Kerala Guidebook Review: Lonely Planet South India

LPSIndia_In the last Kerala India Travel post we reviewed The Rough Guide to Kerala, a detailed but compact guide for those just visiting the state. However if you are touring other destinations in South India then Lonely Planet South India is a great choice. The latest version of this guide has just been released (September 2009) so is packed full of up to date practical information.


The Lonely Planet South India is a 576 page guide that is surprisingly compact and lightweight, considering it covers such a large region. It features information on Mumbai, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It includes:

South India Highlights – a run down of the top ten highlights in the region with large colour photos. Three of the highlights are in Kerala (Kerala Backwaters at Number 1, Fort Cochin and Kannur). This is a nice visual introduction to the region.

Getting Started – I like this useful section that focuses on the key practicalities you need to plan your trip. It introduces you to South India and deals with when to go, costs, key items to pack and includes Top Picks for books, festivals and trips.

Events Calendar – featuring major national festivals by month. State specific festivals aren’t included here, but there are festival lists in each state chapter.

Itineraries – I find the suggested itineraries section in Lonely Planet guides one of the most useful features when first planning a trip. Especially with a region as large as South India it can be overwhelming deciding where to go and working out what is possible in a certain period of time. This section shows suggested routes on a map with a description and recommended time frame.

You get an idea of what the most popular attractions are, as well as suggestions on how to avoid the crowds in the Road Less Travelled itineraries. The Tailored Trips routes are great for focusing on an area of interest – in this case temples, ashrams, festivals and beaches. I’m not suggesting you slavishly follow these routes but they are a great starting point for planning a trip around your own interests.

History & Culture – These sections are essential for improving your understanding of South India. The detailed culture section covers lifestyle, religion, women in India, arts and sport.

Food & Drink – Another vital chapter focusing on South Indian food that features a lovely full colour section with photos and a helpful glossary.

Environment & Activities -The useful activities chapter highlights the best places for certain activities such as elephant rides or birdwatching. This is helpful for choosing an itinerary based on an interest. It includes a holistic and spiritual activities section telling you where to go for ashrams, yoga and Ayurveda etc.

Main Guide – The main guide is divided up by state. Each state chapter starts with an introduction, map, key facts (such as when to go, language etc) and a list of festivals. It lists 9 festivals for Kerala. Information on destinations covers practical information, sights & activities, sleeping, eating, drinking, entertainment, getting there & away, and getting around.

Directory, Transport & Health – The detailed practical information that applies to the whole region is listed at the back of the guide. Here you’ll discover what to expect from Indian toilets, scams to look out for, how to send a parcel or book a train and a huge amount of other invaluable information.

Language – The language section includes key phrases in all major South Indian language- Tamil, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam (for Kerala), Marathi and Telugu.

Green Index List – A list of organisations featured in the guide that are committed to sustainability.


  • The latest version of Lonely Planet South India has just been released, so the information is very up to date.
  • Lots of accurate and easy to use maps.
  • The suggested itineraries section is very helpful for planning a trip.
  • Accurate and detailed transport information. I believe Lonely Planet provide the best advice on how to get from A to B.
  • Compact and not too heavy (especially compared with the huge Lonely Planet India).
  • Useful colour food and drink section for making sense of the range of delicious food on offer.
  • Activities section for planning a trip around an interest.
  • Green Index List helps you find sustainable organisations.
  • Language section features all six major South Indian languages (including Malayalam for Kerala which is not included in Lonely Planet India).


  • It doesn’t cover Keralan specific culture and destinations in as much detail as The Rough Guide to Kerala.
  • Lonely Planet is the most popular guide with travellers in India, so you could end up following the crowds, especially with the accommodation recommendations.


Lonely Planet South India is a comprehensive, detailed guide to the region packed with useful information.

I personally like the Lonely Planet format, but if you are a Rough Guide fan you might also want to consider the Rough Guide to South India. However the latest version was published in October 2007 so is two years older than the Lonely Planet South India.

There are only six more pages of Kerala information in Lonely Planet South India than there is in the Lonely Planet India, so if you are travelling all over the country it’s worth getting this complete guide to the country. Read my review of the Lonely Planet India guidebook here.

Buy the Lonely Planet South India Now.

Kerala Guidebook Review: The Rough Guide to Kerala

RGKeralaThis is the first in a new series reviewing the best Kerala guidebooks.

