Kerala, “God’s Own Country”, brings in SO many tourists each year and I am going to share my Kerala backpacking tips & Kerala itinerary. It’s one of the most popular states in India and is considered less touristy than Goa and more “real India” (although in my opinion, all of India is “real”). I love when I get to take time to backpack India and Kerala is one of my favorite places.
I’ll use the goMowgli map to show you where each place is in the state. The popular spots to stop are Kochi, Alleppey, Thekeddy, Munnar, Kovalam, Trivandrum, Varkala, and Waynad. It’s a lot to see and we covered it on the tour in just under 10 days. I recommend more like 20 days to be honest if you’re going to hit all these places. We didn’t go to Wayanad, Kovalam, or Trivandrum, although I’ve been to 2 of those 3 before so will still discuss them.
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Kerala Backpacking Tips & Kerala Itinerary
UPDATE: As of 2018, goMowgli is currently no longer in service. For tours of India, I recommend G Adventure. Please see my list of the best G Adventures tours here.
Most likely, if you’re flying this will be your port of entry. The other option is Trivandrum but Kochi makes the most sense for most itineraries.
If you’re coming from Goa it might make sense to take the train to Kochi which I’ve done many times. It’s 17 hours from Thivim station. From Chennai as well you can take the train.
Kochi’s hot backpacking zone is called Fort Kochi and that’s where you’ll meet people. Marine Drive is cool but more residential. I used to stay there and have written quite a bit about Kochi which I’ll link below.
- With goMowgli, we did a few more things that I hadn’t tried yet which included a cooking class! The class was with Leelu, who is sited in Lonely Planet. It was great, although more of a demonstration than a class to participate. We had 6 girls, so perhaps if you are alone, it will be even better. The food was great. Leelu details: you can email to join a class at email@example.com. Located in Fort Kochi.
- Exploring Jew Town is not to be missed in Kochi. Although in the past there were many Jewish people living here, now there are only 6, and 70 in all of Kerala. Back in the day, the Maharaja (great king) built a synagogue right next to his palace and temple. He even crowned the torah. 5 Rs. entry fee to synagogue and very small museum, tips appreciated.
- You can check out Theyyem performances all over Kerala, just ask around.
- We also checked out a Kathakali traditional show at the Kerala Kathakali center. I’ve seen this a couple times, but it’s always different so feel free to check out more than one to see more stories. If you go half an hour early, you can watch them put their makeup on. Kathakali details: Near Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Kochi. Buy tickets ahead of time which are 300 Rs.
- We went to the Kerala Folklore Museum, something I’d been wanting to do. It was unique for sure, but if you’re not into museums, it’s okay to skip. It’s 200 Rs. entry fee or extra if you take in a camera.
- They took us to a local fishing village was is the BEST thing to do in Kochi, and one of my favorite things I’ve done in Kerala. Read more here: Top secret #1 thing to do in Kochi
For a great hostel, check out Happy Camper which everyone in our group seemed quite pleased with and was centrally located. The cost was 450 Rs. per person for a hostel bed. I stayed in a private room with another girl.
If you’re staying in Fort Kochi, you’ll find many “intercontinental” restaurants are the same and can quickly use TripAdvisor to see the top ranked ones. We drove a little ways out to the most famous “puttu” place called Dhe Puttu which serves this famous Kerala dish of which I was not a fan, but everyone else loved.
For more on Kochi, check out these articles I’ve written in the past.
Alleppey is the place where people take houseboats on the backwaters. It’s one of the must do tourist attractions in India for Indian nationals and foreigners alike. Typically, a backpacker doesn’t miss doing this while in India. I wrote about what to expect on a houseboat in Alleppey.
This is where you can do your Indian Safari at Periyar National Park. You can trek, camp, and get into nature. The road here from Alleppey or Kochi is very windy! It takes about 4 hours from Kochi.
We stayed at Vedanta hostel which are all over Kerala and a decent option. It was 350 Rs. per night. They did forget to do my laundry, then try to pretend like it was clean but in the end I didn’t have to pay and it was fine.
