A Guide on Kerala Tour Planning
If you are in the planning stage of a great holiday or honeymoon to Kerala, I suggest you to go through below details. This is written with my experience in planning Kerala tours for many guests like you. This article will definitely help you in deciding every aspect of your tour.
Getting Ready For Your Dream Kerala Trip
- Before doing any research, finalise number of days you can spend for your Kerala holidays. This is crucial as you can decide on places of visit as per your leave only.
- If you are having enough leave from office, go through different tourist spots in Kerala and with the help of your tour organiser finalise number of days. In both cases freeze your arrival and departure dates.
- Once this is finalised, you can book your tickets to Kerala. While booking onward journey its always advisable to book up to Cochin. Trivandrum is another option and book up to Trivandrum only if your first destination is Kovalam or Kanyakumari. Calicut is good only if your first destination is Wayanad.
- Cochin is also spelled as Kochi and is also known as Ernakulam. While booking bus you can make the booking to Ernakulam. While booking train you may book to Ernakulam North or Ernakulam south as some trains has stop only at one station, code for train booking is ERN and ERS. For flights, make the booking to Cochin or Kochi, (location code is COK). By any means try to reach Cochin as early as possible to cover maximum spots.
- Tourists from Coimbatore, Bangalore, Mysore, Chennai and Hyderabad can reach Kerala by train, flight or bus. From Coimbatore, bus is the best option. If you are traveling from Bangalore, you have all three options. Normally Bus takes 9 – 12 hrs to reach Cochin from Bangalore. Nowadays Multi axle Volvo buses are reaching Cochin in 9 to 10 hrs. This varies on road conditions. There is a check post at Tamil Nadu Kerala border and very rarely we have seen buses came late due to checking at this check post. There are lots of buses plying on Bangalore Cochin route and this is a good option to reach Kerala from Bangalore. You may even check for sleeper buses. Train takes approximately 12 hrs from Bangalore and getting ticket is the biggest challenge. If ticket is available, this is the best option. In both case try to book bus/train which reaches Cochin in the morning. If you are opting for flight, book a flight reaches at least before noon.
- From Hyderabad, Flight or train is the best option. Choose bus only if nothing works out and it takes almost 18hrs. Nowadays buses are plying from Mumbai also but use this as your last option, as it is nearly 36 hour journey.
- From Mangalore you can travel by bus or train. From Mysore, you have the option of only bus or else you need to travel to Bangalore first and then to Cochin. From Chennai you can travel by bus, train or flight. Bus and train takes almost 12hrs to reach Cochin
- From Delhi, Ahmadabad or any other destinations to Kerala you have the option of traveling by train or flight only.
- For those who are coming from other countries, you have the option to come directly by flight. You can also get off at one of the Metro city air terminals and come to Kerala by train. You need to do all the booking beforehand to avoid any confusion.
- Once onward journey is booked, you may book return ticket. While booking return ticket, please be careful about timings and destinations. I suggest you to book this only after finalising the package or at least Itinerary.
Pick the Destinations.
Now we need to finalise on destinations to be covered. This is where we need to balance between the number of days you have and your interests. A small description about major tourist spots in Kerala should help you on this.
Major Tourist Destinations in South/Central Kerala
Cochin – In most cases this is the place you land in Kerala. If you are interested in Cochin sightseeing either you can do this on first day upon arrival at Cochin or if you have enough time on last day, go for it.
Munnar – This is the best tourist spot in Kerala. You love to see it 100 times. Munnar is a hill station.
Thekkady – Thekkady has Periyar wild life Sanctuary and you can visit when you go for boating at Thekkady. Thekkady has lot of adventurous activities and eco tourism activities too.
Alleppey/Kumarakom – This is the place where you can go for Houseboat Cruise. Alleppey even has lot of resorts to relax and there is also a beautiful beach
Trivandrum- The capital city
Kovalam – Lovely beaches
Kanyakumari – Though this is in Tamil Nadu, if you are travelling up to Trivandrum (and if time permits), it is advisable to have a visit.
Athirapilly-Vazhachal – Biggest water falls in Kerala
Cherai – Another beach near Cochin
Guruvayoor – Pilgrim place, the famous Krishna temple. There is a elephant sanctuary at this place with more than 65 elephants
Major Tourist Destinations in North Kerala
Northern part of Kerala has Wayanad to visit. Wayanad is approximately 300km towards north from Cochin. From the above listed major tourist destinations, make a list of places you wish to cover in Kerala.
