Kerala Itinerary: The best of Kerala experience for 9 days
Updated: Apr 16
Are you planning for a trip to Kerala soon and looking for an itinerary for your trip? Here we have put together a 9-day itinerary filled with what we consider to be the highlights of Kerala.
Ah Kerala, a state in India that you might have not heard much about. It is different from what you would imagine India to be. It is nothing similar from what you have seen from the typical shots of Ganges River, and neither we will talk about rats, monkeys or the stereotypical dangers.
What is the most striking about this southernmost Indian state of Kerala is its myriad shades of green. Along the way we could see how these shades of green transform from the dark green leaves of the forests that surround the backwaters, to the lighter green of the tea leaves, seamlessly followed by the blue green waters along the coast to the yellow green of the paddy fields.
Edmund and I travelled for 578 km from Kochi, Munnar, Alappuzha all the way to Varkala, and eventually headed back to Kochi for a total of 9 days last November 2019.
We first visited India on January of the same year, we were in Rajasthan for 10 days and it was one of the most unforgettable trips we had! So, we thought we should pay another visit to this incredible land on the same year, considering we were still having our Indian Visa of multiple entries with one year of validity. Hoping that we could get totally different experience as compared to Rajasthan in north of India, Kerala was not disappointing at all!
Well, we had a total of 9 days to explore this southernmost Indian state and we cherry-picked 4 spots that sufficiently gave us the best of Kerala. The longer the better of course, but you can work with 9 days (8 full days actually) in Kerala.
But, before we go further into the itinerary, let us have the first quick list of the 4 best places to visit in Kerala for 9 days or 8 full days, with each offers completely distinct experience for your trip.
First – Kochi, the colonial city of Kerala
Second – Munnar, the hill station of Kerala
Third – Alappuzha, the heart of Kerala backwaters
Lastly – Varkala, the cliff beach town of Kerala
Day 1: Arriving in Kochi, the getaway of Kerala
Depending on what time you arrive, spend one or two nights in Kochi so that you get a full day to explore this charming colonial city of Kochi, a great starting point of our Kerala adventure.
We took AirAsia direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kochi. We landed safely at Cochin International Airport (COK) after 4 hours of flight journey. It is important to note that Terminals 1 and 2 handle domestic arrivals, and Terminal 3 is dedicated to international flights like ours.
Location is a crucial factor when we choose for the location of the accommodation. We chose to overnight at FortKochi Beach Inn where it is centrally located in the middle of Fort Kochi. Expect the journey to be more than an hour as the airport is located more than 40 km away from Fort Kochi. An hour pre-paid taxi or Uber ride from the airport to Fort Kochi would cost approximately INR 1200.
Day 2: Exploring the historical heart of Kochi – Fort Kochi & Mattancherry
It will be your real first day of exploring Kochi. We highly recommend Fort Kochi as a base to explore the city. The neighbouring Mattancherry is located in less than 3 km away. Rest assured, one full day is sufficient to explore both neighbourhoods consisting of almost all important tourist spots in Kochi itself.
We started our early morning walk to Chinese Fishing Nets, or Cheena Vala as how they called it in Malayalam. Unique to Kochi, but my personal advice is not putting high expectations with this sight. We kept our expectation quite low after reading many negative feedback from different bloggers and travellers, even to the extent of labelling the place as a tourist trap and not authentic. Fortunately, it turned out we enjoyed our morning walk along the promenade and cannot deny we were impressed on how much energy needed from a group of fishermen to lift and submerge such a huge fishing net.
We continued our walk to Bastian Street in order to visit one of the most beautiful churches in Kochi, Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica.
Few blocks away lies Church of Saint Francis, where the explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Cochin in 1524, was buried in this spot for 14 years before his remains were taken to Lisbon.
The city is like no other city in India that we have been to and wandering around through the narrow streets makes you even forget that you are in India. Princess Street and Burger Street are worth checking at given plenty of cafes and souvenir shops to stop by.
Before heading to Mattancherry, I highly recommend dining at Mary’s Kitchen. The restaurant provides traditional Kerala food experience in a homely local family rooftop restaurant. Highly recommended dishes are Fish Pollichathu and Fish Mango Curry.
We headed to Mattancherry via Uber in which Paradesi Synagogue as our first stop. Remember to observe the daily visiting hours from 10 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 5 pm, from Sunday to Thursday. Visitors are expected to enter the synagogue barefoot. Paradesi Synagogue is located within Jew Town, full of antique shops where Kashmiri carpet salesmen take advantage of the newer trade with international tourists, trying to greet each in their guessed mother tongue.
Close by is Mattancherry Palace where the murals form the highlight of the palace. It was built by the Portuguese as a present to King Veera Kerala Verma of Kochi Dynasty. It came to be known as the Dutch Palace as it underwent major repairs at the hands of the Dutch. Adjacent to the palace lies the Dutch Palace Pond. With beautiful palm trees around it and blue-tailed bee-eater visiting in large numbers to this little pond, it was a pleasant pond to spend some time at.
