From exotic tropical beaches to rolling mountains covered in mist to islands to backwaters, Kerala has it all. The slopes of Western Ghats here are covered in coffee, cardamom, tea and other spices lending a sweet aroma to the air. The thick forest of Wayanad is home to tigers, monkeys, elephants and other animals. With gushing waterfalls, greenery, backwaters, mountains, this beautiful land is truly ‘Gods Own Country’. Although the capital of Kerala is Thiruvananthapuram, it is Kochi that is more famous for its rich culture and history. Also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi was an important trading centre for spices. This city finds its mention in several writings by tradesmen and travellers. There are several tourist attractions in Kochi, the most prominent being the Chinese fishing nets. However, if you had been living in this city for years and have seen enough of these tourist attractions, then here is a list of places you could go during weekends to break the monotony.
Located in Alappuzha district, Mararikulam is a hamlet with rich history and culture. Fishing and coir making are the main occupation of the people lining in Mararikulam. This place is known for the beautiful Mararikulam beach. The stretch of lush green landscape and the golden sand remains unexplored by Indian tourists. Offering serene, peaceful atmosphere, this beach is the perfect place to go if you want to escape the crowd and noise of the city. Marari beach is just an hour’s drive from Kochi airport. Spend a weekend here to unwind and relax.
Things to do: Stroll on the beach, take a dip in the sea or climb onto a local fishing boat (you will not regret it). You can also explore Mararikulam village, go for kayaking or just laze around on the beach sipping fresh tender coconut.
Driving distance: Approx. 42 km (50 minutes)
Where to stay: The best hotel in Mararikulam is Marari Beach Resort (047828 63801) by CGH Earth, which is a large hotel chain in Kerala. Another good option to stay in Mararikulam is Abad Turtle Beach (098470 50642). Apart from these hotels, there are several homestays where you can experience the local culture and food. These homestays include Samson Homestay (097451 50202), Marari Austin Beach villa (094475 04293) and Marari Leena Homestay (093884 68216).
Tips: Do try local seafood dishes.
Located around 53 km south of Kochi, Alappuzha also known as Alleppey is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kerala. This is one of the best weekend getaways from Kochi. Alappuzha is believed to be the oldest planned city. The well laid out city is also among the cleanest in the state. The trip to Alappuzha will make you fall in love with the backwaters. The serpentine waterways will take you on a journey you will remember for a long time. Lazily cruising on a houseboat through the network of backwaters surrounded by lush greenery, you will forget about the city noise.
In the 20th century, while visiting Alappuzha, the then British Viceroy Lord Curzon was so fascinated with its natural beauty that he called it the Vanice of the East. Founded in 1762 by Raja Keshawadasan, the Diwan of Travancore, Alappuzha was one of the busiest trade centres. Alappuzha has been mentioned by travellers like Ptolemy and Pliny in their works. The canals and roads for improved transportation made Alappuzha a premier port town. It is believed that Christianity was brought to Alapuzha by St. Thomas when he visited India in 52 AD.
Alapphuzha is also the venue for the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race. The boat race is held on the second Saturday of August. This thrilling race on the otherwise calm and peaceful waters of Alappuzha is another reason to visit this beautiful land. The best time to visit Alappuzha is the period between September and March.
Things to do: Apart from cruising in the serene backwaters, there are several other tourist attractions in Alappuzha. The city is home to temples like Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna Temple, Chettikulangara Devi Temple, Mullakkal Rajeshwari Temple and Mannarasala Temple. Krishnapuram Palace is another popular tourist attraction. There are also many churches in the town like Champakulam Church, St. Sebastian's Church and Edathua Church. The city also has a carefully preserved statue of Buddha.
Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna Temple is among the most popular temples in Kerala. The temple is built in Kerala’s traditional temple architectural style. The temple is popular for its prasadam, which is palpayasam made of rice cooked in milk with sugar. The best time to visit the temple is during its annual festival called Aarattu, which is celebrated in during March-April or the month of Meenam as per the Malayalam calendar.
