8 Great Things to Do in Kerala, India

The thrilling variety of experiences in Kerala—visits to forts, spice plantations, and temples, ayurvedic spa treatments, days spent on Arabian Sea beaches or boating backwaters—make it clear you have traveled far from home. And that you will return home changed.

Taj Bekal Resort & Spa, Kerala, Paalakunnu, West (P.O, Kappil Beach Rd, Thekkekara, Udma, Kerala 671319, India
Set in Kerala’s quiet northwest corner, the 26-acre Vivanta by Taj Bekal Resort is home to the excellent Jiva Spa, a staggering 165,000 square-feet devoted to wellness and relaxation. As Kerala is considered to be the birthplace of Ayurveda (India’s millennia-old “science of life”), the menu is heavy on treatments that highlight traditional techniques and ingredients, and that are designed to both target specific issues and provide general pampering. The signature Abhyanga massage—great for travel-weary bodies—is performed with potent, heated herbal oils, while the Mukhalepa facial brightens the complexion with natural products like saffron; decadent two-hour signature services are also available, along with scrubs, wraps, yoga, meditation, and more. Book a complimentary consultation to find the services that fit your needs, or go all in with a multiday or multiweek program for yoga, detoxifying, Ayurvedic wellness, and other customized goals.
1/1046 C, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India
To get a feel for Kerala’s rich and layered history, head to Fort Kochi. Once a small fishing village in pre-colonial times, this area—now the historic old town neighborhood of the city of Kochi—belonged to the Portuguese for much of the 16th and 17th centuries, then to the Dutch for a little over a century, then to the British until India’s independence in 1947. For all that time, the waterside spot served as an important port along the spice route, with Chinese and Arabian traders sailing through to pick up sandalwood, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and other local goods. Today, Fort Kochi features myriad reminders of all who have lived and worked here: the Dutch cemetery, Koonan Kurish Old Syrian Church, and the 16th-century St. Francis Church, the Mattancherry Palace (aka the Dutch Palace), colonial Parade Grounds, still-in-use Chinese fishing nets, and the painted tiled-lined Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1567 and considered the oldest active synagogue in the commonwealth. The Indo-Portuguese Museum and Southern Naval Command Maritime Museum provide more context, while Fort Kochi Beach—with its colonial-era bungalows, Arabian Sea strand, and food stalls peddling the day’s fresh catch—draws both locals and tourists. Architecture buffs will love historic sites like Thakur House, Bastion Bungalow, and David Hall, many of which can be spotted from a stroll along breezy Church Road.
Unnamed Road
Surrounded by 40 pristine sand- and grass-topped acres, endless water views, and the sound of crashing waves, Bekal Fort—the largest fort in Kerala—feels like it rose up from the sea. In fact, it was built some three centuries ago as a defense post, lingering evidence of which includes the old ammunition storage areas and the cannon windows lining the outer walls. Today, visitors can wander around the complex, climbing up the observation tower, strolling around parts of the original walls, venturing out to the waterside walkways, and picnicking on the main lawns. (Along with the history and scenic beauty, the filming of some hit movies here has made the fort even more popular with domestic tourists.) After exploring the site, head down to the beach for some sea air and views of the fort from a different vantage point.
Bekal - Bekal Fort Road
Though the beaches of southern Kerala may get more attention, the Malabar coast shores of the northern part of the state are no less beautiful—and offer plenty of their own attractions. Case in point: Bekal Beach, a wide, sandy stretch along the Arabian Sea, set under historic Bekal Fort. The cove-shaped beach offers plenty of room to stretch out and soak up the sun, shallow waters for swimming, and artistic touches like a rock garden, murals, and public sculptures. If you don’t want to get sand in your shoes, take a stroll along the boardwalk, or venture up to explore the Fort complex. Little ones will like the beach’s children’s park, while adults should come back at night, when the beach is illuminated, to enjoy the magical atmosphere. Further along the shores, you’ll spy fisherman bringing in a daily catch that might include mackerel, reef cod, and tuna.
1/387, Princess St, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India
India boasts many traditional regional dance forms, but kathakali, with its elaborate, colorful costumes and masks is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive. With roots going back to ancient Hindu temple plays (some think as far back as the 2nd century), kathakali, now the state dance of Kerala, evolved into its current dance-drama format in the 17th century, under the direction of the Rajah of Kottarakkara, who took the performances out of the temples and palaces and directly to the villages. Founded in 1990, this noted center honors kathakali—as well as Indian classical music, and other traditional arts—with nightly performances, 365 days a year. The kathakali shows are usually about 90 minutes, and include a informative demonstration; come an hour early to watch the actors undergo the elaborate makeup and costuming process.
Burger St, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India
Rest your tired legs, read a book, engage in discussions with world travelers, sip your coffee or simply admire the art without anyone waiting for you to vacate the table. Kashi Art Café feels like an airy tropical garden that doubles as a hip and relaxed meeting place with an interesting gallery showcasing the works of talented artists. If you want to know what’s happening in Fort Cochin, chances are you’ll see all the information you need on posters in the café! As far as the food goes, breakfast is served through the day. If you’re hungry try a variety of sandwiches, salads, and soups for lunch, or snack on their freshly made cakes and pies with, of course, a cup of coffee or tea!
Ground Taj Malabar Resort & Spa, Malabar Road, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682009, India
Designed to evoke a traditional Kerala kettuvalam rice boat, and boasting views of the backwaters and historic Mattancherry from its perch on Willington Island, this restaurant—considered one of the best in Kerala—celebrates all things born of the water. Try a fresh-off-the-boat catch from the backwaters, such as the local sweetwater fish, or go farther afield with lobster or mussels from the ocean, or even imported salmon and oysters. There are several international dishes, like Lobster Newburg or pan-seared Canadian scallops, but opt instead for the items prepared with local flavors: think tiger prawn tossed with shallots and curry leaves, crab-and-coconut soup, and white snapper coated with tamarind and pepper, then steamed in a banana leaf. You can watch the chefs craft it all through the show kitchen, and ask them to modify spices as needed—ensuring the preparation is as fresh as the ingredients. Save room for the tender coconut soufflé.
Bastian St, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India
While Cochin’s St. Francis Church managed to survive through the different conquests of the city, its Roman Catholic cathedral was not as fortunate. Construction of the earliest church on the site began in 1505 and it was elevated to a cathedral in 1555. The Dutch spared it (along with St. Francis Church), but when the British assumed control of Cochin, they demolished the building. The current basilica, built in a Gothic style, was consecrated in 1905. It stands as a remarkable reminder of the persistence of Christianity (if not individual buildings dedicated to it) in Kerala, where, unusually for India, nearly one-fifth of the population is Christian.

More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks