After a week on the beach in Agonda, Goa, I decided to fly south to explore Kerala. I had heard only good things about the region and I was eager to explore it! The below itinerary is based on my own trip (I actually had an extra two days), but this 10 day Kerala Itinerary is entirely doable and will allow you to see the best that Kerala has to offer.
Note: This itinerary starts in Varkala (flying to Trivandrum International Airport) and finishes in Kochi (leaving from Cochin International Airport).
Varkala is a beachside town which is popular on both the foreigner and Indian tourist trail. Its known for its bright red cliffs that face the beach – an unusual landscape in an otherwise very flat and green part of the country. The southern end of the beach is a holy place of pilgrimage; traditionally it is named Papanasam, which means ‘to wash away sins’, so you will see many people bathing in the water here. The northern end of the beach is catered to tourists, with sunbeds and parasols lined up along the sand. However, please be warned that women may receive unwanted attention if sunbathing – I felt quite uncomfortable on this beach (and I was fully clothed).
Aside from the beach, there are a couple of temples you can visit, but they are closed to non-Hindus. Many people who visit Varkala are attracted to its laidback vibe; there is an air of laissez-faire about it. If you are looking to learn or train to teach yoga while in India, this might be the place to do so, with many schools and classes in the town. At the weekends, Varkala is lively, with karaoke and musicians playing in the seafront bars, and there are many, many vendors selling clothes and gifts so you can stock up here.
Note: This itinerary begins in Varkala after having arrived in Trivandrum the night before. I flew to Trivandrum but decided against spending any time there, as I am much more motivated by nature than cities. I arrived in Varkala at around 9:30pm and found that one full day was enough for me here, though many travellers are captivated by its laid-back vibe and stay much longer.
Trivandrum is an international airport. Direct flights are available from Mumbai to Trivandrum. Direct buses run from Trivandrum to Alleppey, so you can hop off at Varkala. There are direct trains between Trivandrum and Alleppey, stopping in Varkala. I took a taxi to Varkala from Trivandrum (for 1500Rs) because I was travelling solo and my flight landed in the evening so didn’t want to use public transport.
I stayed at Jicky’s Nest, a basic but comfortable guesthouse which is only a few minutes’ walk to the beach.
The famous Kerala Backwaters… this is what you came to Kerala for, right? Kerala is actually founded upon a wealth of canals and streams which make up islands… The most popular place to explore the backwaters from is Alleppey.
There are a number of ways to experience the backwaters and I have explained them in more detail over in this post. You can stay overnight on a houseboat, or you can choose a day trip if that suits you better.
Note that the town of Alleppey is not particularly special and there is not much to do; you can go to the beach and visit a few temples. Aside from this, the town is catered towards ensuring tourists get out into the backwaters.
From Varkala, take a train or a bus to Alleppey. Buses are direct, but the train is faster. I took the 10:20am train and arrived in Alleppey at around 1:30pm. A rickshaw from the train station to my guesthouse (by the boat jetty) cost 89Rs.
I stayed at Mathews Palmy Residency for two nights in Alleppey. It was 5 minutes walk to the canal and they organised my tour of the backwaters for me. They also took significant care to look out for me as I was a solo female.
Unfortunately, Alleppey is not so generous with its restaurant options, but there are a few options near the canal. I liked Mahavir Veg Restaurant.
Periyar National Park, also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve and Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (and occasionally referred to as Thekkady by locals, too) is one of the most popular wildlife sanctuaries in South India and is well worth a visit. It is home to some 800 elephants, as well as gaur, bison, langur monkeys and 40 tigers. There are a number of ways you can explore the area – be sure to read my full guide to visiting Periyar National Park for more in depth information.
Upon arriving in Kumily (the closest town to Periyar) on your first afternoon here, visit the Ecotourism Office to peruse your options available for exploring the national park. These include overnight stays, so your accommodation might be inside the park depending on what you choose!
On your second day here, make the most of the proximity to the National Park by taking a guided trek, a jeep safari, or even go bamboo rafting in the most beautiful scenery – and keep your eyes peeled for the animals lurking amongst the trees!
From Alleppey, I took the 7:30am ferry from the canal to Kottayam (18rs). At the boat jetty, I took a tuk tuk to the bus station (40rs) and then took the bus from Kottayam to Kumily (100rs). There are no trains from Alleppey to Kumily.