I shall be writing about all these places in detail below with travel time required for each. After reading this post, you would be in a position to finalize the places to visit depending on your leave from office. Once places of visit and number of nights in each destination are finalized, Itinerary can be prepared with ease.
Most of the time, this is the place where you land in Kerala. If you have enough days in Kerala, a full day visit of Cochin is worth doing. Cochin has lot of sightseeing places including Marine drive, Chinese fishing nets, Fort Cochin where you can visit Dutch palace, Jew Synagogue etc.
If you are short in time, I suggest you to move directly to your first destination from Cochin. This can be Munnar which is 4 to 5hrs drive from Cochin, Thekkady which is 5hrs drive, Alleppey 2hrs, Guruvayoor 2hrs and Athirapilly-vazhachal, a short 2hrs drive. If you want Kovalam as your first destination, it is better to arrive at Trivandrum instead of having a hectic travel of 6 to 7hrs on the same day of arrival.
For every travel you need to consider halting time in between for sightseeing, food etc. If your first destination is Alleppey Houseboat, make sure you reach Cochin at least by 9AM so that you can check in to Houseboat at 12Noon. If your arrival is after 10AM at Cochin, then don’t plan Alleppey Houseboat cruise on the same day as check in to houseboat is at 12Noon and check out is at 9AM next day. If you are reaching Cochin after 3PM, then don’t plan any travel on that day. In this case best option is to stay in a hotel near to airport or railway station depending how you come to Cochin. Most of the hotels near to airport gives free pick up from airport thus can save money on vehicle on that day. Do inform your travel agent about your mode of arrival to book hotel accordingly. Cochin airport is almost 20km from Cochin city/railway station.
If you are planning to stay at Cochin on arrival day, normally check in time of all hotels is 12 Noon and if you are reaching early morning, do inform this in advance to your travel agent. In this case you can request for early check in. Most of the hotels allow this subject to room availability and do note that breakfast will not be complimentary for this day.
If you are planning to travel to other destination on the same day, I suggest you to start directly to that destination instead of having a half day sightseeing of Cochin and then traveling to next destination. If you are arriving Cochin by train or bus or after a long flight travel, try to refresh yourself before driving from Cochin to your next destination. This helps you to enjoy the trip right from beginning and can visit all sightseeing on the way. Coordinating your first destination in accordance with your arrival time is very important.
Munnar Tea Gardens
Munnar, a hill station, is one of the most beautiful places in Kerala. There are lots of Tea plantations and more than a dozen places to see near Munnar. This is a must see place if you are visiting Kerala. Climate will be mostly cold throughout the year. Munnar is 140km from Cochin.
If you are traveling to Munnar, you should try to stay there at least for 2 nights. For your onward journey, travel time listed from Cochin is 4 to 5hrs, but in practical you will reach Munnar in about 7 to 8 hrs only. There are lots of sightseeing spots in between. You can enjoy waterfalls and rolling hillside with tea gardens on the way. During this travel enjoy as much as you can on the day and don’t be in a rush to reach Munnar. You can even visit spice plantations on the way. After enjoying the scenery, you will be reaching Munnar by evening only.
If you feel like, you can spend some time in the market. If your hotel is away from Munnar town, try to have food and finish all activities in town and move to hotel. Coming back from hotel to town in night is not a good idea as there can be fog in the road and driving is not safe.
Second day should be dedicated for sightseeing in and around Munnar. If you want to cover almost all places, try to start sightseeing by 8.30. Or you can choose places to visit according to your interest and mood. Purchase spices, tea etc. while you go for shopping.Selecting the resort/hotel is most important while you are in Munnar. Every hotel in Munnar is not in town, you will find hotels within a radius of approximately 30km from Munnar. Most of the good resorts are away from city. If you are a person who wishes to stay in city, do make sure the hotel you select is in city itself. If you want to be away from all traffic and love to have a relaxed mood select a resort/hotel accordingly. While approaching any tour operator, if you have a specific choice, make sure you communicate this clearly.
It is always better to do a Google search on the hotel selected. Nobody can tell you whether you will like a hotel or not. As this is very subjective and depends upon your interests and background. Personally I like to stay away from city when I am on holiday and used to prefer hotels outside the city. But for business trips, I prefer city hotels.
