This tour traverses two states in South India—Kerala and Tamil Nadu—known for beautiful landscapes and cultural activities. Start with a cooking demonstration in Cochi before driving through lush green plantations to get to the hill station of Munnar and (further) the city of Madurai where you'll see one of South India's most important temples. Next is a hike in Periyar National Park and a cruise through Kerala's backwater canals, followed by free time in one of India's most beloved beach towns.

Highlights

  • Start and end the trip along the Arabian Sea with golden sunsets
  • Drive through the beautiful Western Ghats to get to a famous temple
  • Look for families of wild elephants in Periyar National Park
  • Stay overnight on a houseboat while having meals prepared for you
  • Pick between beach time, yoga sessions, and Ayurvedic treatments in Kovalam

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cochin Cochin
Day 2 Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration Cochin
Day 3 Transfer to Munnar - Free Time Munnar
Day 4 Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour Munnar
Day 5 Transfer to Madurai - Free Time Madurai
Day 6 Madurai Culture Tour Madurai
Day 7 Drive to Thekkady - Spice Garden Tour Thekkady
Day 8 Jungle Walk & Wildlife Boat Tour in Periyar National Park Thekkady
Day 9 Transfer to Alapuzzha - Experience the Backwater Canals Alappuzha
Day 10 Boat to Alappuzha - Drive to the Malabar Coast - Village Tour West Chennamkary
Day 11 Transfer to Kovalam - Free Time Kovalam
Days 12-13 Kovalam Free Day Kovalam
Day 14 Transfer to Trivandrum - Depart India  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin
Tuk-tuks are a frequent mode of transportation in Cochin

Welcome to Cochin! This port city in the state of Kerala on India's southwest coast is a great way to start your trip. Upon arrival, you will meet your tour representative for a traditional swagat (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 city is where Arab, Chinese, and European merchant traders came in search of spices, silk fabrics, and sandalwood. Sites reflecting these influences are located in Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and different houses of worship. 

There are several options on how to spend your first evening, including a Kathakali Dance Show at the cultural center or a sunset cruise on the Arabian Sea.

Day 2: Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration

Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi
Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi

Today, you'll have more time to experience Cochin. At the designated time, your guide will take you on a half-day tour of seaside 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 where you can pick up souvenirs.

After some time to rest, you'll transfer to a local Keralan home for a family-style cooking demonstration. The evening begins with a traditional sari draping where you will see how a long strip of cloth can form various styles. You'll also get a beginner's lesson on how to cook Indian food and use Indian spices—all while getting acquainted with family members of a traditional Indian home. 

Day 3: Transfer to Munnar - Free Time

Spend two nights in Munnar, surrounded by plantations
Spend two nights in Munnar next to bright green plantations

After breakfast in Cochin, take a scenic drive towards Kerala's hilly interior and the town of Munnar (81 miles/140km). Famous for its emerald-green tea plantations, Munnar is located in the Western Ghats, approximately 5,249 feet (1,600 m) above sea level with magnificent landscapes. It's easy to see that this was once the summer resort of the British administration in South India. Thankfully, present-day Munnar still offers colonial charm. 

Once settled in your hotel, enjoy some free time to explore this hill station at your own pace. Perhaps you'd like to wander 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
Look for cardamom plantations while on the hike

After an early breakfast, you'll hit the trail with a half-day hike in the beautiful hills surrounding Munnar. The path 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 have spectacular views of tea estates, Changulam Lake, Chittrapuram Dam, Munnar town, and other local villages. Return on foot when you're ready to complete the excursion.

Next, there's an option to return to the hotel or make a visit to the Tata Tea Museum located at the Nallathanni Estate. The tea industry, as evidenced by the surrounding plantations, has played an integral part in the area's history. The 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, join your guide for a walk through the colorful markets in Munnar.

Day 5: Transfer to Madurai - Free Time

A busy street in Madurai
A busy street in Madurai

After breakfast in Munnar, you'll drive across the plains to reach the neighboring state, Tamil Nadu, and one of India's oldest cities: Madurai (94 miles/152 km). 

Upon arrival, check into the hotel and enjoy some free time. Madurai's rich history spawned the nickname 'Athens of South India' (or 'Athens of the East'). The city is known for its many temples, and you'll likely first spot the Meenakshi Amman Temple on the southern bank of the holy Vaigai River (it's hard to miss). The architectural masterpiece is one of the more prominent pilgrimage shrines in India. It offers more than a dozen towers intricately carved and decorated with colorful stone figures, which you'll get to see during tomorrow's tour. 

As for today, Madurai is a perfect place to experience Hindu culture with lively streets, bazaars, and regional restaurants, so you can easily explore the streets on foot.

Day 6: Madurai Culture Tour

The thousand pillar hall inside Meenakshi Amman Temple
The thousand pillar hall inside Meenakshi Amman Temple

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll join a guided sightseeing tour of Madurai, focusing on some important cultural monuments.