The Rough Guide to Kerala is the only major guidebook that covers Kerala only and is ideal for travellers who are just visiting Kerala, and not the rest of India. This comprehensive guide is suitable for all independent travellers, whether on a shoestring budget or in search of comfortable resorts.  It covers all the major attractions as well as more off the beaten track destinations.


The Rough Guide to Kerala is a compact size with 351 pages. It includes:

  • A Colour Introductory Section – This includes a good introduction to Kerala, a colour map, an overview of ‘where to go’, and a useful ‘when to go’ section featuring average temperature and rainfall charts.  The ’19 Things Not to Miss’ feature includes colour photos and alongside the most obvious sights, lists interesting aspects of Keralan culture such as Kalarippayattu, an acrobatic martial art, and Sadya, a banana leaf feast. This section is a really useful overview and gives a good sense of what there is to see and do in Kerala.
  • Basics Section – Here you’ll find all the important practical information you’ll need to plan your trip. It includes information on transport (getting there and around), types of accommodation on offer, health, sports and outdoor activities, culture and etiquette (very important for India), shopping (what are the best souvenirs to buy), travelling with kids, and travel essentials such as costs and changing money.I particularly like the comprehensive festivals list which details 48 Keralan festivals that take place throughout the year, and the detailed guide to delicious Keralan food and drink. This features a section on Keralan spices, and a list of ’10 Great Places to Eat Authentic Keralan Food’.
  • The Main Guide – This is divided up into Southern, Central and Northern Kerala. Each section includes an introduction, a map, a list of highlights and some history for that area. The guides are detailed and for each place cover transport, accommodation, sights, eating and practical listings for hospitals, internet cafes etc.
  • Both popular and smaller off the beaten track destinations are covered. The accommodation reviews cover the full range of options from rock bottom budget to luxury resorts. There is a colour section on the backwaters, but mostly the guide section is text with the occasional black and white photo.

  • Contexts – At the back of The Rough Guide to Kerala there is detailed information on the history, religion, sacred arts and wildlife of Kerala, which is very helpful for learning more about the state. There is also a comprehensive book list for further reading.
  • Language – The final section features basic Malayalam phrases and a helpful food glossary.


  • This is a comprehensive guide to Kerala with a huge amount of background information to Keralan culture, as well as detailed listings for many destinations.
  • It’s a compact size that is easy to carry around.
  • The accommodation reviews cover all budgets from shoestring to luxury.
  • Lots of practical information to help you plan your trip such as how to book trains, where to get your laundry done and how much your trip will cost.
  • A detailed guide to Keralan food – a very important part of your trip!
  • It’s the only Kerala only guide on the market, so you don’t have to carry around unnecessary information if you are only visiting this state.


  • The current edition of The Rough Guide to Kerala was published in October 2007, so some of the information will be out of date, especially prices.
  • The accommodation prices aren’t listed, just a price range. However given that these prices go out of date quickly this may be an advantage.
  • I don’t find the maps as detailed or accurate as the ones published in the Lonely Planet Guides.


The Rough Guide to Kerala is the best guide on the market for people wanting to travel independently to only Kerala, and not other parts of India, or if you are planning to spend a significant period of time there. It is suitable for all travel budgets whether you are travelling by car and driver or bus, and staying in basic guesthouses or luxury resorts.

In future posts I review my other favourite guidebooks Lonely Planet South India and Lonely Planet India, which are excellent choices if you are touring other parts of the country as well as Kerala.

Buy The Rough Guide to Kerala now.

What is your favourite guidebook to Kerala? Leave a comment and let us know.

Beena Homestay Review – Fort Kochi, Kerala

Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Kochi

Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Kochi

Homestays are a wonderful way to explore Kerala, as you get the opportunity to meet local people and eat authentic home-cooked food, all for reasonable prices. Beena Homestay in Fort Kochi is a favourite of mine, and is highly recommended for those looking for good value accommodation in Cochin. Here are the reasons why:

1) Great central location – It’s located at a walkable distance (10-15 minutes) from all the main sites in Fort Kochi, but is far enough away from the touristy heart of the city to feel authentic.

2) Wonderful friendly family –
Beena and her family are very warm, welcoming and make you feel part of the family. They are genuinely interested in meeting travellers from around the world, and go out of their way to help you. They can assist you in booking a range of activities or transport to your next destination.

3) Delicious food – As always in Keralan homestays the food is a highlight. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price and is delicous and very generously portioned (your plate will keep getting filled!). The family aren’t vegetarians but did a very good job of providing us with a range of vegetable dishes.

