Kerala is the Indian state that hugs the southeastern coast. However, there is so much more to it than pretty beaches and greenery. God’s Own Country, as Kerala is known, has a rich culture full of colour, dance and incredibly more-ish cuisine. Soak up the scenery, try something tasty, enjoy a traditional performance and have an adventure across the beaches, lush tea plantations and tranquil backwaters. Here are 25 amazing things to do in Kerala.
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- 25 Amazing Things to Do in Kerala
- 1.) Savour a Sadhya
- 2.) Get Your Boots Muddy in Wayanad
- 3.) Take India’s Tropical Train
- 4.) Celebrate Onam in the Monsoon Rains
- 5.) Cruise the Kerala Backwaters on a Houseboat
- 6.) Hit the Beach in Kovalam
- 7.) Master Martial Arts in Calicut
- 8.) Explore Fort Kochi
- 9.) Take in a Kathikali or Theyyam Show
- 9.) Visit the Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram
- 10.) Sip a Spot of Tea in Munnar
- 11.) Relish the Spray at Athirapilly Waterfall
- 12.) Bend Some Bamboo at Uravu
- 13.) Spot Wildlife at Periyar Tiger Sanctuary
- 14.) Discover Ayurvedic Treatment
- 15.) Stay in a Treehouse
- 16.) Party at Thrissur Pooram
- 17.) Sleep in a Palace
- 18.) Chill on the Cliffs of Varkala
- 19.) Visit a Sustainable Tourism Initiative that village and try toddy
- 20.) Marvel at the Boats of Beypore
- 21.) Pad Through Padmanabhapuram Palace
- 22.) Start the Day with an Indian Breakfast
- 23.) Check Out Cool Kozhikode
- 24.) Join an Adventure at Nihara Resort and Spa Hotel
- 25.) Take a Cooking Lesson
- Final Thoughts on 25 Amazing Things to Do in Kerala
25 Amazing Things to Do in Kerala
1.) Savour a Sadhya
The traditional food of Kerala is served on a banana leaf, especially at festival time. Not only is this a very pretty way to serve a meal, but it is also exceedingly eco-friendly. Once the food is finished, diners fold the leaf over, which is either composted or given to the animals. So what is on this leaf? The meal will always start with rice. Kerala has two staple foods, rice and coconut. Then, along with the rice, some sort of curry and sambal…always sambal. Around the main dish, you will find a pretty and delicious selection of pickles chillies and condiments to spice up the main dish. For pudding, it’s common to have a banana and some payasam, an incredibly sweet and sticky dessert.
2.) Get Your Boots Muddy in Wayanad
Wayanad is an area of Kerala full of hills and lakes. It is incredibly beautiful and perfect for adventure travel. In the dry season, you” find hikes to be hiked, animal safaris to enjoy and bamboo rafts to explore the waterways. In the monsoon, however, some of these activities become unfeasible but never fair, there are some great alternatives.
The best operator of adventure activities in Wayanad is aptly named Muddy Boots. One of the coolest activities they can offer year-round is zip wiring. Guests get kitted up in a harness and helmet before climbing a short tower. The wire takes you down, through a tea plantation. It is exhilarating, won’t get you muddy at all and involves almost no physical effort, so it is fun for the whole family.
On the other end of the spectrum is Mudfest, particularly mud football. Wayanad Tourism organises a mud football tournament every year during the rainy season. Competitors aim to get a ball in the goal…sa far, so regular. However, they are knee-deep in a huge muddy puddle. It is intense and hilarious with people kicking mud at each other, falling over in the mud and just getting soaked through with plenty of laughs.
3.) Take India’s Tropical Train
India’s train system is one of the most remarkable ways to get around the country. Long-distance trains clatter through the night whilst small commuter trains can be packed to the rafters in the city. The line that runs through Kerala takes in some gorgeous views along the coast as it passes over bridges with the backwaters flowing beneath. From these tracks, you can catch some of the most beautiful sunsets Kerala has to offer with pinks and purples evolving as the view changes. The train that travels between Kerala’s two main entry points. Kochi and Trivandrum takes around four hours, so it is very easy to travel slowly from one to the other and hop on the train back at the end of your trip.