A normal package can be prepared with 2 night stay at Munnar. If you wish to stay at Munnar for 3 nights, you will get a lot of time to relax. A package with one night in Munnar is not that advisable. I have seen many times people taking package with one night at Munnar and one night at Alleppey when they have only 3 days to spend. This is not a good idea as they will not be able to cover neither Munnar nor Alleppey.
From Munnar, you can travel to next destinations like Thekkady, Alleppey, or Cochin. Moving to Kovalam directly from Munnar is not a good idea as travelling time would be minimum 10hrs. If you are moving to Cochin to catch return flight/train do make sure you have minimum 6hrs in between, as you may even stop for food during this travel. So do your time planning accordingly.
Distance to various places from Munnar
Distance from Munnar to Madurai – 130KM
Distance from Munnar to Cochin – 135KM
Distance from Munnar to Aluva – 130KM
Distance from Munnar to Theni – 165KM
Distance from Munnar to Thekkady – 110KM
Distance from Munnar to Trivandrum – 280KM
Distance from Munnar to Alleppey – 190km
Distance from Munnar to Kodaikkanal – 180km
The famous Periyar wild life sanctuary is in Thekkady. Thekkady is sometimes referred to as Kumily or Periyar. Thekkady is the best place to visit if you are interested in adventure and eco-tourism activities. If you are not interested in such activities, you have only Periyar wild life sanctuary to see.
To watch wild life closely, you need to go for boating through the Periyar River. Wild animals, forest areas of Periyar sanctuary and Mullapperiyar dam from long view can only be seen during this boating. Vehicles are not allowed inside the sanctuary for sightseeing.
Boating in Thekkady has fixed timings and the guest need to be personally in the queue to get tickets. You need to give your personal details as well as show ID card while taking this ticket. Depending on season, the rush for boating varies. In peak seasons, there might be heavy rush, so try to be in queue at least 3 to 4 hrs before the departure time.
Thekkady has lot of activities/shows running in the evening. If interested, you can watch Kalarippayattu (martial arts of Kerala), Kathakali, Magic show, musical fountain, tribal dance etc. You can also go for Ayurveda massage, Elephant ride, Elephant bath, Elephant shower, Spice plantation tour etc. You can plan for boating through Periyar River as well above activities if you have one night stay at Thekkady. Unless you are interested in adventurous activities, don’t stay for more than 2 nights there. If you are opting for two night’s stay, you can relax on the second day enjoying the wilderness of Thekkady..
If you are an adventurous person, this is the place for you. Plan for 2 or 3 nights at Thekkady and you get to do all sorts of adventure activities here. You can go for Gavi tour which includes full day Jeep safari, trekking etc., bamboo rafting, eco-tourism, nature walk, night patrolling etc. Go through the details for these activities and fix the number of days you want to stay at Thekkady.
From Thekkady you can move to Alleppey, Munnar, Cochin, Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Kodaikkanal (Tamil Nadu). Again Kovalam is not a good idea as there will be lot of traveling.
Distance to various places from Thekkady
Distance from Thekkady to Kumily – 4km
Distance from Thekkady to Munnar – 110km
Distance from Thekkady to Alleppey – 150km
Distance from Thekkady to Cochin – 170km
Distance from Thekkady to Kodaikkanal – 120km
Houseboat Cruise in Alleppey:
kerala-backwaters-smallAlleppey is famous for Kerala style houseboats. Alleppey has a good beach also. A houseboat cruise is a different experience and should not miss this if you have enough holidays with you. Houseboats give a different feel than staying in a hotel. These floating villas have dining hall, rooms with bath rooms and kitchens. Number of rooms varies from one to nine as of now.
For more info read our blog posts:
1. Backwaters of Kerala
2. Alleppey Backwaters
3. Backwaters of Kuttanad
Houseboat cruise can be of two types; you can either opt for a 21hrs overnight cruise or can take morning cruise for 5 to 6 hrs.
If you are opting for morning cruise, you have to check-in at 10AM and check-out will be at 4 or 5 PM depending on the cruise provider you opt. In this case, you will be greeted with welcome drink (lime juice or tender coconut) and will serve lunch prepared in boat and evening snacks. Boat will cruise through the inland canals, backwaters and lakes. And you can also watch the long stretch of paddy fields at Alleppey (Kuttanad). This cruise, I am sure, will be one of the most memorable experiences of your lifetime.