4) Comfortable rooms – The rooms are simple, but comfortable and clean, and come with ensuite bathrooms and a choice of fan or a/c. Beena is a health inspector and rooms are suitably immaculate.

5) Sociable atmosphere – As meals are eaten communally with the other guests it’s a great way to meet other people. The family are always around for a chat too.

The homestay is very popular with everyone who stays there and has 5 out of 5 reviews on Trip Advisor.

How to Book

You can book your stay at Beena Homestay by visiting their website which has full details. Or you can email or call +91 484 2215458.

Prices range from Rs 600-800 (£8-10 or US$13-17) for a double fan room, to Rs 1500 (£20 or $32) for an a/c double.

If you are interested in staying in homestays in Kerala you can also see our review of Community Greenpalm Homes in the Kerala backwaters.

The Best Homestay in Kerala – Community Greenpalm Homes Review (Part 3)

Community Greenpalm Homes is my favourite Kerala homestay. In Part 1 of my review I gave my reasons why, including the wonderful location, friendly host, relaxing atmosphere and delicious food. In Part 2 I focused on the fantastic range of activities on offer, such as village walks, bike rides and canoe trips. In this third and final part I’ll be detailing more practical information.

The Rooms

Community Greenpalm Homes

Community Greenpalm Homes

When we arrived at the homestay we were expecting a very basic home without any creature comforts. In fact Thomas has strived to make the homestay as comfortable as possible for his guests. His sister’s home is the main house that the guests stay in, which is next door to the family house.

The guest house is large and recently built. Although the guest rooms aren’t luxurious, they are very comfortable with a choice of fan or air conditioning, and attached modern bathrooms. Guests eat together in the large kitchen and are free to relax in the living room or on the verandah.

Sometimes if the main homestay is booked up Thomas will arrange for you to stay with another family in the village. This may be less comfortable, but possibly even more authentic.

Getting There
The most interesting way to reach Community Greenpalm Homes is by local ferry. You can take this small, rather noisy boat from Alleppey for a chance to travel with the locals and see the great backwater views. Chennamkary is only 10km away but it takes just over an hour to reach the homestay. Thomas will give you detailed instructions on where to get off when you book. It’s a short walk to the homestay from the small jetty.

If you don’t fancy the ferry then you can take a bus or taxi from Alleppey then a short canoe ride across the river. When we left the homestay we picked up a bus to Kumily (with a change in Kuttayam), which meant we didn’t have to backtrack to Alleppey.

How Long to Stay
I recommend staying for a minimum of three nights to get a real feel for the place and to have the chance to take part in a range of activities. We planned on staying for two nights but kept extending our stay and eventually left after five. We would have loved to stay longer – a week would be perfect if you really need some relaxation time. Be warned that most people stay longer than planned!

Rooms cost from 1,750 INR – 2,500 INR for a fan room (approx UK£22-32 or US$37-53), and 2,750 INR– 3,250 INR (UK£35-42 or US$58-70) for a room with a/c. This is for a double room on full board with three meals a day included.

Guided activities cost from 100 INR – 300 INR  per person (UK£1.28-3.85 or US$2-6).

How to book

It is necessary to book in advance, although we only called a few days before we wanted to stay. You can contact Thomas by emailing or or by calling +91 949 5557675 or +91 477 2724497. You can also visit their new website.

Further Reading
If you would like to read more reviews of Community Greenpalm Homes then you could have a look at these travel blogs:

Jason was staying at the homestay at the same time as us. He writes beautifully about his experiences there on his TravBuddy Blog.

Qui001 writes about their stay at Greenpalm Homes in March 2009 on their World Nomads Blog.

Have you stayed at this homestay? Or do you have another favourite? Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences.

The Best Homestay in Kerala – Community Greenpalm Homes Review (Part 2)

Kerala Paddy Fields near Greenpalm Homes

Kerala Paddy Fields near Greenpalm Homes

Community Greenpalm Homes is a wonderful Kerala homestay located on the peaceful backwater island of Chennamkary, near Alleppey. In Part 1 of my review I gave the reasons why this is my favourite homestay in India, including the beautiful, peaceful location, the fantastic host Thomas, the chance to meet local people, the range of activities on offer, the chance to relax, and the amazing home-cooked food.

