Myself and 25 other bloggers and influencers were invited on a 17-day tour of Kerala. We were shown (almost) all the highlights of Kerala: must-visit places and the best this Indian state has to offer.
What I want to share with you here are some of these highlights of Kerala. Some of the places I think are worth visiting and some of the things you shouldn’t miss when you travel to Kerala.
Not sure if Kerala is a destination you would like to visit? Read: Why Should You Visit Kerala?
Highlights of Kerala: 10 Things to See & Do
Peaceful backwaters, long stretches of beach, cooler hill stations, beautiful tea fields, lush greenery, and interesting art performances… Kerala has become a tourist destination for good reasons!
When you plan a trip to Kerala, these are 10 things not to miss in Kerala:
1. Explore Kerala’s Famous Backwaters
Kerala’s backwaters are one of the main reasons for people to travel to Kerala.
Picture a vast network of canals, lakes, and rivers surrounded by lush greenery with local houses dotted along the riverbeds. Boat trips along these tranquil waterways have become a popular tourist attraction. Large kettuvallams (traditional boats, originally used to transport fish, rice and spices) have been converted into luxury houseboats to offer cruises on the backwaters.
By tourists, Alappuzha (also called Alleppey) is best known as the go-to place to explore Kerala’s backwaters on a houseboat. But Kumarakom and Kollam are also famous places for houseboat cruises these days. And Thiruvallam, Kappil, Kozhikode, and Valiyaparamba offer different boating options on their backwaters too.
Today there are more than 1500 houseboats to choose from in Kerala!
Visiting Alappuzha and seeing the backwaters was one of my highlights in Kerala. And although I don’t really understand its nickname “Venice of the East” (it’s nothing like Venice, at all), it’s gorgeous in its own right and well worth visiting!
Note: I loved exploring the backwaters on a houseboat. Unfortunately, shortly after my trip, I learned about some of the negative effects this type of tourism is having.
Many locals depend on the marine environment for their livelihoods and well-being. They fish, they use the water for rice farming, to wash their clothes, to cook, and to bathe.
The polluting diesel engines on these houseboats and the growing number of them, have polluted the water in many places. Depleted fish stocks and boatmen who discharge human and other waste directly into the lake rather than pay to dispose of it properly, are causing big issues for the local population.
So as long as there are no solar powered houseboats, this can’t be called sustainable tourism. If you visit Kerala’s backwaters and decide not to stay on these houseboats, I would recommend renting a non-motorized boat to explore the area (we went kayaking, which was great fun!), or rent bicycles and cycle along the canals.
Is it Alappuzha or Alleppey?
Officially it’s Alappuzha. This district in Kerala was formed as Alleppey District in 1957. However, the name was officially changed to Alappuzha in 1990. Alleppey town was renamed Alappuzha only in 2012, and Alleppey is still commonly used to describe the town as well as the district. So when you are searching for travel information online, you will find both names.
2. Visit a Spice, Coffee and Tea Plantation
Another thing Kerala is famous for is its beautiful tea fields.
You definitely can’t leave Kerala without seeing these gorgeous, endless fields of green.
There are many coffee, tea and spice plantations across Kerala, with the best ones in Munnar, Thekkady, and Wayanad.
You’ll get a chance to learn more about tea and spices and get to take in the stunning scenery.
We visited Carmelia Haven in Thekkady and were given a great tour around their beautiful plantation.
3. Visit Kerala’s Wildlife Sanctuaries & National Parks
Kerala is a part of India you visit because of its incredible flora & fauna and rich wildlife. The state is a perfect place to spot wild animals, migratory birds, and unspoiled nature.
If you are lucky you could spot a bengal tiger, Asian elephants, leopards, nilgiri tahrs, grizzled giant squirrels, lion-tailed macaques, Indian grey hornbills, great king cobras and many other animals in their natural habitats.
Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the popular parks in Kerala. And although you are not very likely to spot a tiger, it’s a beautiful park.
Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is another popular choice and a favorite for bird lovers.
You can find more information about Kerala’s parks and sanctuaries here.
Note: unfortunately, some places in Kerala still offer elephant riding… Please don’t! It is really cruel to the animals, no matter what the organization says. Here you can find more information about why you shouldn’t ride elephants.
4. Go Camping
Because Kerala has such stunning nature camping in Kerala was one of my favorite experiences here. Sitting around a campfire at night and waking up to the sounds of nature in the morning… Perfect!
There are many river camps and mountain camps to choose from, and many will combine it with a trek through nature. Don’t worry, no intense trekking unless you choose to!
Camping can range from very simple tents to glamping in luxury. Whatever fits your needs and budget! Booking.com offers a good selection of options.
Also Read: Where to Stay in Kerala, India
5. Don’t Miss Kerala’s Waterfalls
Kerala offers some impressive waterfalls. Some are easy to reach, others require a good hike.
Athirappilly and Vazhachal are the most famous waterfalls in Kerala, and Meenmutty is said to be the most spectacular one.
You can find a list of all of the main waterfalls here.
Tip: How impressive the waterfalls are depends on the time of year you visit Kerala. Right after the monsoon, the waterfalls will be at their most impressive. The picture above of Athirappilly was taken in April and although already impressive, it’s nothing like what it can be!
6. Visit at Least One of Kerala’s Beaches
Although Kerala by no means boasts the best beaches in the world, it does offer some of the best beaches in India.
