Kerala is a beautiful State in South West India, below Goa and Karnataka. We travelled around for 11 days in February whilst renting the house in Goa, so that we could travel light!
Our Kerala Itinerary
- Kochi – 2 days
- Munnar – 2 days
- Alleppey – 3 days
- Varkala – 4 days
It all Started with a Train
We caught a 16-hour train from Canacona (Goa) to Kochi (Kerala) in an AC2 sleeper carriage, which is India’s equivalent of first class (but not really!) It is the best option if you prefer some privacy, as the sleeper carriages provide curtains.
We had booked a return ticket through a travel agent in Goa, but AC2 wasn’t available on the return, so we had to book AC3 which has 8 open bunks (no curtains) What we didn’t realise at the time, was that the train company had allocated us bunks in separate carriages on the AC3 return ticket!
The return journey took a mere 19 hours, which seems like a lifetime! The reason it was 3 hours longer than the outbound journey was because we caught the train back from Varkala (3 hours further south from Kochi)
We spent the whole day together, tried to swap one of our assigned bunks with someone else, but couldn’t, so at 9pm when everyone started to get ready for bed Matt let me have the top bunk in the carriage where we had spent the day. Although the thought of sleeping separately was a little worrying at first, due to the horror stories you hear about Women travelling alone in India, I felt safe enough. After spending 10 hours surrounded by the people there, who seemed friendly, I wasn’t as worried as when we first realised we’d have to be separated!!
However, as much as I could calm my mind and feel at ease, I was the only tourist in that carriage (not to mention Woman, or Blonde!) – it was a little odd but I managed to sleep!
It was worth the train journey experience, however if we had known better we would have booked a return flight as the one-way journey was enough!
Best advice if travelling overnight by train in India: always opt for AC2, unless you don’t mind sleeping openly amongst strangers and getting a few stares! Alternatively just fly!
AC2 cost us £20 and AC3 £16 approx, so you can see why AC2 makes sense if available.
We arrived in Kochi and headed to Fort Kochi where we had pre-booked a homestay through AirBnB for 2 nights. Our hosts at the homestay ‘The Peniel Residency’ were lovely. We had breakfast cooked for us in the morning so we were set to go. After some advice on where to walk, we explored the port / seafront.
Whilst walking along the seafront we found a really lovely looking restaurant called ‘The Drawing Room’, which is part of the Kochi Club but managed independently so anyone can walk in.
To our surprise the menu was full of Spanish Tapas amongst other dishes. It wasn’t until the waiter told us the chef was from Asturias in Spain that we decided to eat there (we have had some bad experiences in restaurants trying to pull off Spanish dishes when the chefs aren’t actually Spanish!) Glad we did as the food was to die for and the chef even came out to say hi when he heard I grew up in Spain.
We learned that he was there for 3 months before moving onto the Philippines, where he was going to film a documentary about the influence of Hispanic food or something like that – interesting people you meet along the way!
There wasn’t a lot to do in Fort Kochi, but we did find an Art exhibition called ‘The Biennale’ with some amazing art from all over the world. It took us a few hours and lots of coffee to cover all of the rooms. One of the artists had photographs of Traditional India and its people, all in black and white. One of the rooms was filled with water and called ‘Sea of Pain’ with a poem at the far end wall about a boy that drowned (sad but amazing!)
We decided to travel up to Munnar, where the tea plantations are, and stay there for 2 more nights, before travelling further south.
As luck would have it they had just started an AC orange tourist coach 2 days before we arrived in Fort Kochi. Tickets cost just under £3 and the journey took 4 and a half hours into the hills.
The bus driver was a complete maniac, overtaking everything up mountain roads like he was being chased by the police, with very loud Hindi music blearing out of every speaker on the bus.
I remember, when we took our first pit stop, for a breather, one passenger asked the driver to turn it off. Suddenly everyone sighed with relief, haha! Once we got going again the mountain roads became even more treacherous – it was a white-knuckle ride!
Munnar is a small town located in the hills, full of shops and restaurants, buses, tuk tuks and lots of people, whereas the surrounding area is just hill country. From the top of the valley to the bottom there are mainly Tea plantations. There is a river that runs through the bottom, however in peak season it dries up so we didn’t really get to see it.
Many visitors choose to hike around the hills or go to the tea museum, water falls, elephant park, amongst other attractions that are priced for tourists. We chose not to do any of these things and I will explain why below!
We booked a hotel room, that turned out to be more like a wooden bungalow, for 2 nights at the bottom of the valley through Booking.com. The description mentioned it had river views, a bath and bathrobes. When we got there in the afternoon after a 4-and-a-half-hour bus ride from hell, we found the river view was blocked by a massive bush, the river ran dry and there was no bath or robes.
The room itself was like a Travelodge! We decided to put up with it, rest and just have a shower to wash off the heat and journey, but the shower was broken with water bursting out from the top of the shower head! They took 3 hours and 2 different plumbers to then tell us that they couldn’t fix it until the morning, so we decided to check out as couldn’t even wash the day off and relax (luckily no money was exchanged)
We had already checked for an alternative and rang a hotel up that was at the top of the valley – it looked lovely and reasonable in price for where we were.
As we were at the bottom of the valley we found out that not many taxis pass that way, but luckily one had just dropped off a guest, so we managed to get a ride.
As we drove off I could feel a bottle of water next to me. Thinking it was ours, I took a swig but immediately smelt petrol fumes so I spat it out in-between my legs behind the driver’s seat and yelled for the driver to stop! It was paraffin.