During our stay at the homestay we had the opportunity to take part in a wide range of activities, and still have plenty of time to relax and soak up the atmosphere. In Part 2 of the Community Greenpalm Homes review I’ll be talking more about the wonderful activities on offer.


Following Thomas along the Kerala backwater canal paths

Following Thomas along the Kerala backwater canal paths

We took many walks around the village accompanied by Thomas and they were always a fascinating insight into village life.

The backwaters are flat so the walking is easy, and Thomas usually took us out in the early morning or evening to avoid the heat. Walks ranged from 1-3 hours, but Thomas is really flexible depending on your needs and interests.

On each walk we always saw something new and interesting – bright pink hibiscus bushes; purple banana flowers; the rare Asian Paradise Flycatcher bird; paper stars outside homes lit up for Christmas (even by Hindu families); wooden canoes overflowing with coconuts; women in colourful saris irrigating the rice paddy fields or washing clothes in the river.

Local man in Kerala backwaters

Local man in Kerala backwaters

It was always a pleasure to walk along the dirt paths under the green palms, next to narrow canals and rivers, and through the paddy fields.

A highlight was the local people we met along the way. Thomas knows everyone in the village, so walks were a leisurely affair punctuated with chats with elderly men in lungis (sarongs) or giggling, smiling children.  Frequent stops were made at chai shacks for spicy sweet tea at bargain prices.

Bike rides
Our bike trip was another highlight and a great way to explore. By bike you can reach further afield to areas that rarely see tourists, and are very friendly when they do. The old Indian bikes aren’t the easiest to pedal on, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and at least there are no hills. You do have to carry them across the bridges though!

Canoe trips

Kerala backwaters canoe

Kerala backwaters canoe

Our most magical experience at Greenpalm Homes was the canoe trip we took with Thomas, Jason (another guest at the homestay) and Thomas’s two Keralan friends celebrating their second anniversary.  We set out at sunset gliding peacefully through the backwaters before making our way to the local toddy shop.

This insalubrious-looking building is more like a prison with separate cubicles, bars on the windows and painted brick walls. We had a wonderful time though, sampling the local brew toddy, made from fermented coconut flower sap. The murky drink smells awful, but doesn’t taste too bad, especially when accompanied by the bar snack of choice- chilli omelette.

The local toddy shop

The local toddy shop

The night just got better as we made our way back to the homestay under a star lit sky accompanied by the beautiful voices of Thomas and our two oarsmen singing traditional folk songs. A perfect end to an amazing evening.

Other activities

Other activities on offer include motorboat trips, or visits to local Christian Churches (Thomas’s family is Syrian Christian). Thomas is very accommodating and will help you make the most of your visit, whatever your interests.

In the next Kerala India Travel post the final part of my favourite Kerala homestay review  focuses on the practical details of costs and how to get there. In the meantime, if you’d like to book a stay you can email Thomas at or

The Best Homestay in Kerala – Community Greenpalm Homes Review (Part 1)

One of the highlights of travelling in Kerala is the wide range of homestays on offer. Nothing beats the welcoming atmosphere, delicious home-cooked food and chance to meet friendly local people that you get when staying in the home of a Keralan family.

Our best experiences in Kerala (and in India) were had when staying in homestays. Our favourite place of all is Community Greenpalm Homes (aka Thomas’s Homestay), located on a backwater island only 10km from Alleppey, but it feels a world away. I haven’t heard a bad word said by anyone who has stayed here. Everyone comes away enchanted by Thomas and his friendly family, fantastic food, great range of backwater activities, and the unique insight into Keralan culture.

Over the next few articles (yes, this will take a while!) I’ll be giving the reasons why I highly recommend a stay at this magical place.

1) Beautiful, peaceful location


The Kerala Backwaters

Community Greenpalm Homes is located on Chennamkary, an island in the Keralan backwaters 10km from Alleppey. It’s a gorgeous, lush place of green palms, tropical fruit trees, glistening rice paddy fields, rivers and canals. There are no cars or even roads, and you feel blissfully far from everything. It’s wonderfully peaceful, and very easy to fall into the slow pace of life. This place is the ultimate balm for road (and India) weary travellers.

2) Fantastic Host
thomasWhat really makes Greenpalm Homes stand out is the erudite, gentle host Thomas, and his welcoming family. Thomas is an incredibly knowledgeable guy who is the perfect guide to the backwaters. He is very well respected, knows everyone in the village, and knows a lot about the history and culture of the area.

