Unique things to do in Kerala

BY Mariellen Ward

The tropical state of Kerala in south India is lush with palm-lined beaches, biodiverse forests, fragrant spice gardens, and a system of rivers and canals called the backwaters. 

The people of Kerala call it “God’s own country” and visitors can easily see why. It’s a gentle and abundant place that makes for a soft landing for new visitors to India. 

Aside from the profusion of natural treasures, Kerala also has a rich culture that is unique to the state and is expressed in fantastic dance forms, spicy rice-based cuisine, elegant wooden architecture, and elaborate religious rituals.

Here’s a rundown of our recommended and unusual things to do in Kerala.

Things to do in Kerala

Cruise the backwaters by houseboat

Location: The Kerala backwaters

Suitable for: ideal for couples

Cruising the languid backwaters on a renovated rice barge is one of the best things you can do in Kerala. 

The rice barges were converted to houseboats for tourists several years ago, and they have been popular ever since. Made from wooden planks held together by coconut ropes, Kerala’s houseboats are long and narrow and made without the use of nails. 

They are simple crafts, outfitted with bedrooms and bathrooms and comfortable for a slow and relaxing cruise. Houseboats come with a staff including a cook, so all you have to do is enjoy the experience. They make stops along the way so visitors can get to know the unique, traditional culture of Kerala’s backwaters.

Go bird watching on the backwaters

Location: The backwaters

Suitable for: couples & wildlife enthusiasts

Kerala’s backwaters are rich with flora and fauna including a wide variety of birds. There are more than 500 species of birds found in Kerala, including about 16 that are endemic to the Western Ghats region such as Malabar Grey Hornbill, Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, and Crimson-backed Sunbird. 

In the backwaters area, you may see White-breasted Kingfisher, Little Cormorant, White-breasted Waterhen, and Little Egret, Open-billed Storks, Grey Herons, and White Ibis – among many others. 

The relaxed culture of the backwaters make it a great place to enjoy bird watching either from a boat or resort.


Take a walking or cycling tour of Fort Cochin

Location: Fort Cochin

Suitable for: families & history buffs

Fort Cochin is an old spice-trading port on the Arabian sea. A small historic city surrounded by a modern large city, Fort Cochin is a great place to spend a few days soaking up the atmosphere. 

One of the best things to do in Kerala is to take a walking or cycling tour of Fort Cochin. There are many narrow streets lined with crumbling historic buildings, restored mansions turned into boutique hotels, hip cafes, bustling restaurants, small guest houses, and a profusion of art galleries. 

At street level, there’s a lot to see and do such as the famous Chinese fishing nets, the oldest church in India, the Dutch Palace, Jew Town, and the Ginger House Museum.

Drink tea in Munnar

Location: Munnar

Suitable for: Outdoor enthusiasts

High up in the Cardamom Hills, Munnar is home to sprawling tea plantations, a green carpet spread out in every direction. The Cardamom Hills are part of the vast Western Ghats range, which is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. 

Munnar is also a popular tourist destination, and there are many charming places to drink locally made tea and enjoy the cooler climate and stunning vistas. 

In Munnar, you can visit many of the tea plantations for a tour and tea tasting, go to one of two tea museums, or enjoy tea in a cafe or resort. Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, at an altitude of 8000 feet, claims to be one of the highest tea plantations in the world.

Explore the wildlife of the Western Ghats 

Location: Western Ghats 

Suitable for: Outdoor enthusiasts & nature lovers

Running 16,000 kilometres from north to south, the Western Ghats is a mountain range that is home to an astonishing range of flora and fauna, including tigers, elephants, and leopards. It is not only one of India’s top biodiversity hotspots – it is one of the top five worldwide. 

The Western Ghats runs right through Kerala, providing excellent opportunities for trekking and for visiting tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

The best time to visit the Western Ghats is after the monsoon season (after the month of September). At Periyar Tiger Reserve, one of the top spots for wildlife enthusiasts in Kerala, you can go on a morning walking safari, or take a boat cruise through the park.

Taste the spices of Kerala

Location: Thekkady

Suitable for: Foodies

Kerala is known as the spice bowl of India – and also of the world. For many centuries, traders have been drawn from the Arab world, and other far-flung destinations, to Kerala to trade in the state’s spices. 

Known for ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cumin, fennel, turmeric and many other pungent spices, there are spice gardens across Kerala. 

However, Thekkady in the Cardamom Hills is one of the best places to visit in Kerala to experience tea gardens and taste dishes made from fresh spices. 

Enjoy pristine beaches 

Location: coast of Kerala

Suitable for: families & couples

Of all the things to do in Kerala, soaking up the sun on one of the state’s beautiful beaches is usually at the top of most lists. 

Kerala is located in south India, way down at the bottom of the V-shaped country, and is home to a long, tropical coastline. There are white-sand and palm-tree lined beaches to suit every taste. 

Some are popular with tourists, such as Kovalam and Varkala, and others are more deserted – such as some of the beaches of north Kerala. In Kerala, where fishing is a major industry, there are also lots of fishing villages right on the beach. 

You can watch the fishermen bring in their catch and buy fresh fish at local markets, straight from the sea.

Take an Ayurvedic treatment

Location: all across Kerala

Suitable for: solo & spiritual travellers

Kerala is the home of Ayurveda, an ancient system of Indian healthcare that continues to thrive across India and around the world. 

Ayurveda has its roots in the natural world, and the treatment modalities use herbs, spices, and oils. In Kerala, there are many Ayurvedic hospitals, retreat centres, and resorts to choose from, depending on your state of health. 

For a relaxing and rejuvenating wellness program, you could check into an Ayurvedic resort on the coast for one or two weeks. 

Your treatment program will likely include daily oil massages, a diet of fresh vegetarian food, and herbal medicine, as well as some deeper cleansing techniques. 

By the end, you will feel completely refreshed!

Mariellen Ward

By Mariellen Ward

Mariellen is an award-winning India travel writer and leading destination expert, based in Delhi.


Yonder is a specialist India tour operator, including tailor-made, luxury holidays to India which can include any of the must see places discussed in this article.

Previous holidays which we’ve booked include India’s Golden Triangle and Tigers tour, a culture, wildlife and backwaters tour in Kerala and the hidden India Rajasthan tour. These can be great inspiration for your own itineraries.

We can also arrange luxury holidays which explore all the different aspects of India such as our Incredible India tour.

All Yonder itineraries are crafted on a tailor-made, one-off basis, so you can be sure that your holiday will be as individual as you are.