This South Indian adventure gets to the heart of Kerala's spectacular layered landscapes. After touring the historic city of Cochin, you and your guide will drive towards tea plantations and friendly hill towns in the Western Ghats. Next, glide through the area's backwater canals before finishing with some beach time in Kovalam where you can partake in yoga sessions, Ayurvedic treatments, and golden sunsets.

Highlights

  • Tuk-tuk through a historic settlement with colonial architecture and a fish market
  • Get plenty of chances to see Kerala's gorgeous plantations by car and on foot
  • Learn how fresh green tea leaves are processed to create the final product
  • Stay overnight on a furnished houseboat in Kerala's backwater canals
  • Enjoy Kovalam's blissed-out vibe with a slew of health and wellness activities

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cochin Cochin
Day 2 Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration Cochin
Day 3 Visit the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Transfer to Munnar Cochin
Day 4 Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour Munnar
Day 5 Transfer to Thekkady - Free Time Thekkady
Day 6 Jungle Walk - Spice Plantation Tour Thekkady
Day 7 Transfer to Kumarakom - Tribal Village Walk Kumarakom
Day 8 Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise Alappuzha
Day 9 Transfer to Kovalam Kovalam
Day 10 Kovalam Free Day Kovalam
Day 11 Transfer to Trivandrum - Depart India  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin
A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin

Welcome to Cochin! This port city on India's southwest coast—in the state of Kerala—is a great place to start your adventure. Upon arrival, you will be met by a tour representative for a traditional welcome followed by a transfer to your hotel. Your representative will assist with check-in as well as go over the details of your adventure.

From here, take some time to relax at the hotel or explore your surroundings. Cochin's history stretches back to the time of King Solomon when it was known as ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. This is where Arab, Chinese and European merchant traders came in search of spices, silks, and sandalwood. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement in town with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship. The adjoining backwater canals also help make Cochin a popular destination for travelers in Kerala. 

There are several options on how to spend your first evening in this part of the world. Consider catching a live musical performance, watching the Kathakali Dance Show at the cultural center, or joining a sunset cruise in the Arabian Sea.

Day 2: Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration

Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi
Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi

It's time to explore Cochin! After breakfast at your hotel, it's time to join a half-day tour in the charming seaside area called Fort Kochi, known for its Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial architecture. 

The excursion begins by visiting the local Chinese Fishing Nets (introduced by the Chinese in the late 14th century) and the nearby Fort Immanuel. You'll then visit St. Francis CSI Church, the oldest European church in India built in 1503, followed by an open-air tuk-tuk ride—a popular mode of transport among the locals.

Whizzing through the streets, your tuk-tuk will stop at the Dhobi Khana, a laundry station which has historical significance from the Dutch occupation of the 17th century, as well as Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese as a gift for the king of Kochi. You'll also pass by a Jewish synagogue and a pungent spice market for possible souvenirs.

In the evening, get ready to interact with a local Keralan family during a Cooking Demonstration. This special experience begins with a traditional sari draping where you will be shown how a long strip of cloth can be wrapped in various styles. Then, participate in a fun beginner course where you'll be taught how to cook Indian food and use Indian spices—all while getting acquainted with family members of a traditional Indian home. This is an enriching cultural and culinary experience that you won't soon forget.

Day 3: Visit the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Transfer to Munnar

Plantation views in the Munnar area
Plantation views in the Munnar area

Today, after breakfast in Cochin, you will be transferred away from the coastal plains to the higher altitude town of Munnar (81 miles/140km). Famous for its tea plantations, Munnar is located in the Western Ghats, approximately 5,249 feet (1,600 m) above sea level with spectacular views in all directions. 

There will be plenty of time to stretch your legs when you stop at the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary for a nature walk surrounded by forests, wetlands, and rivers. With more than 300 species of birds, this 15-square-mile (25 km) sanctuary is evergrowing as new avian members are added every year. 

Upon arrival in Munnar, you'll have free time to explore at your own pace. It's easy to see that this was once the summer resort of the British administration in South India; thankfully, today, Munnar retains its colonial charm. Make sure to wander through the colorful streets and poke around a few bazaars for potential souvenirs.

Day 4: Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour

Get views of cardamom plantations
Get up close to cardamom plantations

After an early breakfast, you'll hit the dirt with a half-day hike in the beautiful hills surrounding Munnar. The trail commences with a gradual ascent through tea, cardamom, and coffee plantations, and then enters biodiverse rainforests and grasslands to reach the Sevenmalai Hills. From the top, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of tea estates, Changulam Lake, Chittrapuram Dam, Munnar town, and other local villages. When you're ready, return on foot to complete the excursion.

Next, you can either choose to return to the hotel or make a visit to the Tata Tea Museum located at the Nallathanni Estate. As evidenced by the surrounding plantations, the tea industry has played an integral part in the area's history. Showcasing photographs and machinery, the tea factory museum reveals a detailed insight into how tea is processed from fresh green leaves to the final product, ready to be packaged. 

Later in the evening, you can join your guide for a walk through the colorful markets in Munnar.