4.) Celebrate Onam in the Monsoon Rains
August in Kerala means monsoon, which you might think is a bad time to visit, but there is a lot going on. Every year the 10 day harvest festival of Onam brings unique performing arts to the streets and for two days the snake boat races take over the waters. The racing boats are huge and can have up to 120 sailors rowing for the victory. The boats used for Vallam Kali are war canoes so you best believe they can go at speed! For the most iconic battle, head to the Nehru Trophy Boat Race which takes place on the Punnamada Lake.
As well as this watery fun, there are huge festival celebrations around temples and within communities. Here you will discover tasty treats such as special sadhya spreads and spiced lentil fritters called parippu vada and kaliyadakka. Kaliyadakka are little deep-fried balls made of rice (duh) and dal and then covered in sesame, cumin, coconut and salt. Then of course you have banana chips, jackfruit chips and tapioca chips. After all those deep-fried delights it is time for a dance and Onam has a crazy collection of speciality performances on offer. The most iconic is the Pulikali tiger dance. This is performed on day fur of the festival and involves performers painting their skin in iconic stripes or spots before dancing to rhythmic music. Intriguingly, the dancers drink as much water as they can to make sure their bellies are plump and round. After all that water, dancing is the last thing I’d want to do!
5.) Cruise the Kerala Backwaters on a Houseboat
The most iconic of all the things to do in Kerala, and one you mustn’t miss out on, is to take a backwaters cruise. The waterways that crisscross the areas around Alleppey/Alappuzha, where Kerala meets the sea, have a special quality. It looks like the water is flowing backwards (hence the name). The best way to see the rivers and the life of the people that surround them is from a houseboat. These range from quite basic to ultra-luxury, but whatever class you float in, you will be making really special memories. All of the boats spend a few hours out and about on the water before mooring up for sunset and a restful night’s sleep.
6.) Hit the Beach in Kovalam
Kovalam is Kerala’s premier beach resort, attracting tourists from across the world. Why do they love it? Kovalam has three beaches backed by coconut groves, that have been voted the safest in Kerala. This means you hit Lighthouse Beach and swim, kayak, take a catamaran out or surf. The photos of the lighthouse at sunset are gorgeous and I am just sad I didn’t get to stay until sunset.
If you just like to relax in the sun then Hawa Beach is ideal and used to seeing plenty of people in swimwear so there’s no need to worry. Finally, for some serious solitude, Samudra Beach is just a little along the coast and is much, much quieter. Some luxury properties are up here and so there are a few honeymoon couples.
Kovalam did suffer from over-tourism but it seems to be reclaiming the idea of sustainable tourism and the joys of celebrating the local rather than big international brands.
7.) Master Martial Arts in Calicut
Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art form originating in Kerala is not just a way to fight off your enemies. It has a holistic philosophy and is deeply spiritual It originated over 3000 years ago and is still kept alive by amazing schools like CVN Kalari Nadakav.
Kalari warriors, the martial artists that practice Kalaripayattu train their body’s flexibility, strength and speed using animal forms and “meippayattu”. These longer sequences of flowing movements are quite beautiful to watch. The students are also proficient in all kinds of weapon art including sticks, daggers, and huge flexible swords that are part blade and part whip.
If you are lucky enough to see a performance of this fantastic martial art, you may even have the chance to try a few moves yourself.
8.) Explore Fort Kochi
Kochi (Cochin) is a city spread across several islands. It has a laid-back vibe and pretty Dutch architecture that is unusual in India. The most popular area for tourists is Fort Kochi and here are some spots that you should visit.:
- Chinese Fishing Nets – Named “Cheena Vala” in the local Malayalam dialogue, the Chinese Fishging Nets are the icons of Kochi. There are a couple of stories about how these fishing nets came to Kochi but most oft-repeated is that a Chinese fisherman called Zang arrived here 500 years ago and bought this method of fishing along with him. These days, very little fishing is done and the gentlemen that work here make most of their money from tourist tips. If you plan to go out on to the structure and help with the hauling demo, be prepared to pay for the privilege. Taking photos from the shore is free.
