km north of Kozhikode with a 45 minute journey to Kappad Beach. This historic Kerala beach is a great escape from the busy city with a long golden stretch of sand and crashing surf. This is where Vasco da Gama first arrived in India in 1498. The historic occasion is marked by a small plaque, but generally you’ll find more fishermen here than tourists.

The beach is safe for swimming and is relatively undeveloped, although one resort and a few guesthouses offer a place to stay.


Kannur is a small town located 92km north of Kozhikode. Most visitors come to witness theyyam the extraordinary masked spirit possession ritual found in nearby villages. As well as the opportunity to see the spectacular Hindu performance, there are some lovely homestays located on quiet beaches near Kannur.

Costa Malabari is one of the best places to stay, located in cashew and coconut groves, it offers great home-cooked food, visits to theyyam dances, and only a 5 minute walk to a beautiful quiet beach.

Bekal Beach

Bekal beach is 60km north of Kannur, near the border with Karnataka. The empty golden sands are beneath the Bekal Fort, the largest fort in Kerala and a popular weekend day trip for Indians.

The impressive fort has great views of the coast, and the swimming on the beach is safe. However as the locals aren’t used to western tourists it is important to dress modestly on the beach to avoid offence.

Bekal is a great place to combine with a trip to the Valiyaparamba backwaters,  a much quieter alternative to the backwaters near Alleppey.

All of these northern Kerala beaches are recommended for travellers wanting to get off the beaten track, enjoy quiet undeveloped beaches and experience some unique aspects of Keralan culture.