Head back to Fort Kochi in order to catch the classical Kathakali performance at Kerala Kathakali Centre. For us, a real treat is the application of the makeup by the dancers an hour before the show starts. So, remember to be there an hour before!
Day 3: From Kochi to Munnar, the hill station of Kerala
Munnar is a world away from the rest of Kerala. While most part of Kerala beneath an eternal tropical summer, the uplands bask in a perpetual European spring, turning to a crisp autumnal chill at higher elevations. It is the place where tangled green mountains rise from every quarter, their lower slopes swathed in millions of verdant tea bushes.
My suggested Day 3 is the light one and it is going to take at least half of your day, so it might be a good idea to split it in two if you can add a day. That way, you would get more time at each of the places as well as some extra time in case of any problem. This applicable to the subsequent places that we visited in Kerala. If you follow our footsteps, make sure to leave each place for the next destination very early in the morning.
We took Uber Go Intercity from Kochi to Munnar in hoping to shorten the journey. It cost us less than INR 2700 for a total of 125 km journey from Kochi to our hotel in Munnar called Tea Harvester. Staying in Tea Harvester is a unique experience by itself. We were aware with the fact that it is quite a distance from Munnar Town, but all we wanted was seclusion amidst the tea plantation from the busy town. We spent a half day of doing nothing while sipping our hot cups of masala tea upon arrival.
Day 4: Exploring Munnar in a day
Another busy day of exploring. We highly recommend hiring a private driver for a full day, you will have convenient rides anywhere you want to go for you and your party. With this, you have nothing to fuss about, just plan your itinerary and set off for a day of adventure.
Make sure to plan your itinerary in accordance of the direction to the furthest destination that you want to go.
We started our journey towards the direction to Top Station with Mattupetty Dam as the first stop. It is a storage concrete gravity dam built in the mountains of Kerala to conserve water for hydroelectricity, the location has a beautiful scenery.
A conveniently situated rest house at Echo Point, halfway between Mattupetty Dam and Top Station, makes a good stop. This picturesque spot earns its name because of the natural echo that one can hear resonating from the surrounding mountains.
We continued our journey along Munnar-Kodaikkanal Road to the furthest end to Top Station, the highest point in Munnar. As the road ascends, the air grows cooler and the clouds get thicker and closer. Upon reaching the Top Station, you will see a road signboard indicating that you are at the state border of Kerala-Tamil Nadu. Here you can enjoy the panoramic view of Western Ghats and the valley of Theni district of Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately it was misty and cloudy when we were at the peak, but we managed to take a few pictures before descended to the next destination.
We descended back to the earlier direction back to Munnar town which we stopped at Kundala Dam, Asia’s first arch dam.
We went back to Munnar town for lunch in where we stopped at Saravana Bhavan for authentic South Indian dishes on banana leaves. We are from Malaysia in which South Indian cuisine forms an integral part of Malaysian culture because the vast majority of Malaysian Indian community are of South Indian descent. Hence, we wanted to try how different the banana leaf rice served in Kerala as compared to Malaysia’s.
North of Munnar town lies Eravikulam National Park. This is the national park in Kerala where both the wildlife and the scenery are the principal attractions. The park is home to an estimated 700-800 rare Nilgiri Tahr and houses a fascinating variety of flora and fauna. Visitors are restricted to the 2 km trail within the park called Rajamalai. We were so lucky that we were able to spot the endangered Nilgiri Tahr along the first 0.5 km of the trail.
Day 5: From Munnar to Alappuzha, the heart of Kerala backwaters and its exploration through a sunset shikara ride
A trip to Kerala is not complete without experiencing the Kerala backwaters. From Kochi all the way to Kottayam, approximately 900 km of backwaters run through the state of Kerala. It is basically a network of inland waterways parallel to the coast of Arabian Sea and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state. If there is one stereotypical image of the tropical state of Kerala, the backwaters would be it. The main point to see the Kerala backwaters is Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey.
Descending downhill from Munnar to Alappuzha, expect a longer but scenic journey. We left as early as 8 am in the morning and reached our hotel in Palmgrove Lake Resort just before lunch. We hired a private driver for a total journey of 160 km from Munnar to Alappuzha with a cost of INR 4500.
We chose to stay at Palmgrove Lake Resort due to its strategic location. Situated on the banks of Punnamada Lake, it gave us a chance to stay along the trail of the backwaters.
There are many ways of manoeuvring the backwaters. As we fancy ourselves of exploring the backwaters in different ways, we decided to ditch the houseboat and chose to hire both shikara and canoe for two different days.
We hired a shikara ride in a late afternoon and evening to watch the sunset over the backwaters of Kerala. We paid INR 1500 for 2-hour shikara ride started from 4 pm and ended at 6 pm. The only con of taking a shikara is that you will not be able to get into narrow canals inside the villages.