- St Francis Church – St Francis dates back to 1503, making it the oldest European church in India. Looking at the architecture, you’ll find lots of traditional Portuguese elements alongside some more local fl9ourishes. Inside, look out for the original resting place of Vasco de Gama, the explorer that so famously toured this coast.
- Mattancherry Palace – Known as the Dutch Palace this mansion was originally built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. It was a present to the king to apologise for wrecking a nearby temple. Inside there is a room full of the most incredible murals. Try and hire a guide to share the stories beautifully told in pigment.
- Jew Street – Jew Street refers to an area around Kochi’s Paradesi synagogue that used to be the epicentre of the Jewish community in the city. It is an excellent spot for a little shopping as the road is full of antique shops, clothes shops, spice shops and art shops. It is highly photogenic too with pretty cobbles and a mix of European and local architecture,
- The Beach – Kerala is blessed with eternal beautiful, swimmable beaches and the shorre right around Fort Kochi is no exception. Families take to the sandy shore for a dip in the sea, especially as the heat of the day dies away and the sun begins to set. (Don’t try this during monsoon as the sea is dangerous).
9.) Take in a Kathikali or Theyyam Show
India is a country with an exceptionally vibrant performing arts culture. Dance, theatre and music are often intertwined and every temple has its storytelling performances. In Kerala, the most famous theatre traditions are classically and them. these are both performed in temporal temples during important festivals, but as a tourist, it can be hard to stumble upon these. Plus, there are a few that have the sticking power to watch until 5 a.m. Instead, find a performance in one of the countless theatres offering a glimpse. These shows give an introduction to the intricate movements and their meanings, as well as performing short stories in a highly stylised style. You can even pay for special early access to watch the performers get ready, applying for make up and costume which can take up to three hours.
9.) Visit the Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram
Despite non-Hindus not being allowed to enter this stunning temple, it is still worth a visit. Inside there are treasures locked away that are rumoured to be worth over $22 billion, making this the richest temple in the world. The façade is reminiscent of temples in Tamil Nadu, which is quite unusual in Kerala and the giant tank next to the temple is used for ritual bathing if you are visiting at the right time, or for feeding the fish if you’re not.
10.) Sip a Spot of Tea in Munnar
Munnah is one of Kerala’s most famous destinations, and for good reason. This was one of the hill stations favoured by the British and tea production was (and is) huge here. During a visit to Munnar, you can explore the rolling tea plantations with their tea bushes that look like intricate jigsaw puzzles of greenery. Tea has been an integral part of India’s culture since it was first introduced by the British in the 1800s and it is still a daily treat for most of India. It is rather special to see how it grows, hugging the curving hills of Kerala.
It is also possible to arrange a factory tour and see how the tea leaves are turned into Britain’s favourite beverage. Green tea and black tea come from the same leaves, but black tea, the kind, most commonly drunk, is made by leaving the leaves out to dry and ferment. The green tea is not oxidised. The expensive and highly prized white tea is made from just the youngest leaves on the bushes and whereas a good tea picker can pluck 100kg of tea per day, it would take a full day to pick just 3kg or 4kg of white tea leaves.
11.) Relish the Spray at Athirapilly Waterfall
The Athirapilly Falls is Kerala’s most impressive waterfall, disrupting the ChalaKudy River near Thrissur. The water thunders over the rocks and plummets 80 feet to the rocks below. In the dry season, the volume dips to just a twentieth of the flow. In high water, if you can make it to the bottom, you will see a beautiful rainbow in the mist when the sun comes out. To reach the falls, visitors walk over a hill, covered in bamboo trees. This descends to the viewing platform area. It is good to have steady feet down here.
12.) Bend Some Bamboo at Uravu
When you think of bamboo you might think of China, but this wonder material is being used and cultivated in Kerala to great effect. The nursery holds hundreds of varieties from teeny tiny dwarf bamboo to the giant stuff they used to make scaffolding. Inside the workshops, you can see them create hand, stripped blinds, skilfully, woven lampshades, and pretty bamboo. P. Head upstairs to the shop for a whole host of bamboo products that are not only practical but beautiful. Oh, and there is a food shop too. Did you know that when Bamboo dies it produces something called bamboo rice which is not only edible but delicious. This resource is incredibly sustainable so it’s worth going to support their efforts.
