India's Kerala state, located in the south of the peninsula, is home to lush vegetation and wild animals, aromatic spices and stunning temples. Indulge your senses and experience Kerala's diversity. Trek through forest and jungle to heights that offer stunning views, take in cultural sights of bustling towns, and relax on a bamboo raft on the winding waters, with nature at your fingertips.

Highlights

  • Visit the picturesque rolling hills of Munnar's tea plantations
  • Explore South India's ornate Hindu temples at Madurai
  • Sail on a bamboo raft in Thekkady
  • Spend the night on a houseboat on Lake Vembanad 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cochin Cochin
Day 2 Travel to Munnar Munnar
Day 3 Trek to Sivanmalai Hills Munnar
Day 4 Travel to Kodaikanal Kodaikanal
Day 5 Trek and explore Kodaikanal Kodaikanal
Day 6 Travel to Madurai Madurai
Day 7 Explore Madurai's temples Madurai
Day 8 Travel to Thekkady Thekkady
Day 9 Bamboo rafting experience Thekkady
Day 10 Alappuzha Houseboat Alappuzha
Day 11 Alappuzha and Malabar coast Alappuzha
Day 12 Travel to Cochin Cochin
Day 13 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

Kathakali Indian dance, India
Kathakali performance

Arrive at the airport in Cochin (also referred to as Kochi) to a swagat, or traditional Indian welcome, upon your arrival, before you are transferred to your hotel for check-in. Spend the afternoon taking in a traditional performance of Kathakali — a classical Indian dance unique to Kerala. Kathakali is a story-driven dance and consists of mostly male dancers wearing elaborate and colorful makeup, costumes, and facemasks.

Day 2: Drive to Munnar

A tea plantation in Munnar

In the morning enjoy a scenic drive to Munnar. Munnar, located approximately 5,249 feet above sea level in the Western Ghats, was once the summer resort of the British administration in South India. It's a lush and vibrant hill station (a town located at a higher elevation and used as a holiday resort during the hot season) which has retained its colonial charm and is famous for its tea plantations.

With its contoured hills, sparkling waterfalls, vast tea plantations, and picture-postcard hamlets, the area is perfect for leisurely hiking. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day at your own pace enjoying what Munnar has to offer. In the evening take the time to discover Munnar's local market.

Day 3: Hike the Sivanmalai Hills

The hills of Munnar
The hills of Munnar

After breakfast, you will drive to the small village of Nagarmudi, where your hike starts. The path gradually ascends through tea plantations and climbs up into the Sivanmalai Hills. The surroundings are serene, with hill slopes covered in verdant plants and forests, sparkling waterfalls, and small villages dot the valleys.

Make your way through cardamom and coffee plantations before reaching the hilltop, where you will enjoy superb views. Later, you will retrace your steps and return to Munnar. If there is time, you have the option of visiting Munnar's Tea Museum. The tea factory offers a detailed insight into how tea is processed, from fresh cut leaves to final packaging.

Hiking distance: 6 -7.5 miles 
Duration: 4-5 hours

Day 4: Munnar to Kodaikanal 

En route to Kodaikanal
En route to Kodaikanal

Spend part of today driving towards the beautiful city-in-the-hills, Kodaikanal. Located in the state of Tamil Nadu, Kodaikanal is often referred to as the "princess of hill stations" due to its scenic views of hills, valleys, and forests. It may just leave you spellbound. Take the day to explore Kodaikanal, and try activities like horseback riding, cycling, and boating. 

Day 5: Hiking in Kodaikanal

Dolphin's Nose, Kodaikanal, India
Dolphin's Nose

Today you will hike the trail leading to Dolphin's Nose, a flat rock jutting out of the mountainside. Positioned at an elevation of 6,600 feet, Dolphin's Nose is a top destination for travelers and hiking enthusiasts visiting the area and offers rewarding views of the region.

Hiking distance: 5 miles 
Duration: 5 hours

Day 6: Kodaikanal to Madurai 

Inside a temple at Madurai

After breakfast, you will leave Kodaikanal behind and drive across the plains of Tamil Nadu to reach the colorful city of Madurai. Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India, and possesses a thriving cultural center with a rich heritage and intricate temples. You will check into your hotel and relax for the remainder of the day. 

Day 7: Explore Madurai and its Hindu Temples

Meenakshi  Amman Temple

Madurai is rich in Hindu temples. The oldest and likely most frequented site in Madurai is the Meenakshi  Amman Temple, an outstanding example of Vijayanagara architecture. Built during the Nayaka period between 16th and 18th centuries, it is one of the largest temple complexes in India. The gopurams (towers) that surround the temple are known for their colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses, and animals, and offer plenty of photo opportunities.

Afterward, you will visit Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal. The palace was built in 1636 in the Indo-Mughal style by the Nayaka Dynasty. The main temple is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, consort of Shiva. Madurai is a perfect place to wander on your own and to experience Hindu culture in the temples and bazaars at the heart of this vibrant city. Your evening is free to explore.

Day 8: Madurai to Thekkady

Indian spice market
Spice market

In the morning you will drive to Thekkady and re-enter the state of Kerala. The drive offers spectacular views as the road climbs through the Western Ghats, traversing Tamil Nadu and crossing into Kerala. There will be opportunities for brief stops at local markets and grape plantations along the way before you arrive in the small, bustling village of Thekkady.

After lunch, you will take a short walk around a spice garden where you will be able to see a variety of spices growing. There is plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the local bazaar, where a large number of shops selling cardamom, vanilla, peppercorn, chilies, turmeric, and other spices flank the road.

Day 9: Travel by Bamboo Raft

Float along and take in the sights on a bamboo raft

Today's full-day affair and will have you hiking and rafting through some of the richest forest tracks of Periyar National Park (also referred to as Periyar Tiger Reserve). Wake up early to hike through a diverse range of habitats before changing pace and boarding rafts made of bamboo. The forests are rich in bird life and tree animals, including giant squirrels and the Indian hooded leaf monkey. Rafting lasts for approximately three hours and offers panoramic views of forested hills reflected on the lake. Animals, including elephants, gaurs (Indian Bison), and sambars (large deer)are often sighted near the lake's edge.

Day 10: Thekkady to Alappuzha by Houseboat

Travel Kerala's backwaters in comfort

After breakfast, you will drive to Alappuzha (Alleppey) — a popular destination for cruising Kerala's backwaters and one of this trip's highlights. These enchanting boats have been decorated and made into comfortable cruise vessels, allowing you to meander along the waterways in style, flanked by lush tropical vegetation, offering glimpses of dazzling tropical birds and idyllic villages. Your overnight stay is on a houseboat in the middle of the famous Lake Vembanad. 

Day 11: Alappuzha to Gaaby World

Malabar Coast, near Kochi, South India
View of the Malabar coast

After a relaxing breakfast on the houseboat, you will disembark and drive along the scenic Malabar coast to Gaaby World — a community homestay in West Chennamkary right in the heart of the picturesque backwaters of the Kuttanad district. In the evening, take a stroll through the village. Various optional activities, such as canoeing, a bicycle tour through the neighboring villages, and cooking classes can be arranged here.

Day 12: Alappuzha to Cochin

St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi

This morning you'll return to Cochin. Once settled in your hotel, you will spend the afternoon on a half-day city tour of colorful Fort Kochi, including Mattancherry Palace, the Jewish Synagogue, and St. Francis  Church. Fort Kochi was founded by the Portuguese in 1503 and is believed to be the earliest European settlement in India.  Vibrant green, yellow, and blue warehouses emit intoxicating smells of teas and spices, and the narrow streets bustle with cyclists and hand-painted trucks.