Kuttanad is another place you must visit in Alappuzha. Known as the ‘rice bowl of Kerala’, Kuttanad has expansive paddy fields. The countryside is picturesque and will give a glimpse of the traditional way of life.
Pathiramannal is also a must-visit. This small strip of an island serves as a temporary home to migratory birds. You will be able to spot many rare birds here.
Driving distance: 53.1 km (1 hour 18 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the best hotels in Alappuzha are Deshadan Backwater Resort (0478 2584055), The World Backwaters A Lake Resort (0478 2583939), Lemon Tree Vembanad Lake Resort (4662861970) and Punnamada Resort (0477 2233690).
Tips: Do try traditional breakfast from one of the local tea shop. There are also several home-restaurants where you can have meals served on banana leaves. Chicken curry and porotta is another delicacy you must try here.
Located around169 km easgt of Kochi, Marayur is a small village in Idduki district. Situated on the slopes of the Western Ghats, Marayur is a paradise for nature lovers. It is claimed that Marayur was a part of the Stone Age civilization. During the 18 th century, people from Tamil nadu migrated to this place when Tippu Sultan defeated the king of Madurai, Thirumalainaicker.
Marayur is the only place in the state where sandalwood trees grow naturally. Marayur has several sandalwood forests. The place is home to over 1000 species of flowering plants and many medicinal plants. Aibizia lathamii, a critically endangered tree, has also been sighted in its forest. The forests of Marayur are also home to the endangered grizzled giant squirrel.
Things to do: You must visit the wildlifesanctuary in Marayur called Chinnar, which has around 225 species of birds and many types of reptiles including the mugger crocodile. The sanctuary also has the rare white bison and other mammals like langur, gaur, leopard, tiger and elephant. If you visit Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary during monsoon you will be able to see the phenomenon of migration of butterfly.
Marayur is also home to dolmen buildings called Muniyaras from the Iron Age. Muniyaras were burial chambers. These structures were made by placing four stones on the edge and fifth stone on top as cover. The fifth stone is called cap stone. Few of these Muniyaras include several chambers. There are several Dolmens located around Thenkasinathan Temple, an old Shiva temple, situated on the banks of Pambar River. There are several types of dolmens and they attract lot of visitors.
Another place you must visit is the Ezhuthu Guha located at Attala. Over 90 rock paintings can be seen here. Most of these painted motifs are abstract design. There are also few paintings of animal and human figures. This rock art site is one of the most popular tourist attractions and unfortunately, the site has been vandalized by visitors. Some of the rock paintings can be seen on the slope of the plateau near Pambar River. You can also see rock painting in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary close to the Alampetty tribal settlement.
Driving distance: 169.7 km (4 hours 56b minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the hotels in Marayur include Sandal Breeze hotel (94461 71343), Marayoor Holidays (9495 9111 01), Calwin Tourist Home (+918281535546) and Chandana Residency (04865 252222)
Tips: Sandalwood oil is one of the products you must buy from Marayur.
Located about 117 km south of Kochi, Pathanamthitta is the smallest district in the state. Although Pathanamthitta is now a business hub, it has several tourist attractions. The place is famous for temples, boat race and cultural centres. Often referred to as the ‘pilgrim capital of Kerala’, Pathanamthitta is home to one of the most significant pilgrim sites in the country, Sabarimala. The temple of god Ayyappa on top of hill sees more than 100 million devotees every year from all over the country.
The place has a rich culture and art. One of the important traditions of this place is the ten-day-long ritualistic dance known as Padayani. Kadamanitta Devi Temple is the venue for this dance. There are also several traditional training centres here like the Vasthuvidya Gurukulam, which works towards promoting and preserving mural paintings and Vastu vidya.
‘Aranmula Kannadi’ is another interesting local art here. The aranmula kannadi is a mirror made of metal alloy. These are handmade and are very special. The method of making this mirror is not known to everybody. It is a family secret known only to the family of the craftsmen. The secret is handed over from generation to generation. There are many more places to see in Pathanamthitta and the best time to visit this beautiful land is from October to February.