Boat will halt during lunch timings and food is prepared in the boat itself. The boat will have a Captain (driver), Cook and sometimes a helper too depending on the size of boat. These boats are engine driven.
For overnight stay houseboat cruise (21hrs), you need to check-in to your houseboat at 12 Noon and check-out will be at 9 AM next day. The boat will take you for a cruise at 12 Noon and will be going around till lunch time. The boat will halt for lunch and after lunch it cruises till 5.30 to 6PM and then anchors till next day morning. You will be cruising again next day for at least an hour before check out.
For this kind of cruise, you will be getting welcome drink, lunch, evening snacks, tea, dinner and breakfast for the next day morning. Food is prepared in the boat itself and all boats will have their fixed menu. They take your food preference before you reach Alleppey and raw materials will be stored in boat before it leaves the shore.
If you are a non-vegetarian, you will be getting rice, vegetable (2types), fish fry, curd, pickles, pappad, Sambar for lunch and chicken, chappathy, rice, vegetable curry, dal for dinner. If you are a vegetarian, the menu is similar with some changes. It will be Payasam instead of fish fry for lunch and one more variety of veg curry instead of chicken for dinner. For breakfast, it will be idly-sambar, omelet and bread butter jam.
It’s always advisable to inform them in advance if you have any specific preference as once you start the journey getting raw materials is not easy. If you have children with you and want more milk or such food, don’t forget to inform that in advance. During the cruise, you can purchase prawns, extra fish on your own (if you feel like). The crew will cook and serve that for you.
If you are opting for A/C Houseboat, unless specifically mentioned A/C operates from 9 PM to 6 AM only. If you require full time A/C or need extra hours, then inform the houseboat operator in advance. You will be charged extra unless your package is with full time A/C houseboat. If you want extra A/C time, they need to carry extra fuel with them and unless you tell in advance, this will be difficult.
While on board, do close the windows and doors of your room in the evening. As it is in water and flies may enter in the evening. Houseboats are normally parked in a safe place where the owner of houseboat has easy access or is near to his house. Houseboats are of different categories and rooms may not be as big as your hotel room.
The biggest disadvantage of houseboat is that if there is some issue with A/C or TV in the night, it may not be able to get it repaired till next day. To get an electrician late night to that halting place may not be possible. But such things happen very rarely.
Depending on your interest, either go for 21hrs cruise or take a morning cruise and then stay in a resort at Alleppey or Kumarakom.
Kumarakom and Alleppey Resorts:
Alleppey is famous for Houseboats, backwater resorts and beach whereas Kumarakom is for Houseboats and backwater resorts. Both are just 30km apart. Both places have descent resorts as well as houseboats. Depending on the option selected, you may move to that place. You can plan for a resort stay either after a Houseboat morning cruise or for the next night after overnight cruise.
If you have enough days, I always suggest taking one night stay in a resort after your Houseboat cruise. In most cases, you will be reaching Alleppey or Kumarakom after 3 night stay at Munnar, Thekkady or any other places and a resort stay here will definitely relax you.
You can either move back to Cochin to catch your flight back or can travel ahead to Kovalam after this relaxing stay.
While selecting a resort at Kumarakom or Alleppey, make sure you do enough research. Make sure the resort is as per your liking because there are few things to do at when you are in a Kumarakom/Alleppey resort. You can visit Alleppey beach in the evening and can relax. Some backwater resorts do provide additional facilities like pedal boating, swimming pool and Ayurvedic spa. And there are resorts providing countryside boating, fishing and cooking class. This resort can be either at Alleppey, Kumarakom and I know some good backwater resorts on the way to Cochin also.
Once you are done with Alleppey and Kumarakom , you have several options. It depends upon your travel plan. You can either move towards Cochin and return back home on the same evening or stay at Cochin and travel to Guruvayoor or Athirapilly-Vazhachal on the next day. Or you can move to south from Alleppey to visit Kovalam, Trivandrum, Varkala and Kanyakumari. You also have the option of going to Thekkady or Munnar from here if you started the tour from Trivandrum. Alleppey lies almost midway between Trivandrum from Cochin.