The closest town to Periyar National Park is Kumily. I stayed at the House of Blue Mangoes Guesthouse which was basic but comfortable and the hosts were lovely. It was a five minute walk to the EcoTourism office and Ticket office.
My recommendations are Ebony’s Cafe, Chrissy’s café and the Coffee Garden.
Munnar is the land of tea. Tea plantations stretch for miles and miles – most of them are owned by the giant Tata and the tea is sold to companies such as Lipton. Tours run often and are completely varied so you can choose what will suit you best – many guesthouses can arrange this for you or you can book them through the office. I explored Munnar with a friend and we decided against opting for a tour.
A must visit is Top Station, but be aware that if it’s cloudy, there will be no view at all. Note that to enter the tea plantations you should be accompanied by a guide as they are private property.
From Kumily, buses run regularly to Munnar. Check with your guesthouse on timings and if they are direct or change (due to roadworks when I visited, I had to change bus in Pooppara). There are no trains.
I booked to stay at Lilly Grace Homestay, but due to a problem with the plumbing they moved me to the nearby Nakshatra Inn (both are run by the same family). They are located in Chithirapuram, about 20 minutes drive from Munnar town. It’s a lovely place with a friendly owner and the shared common area meant it was a good place to meet other travellers.
I don’t have recommendations of specific places to eat in Munnar – we ate breakfast at the guesthouse and then took food with us on our hikes, before eating at local places in the city. Look for places that are busy with Indian locals.
Spend your last couple of days in Kerala’s capital, Kochi (also called Cochin). There isn’t really much to do here besides visit the churches, the Jewish synagogue and some museums; the top thing to do is to see the Chinese fishing nets at sunset.
Take a bus from Munnar to Kochi on the first day, and fly on the second. You won’t need longer than that in this city unless you plan to visit Ernakulum too (there’s a huge shopping mall here where I’m fairly sure you could spend an entire afternoon – and lots of money!)
Personally, after visiting Kochi myself I would be happy to leave it out of this itinerary and have more time in Munnar or Periyar instead – but that decision is entirely yours!
From Munnar, buses run regularly to Kochi. Again, check which ones are direct and which ones require changes – the direct bus takes 4-5 hours but stops for a toilet and snack break halfway. There are no trains between Munnar and Kochi.
I stayed at Michaela Homestay which is in a great location to explore Fort Cochin. Michael, the owner, is very friendly and will help with any queries.
I ate at the Spice Garden and Mary’s Restaurant, both of which are good for dinner. There are heaps of cafes in the area which offer good breakfasts and lunches.
Throughout my time in India I found travelling on public transport fairly simple. The people in Kerala are more than willing to help you sort your onward travel arrangements, be it your guesthouse owner, guards at the train station or other locals waiting for buses. If you aren’t sure, ask someone and you’ll find out the answer.
Trains: To view train times you can use the official Indian Railways website. Go to the ‘Reserved Train between Stations’ tab, then enter your departure and arrival stations. This will bring up a list of the different trains and their departure times. Below is a screenshot of a journey I have queried as an example for you; Varkala to Alleppey on 11 January. This website is also useful with how trains work in India.
I only booked one train during my time in Kerala. I would advise you to do this in person at a station to avoid possible confusion. There is a way for foreigners to book trains online; I tried to do it and it just would not work for me. I had no issues booking my train from Varkala to Alleppey at Varkala train station the day before I travelled; I was given a wait list ticket and told to return the following morning to be given a seat number. My journey was fine.
Buses: I have heard that you can book buses online beforehand but I don’t know if this is true. I didn’t book any of the buses I took beforehand. Rather, I asked at the bus station where to wait for the bus, checked with the driver before I got on the bus, and paid when I was seated (I rarely had to stand on long journeys fortunately). The conductor will stow your luggage overhead or you can squeeze in with it next to you. There’s not much more information to give you on this topic; it’s just one of those ‘turn up and do it’ things!
I found it so much easier to travel in Kerala with data on my phone – particularly for using Google Maps. Read my post on how to get an Indian SIM card as a tourist for more information.
Some people swear that it’s cheaper to turn up and find a guesthouse rather than booking them in advance. I rarely travel without pre-booking accommodation because I worry there won’t be anywhere available (particularly if I’m arriving in the evening.) Do whatever works for you. I used booking.com throughout my time in Kerala to book accommodation a couple of days in advance.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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