Things to do: Sabarimala is the most important place in Pathanamthitta. Devotees from all over the country visit the Ayyappa temple located in Sabarimala. Other religious places in Pathanamthitta include Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, the Malankara Orthodox Church and Kaviyoor Mahadeva Temple.
Perunthenaruvi Waterfalls is another famous tourist destination. This beautiful waterfall is located on the Western Ghats and is popular for its wide area. This waterfall is gorgeous and at the same time, it is dangerous. The stream of this waterfall later joins the Pamba River.
Driving distance: 117.7 km (3 hours 10 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the best hotels in Pathanamthitta include Hotel Hills Park (0468 222 6262), Kutties Residency (0468 224 2423), Wyte Portico Hotel (094464 90700) and Mannil Regenggcy (098470 07123).
Tips: Do buy Aranmula Kannadi, which is believed to bring in good fortune.
Located 102.5 km south-east of Kochi, Vagamon is a hill station that lies in Kottayam-Idukki border. With bluish hills, gushing waterfalls, lush greenery, thick pine forest, this hill station is a hotspot for photography enthusiasts and honeymooners. Located at an elevation of 1,100 meters, Vagamon is a much sought-after vacation destination.This scenic place was discovered by the British. The British were followed by Christian missionaries. You will find tea and coffee plantation here adding charm to this enchanting hill station. Vagamon is listed as one the “50 most attractive places to visit in India” by National Geographic Traveler.
This sleepy town is still untouched by commercialization and offers you many adventure sports like rock climbing, mountaineering, paragliding and trekking. You will be mesmerized by the hauntingly beautiful landscape of this place. Vagamon has many bald hills with meadows. It is also home to several types of orchids and flowers. You can visit Vagamon throughout the year as the climate is always pleasant here.
Things to do: You can go for trekking, rock climbing or paragliding here. Or you can just sit back and soak in the natural beauty of this place. Other interesting places to visit near Vagamon are Kulamavu and Peermade.
You can also visit Kurisumala Ashram, which is located near Vagamon. The ashram is situated on top of a hill and it is surrounded by lakes and tea estates. The rolling meadows, pine forests and a v-shaped canyon called Mooppanpara are few of the must-visit places. There is a Murugan temple located on the Murugan hill. The temple is famous for its beautiful stone-age carving
Driving distance: 102.5 km (2 hours 51 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the hotels in Vagamon are Chillax Vagamon (04869 248 235), Holiday Vagamon (077369 64777), Winter Vale Green Stay (090483 22916) and Adrak Summer Sand Hill Resort (04869 248 373).
Tips: Trekking here is enjoyable.
Located 114.1 km north of Kochi, Ponanni is a small picturesque town in Malappuram district. With Arabian Sea on one side, the town has many beautiful beaches and is an important fishing center. With several mosques and other religious places, the town has a unique heritage and history.
Ponnani once served as home to the powerful Samoothiri kings. It also served as Malabar’s second capital. Several freedom fighters were from this town and hence Ponnani has a special position in the history of India’s freedom struggles. Tirurand Bharathapuzha River join here before they flow into the Arabian Sea.
Malabar was conquered by Hyder Ali of Mysore in 1766 and an outpost was established in Ponnani. This town became the main center for Islamic studies during the rule of Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan. For security reasons and trade, Tipu developed Ponnani’s port.
Ponnani is often called as ‘Makkah of Soth India’ as it is an important center for Islamic education. The town has predominantly Muslim population and you will see many unique Muslim traditions followed by the people. Aravanamuttu, Kolkali and Duff Muttu are some of the famous folk art of Ponnani.
Things to do: This port town has many tourist attractions. One of the most prominent places here is the Ponnani Juma Masjid, which is mentioned in Malabar Manual by the colonial historian William Logan. Built in 1510, Ponnani Juma Masjid has the traditional architecture style of Kerala. The mosque was constructed by the celebrated Muslim spiritual leaderZainudhin Makhdum.