Matt handed me a genuine bottle of water and I rinsed my mouth out at the side of the road!
The taxi driver was so apologetic as he told us his last passenger was a fire juggler and must have left the paraffin in the back seat.
That was a close call, because if I had swallowed it would have been a 5-hour journey to the nearest hospital!
After the distress we got to our hotel, which was so much nicer than advertised online. It was a boutique hotel, with gold and marble everywhere, that had only been open for 6 months – it was stunning!
However, all I could smell was paraffin on my hair and trousers, so as we got into the lift with the bell boy, paranoia set in: “I’m in a 5-star hotel looking like a hippy smelling of a petrol station” hahaha! Wonder what he thought?
We had booked the cheapest room which was lovely enough. As we showered and went up to explore the hotel we were approached by the guest relations guy who greeted us and spoke to Matt as follows:
Guest Relations: Where are you from?
Guest Relations: You look like Jesus!
Matt: Well, maybe slightly whiter and no beard!
Guest Relations: Would you like a room upgrade?
Matt: Yes, please!”
It was a bizarre and hilarious conversation! He told us to come to reception in the morning and they would arrange a free upgrade!
They upgraded us to a suite overlooking the tea plantations, with a lounge, separate bedroom and on-suite bathroom. Hence we decided to just stay put and enjoy the room and hotel grounds, which included a terraced restaurant overlooking beautiful views – seeing as we only had that day left we were relieved not to have to move.
Thank you Jesus! Well, thank you Matt for looking like him!!!
The next day we booked a car to take us to Alappuzha (also known as Alleppey)
We booked another homestay ahead of our arrival. We chose the cheapest with the best review rating on Booking.com. Sea Breeze was run by Justin and Thomas, two really lovely Indian guys.
They made us a coffee and checked us in. That afternoon we explored our surroundings and beach, which was just a 3-minute walk away.
We arrived during a Christian festival and watched the procession passing by the homestay that evening. There is a large Christian population in Kerala, as there is Hindu and Muslim alike – all living in close proximity to each other.
It is great to see the diversity and different architecture influences in these towns.
As we stood outside the gate we met a couple from Israel, also staying at the guesthouse. We started chatting and ended up having dinner together.
Matt and I booked a canoe boat ride for the next day through Justin, who advised us that this was much better value and cheaper than a houseboat, as houseboats can’t go down the many canals of the backwaters.
We were picked up by a Tuk Tuk driver the next morning, who was the funniest guy playing the Titanic theme song through his mobile phone (taped above his head) whilst he stretched his arms out like Kate Windslett in the movie – he was very fast and the worst thing was when he did this he obviously wasn’t touching the steering wheel. It made us laugh!
We got off at the Ferry stop where we were put into groups with a guide. There were lots of tourists which we thought would be hell, going by experience, but we were so wrong! It turned out to be really nice as we made a few new friends!
We boarded the Ferry that would take us to our drop point on the backwaters, where we were then taken to our guide’s family home for breakfast. We ate delicious local food with our hands, on big green banana leafs as plates. The dishes included Cabbage and Coconut Thoran, Keralan Rice and either vegetables or fish – various helpings too!
We went down many of the canals in the backwaters, visited the paddy fields and stopped for coffee at the local shop/bar, as well as lunch back at the house again before finishing with more canals. It was beautiful and peaceful – only 4 of us on a canoe as we shared with a couple from Belgium.
Whilst in Alleppey we noticed that most of the men wore the same style cotton sarong called ‘Lungi’. They either wear it full length or shorten it. Matt bought one as it is apparently very comfortable to wear in the heat.
The next day we were to catch a bus down to Varkala, the AC tourist bus again. Funnily enough we bumped into the same Israeli couple at the bus station, who were also going to Varkala, as well as a French girl we had met on the Canoe backwater ride the day before!
As we got off the bus in Varkala, we spotted a tuk tuk driver grabbing the French girl’s baggage without her consent, so Matt intervened by taking the bag back and telling him to go away.
The 3 of us decided to share another tuk tuk after a coffee, anyone’s but his, as he was drunk and very pushy. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we took shelter at a local bakery shop next to the bus stop, with a very nice man who fed us bhajis and coffee.
We finally got rid of that tuk tuk driver after Matt threatened to call the police as he was stalking us!
There is an obvious drink problem in India, especially in Goa and Kerala, to the point that alcohol is now banned throughout Kerala and it is a dry State – although it doesn’t stop anyone getting it on the black market. However, some tourist hotels and bars can apply for a special licence to sell it, otherwise they will serve it in tea pots and mugs.
We had been recommended Akhil Beach Resort by a friend in Palolem, and it was a great place to stay in. Lovely hotel on the North Cliff of the beach, with AC room and a pool – all for £20 a night!
Varkala is lovely! We were on top of a cliff overlooking the beach, with shops and bars running all the way along a path on this cliff.
Funnily enough, when we went out for some food we bumped into our Israeli friends and we arranged to meet up again the next day.
It was fab and we had planned to stay in Varkala for our last 4 days in Kerala, so we could relax a bit more than in previous journeys.
The next day on the beach was windy as hell, lots of sand blowing in every direction so luckily we had a pool at the hotel and made the most of it! We did walk a fair length of the beach and enjoyed some sun which was much more bearable with that wind. Humidity in Varkala at that time was 90% and 29C in the evening. Very hot and sticky!
We loved getting to know Kerala and would highly recommend it. The people are lovely, the food is cheap and the beaches and views are stunning! Perfect place if you love Yoga and Meditation, as there are so many Ashrams and retreats, or you can just practice it yourself!
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