13.) Spot Wildlife at Periyar Tiger Sanctuary
On the edge of Thekkady is a large national park protected from development and preserved for wildlife. There are so many options for visitors to explore the reserve. Large groups can take boats around the huge lake, trying to spot animals on the banks. This is the least likely way to spot a tiger, however. Instead, consider a leisurely bamboo raft through the smaller waterways, a nature walk with an experienced guide, or even an overnight stay in one of their jungle camps. Speaking of guides, some of the staff here were locals who had to resort to poaching. They’ve been retrained as guides and can now make a living supporting nature, which is an amazing initiative.
14.) Discover Ayurvedic Treatment
Kerala’s most famous export is undoubtedly its wellness programmes. Ayurveda is more than just a massage technique, it is a holistic approach to wellness that involves massage, detox, beautiful treatments, like sound baths, exercise, and nutrition. People travel to Kerala from across the globe to immerse themselves in Ayurvedic resorts, sometimes for months on end. The shortest time recommended for an Ayurvedic retreat is around three days, but you can always opt for one treatment and even that can leave you feeling like a new person. It is especially good if you have been hiking, surfing, or indulging in other active endeavours. Bear in mind that if you are staying at a centre, you will be on a strict Ayurvedic menu so if you are coming to India to feast on the cuisine, you may leave feeling a little shortchanged.
15.) Stay in a Treehouse
Spend the night with the sound of a rushing stream and the monkeys below shaking the branches at Vythiri Resort. This is a very special spot hidden in the trees of Vythriri (in the Wayanad area). Every room is special with pool villas, single-room cottages with private pools, jacuzzi rooms and treehouses. It is a really unique place to visit in Kerala and well worth the trip into the hills. The natural surroundings with streams and forest as well as the full Ayurvedic spa mean you can’t fail to relax. They make a decent screwdriver with freshly squeezed orange juice too.
16.) Party at Thrissur Pooram
Another huge festival that is worth making a special trip to is Thrissur Pooram. This northern Kerala town hosts the most spectacular celebration at Vadakkunnathan Temple and it brings in visitors from across the country. So, what can you expect? Elephants that are painted and decorated (literally) for the Gods. They have fine gold headdresses and intricate patterns across their bodies. There is an array of fireworks above and below, plenty of dancing and music. In total, celebrations run for a week so you can dip in as part of a longer trip easily.
17.) Sleep in a Palace
The Leela Raviz Kovalam is one of India’s best hotels. It sits atop a rocky outcrop, looking over the waves and the beaches on either side. Plenty of their rooms have sea views, and they have an actual palace that has been converted into four large suites. The Halcyon Palace (as it was once known) was built in 1932 as a summer house for the royal family. Guests who book one of these palace rooms, all named after maharanis, are welcomed with a full drum performance, flower petal toss, and guard ceremony. It is quite the entrance! Inside you will find Murano chandeliers and lush furnishings. Alternatively, if you stay in a club room, you get to use their gorgeous infinity pool that looks out over the Arabian Sea.
Oh, and from personal experience I can tell you that their buffet (including the desserts) was absolutely excellent.
18.) Chill on the Cliffs of Varkala
Below the striking red cliffs of Varkala, the orange beach plays host to surf lessons, swimmers, sunbathers, and everyone in between. On top of the cliff, you will find guesthouses, and ayurveda massage centres cheek by jowl with lots and lots of restaurants. As this is a tourist town, every eating spot uses mineral water or filtered water for their ice, meaning you can opt for a slushy or iced coffee with peace of mind. The best time to be had in Varkala is to order some fresh seafood prepared with the level of spice you enjoy. You can take one of the tables that looks out over the cliff (many restaurants are set up with stepped tables) and munch your way through said seafood whilst enjoying the sunset.
For more about Varkala, check out our blog post 16 Things to Do in Varkala!
