Known as “God’s Own Country”, Kerala is a verdant corner of India, known for its sleepy backwaters and rich wildlife. Although part of India, the state has developed its own unique way of life and vibrant traditions. Kerala is filled dense jungles, river networks, and mountains – so it’s the perfect place for relaxing experiences and getting close to nature.
But you should also try to delve into the rich and colourful culture while you visit. Discover the traditions which have fed the slow pace of life in Kerala for centuries. This list rounds up some of the must-have experiences in Kerala. So you can connect with locals, and discover a state where humans and nature live in harmony. Kerala is, as the new tourism campaign puts it, Human By Nature…
This post was sponsored by Kerala Tourism, but all words and opinions are my own. As always!
Discover the best experiences in Kerala with the tourist board
Kerala Tourism’s beautiful new campaign, “Human By Nature”, showcases the way in which Kerala’ people live in, and with, nature. The way the natural environment of the state, with its verdant jungles and iconic backwaters, has shaped the traditions and culture of the people. Watch the video below for an enticing glimpse of life in Kerala, and read on for the top experiences to add to your travel plans.
1. Backwater Houseboat Cruises
One of the must-have experiences in Kerala is a houseboat cruise in Alleppey. Thanks to the rich wildlife, dense jungles, and slow pace of life, the Kerala backwaters are considered one of the best places in the world to take a river cruise.
Drift through the backwaters on a traditional wooden houseboat. While you cruise, watch the green palms drift by, and spot wildlife along the riverbanks. This is the perfect way to experience local life. Enjoy a traditional Keralite fish curry for dinner, chat to the crew, and fall asleep listening to the sounds of the river. Dreamy.
2. Kathakali Performances
Kathakali, a form of Indian classical dance, was born in Kerala. It’s a ritual performance involving elaborate, colourful costumes, face paint, and masks. Facial expressions and hand gestures are intrinsic to the storytelling of the dance, so makeup and clothing tend to be over-the-top.
Traditional themes of the dances including folk mythologies and religious legends. Many hotels stage performances for their guests. But for a more “authentic” glimpse of this fascinating art form, head to the Kerala Kathakali Center or the Kerala Folklore Centre, both in Kochi.
3. Fishing at Fort Kochi
Throughout Kerala, you’ll spot the iconic “Chinese fishing nets” being used by local fishermen. These huge, stationary lift nets were supposedly introduced to Kerala by Chinese sailors centuries ago, hence the name.
At Fort Kochi, head down to the promenade in the early morning to see the nets in action. Although you’ll probably find that the nets are most photogenic at sunset. You can also find plenty of places to try freshly caught fish as you stroll along the promenade. So don’t miss the chance to sample some of Kerala’s incredible cuisine!
4. Kolukkumalai Tea Plantation
Just outside the town of Munnar, Kolukkumalai is the highest tea plantation in the world. It’s said that the high altitude gives the tea grown here a special flavour and freshness. What makes the area truly worth visiting, though, are the views. From its lofty position on the edges of India’s second tallest mountain, Meeshapulimalai, this tea estate offer a sublime vista of vivid green terraces and dense shola forest.
Visit at sunrise for the best views possible, because you’ll have the chance to watch the sun rising above the clouds that shroud the lower plains. A tour of the traditional tea processing factory also offers a unique way to experience an important part of Kerala’s culture.
5. Snake Boat Races
Snake boat races are one of the most exciting traditions in Kerala. The snake boats, or “chundanvallam“, can be up to 100-120ft long! They’re propelled forwards by huge teams, sometimes numbering over 100, who row in time to old boat songs.
Many important boat races, called Vallam Kali, take place in Kerala. Especially during the harvest season of Onam (August-September). Don’t miss a chance to watch one of these frenzied boat races bring the sleepy Kerala backwaters to life.
6. Authentic Ayurvedic massage
Ayurveda was born in Kerala, so this is certainly a must-have experience when you visit. It is a 3000-year-old system of traditional medicine which relies heavily on herbs and natural oils. These days, however, many aspects of Ayurveda have spilt over into wellness and holistic therapies.
You’ll find many spas and wellness resorts throughout Kerala, where Ayurvedic techniques are used to detox and relax the body, mind, and spirit. This is one of the most relaxing ways imaginable to experience Kerala’s traditions and connect with the local way of life. Don’t miss it!