Most of Kerala’s 600 km (373 miles) of coastline is lined with sandy beaches and palm trees. The best beaches in Kerala are said to be in Kovalam, Kappad, Kannur, Varkala, Cherai, Marari and Bekal.
I enjoyed Kovalam and even managed to go scuba diving there (again, not the best in the world and nothing compared to the neighboring Maldives, but a great day nonetheless).
Varkala is a much less developed option than Kovalam, and Poovar is another option off the main tourist trail, by a secluded fishing village.
You can find more information about Kerala’s beaches here.
7. Try Some Adventure Sports
Water sports, hiking, biking, zip lining, bamboo rafting… You name it and you can find it in Kerala!
If you love the outdoors, I am sure you will enjoy traveling to Kerala.
For me, this was one of the highlights of Kerala. It’s just so beautiful here that it pushes you to go out and explore, even if you are not the most active person normally.
I especially enjoyed Wayanad (one of Kerala’s 14 districts) for its outdoor activities. With 26% forest cover Wayanad offers great trekking routes, rafting, zip lining and has vast areas that are still unexplored.
8. Visit Kerala’s Cooler Hill Stations
I don’t know about you but before I traveled to India I had never heard of hill stations. So I’ll first explain what they are:
Hill station: a town in the low mountains of the Indian subcontinent, popular as a holiday resort during the hot season.
So basically once you have had enough of the beautiful but hot & humid lower areas of Kerala, do as the British rulers once did: escape to a hill station!
Munnar is probably the most popular hill station to escape to in Kerala. It’s a former resort for the British Raj elite, surrounded by rolling hills dotted with tea plantations.
Vythiri in Wayanad is another hill station I enjoyed visiting, with its mist capped mountains and beautiful scenery.
Keep in mind that you don’t visit these hill stations to explore a town. You go here to be surrounded by nature and enjoy the stunning scenery and local wildlife. Therefore I would recommend choosing hotels surrounded by greenery that offer the type of activities (trekking, plantation visits, safaris, etc.) you enjoy.
9. Watch a Kathakali Performance
If I had given you the idea that Kerala is only about nature and the outdoors, that’s not exactly true.
Kerala also offers delicious food, a rich history and some traditional dances and arts you shouldn’t miss.
Kathakali is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance. It is a “story play” genre of art, known for the colorful make-up, costumes, and facemasks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear.
These dance performances have become a bit of an icon of Kerala and are definitely one of the highlights of Kerala.
The Kerala Kathakali Centre in Kochi is said to be the most popular place to watch a Kathakali performance in Kerala.
10. Have an Ayurvedic Massage
When I think about the highlights of my trip to Kerala, the Ayurvedic massages definitely come to mind!
Many hotels in Kerala come with spas that offer Ayurvedic massages. Additionally, there are numerous Ayurvedic centers and some great Ayurvedic resorts.
Ayurveda is often referred to as a sister science to yoga. It’s a 5000-year-old traditional science that was designed to bring the body back into balance in order to heal itself. Its main beliefs are that the mind and body are inextricably connected and that nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.
If you are looking for some relaxation after a day of exploring Kerala, go for an Ayurvedic massage! Or if you really want to get the benefits of Ayurveda you can book more extensive Ayurveda treatment packages or plan a yoga & Ayurveda retreat.
4 Other Things to Do in Kerala
Apart from the highlights of Kerala I listed above, there are plenty of other things to do in Kerala. Four of those things I wanted to share with you here. If you have enough time in Kerala, or visit Kerala at the right time of year, you might be able to add some of these to your list of things to do.
1. Visit One of the Most Popular Temples in Kerala
Kerala isn’t the go-to place in India to see temples. But, the state does have a number of temples worth visiting. Some of these are:
- Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
- Sri Krishna Swamy Temple in Ambalapuzha
- Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala
- Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram
- Sri Vadakkumnatha Temple in Thrissur
You can find all of these on Google maps, with pictures, to decide which one you would like to visit on your trip to Kerala.
2. Visit an Amusement Park
Kerala has a good number of water and amusement parks. Especially if you are visiting Kerala with kids it’s worth checking some out!
We visited Jatayu Earth’s Center which is an adventure park that focusses on sustainable and eco-friendly tourism. They offer various fun activities from rock climbing to archery or paintballing, plus a unique, giant eagle statue on top of a scenic hill.
3. Go For a Romantic Cave Dinner
Are you looking for a unique experience in Kerala? Go for a romantic candlelit dinner in a cave!
The Edakkal Hermitage offers this unique dining option that has been featured in many travel magazines. We were lucky enough to experience this and it was one of my most fun and unique experiences in Kerala!
Plus this cave is located very close to the Edakkal Caves which are a popular tourist destination. These caves are the only known place in India with carvings dating back to the Stone Age.
4. Experience One of Kerala’s Festivals
If you are lucky enough to visit Kerala during one of their main festivals, make sure you witness them!
One of the most important festivals of Kerala is Onam, also known as the harvest festival of Kerala. It is a 10-day celebration that falls between August and September.
But, that is definitely not the only festival in Kerala. From religious occasions to boat races and music festivals, Kerala is home to a great heritage of festivals.
You can find an overview of the festivals in Kerala here. So make sure you check if you happen to be visiting Kerala during a festival!
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Disclaimer: I want to thank the Kerala tourism board for inviting me to travel to Kerala and see all of the highlights of Kerala. Although my trip was sponsored by them, of course all opinions shared here are my own.
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