19.) Visit a Sustainable Tourism Initiative that village and try toddy
There are so many things to do in Kerala, and it is so admirable to see their focus on sustainable tourism, working with local communities and enriching their lives too. During my trip (hosted by Kerala Tourism) we met school children as we all learned about music, and visited workshops that feed profits back into the community, keeping traditional skills alive.
- Located near the pretty resorts of Kumarakom Lake is one of Kerala’s excellent, sustainable tourism initiatives. The village of Kumarakom has a variety of intriguing, traditional arts, crafts, and skills to share with curious travellers. You can see how they collect coconuts, weave the fibres into rope and might even get to try on some traditional dress. Ask nicely and a surprisingly agile gent might nip up a palm tree and collect some fresh toddy. This alcoholic beverage can be sweet or sour depending on the time of day. It’s best drunk as fresh as possible. Don’t worry about getting drunk by mistake, at 8.1% or so you’ll need rather a lot for a proper buzz.
- The Kerala Arts and Crafts Village is located in Kovalam but features artists and techniques from across the state. There are over 100 artisans producing crafts from pottery to jewellery and weaving. Stroll through the outdoor corridors and see what catches your eye. Some of the artists work in their studios so you can see the magic happen!
- On the outskirts of Calicut is a handloom workshop. You can see the process right from the initial rolling of the rope, to its colouring, spinning and finally weaving on the handloom. The lovely ladies who work these looms sit in pairs, firing the shuttles back and forth rhythmically with speed and skill….we weren’t so good at it.
- The Blue Yonder, specialists in sustainable tourism, can arrange all kinds of amazing experiences that are great fun and give back to the community. We had the amazing chance to visit a school in Kerala and learn about music with them. The children had talks and demonstrations before we arrived. Afterwards, we got to join in with some drumming and they even did some brilliant performances for us and gave us some gorgeous handmade presents!
20.) Marvel at the Boats of Beypore
As well as floating along on the backwaters, you can check out the beautiful “uru” boats being constructed. Beypore is the heart of this industry and although most of these dowe boats make their way to Oman and the UAE, they are still built in the traditional Keralan way. You can explore the boats that are at different stages of manufacture. Uru boats are also known as fat boats which makes them sound small and cute, but these behemoths are worth millions of pounds apiece. It’s no wonder when you realise they are mostly made of teak, a hard and very valuable wood.
21.) Pad Through Padmanabhapuram Palace
Through a nondescript doorway, along the back alley and next to a few shoe racks is the entrance to Padmanabhapuram Palace. This beautiful building is almost entirely created in wood. The intricate carvings are pretty enough, but you’ll also find a collection of Kathakali costumes, huge ivory carvings and gifts from around the globe. There is a small room full of small statues and don’t underestimate them, that cute little gold statue you’re looking at is thousands of years old!
The palace is also called the Horse Palace and if you want to see why, look out across the front of the palace from the first dancing room and see if you can spot the horses heads.
22.) Start the Day with an Indian Breakfast
The breakfasts in Kerala are quite unique. It is definitely worth stepping outside of your comfort zone to try something new to set you up for the day. There are some things to look out for:
- Appam – This flatbread, full of bubbles, is everywhere in Kerala. It is made of coconut and rice and is fried in a little bowl-shaped pan. It is traditionally served with a mild curry sauce.
- Idli – These steamed rice flour dumplings are crumbly and act like sponges when they are soaking up sauces.
- Idiyappam – These are known as string hoppers in Sri Lanka and are delicious, especially when covered in sauce. The batter is extruded into long, spaghetti-like strands before being steamed in little nests.
- Nadan Mutta Curry – How do you like your eggs in the morning? I like mine hardboiled in a rich curry sauce full of ginger, garlic and coconut milk.
- Dosa – This is an all-day dish but many hotels will cook you a fresh dosa for your breakfast. Whether you like a young coconut dosa (Karikk) or prefer the ghee-laden paper dosas, they are an excellent start to the day.
23.) Check Out Cool Kozhikode
Kozhikode (Calicut) is a coastal city in Northern Kerala and isn’t often on the tourist trail. Its absolutely worth a visit though.