No surprise, the excursion starts with an in-depth visit to the Meenakshi Temple. You may have experienced the site on your own yesterday, but a guide today will show you much more of this outstanding example of Vijaynagar temple architecture. Built during the Nayak Dynasty period between the 16th and 18th centuries, Meenakshi is one of the largest temple complexes in India. The surrounding gopurams (large pyramidal towers) are known for their colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses, and animals.

In the vicinity of the Meenakshi Temple is the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, which you'll visit next. Built-in 1636, this Indo-Mughal-style structure is commonly known to be one of the most beautiful monuments of South India—and fittingly, it was declared a national monument following India's independence movement. 

Following the tour, there will be free time to enjoy Madurai at your own pace.

Day 7: Drive to Thekkady - Spice Garden Tour

Learn about local spice plants, including the peppercorn
Learn about local spice plants, including the peppercorn

After breakfast in Madurai, return to the state of Kerala for your overnight in Thekkady (86 miles/139 km). Enjoy the scenery, as this spectacular drive climbs through the Western Ghats and commands fantastic views across Tamil Nadu and Kerala. You'll even have a chance to make a few brief stops at local markets and grape plantations along the way.

Upon arrival in the small (yet lively) village of Thekkady, check into your hotel and have lunch. This area of Kerala is a popular spice-growing center, and you can walk around the hotel's garden to see different spices at different stages of growth. There will also be free time to explore Thekkady's local bazaar, where a large number of shops sell cardamom, vanilla, peppercorns, chilies, turmeric, and other spices.

Day 8: Jungle Walk & Wildlife Boat Tour in Periyar National Park

Take a boat tour in Periyar National Park
Take a boat tour in Periyar National Park

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

The park also contains one of the largest wildlife reserves in South India, set around a large manmade body of water called Periyar Lake. In the afternoon, you'll have a chance to join an optional boat trip—a great opportunity to possibly see families of wild elephants and other animals from the water. You'll also have the option to partake in a relaxing ayurvedic massage treatment. 

Following the excursion, you'll return to your hotel in Thekkady for the evening. 

Day 9: Transfer to Alapuzzha - Experience the Backwater Canals

These waterways are an essential method of transportation
These waterways are essential for transporting goods

After breakfast in Thekkady, you'll make the drive west to Alappuzha (86 miles/138 km), also known as Alleppey—a principal center for backwater cruises in Kerala, nestled among small fishing and farming villages, as well as rubber and spice plantations. You might also see the presence of a natural textile using coir, extracted from the husk of a coconut, used in floor mats, doormats, brushes, and mattresses

Once you've reached Alappuzha, a cruise will be waiting to take you through some of the peaceful canals—a memorable Indian experience and one of the highlights of the trip. Learn how these waterways are the lifeblood of the area's local commerce as you spot vessels transporting everything from fresh fish and produce to daily newspapers.

Tonight, you'll sleep and eat on a flat-bottomed houseboat that comes furnished with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and running water. A crew will prepare meals. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the sunset!

Day 10: Boat to Alappuzha - Drive to the Malabar Coast - Village Tour

Consider a bike tour during your free afternoon
Consider a bike tour during your free afternoon

Enjoy a leisurely morning on your comfortable houseboat! After breakfast, your captain will return to Alappuzha, via the canals, where you'll disembark. 

Next is a pretty drive along the nearby Malabar Coast where you can get a taste of the sea (with more in the coming days).

Later in the afternoon, you'll drive to a homestay in West Chennamkary, located in the picturesque Kuttanad district in the middle of backwaters. This evening provides the chance to experience a local village with a guided tour and optional activities, such as canoeing, biking, and cooking.

Following the tour, return to your homestay for the night.

Day 11: Transfer to Kovalam - Free Time

Vizhinjam Lighthouse in Kovolam
Vizhinjam Lighthouse in Kovalam

After breakfast in West Chennamkary, you'll drive south to Kovalam (85 miles/136 km). This small resort town is popular for westerners thanks to its full-service hotels, golden beaches, and lush coconut palms. Notice how the massive rocky promontory along Kovolam's shore has created a beautiful bay of calm water ideal for swimming and watersports. 

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 sessions, and meditation classes, as well as unique cultural programs, catamaran cruising, and more. 

Days 12-13: Kovalam Free Day

Spend the day at the beach in Kovalam
Spend the day at the beach in Kovalam

After a leisurely breakfast, the day is wide open to enjoy Kovolam's beaches, water sports, and resort activities at your own pace. You can also enjoy some souvenir shopping in town or check out some local restaurants serving fresh seafood or quality vegetarian fare. 

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 for the Padmanabhapuram Palace—a marvelous building with fantastic woodcarvings. Also, 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. 

Day 14: Transfer to Trivandrum - Depart India

Goodbye, India!
Goodbye, India!

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

Map

Map of South India Scenic Adventure - 14 Days
Map of South India Scenic Adventure - 14 Days