Note: My second trip through Kerala was sponsored by Kerala Tourism and therefore contains advertisement for the state Kerala. As always, all reviews and opinions are my own.
Backpacking Kerala is easy, fun and a wonderful experience. Kerala is the southernmost state of India and one of the most beautiful regions in the country. I spent some time in Kerala at the beginning of 2016 during my big backpacking trip around India. It was great for me to return to Kerala in India in the spring of 2018 as part of the Kerala Blog Express to get to know the state even better.
My two travel experiences in Kerala were extremely different. On my first visit, I was backpacking on a low budget, staying in cheap guesthouses, and my trip was completely self-organized. The Kerala Blog Express, on the other hand, is an organized press trip by Kerala tourism for travel bloggers. The hotels and restaurants I visited were extremely luxurious and the trip was completely organized. Therefore, my travel experiences in Kerala India were completely different and I was able to get to know both extremes – and while you can visit Kerala in a very luxurious way, I also enjoyed backpacking in Kerala to its fullest.
Accordingly, a trip to Kerala, India is well worth it for everyone, regardless of your travel standard and budget. I will tell you why you should definitely backpack Kerala and why the southern state is one of the great highlights in India!
Here’s a video about my backpacking Kerala experience:
Backpacking Kerala is easy (compared to other regions of India)
Kerala is one of India’s richest states, much more organized, developed and cleaner than other parts of the country. The people speak very good English, you will find less trash and rubbish and you can easily move around with its transport infrastructure. If you take a longer journey through India, you will quickly notice the difference between north and south. While the north of India, especially the Rajasthan area, is a lot poorer, more chaotic and less developed, you won’t have such a big cultural shock in Kerala. Note, of course, that everything is relative here. If you have never been to Asia or have never seen a developing country, you will still be surprised by the chaos, the noise, the poverty – it’s India after all!
In general, however, Kerala is a very good starting point for an India backpacking journey. If you’re a little bit hesitant towards exploring India, it’s worth starting in Kerala and working your way up from the south to the north of India.
Backpacking the Kerala backwaters, India
This is one of the big highlights of every Kerala (or India) backpacking trip! Anyone travelling to southern India should definitely visit the Kerala backwaters. This huge river network runs through much of Kerala and is beautiful.
The best way to explore the backwaters of Kerala is on a houseboat. These houseboats are usually booked for two days, including a captain and a chef. It’s awesome to explore the Kerala backwaters in the typical Indian houseboat. There are larger rivers and canals where you will discover many other houseboats. However, once you leave the bigger cities like Alleppey and you’ll be in more remote areas of Kerala, the rivers get narrower and you go deeper and deeper into the backwaters. Here you can watch the locals, who live directly at the backwaters, doing their laundry, swimming and just following their everyday life. At night, the houseboat stops and you sleep in the boat before returning the next morning.
A Kerala Backwaters Tour is incredibly relaxed and the perfect opportunity to recover from a backpacking trip around India. The houseboats are available in very different equipment and standards. During my backpacking trip through Kerala, I had rented a cheap houseboat with friends, where we all stayed in one room. During my trip on the Kerala Blog Express, things got a bit more luxurious and we had private rooms with showers, electricity and water.
Thus, you can (and should) explore the Kerala Backwaters on any budget, as this is one of the great highlights of any Kerala backpacking trip.
Kerala’s beaches are perfect for backpackers
Kerala has some of the most beautiful beaches in India and you should definitely plan some beach vacation on your backpacking trip around Kerala. The beaches of Kerala are lined with countless palm trees and create a great, exotic atmosphere. Although you will not find white sand and crystal clear sea water here, Kerala’s beaches are perfect for relaxing and beautiful to see.
I especially recommend the Varkala beach in Kerala. This beach is perfect for backpackers in India, there is a great relaxed atmosphere and there’s a beautiful backdrop as the place is built on cliffs with the beach below. Of course, there are many more beaches in Kerala and you will certainly find one that is perfect for you.
Have you already been backpacking Sri Lanka? The beaches there are quite similar to the ones in Kerala.
