Kerala’s best experiences

History, romance, adventure, leisure—God’s Own Country packs in all this and more

Explore Jew Town

Besides the obvious appeal of emerald green patches everywhere you look, there’s also the exciting weight of history that colours Kochi. As a Spice Route stop, Kochi absorbed the cultures of many countries. It led to what is now the oldest synagogue in Asia, the Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568. Located in Jew Town, it’s a modest whitewashed structure, that’s surrounded by antique and curio stores, where your bargaining skills will be more in demand than a spiritual affinity.

Watch a session of kalaripayattu

Amid all the peace and calm that Kerala promises, this one brings in high voltage drama. Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art, which is so flamboyant, it is also considered a dance form. Using everything from bare hands to sticks to swords, the performers put up a riveting display of skill. Head to the Anjaneya Academy near Kottayam (entry free) or the Kadathanandan Kalari Centre, Thekkady, to catch this local art form.

Cruise on houseboats

It’s an experience as good as any, but if you’re pressed for time, this is definitely an option to consider. Hoist yourself into Vrinda, the eight-cabin houseboat managed by Oberoi Hotels. The day trip drifts along the backwaters from the morning till around 6pm, while you lounge on the sun deck, or read a book, just whiling away time between three meals of three courses each, plus refreshments.

Athirappilly falls

They are often referred to as “Niagara of India”, and though the comparisons are odious, the Athirappilly falls are a stellar sight by themselves. The falls have provided a backdrop for several Malayalam and Tamil films; Mani Ratnam’s beautifully landscaped Raavan had several key sequences set against these falls. The view is spectacular, but don’t venture too close. The rocks are slippery and the current is unforgiving.

Try the famous Ayurvedic treatments

An Ayurveda treatment is bound to be on your list when you’re in Kerala. To make it truly memorable, throw the Leela Kovalam into the mix. The resort sits on top of a cliff, looking down at the lush beach. Imagine being pummelled and massaged into shape from that vantage point. The hotel also offers various health and wellness packages that can be customised to suit your needs, from weight management to de-stressing.

Explore Kerala on foot, jeep and boat

Walking around Fort Cochin will invariably bring you to the Chinese fishing nets, where you can pick your dinner. While you’re at it, shop for table decor from the antique stores around Mattancherry. For a walk on the wilder side, head to the hills – Munnar is a beautiful spot full of nature trails. Besides houseboats on the backwaters, you should head to Alleppey in time for the snakeboat races in August. But if you’d rather get up close with the wildlife, sign up for a safari at Periyar Forest in summer, when the tigers wander out in search for watering holes.

Explore the interiors of Kerala

Kerala’s version of the hop-on hop-off bus tour doesn’t involve much hopping. Or, buses for that matter. However, there is a boat. A luxurious double-decker that runs between Alleppy and Kollam. Passengers trawl through the lesser-known interiors of the state, where paddy fields and cottage industries of coir products are main attractions, besides the Karumadikuttan, the Buddha statue, and more ancient temples.

Visit the beaches

The backwaters open out to the sea at Kappad, making it the most exciting approach to a beach you’ve ever seen. Kappad is also where Vasco de Gama first dropped anchor. History will also draw you to Varkala, and its 2,000-year-old Vishnu temple. The beach is stunning with cliffs that seem to arise straight from the sea.

Relax at the Vivanta

Want to live like a king? Head to the Vivanta by Taj, Bekal, where the roofs are lined with bamboo and walls have gold leaf murals. The crown jewel in the property is the Jiva Spa, a two-and-half acre space that’s solely devoted to yoga, relaxation pools and a menu of signature treatments that attract people from around the world. The villas come with private pools, courtyards, and rain showers.

Live like a local

Living in 100-year-old houses, tucking into appams, fishing, wandering around a 300- year-old plantation, meeting the descendants of people who built these houses centuries ago – just some of the many reasons why you should consider a homestay. Thekkanat Parayil in Olavipe, Anthraper Gardens in Cherthala, Evergreen Estate Bungalow in Koottickal and The Kottukapally Family Home in Pala are all beautifully maintained and serve charming anecdotes and unforgettable food.