Distance to various places from Alleppey
Distance from Alleppey to Cochin – 80km
Distance from Alleppey to Munnar – 190km
Distance from Alleppey to Thekkady – 140km
Distance from Alleppey to Trivandrum – 170km
Distance from Alleppey to Kovalam – 180km
Distance from Alleppey to Kanyakumari – 250km
Varkala lies in between Alleppey and Trivandrum and has a good beach. There are several beach resorts if you want to stay here. Opt for this place, only if you have extra days or skip this place.
Trivandrum is the capital city of Kerala. At Trivandrum, you can visit the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, Museums, art gallery, Zoo etc. If you have plans to visit the temple, make sure you have the required dress to get inside. Pants or jeans are not allowed for both ladies and gents. The temple can be visited between 5 to 11 in the morning or 3 to 6 in the evening. Visit other places as per your interest and time availability.
While at Trivandrum, it’s advisable to stay at Kovalam which is famous for its beach. If you are really in a tight schedule, one night stay is sufficient but we recommend two night stay to fully enjoy this place. When you have two nights at Kovalam, you can visit Trivandrum one day and next day you can visit Kovalam beaches. Select resort as per your interest at Kovalam.
There are some luxury resorts at Poovar also. Poovar is a place just 14km from Kovalam and is famous for its estuary, where backwater and sea meet! To fully unwind you can extend your stay for one more night, either at Kovalam or at Poovar.
If Kovalam is your last destination, try to book return ticket from Trivandrum which helps you to spend enough time at this place and to avoid long journey of 6 to 7 hrs to Cochin. If your return ticket is from Cochin, try to leave Kovalam at least 8 hrs in advance to be on the safer side. And if the return ticket is for morning flight/train from Cochin, make sure you stay at Cochin instead of rushing from Kovalam on the last day.
From Kovalam, you can do day-visit to Kanyakumari. You can spend one night at Kanyakumari, if you have time. Kanyakumari is 90km from Trivandrum and is almost 2hrs drive. There is Kerala-Tamil Nadu check post in between.
If your tour is starting from Trivandrum, you have the choices of moving to Kanyakumari, Varkala, Alleppey, Cochin from here.
Distance to various places from Trivandrum
Distance from Trivandrum to Cochin – 250km
Distance from Trivandrum to Munnar – 310km
Distance from Trivandrum to Thekkady – 270km
Distance from Trivandrum to Kovalam – 13km
Distance from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari – 90km
Though Kanyakumari is not in Kerala, if you are travelling up to Trivandrum it is recommended to visit this place. Try to have one night stay at Kanyakumari so that you can see the sunset as well as the sunrise. Make sure you reach Kanyakumari before 4PM to see the sunset. If you are on a tight schedule, a day trip to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum is also recommended.Guruvayoor
The famous Sree Krishna temple is at Guruvayoor. Guruvayoor is 90 kilometers, a 2 hour drive from Cochin towards North West. If you are planning to visit Guruvayoor, it is recommended to spend one night there. Though it is only a 2hrs drive from Cochin, you can expect a long queue and will have to wait for about 2 to 4 hrs to enter temple.
If you are staying overnight, you can visit the temple in the evening when the crowd is less. At around 7PM, there are lots of rituals happening there. When I go, I visit the temple at 6PM, have darshan and stay inside the temple till 8PM and come back to hotel. Then I wake up at 2.30AM and visit the temple again early morning at 3.30AM and come back to hotel. During this time, rush will be less and one can go inside quickly.
There is an elephant Sanctuary near to temple where you can see more than 60 elephants and is a must see place if you are visiting Guruvayoor temple.
This is the biggest waterfalls in Kerala and is approximately 70km from Cochin. If you have enough holidays, you may consider visiting this place. During Athirapilly visit, either you can stay at Athirapilly itself or can come back and stay at Cochin. There are few good resorts at Athirappily –Vazhachal region.
Cherai is ideal for a beach visit and is only 30km from Cochin. Either you can have overnight stay here or visit if you have enough time.
Wayanad is approximately 300km from Cochin towards north. If this is your first destination, try to book ticket till Calicut. A 3 night stay is advisable as all sightseeing places in Wayanad are not close to each other. If your next destination is towards south, a night stay at Cochin is required as the drive from Wayanad to Cochin itself takes 7 to 8 hrs. If Wayanad is your last destination, you can book return ticket from Calicut instead of driving back to Cochin.
Hope with the above details, you will be now in a position to chart your travel itinerary with the destinations chosen and number of nights to be spent at each location decided.
Ratheesh R. Nath
Director, Paradise Holidays Cochin