- Mishka mosque is distinctly Keralan, and unlike any mosque you might imagine. The building is wooden, dates way back to the 1300s and extends up six floors into the sky. Mishkal, the wealthy merchant the mosque was named after, wanted to be able to spot it above the rooftops when he returned from trips at sea. Sadly, women are not allowed inside, but it’s still worth a look. Around 300 m away you’ll find another wooden mosque, Muhiyudheen Sunni Masjid, which is the oldest in Kerala. It’s not quite as pretty but worth a look.
- Five minutes in the other direction is the trendy Gujarati St. Here you will find the weird and wonderful Gudhaam Art & Antiques. This beautiful house is full to the brim with the personal collections of the owner, Badayakandy Basheer. Take a wander and in one room you’ll find thousands of stamps and, in another vintage phones from the last 100 years. Stop by for a gander and a drink in the Art Cafe…but don’t fill up.
- Adam’s Tea House is your stop for lunch. They specialise in north Keralan cuisine and can do everything from a casual snack to a huge feast (although these should be booked in advance). The biriyani sharing buckets look yummy and everything we tried was so flavourful. They love to use local brands too, featuring local fizzy drinks (soda) that you won’t find anywhere else. You can choose the AC room or the regular room which we think is a bit more lively.
- Finally, head to the beach to relax. If the red flags are up then you can just take a stroll or perch on the rocks and watch the waves crash. If it is nicer weather, you can take a dip in the Arabian Sea or soak up some sun on the sand. Bear in mind that it can be busy, so bring swimwear with a little more coverage than a string bikini if you don’t want to attract attention. Oh, and if you are a Starbucks fan, there is one right on the beach here for your coffee addiction (or if you just want some good aircon).
24.) Join an Adventure at Nihara Resort and Spa Hotel
Nihara Resort and Spa is nestled on one of the many islands in Kochi but it feels a world away from the bustling centre. This villa resort specialises in fun activities and relaxing spa treatments. Some rooms have a duplex style upstairs bedroom with gorgeous views of the garden, and some have direct access to the pool. The restaurant makes incredible dishes, especially the seafood which is treated with love and utterly addictive. You could just chill out, get an ayurvedic treatment and relax by the pool. However, it is worth joining the guides for a pleasant cycle through the back lanes of the area. You’ll get some gentle exercise and get to see a little of small town life.
You can take to the sparkling water of Lake Vembanad on a kayak which is an amazing way to relax. It is a wonderful way to de-stress from the busy city. They even have their own boat so sunset cruises are also an option.
25.) Take a Cooking Lesson
Don’t just eat when you visit Kerala, take home the skills to recreate some its unique cuisine. You’ll find cooking lessons throughout Kerala, some offer a demonstration and some are more interactive. Celebrity home cook Abida Rasheed is a YouTube star, famous for her passion for Mopah cuisine. She takes a few flavourful ingredients and lets them sing. The Moplan cuisine is very different from the butter and cream-laden curries of the North, and has a little less coconut than other Keralan dishes. There is plenty of fiery chilli and toasted whole spices though! This cooking tradition comes from Arab traders which is what gives it a distinct style. You can visit Abida in her stunning Kozhikode home, shared with her family for a lesson or demonstration, just contact her through her Facebook page.
Khan’s Cooking Lessons in Varkala are more low key and more interactive. Everyone mucks in creating a meal that the group then shares. This is pure Keralan cuisine with lashings of coconut. During our visit, we cooked fried fish in bubbling coconut oil, flavour packed tomato and turmeric rice, a fiery curry and an abundance of vegetable pakoras. This is an excellent way to learn new recipes, try new skills and meet new friends.
Final Thoughts on 25 Amazing Things to Do in Kerala
Kerala is a remarkable destination with an array of experiences to offer. I have been twice and there is still so much to do! From serene backwater cruises to cultural Kathakali performances and Ayurvedic therapies, it has something for everyone. The state’s lush landscapes and warm hospitality make it a must-visit. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this enchanting corner of India, where you can create lasting memories.