3) Chance to meet local people
As well as meeting Thomas and his family, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet the local villagers. Thomas will take you out on leisurely trips around the village, stopping to chat with people along the way or have a cup of chai at the open air tea shop/shacks. People are very friendly, and the further into the backwaters you get, the less they are accustomed to seeing foreigners.

4) Range of activities
You could easily do nothing at the homestay but chill out (see point 4 below), but there are plenty of interesting activities on offer, and I would really recommend you do as many as possible. Thomas will take you out on a variety of trips in the early morning or evening (to avoid the heat), and they are always interesting, and often tailored to your interests.

Our favourite activities were a range of walks around the village, the longer bike ride to a neighbouring village, and the sunset canoe ride to the local toddy shop. Motor boat rides are also available to explore further afield, and you can visit one of the many Christian churches on Sundays . Read more about our favourite activities in Part 2.


Locals in the Backwaters of Kerala

5) Ultimate Relaxation
There are lots of activities on offer at the homestay, but during the hot part of the day it is very easy to pass the time just lazing on the verandah or under a palm tree gazing at the river, or chatting to the family or other travellers. This is in fact part of the attraction of the place – it’s the ultimate in relaxation.

You definitely need a few days to slow down to the pace of life here, but once you do it is very hard to leave (warning: we extended our stay three times!). We felt completely at peace here.

6) Amazing home-cooked food
Mmmm! The food is a definite highlight at Greenpalm Homes. Thomas’s mother and wife cook wonderful fresh Keralan food three times a day that is served at a large communal table with other travellers, and sometimes Thomas. The rice is from their own paddy fields, and the vegetables are home-grown.

Breakfast is particularly interesting for those of us only used to toast and cereal. Highlights included puttu (steamed rice cakes) with curry, neyyappam (rice pancake filled with coconut and jaggery and cooked in banana leaf), and fried banana.

Lunch is the main meal and will involve a huge range of vegetable and curry dishes, rice, chutneys and popadoms. It’s great for vegetarians, although fish and meat is available. The portions are huge and you are always encouraged to keep eating! Dinners are similar but lighter.

Meals are long, relaxing and sociable – it’s a great way to meet other travellers.

In Part 2 of the Community Greenpalm Homes Review I focus on our favourite activities, while Part 3 looks at the practicalities.

In the meantime, if you’d like to book a stay you can email Thomas at or or visit their website.

Kerala Suggested Itineraries – 2 weeks

Following on from the last Kerala India Travel post on suggested Kerala 1 week itineraries, here’s some ideas to help you plan your two week trip to Kerala.

View from Munnar, Kerala. Photo by KCBimal

View from Munnar, Kerala. Photo by KCBimal

Kerala Highlights

Cochin-MunnarPeriyar Wildlife Sanctuary-AlleppeyKollam-Varkala-Trivandrum
This is the classic Kerala route that takes in the most popular destinations. After exploring Fort Kochi for a day head up to the hills and wander the tea plantations in the cool mountain air of Munnar. Next spot wild elephants and monkeys (and tigers if you’re really lucky) in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, before taking a taxi or bus down the winding roads to Alleppey.

Alleppey will be your base to explore the backwaters, stay in a homestay and take a houseboat ride. You could easily spend a week relaxing here, but if you are keen for some beach time press on to Kollam where it’s only a short ride to the dramatic beaches of Varkala. Finishing your trip in Trivandrum you’ll be able to pick up onward transport after some temple sightseeing.

Backwaters & Beaches

If you want to avoid the cooler climes of the hills then stick to the backwaters and beaches of Kerala. You’ll see many of the sights of the Kerala Highlights route, but you’ll have more time to soak up the slow Keralan pace and chill out by rivers and sea.

Keralan Coast

This Keralan Coast route takes you along the 580km long Arabian Sea fringed coast, from the bustling beaches of Varkala to the isolated sandy stretches and fishing villages of the far north. Of course the backwaters are not to be missed, and Fort Kochi is always worth a day wandering the colonial streets and spice markets.

North of here you can escape the crowds in the area known as the Malabar Coast. Kozhikode is much more Muslim influenced than other parts of Kerala with some interesting mosques and unique cuisine. Kannur is the place for quiet beaches and visits to traditional Theyyyam dance performances.

In the far North of the state you’ll find empty beaches and historic battlements at Bekal Fort, not far from the border with neighbouring Karnataka state.