For food, we tried Kuttanadu for local and the beef stew was SO GOOD! For western food, we hit up the pricey Cardomom Country which had really good pizza and burgers and a swimming pool! The hotel looked amazing here. Our Place is meant to have the best pizza but they were closed when we stopped by. The lady who owned it was really nice. I think she was English. She offered to make us anything we missed from home, even off the menu, when they opened that evening but we weren’t there to try it.
- You can ride elephants here but I don’t think it’s good as they are there only for tourists, are tortured to be as tame as they are, and unlike places like Dubare in Karnataka, they aren’t there for working in the forrest.
- Seeing the martial arts show was the coolest bit. My Kovalam friends call it “Keralan dance fighting” and it’s very unique – a must see! One second they are doing cartwheels and acting tame, the next a guy is tackled and pretending to have his head cut off, all to the tune of music. There’s also fire. Amazing. The cost here is 200 Rs.
- In the National Park you can trek, camp, and take boat safaris. We did a trek for 450 Rs. & bamboo boat safari. On the trek, they give you covers for your legs as pictured. Absolutely wear them to protect from leeches. The bamboo rafting was okay because we saw a wild mama elephant and her baby, but if you were unlucky to see nothing, it’s pricey at 1,500 Rs. There are government prices that cannot be negotiated. The trek lasted about 1.5 hours there and 1.5 back with the boat ride in between. A packed lunch was included and one water per person.
- Abraham’s Spice Plantation is available and was part of the goMowgli tour. The girls loved it, I skipped to catch up on work & because I’ve seen about 10 by now. The cost is 200 Rs.
- If you’re going to be adventurous in India, do get travel insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
The hill stations in the tea fields are really popular in Kerala, like everything else on this list. We actually went to Chinnakanal which is 20 km East of Munnar and escaped all the crowds. Read more about seeing the Kerala tea plantations here.
On the road, make sure to try a traditional Indian coffee house to get a dosa and chai! I also had a tasty omelette.
On the road between Munnar & Varkala we stopped at Aranmula Parthasarathy which is a temple that probably doesn’t have tourist bus access. It was one of the offbeat things goMowgli offered and was very cool. We were lucky enough to see the procession where each day for a month a different village is represented at the temple and shows up on a Keralan boat putting on a show for the crowd. It’s something not a lot of people will get to see! This temple is one of 108 that Hindu’s are meant to visit and it was neat to walk around the town as well. The tradition is over 1,000 years old.
The other place we stopped with goMowgli was a little mirror shop, unique in the fact they are the ONLY family left who makes mirrors this way, out of all metal. It was really cool to watch them work. If you want the perfect souvenir, this is it, and when you see how much work is put into it, 2,000 Rs. for a small one is a steal.
Kovalam is the top beach hangout and the closest you’ll get to Goa in Kerala. It’s a chilled out place but to be honest if you are spending a lot of time in Goa, my opinion is you can skip here. I’ve stayed a week in the past and wrote about it here: Kovalam beach tips. The best things to do in Kovalam to me is body surf on the huge waves and have half off sunset drinks at the Leela, which has the best view in town.
6. THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (Trivandum)
I am only mentioning this as a hub that you can fly in and out of and will maybe be your point of destination on the way to Kovalam if you go by train. The big thing to see here is the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the richest place of worship in THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, according to the Wikipedia page. Only Hindus can go inside.
I loved Varkala & wrote all about it on this article: Adventure sports in Varkala. It’s definitely a hotspot on the tourist trail, and is full of hippie backpackers surfing and partying the nights away.
This is my favorite green bikini from L*space which is my go-to brand for sporty stuff!
This is somewhere I haven’t been, but it didn’t feel right to not mention. It’s on my “must go” list in India mainly because there are treehouses in the jungle. There are indigenous tribal people living here, it’s high altitude in the Western Ghats, and is the least population region of Kerala. It borders Tamil Nadu & Karnataka and I actually saw a glimpse when I was in Karnataka at the Kabini River Jungle Lodge .
Prepare for your big Kerala backpacking trip:
GETTING TO KERALA VIA FLIGHT: I recommend using Kiwi. They search all the low cost Indian airlines but give you European customer service. I am obsessed with them.
You’ll also want to read up on why you might want a Trabug phone, and these 100 tips for India travel. Don’t forget about these 7 off the beaten track places in Kerala, too. Click here to see my step by step guide to plan your India trip from scratch.
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