Other tourist attractions are the Saraswati Temple, fishing harbour and Ponnani Lighthouse. You can also visit Lake Biyyam or Biyyam Kayal.
Driving distance: 114.1 km (3 hours 12 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the hotels near Ponnani are Rouba Residency (094465 23255), NC Gardens & Beach Resorts (0494 247 1480), Ruby Residency (0483 274 2174) and Puthiya Kovilakam Heritage Homestay (094463 32500).
Tips: The food here is an interesting fusion of south Indian and Arabic style of cooking. Do taste the food from a local restaurant.
Thekkady is located around 156 km east of Kochi and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kerala. Nestled in the Western Ghats, Thekkady evokes images of rolling hills, elephants and aromatic spice plantations. You will find cardamom, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and black pepper plantations here. The place is known for the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is among the largest national parks in the country. The wildlife reserve is spread across this scenic hill town and offers many opportunities for adventure activities like trekking. The best time to visit Thekkady is between September and March.
Things to do: Thekkady is heaven for nature lovers. You can go for jungle walks with a local guide or for trekking. The most famous tourist spot here is the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located on the banks of Periyar Lake. Spread across 777 sq km, the wildlife sanctuary gives you an opportunity to watch wild animals in their natural habitat. In 1978, the sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve. The reserve is famous for its thick evergreen forest and savanna grass lands. The park is home to Nilgiri langurs, lion-tailed macaques, gaur, tigers, sambar and elephants. You might see bison, deer and wild elephant drinking water at the Periyar Lake. You can take a tour of the wild reserve by boating, trekking or jeep.
Periyar Lake, created by the Mullaperiyar Dam built across Periyar River, is another attraction. Take a cruise in the lake and enjoy the lush greenery of the forest and the calm water of the lake. There is also an ancient temple inside the reserve dedicated to Mangala Devi.
You can also take a tour of cardamom and tea plantation or enjoy the popular Ayurvedic massage.
Driving distance: 155.9 km (4 hours 15 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the best hotels in Thekkady include Cardamom County (0484 650 3044), Greenwoods Resort (094465 74383), Forest Canopy (04869 224 027) and Hills & Hues (090619 10000).
Located some 134 km east of Kochi, Munnar is a spectacular hill station in Idukki district. The name Munnar is derived from the word Moonu Aaru, which in Malayalam means three rivers. Munnar sits at the confluence of three rivers namely Kundaly, Nallathanni and Madhurapuzha. The hill station is nestled in the Western Ghats at an elevation of 6,000 ft and is known for its pleasant climate and pristine beauty. The hill station is famous for cardamom and tea plantations.
Munnar was developed by John Daniel Munro, then British resident to Travancore, as a plantation town. Munnar is the perfect destination for newly-weds, adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The gushing waterfalls, beautiful valleys, rolling hills, virgin forests and sprawling tea plantations make this hill station a perfect holiday destination.
Munnar is also home to the famous Neelakurinju flowers that bloom once in every 12 years and when it does the valleys and hills get blanketed by this purple-blue blooms. The place looks surreal during this time. Although, Munnar is a famous tourist place, you will not find any fancy restaurants. However, there are several good eateries here that serve delicious local dishes.
Things to do: The best thing to do in Munnar is to relax and soak in the beauty of the place. If you are an adventure lover, you can go for boating, trekking and paragliding. Take a tour of Chinnar, Thattekad and Eravikulam wildlife sanctuaries. You can also visit the Tea Museum or tea plantation.
Driving distance: 130.4 km (3 hours 45 minutes)
Where to stay: Some of the best hotels in Munnar are The Panoramic Getaway (082818 88777), The Regency Hotel (04865 233 332), Eastend Munnar (04865 230 451), Tea County Munnar (04865 230 460) and Clouds Valley munnar (04865 230 687).
Tips: Munnar is a very good place to have street food. You will find many earteries serving vegetarian lip-smacking dishes.Do taste the tea at tea plantation.