Backpacking the tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala
I would also like to highlight the tea plantations in Kerala, as they are considered a big highlight in India. The best starting point to explore the Kerala tea plantations is the town of Munnar, which is off the coast deep in the hills of Kerala. The drive to Munnar is a bit exhausting – you drive for hours on an extremely winding road through the mountains – but it’s worth it!
Munnar has a higher altitude than other parts of Kerala and generally India, so you should not forget a jacket here as it can get a bit cooler. While there are many cheap guesthouses perfect for backpackers in Munnar, you will also find huge luxurious resort facilities both in the town and out in nature.
The best way to explore the Munnar tea plantations in Kerala is by tuk-tuk. For little money, you can hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the various viewpoints and tea plantations. Here you can see the workers on the tea plantations picking tea leaves and they are friendly enough to post for photos (but ask for tips afterwards). You can also visit a tea factory and learn more about tea production.
It’s also fun to hike through the tea plantations in Kerala, India. While I was able to go hiking on my first visit to Munnar and saw a great sunset overlooking the tea plantations, hiking on my second visit was forbidden due to forest fire hazards – here you have to check the current situation when you’re in town.
In any case, you should spend a few days in Munnar when backpacking through Kerala.
Fort Cochin (Kochi) – the best city when backpacking Kerala
As you’ve already read, Kerala’s backwaters, tea plantations and beaches are perfect for tourists who like to be in nature. Although the cities in India are often chaotic and exhausting, I would like to highlight Cochin here. The port city was and is an important trade centre of India and for tourists, there is a lot to see. In the old town of Fort Kochi, the Portuguese influence is very clear and it is fun to explore the old streets with their sights. For sunset, you should walk along the beach promenade and admire the Chinese fishing nets, which give a great picture opportunity.
The food in Kerala
India’s cuisine is incredibly varied, exotic and delicious. Especially if you backpack a little longer through India and if you do not just visit Kerala, you’ll quickly realize that food in Kerala is very different from other regions of India – especially the differences between the north and south of India are huge. The cuisine of Kerala is known for the Indian curry (especially for fish curry) and in general, a lot is also cooked with coconuts. Often a selection of traditional Indian curries and chutneys are served on a banana leaf and eaten with your fingers.
Note: As in other parts of India, people in Kerala eat their food very spicy and a small note to the waiter when ordering is worthwhile if you have problems with this.
By the way: Alcohol is not so easy to find in Kerala. As in many other regions of India, very little alcohol is consumed in Kerala and you can only find alcohol in special shops (and not in the normal supermarkets). Even some hotel bars didn’t serve any beer!
Getting a cultural experience when backpacking Kerala
As in other regions of India, Kerala has a unique culture. In Kerala, you can visit countless Indian temples, watch cultural dances, learn more about the history and culture of Ayurveda and immerse yourself in the incredibly interesting Indian culture.
One of my big highlights when backpacking Kerala was a visit to a local temple festival. In a huge complex of temples, several elephants were led around the temple in religious ceremonies. The music, the prayers, the crowds, fire, noise, smells, smoke – the experience of this temple ceremony cannot be put into words. Of course, it was not nice to see elephants kept in chains. However, it should be noted that this festival was not held for the entertainment of tourists, but is an important part of the culture and religion of the locals in Kerala.
Backpacking Kerala is perfect for every budget
As already mentioned, I have already experienced Kerala two times – as a backpacker as well as in pure luxury. That’s why a trip through Kerala is suitable for everyone. Tourism in Kerala is so well developed that there are accommodations, restaurants and tours for every budget. Whether you are looking for an adventurous backpacking holiday, or if just want to relax. Whether you want to stay in hostels, homestays or luxury resorts. Kerala has it all.
Summing up, Backpacking Kerala is an awesome experience for everyone and you should visit as soon as possible
Note: Some of the pictures used for this article are owned by Kerala Tourism and their team of photographers – thanks for the great shots!
By the way: You can easily combine your backpacking Kerala trip with Sri Lanka!