The sunset view was breathtaking and unforgettable. The only ugly side was, as much as the journey of the ride along the backwaters was calm and soothing, we passed by several houseboats with their loud dance music in which most of it were rented by a big group of friends and families.
Day 6: Exploring the unseen beauty of the backwaters in Alappuzha through a sunrise canoe ride
We got up very early in the morning and hired a canoe ride to watch the sunrise over the backwaters. I cannot recall the price, but we paid much lesser for 4-hour canoe ride started from 6 am. Hands down, cruising down the backwaters by a canoe was one of the most memorable experiences that we had during our 9-day trip in Kerala.
The old boat man paddled us to the Vembanad Lake to catch the sunrise. Being the longest lake in India, it certainly feels like a sea. The sunrise ride was a lot calmer than the sunset ride that we had.
We continued our journey to the smaller canals that our shikara ride was not able to get in, passing by many villages while witnessing the local life along the river banks. It was slow, peaceful and relaxing, everything we needed and wanted in Alappuzha.
Other than it is able to get into the smaller canals, one of the pros of taking the canoe ride is that you can request the boat man to stop anywhere and anytime you want. We stopped in several occasions whenever there was something that caught our attention along the way.
We walked along the canals and we could not believe everything was so green. This was exactly the Kerala of my dreams. This is how I had imagined it to be.
As we had half of the day to spare, we requested our hotel to arrange for a tuk-tuk ride to Alappuzha town which we had the scrumptious Biryani rice at Halais Restaurant!
Frankly speaking, Alappuzha town was not exactly quiet and peaceful. But, the Alappuzha Beach worth a visit to spend your last day in Alappuzha. Not that far from the coastal road stands the striking Alappuzha Lighthouse. We however did not have the chance to visit it as it was closed on Monday.
Day 7: From Alappuzha to Varkala, the cliff beach town of Kerala
Situated 108 km further south from Alappuzha, not too far from the state capital city of Thiruvananthapuram lies a coastal town of Varkala. What is unique with this coastal town is the 15 m high cliff adjacent to both Varkala Beach and Arabian Sea. Some people even refer Varkala as the hippie paradise of Kerala.
We took an early morning intercity train which was scheduled at 6:25 am, but it was delayed for more than an hour. It took us around 2 hours to arrive Varkala Sivagiri Railway Station.
Remember to check out Privasea, the main highlight of our 2-night stay in Varkala. If you want to splurge which we highly recommend, it was the best Airbnb property that we stayed so far! It is a private villa with all-inclusive meals prepared by the caretaker of the property named Jobin. Jobin gave us a complimentary pick-up and drop-off with their private tuk-tuk. Location wise, the accommodation is quite a distance from the main Varkala Beach, but all we wanted was seclusion from the busy cliff of Varkala yet it is accessible by foot. Imagine yourself waking up to the sound of crashing waves with sea breezes together with the unshared serenity of the magnificent sea, we could not ask for more as Privasea truly lives up to its name!
As Privasea smacked in between the Varkala Beach and Edava Beach, you can walk to either direction along the cliff. We chose to walk along the cliff leading towards the Varkala Beach, also known as Papanasam Beach. The cliff here is lined with a superb string of boutiques hotels and chic beachside restaurants and bars, ideal places for your relaxing sunset watching.
Day 8: Exploring Kappil Beach near Varkala
Varkala is still a great place to watch the days slowly turn into weeks, and it is easy to escape the crowds further north or south where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.
Further north beyond Varkala, we took the chance to request for the caretaker to drop us at Kappil Beach for several hours as it was not accessible by foot from our accommodation.
Still flying under the tourist radar, Kappil Beach is one of the few beaches in Kerala that is still pristine, underdeveloped and virtually deserted. The unique feature of this palm-fringed beach is its location at the confluence of the Kappil Lake and the Arabian Sea.
Day 9: Heading back to Kochi on the final day in Kerala
Most of the international flights arriving and leaving India are scheduled in the evening and at night. So, we took early morning intercity train ride from Varkala back to Kochi. There are several train stations in Kochi and depending on where you want to go right after your arrival, we highly recommend alighting at the railway station called Ernakulam Junction.
We spent our last day in Kerala hanging out at Fort Kochi again. We had our brunch at Kashi Art Café at Burger Street. The foods were great and tasty, but we found the coffees to be below mediocre.
If you have few extra hours, consider to include Athirappilly Falls for your day trip from Kochi. It is notably the largest waterfall in Kerala. Yet, it is commonly overlooked by foreign tourists. Unfortunately, we did not go as we wanted to have some relaxing time at the end of our trip.
Guess what, we ended our trip in Kerala at the same place we started, which was the Chinese Fishing Nets.
There you go, our recommended 9 days Kerala travel itinerary. As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Kerala. From a charming colonial city, a majestic hill station, a relaxing backwater to a quaint coastal town, Kerala has it all! That makes Kerala truly lives up to its name as God's Own Country.
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