Day 5: Transfer to Thekkady - Free Time

A garden in Periyar National Park
A garden in Periyar National Park

This morning, keep your camera close as you drive through more lush hillsides towards Thekkady (65 miles/104 km)—a small town close to Periyar National Park with one of India’s most fascinating wildlife sanctuaries.

Once settled at your hotel, enjoy some free time to explore this beautiful area at your own pace. Periyar has one of the richest habitats for large mammals, as it provides both excellent cover and nourishment in the form of succulent shoots and grasses. Here it is possible to see up to 30 species of mammals including elephants, tigers, gaur (Indian bison), sloths, and monkeys, not to mention rich birdlife. Wildlife can be viewed on various boat tours offered in the park (optional excursion).

Day 6: Jungle Walk - Spice Plantation Tour

Visit the plantations near Thekkady
Visit the plantations near Thekkady

Rise and shine! Today begins with a sunrise jungle walk in Periyar National Park where you can admire butterflies and birdlife like kingfishers, storks, and hornbills. The park's trails often pass through evergreen and moist deciduous forests interspersed with marshy grasslands. You'll be able to feel, hear, and smell an abundance of nature all around you.

Following the excursion, you'll return to the hotel for breakfast. Take some time to relax before you set off on a Spice Plantation Tour. Spice gardens and plantations are abundant in this part of Kerala, and this customizable tour explains the history, growth, and development of wonderful spices like cardamom and pepper, as well as other important crops like tea, coffee, and vanilla. This is an exciting endeavor for many participants since most of the world has only viewed these products on supermarket shelves.

Day 7: Transfer to Kumarakom - Tribal Village Walk

Local villagers near Kumarakom
Local villagers near Kumarakom

After breakfast in Thekkady, you'll transfer to the town of Kumarakom (71 miles/115 km)—a village situated on Vembanad Lake (the largest in Kerala). In addition to lakes and rivers, this entire area is laced with a network of alley-like canals traditionally used for transportation; today, these "backwaters" are one of the major tourism draws for travelers seeking a rejuvenating experience (you'll experience the canals in coming days). 

Upon arrival, check into your hotel and then take a guided walk through the surrounding tribal villages. This excursion offers the chance to see rural lifestyle but also the natural beauty in the area with various kinds of exotic flora and fauna.

Day 8: Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise

A houseboat in Kerala
A typical furnished houseboat in Kerala

After breakfast in Kumarakom, it's time to make the short drive to Alappuzha (20 miles/32.5 km), also known as Alleppey. Whichever way you call it, this is a principal center for backwater cruises in Kerala nestled among small fishing and farming villages, as well as rubber and spice plantations. Among the many agricultural activities in the region, there is the presence of a textile using coir, a natural fiber extracted from the husk of coconut and used in products such as floor mats, doormats, brushes, and mattresses

In Alappuzha, you'll board a cruise for a ride through some of the canals—a memorable experience and truly one of the highlights of the trip. Learn how these waterways are the lifeblood of the area. In fact, local commerce revolves around it with boats laden with everything from fish to the daily newspapers!

If that's not enough, you'll stay overnight on one of the flat-bottomed houseboats that come fully furnished with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and running water. Meals will be prepared by the crew. Kick back and enjoy the sunset!

Day 9: Transfer to Kovalam

Get your yoga on at seaside Kovalam
Awaken your yoga groove at seaside Kovalam

After a relaxing breakfast on the houseboat, it's time to glide your way back to dry land in Alappuzha. From here, you'll make the drive to Kovalam (109 miles/175 km). This small resort town is extremely popular in south India for its golden beaches lined with lush coconut palms. The massive rocky promontory along Kovolam's shore has created a beautiful bay of calm water ideal for swimming. 

Upon arrival at Somatheeram Ayurveda Village, you'll have the afternoon to relax and enjoy the grounds. The resort offers plenty of activities including Ayurvedic treatments, yoga and meditation classes, special cultural programs, catamaran cruising, and more, so take your pick! 

Day 10: Kovalam Free Day

Spend the day at the beach in Kovalam
Spend the whole day at this glorious beach, if you wish

After a leisurely breakfast, the entire day is wide open to enjoy Kovolam's beaches, water sports, and resort activities at your own pace.

Optional Sightseeing: If you'd prefer to get out and see some culture, you can join a guided tour that travels by taxi from Kovalam to the extreme southern tip of India where the Padmanabhapuram Palace is located—a marvelous building with fantastic woodcarvings. In addition, you'll stop at the town of Suchindram to see the famous Thanumalayan Temple, an important pilgrimage site with a 22-foot (7 m) statue carved of a single granite block. In the afternoon, return to your hotel for the evening. 

Day 11: Transfer to Trivandrum - Depart India

Goodbye, India!
Goodbye, South India!

It's time to say goodbye to Kovalam! At the designated time, you'll be picked up and transferred to the international airport of Trivandrum in time to board your departure flight home or to your next destination. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Beaches, Canals & Hills of Kerala - 11 Days
Map of Beaches, Canals & Hills of Kerala - 11 Days