With spectacular beaches, lush hillsides, and tranquil canals, this authentic 11-day tour gets to the heart of South India's state of Kerala. After a night in Cochin, a guide will drive you through magnificent rolling hills dotted with tea and spice plantations. Next, head to Alappuzha to cruise your way through Kerala's rustic backwaters followed by some relaxation on the Arabian Sea. Complete the loop in Cochin where you'll explore the city's charming Fort Kochi by bicycle and tuk-tuk.

Highlights

  • Get to know Kerala's hilly interior, engulfed in emerald-green plantations
  • Take a sunrise walk in a national park known for butterflies and rare birdlife
  • Sleep on a furnished houseboat after cruising through the canals
  • Chill out on Marari Beach with access to seafood and Ayurvedic treatments
  • Watch a classical Indian dance performance to celebrate your last night

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cochin Cochin
Day 2 Transfer to Munnar - Free Time Munnar
Day 3 Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour Munnar
Day 4 Transfer to Thekkady - Free Time Thekkady
Day 5 Jungle Walk - Spice Plantation Tour Thekkady
Day 6 Transfer to Kumarakom - Tribal Village Walk Kumarakom
Day 7 Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise Alappuzha
Day 8 Return to Alappuzha - Transfer to Mararikulam Alappuzha
Day 9 Free Day at Marari Beach Alappuzha
Day 10 Transfer to Cochin - City Tour - Dance Performance Cochin
Day 11 Depart Cochin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin
A tuk-tuk cruises 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 (and completion of the immigration and customs formalities), 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: Transfer to Munnar - Free Time

Spend two nights in Munnar, surrounded by plantations
Spend two nights in Munnar, surrounded by plantations

After breakfast in coastal Cochin, it's time to transfer from the coast to the hilly interior as you make your way to Munnar (81 miles/140km). Famous for its emerald-green tea plantations, the town is located in the Western Ghats, approximately 5,249 feet (1,600 m) above sea level with magnificent views. It's easy to see that this was once the summer resort of the British administration in South India; thankfully, Munnar retains its colonial charm. 

Once you get settled in your hotel, enjoy some free time to explore Munnar at your own pace. Perhaps you'd like to wander the town's colorful streets and poke around a few bazaars for potential souvenirs.

Day 3: Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour

Get views of cardamom plantations
Hike a trail near Munnar for excellent views

After an early breakfast, you'll start the day 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 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, join your guide for a walk through the colorful markets in Munnar.

Day 4: Transfer to Thekkady - Free Time

A garden in Periyar National Park
Spend some free time 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 you're settled in your hotel, enjoy 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 a boat tour in the park (optional).

Day 5: 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 6: Transfer to Kumarakom - Tribal Village Walk

Local villagers near Kumarakom
A canal in Kumarakom

After breakfast in Thekkady, you'll transfer to the town of Kumarakom (71 miles/115 km)—a village 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 those seeking a rejuvenating experience (you'll experience the canals in coming days). 

Upon arrival, you'll 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 7: Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise

A houseboat in Kerala
Stay overnight on a furnished houseboat

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 agricultural activities of the region, there is also the coir textile industry, 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—truly one of the highlights of the trip. Learn how these waterways are the lifeblood of the area; local commerce revolves around it with boats laden with everything from fish to the daily newspapers!

For an added experience, you'll stay a night 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. 

Day 8: Return to Alappuzha - Transfer to Mararikulam

Hit the beach until sunset
Hit the beach until sunset

After a relaxing breakfast aboard your houseboat, you'll return to dry land in Alappuzha. From here, there's a short transfer north to Mararikulam (9 miles/14 km)—a small beach village that still belongs to the district of Alappuzha.

For a bit of history, the name Mararaikulam comes from Marari who is the main deity of the place, and the village's famous temple Mararikulam Mahadevar is dedicated to Lord Siva. 

Upon arrival, check into your hotel located on Marari Beach. Take the rest of the day to enjoy the sunset and some relaxation!

Day 9: Free Day at Marari Beach

Sample some local South Indian fare
Sample some local South Indian fare

Today is a free day to spend on Marari Beach! Far from the crowds, beach raves, and trendy hotspots that can be found in other areas of India, here, you'll find a more tranquil environment. Spend the day soaking up the sun and wide stretch of soft white sand along the Arabian Sea.

You can always break up the day with some fresh coastal cuisine, a walk through the coconut groves, and/or a relaxing Ayurvedic massage. Ayurveda is a time-honored medical science in Kerala. The ancient philosophies of Ayurveda have traveled through thousands of years, introducing people to its remedial effect along the way. As one of the oldest health and wellness systems, Ayurveda not only releases your body of years of amassed tension but also draws out your mind’s anxieties and moves you forward along the path of spiritual growth.

Day 10: Transfer to Cochin - City Tour - Dance Performance

Fish market in Fort Kochi
Fish market in Fort Kochi

After breakfast in Mararikulam, you'll drive north along the coast to Cochin (26 miles/41 km), where your journey first began. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and take some time to rest before your afternoon excursion. 

Your guided half-day excursion in Fort Kochi begins with a bike ride through the area's narrow streets. Look for important aspects of the community, like warehouses filled with tea and spices, hand-painted trucks piled with goods, and food stalls at every corner. 

On foot, you'll also 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. 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 as well as a spice market with pungent scents (great for souvenirs).

For your last evening of the trip, enjoy a traditional Kathakali Dance Performance. ‘Kathakali’ is an important genre in the Indian classical dance form and is associated with storytelling. The story of Kathakali is communicated to the audience through impressive footwork as well as hand and face gestures—all complimented with vocals and music.

Day 11: Depart Cochin

Goodbye, Kerala!
Goodbye, Kerala!

It's time to say goodbye to Kerala! At the designated time, you'll be transferred from the hotel to Cochin International Airport for your departure flight and onward journey. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Ultimate Kerala Adventure - 11 Days
Map of Ultimate Kerala Adventure - 11 Days