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Brightly coloured houses, reticent but smiling locals, and low-lying clouds. Undulating Tea Estates spread out as far as the eye can see, mystic spice plantations and coffee farms spread over acres, walls covered with bright red hibiscus flowers, and roads lined with sunflowers. A road trip in Kerala is a delightful assault to the senses – the colours, the smiles, and the landscapes are bound to leave the traveller in you reeling with joy.
Tea Estates and clouds – Kerala will leave the traveller in you reeling with joy
Suggested itinerary for a road trip in Kerala
Here’s a suggested itinerary for a road trip in Kerala before I divulge the route we took and provide tips and tricks to making the most of a road trip to Kerala in 2 weeks:
Tea Estates and hills at Munnar or Wayanad (3-4 days)
Spice Plantations and wildlife at Thekkady (3 days)
Backwaters and houseboats at Kumarakom or Alleppey (3 days)
Beaches at Varkala or Kovalam (3 days)
City life in Kochi, with a day trip to Athirappilly (2 days)
Our itinerary for a road trip in Kerala
Of course the itinerary charted above is flexible. You can weed out places based on personal preferences and the amount of time at hand. We had just 10 days in Kerala, so we decided to skip the beaches of Varkala and Kovalam. Here’s the route we followed on our road trip in Kerala:
The map for our road trip in Kerala
Budgeting for your road trip in Kerala
Let’s start with the logistics first – car rental and expenses. The overall cost of this road trip will depend on the city of departure and the hotels you choose. Kerala boasts of some stunning hotels and you can choose everything from bespoke hideaways to homestays, depending on your budget and personal preferences. Here’s a list of expenses other than accommodation
Domestic flights to Coimbatore/Kochi cost under £100/INR 10,000 from most cities in India
A rental car will set you back by approximately £20-£30/INR 2000-3000 per day depending on the car you choose.
We spent £45/INR 4500 on fuel for a 10 day road trip. This amount will increase if you decide to drive down to Kovalam.
It’s easy to eat for less than £5/INR 500 at little eateries across Kerala. They serve delectable food and have a variety of local delicacies on offer. There are also several fine-dining restaurants in the area and some of our favourites are mentioned in the article below.
Driving and Renting a car for your road trip in Kerala
You know just how much we love driving around in new places and this was no exception. Driving in Kerala is much easier than Ladakh (our last road trip in India). Roads are in good shape and drivers are not aggressive. However do beware than this route featured hilly drives and hairpin bends by the dozen, so drive yourself only if you have previous experience driving in hills. Having said that, we loved driving in Kerala. We would recommend it if you’re a seasoned driver who enjoys road trips.
We would definitely recommend renting with an Indian rental company while you are in India as they understand the nuances of the market well. We’ve rented with Myles Cars in India before and enjoyed their service, so we decided to stick to the same provider this time around too. We picked up our car – Mahindra XUV 500 – from Coimbatore airport. A representative met us at the airport and handed over the car to us. We checked it thoroughly and set off on our road trip in Kerala. It was a smooth journey peppered with great roads and amazing panoramas. As always here’s a li’l something for you too – use can use the code MYLESBP20 to get a 20% discount when booking with Myles.
A self-drive roadtrip in Kerala is a memorable experience
Don’t blame us if you want to stop for a photograph or two every 5 minutes on your roadtrip in Kerala
10 Essential Experiences on your road trip in Kerala
Prance in the tea estates of Munnar
Go for a wildlife safari at Periyar National Park
Buy fragrant local spices and loose leaf tea for friends and family back home
Visit a coffee farm
Go canoeing in Vembanad Lake
Stay in a houseboat as your explore the backwaters of Kerala
Sample Toddy, an alcoholic drink made from the sap of the palm tree
Try local delicacies such as Meen Pollichathu (fish wrapped in banana leaf), Meen Curry (spiced fish curry), Avial (vegetables in a coconut curry), dosas (savoury crépes), and Ulli Theeyal (shallot curry)
Hunt down waterfalls at Chelarkovil or Athirappilly
Make friends – locals in the area are friendly and helpful. Talk to them, pick their brains about scenic spots in the vicinity, and share a meal (or two) with them.
Kerala offers dozens of spectacular experiences – make sure you check them out while driving around the state
Best time to visit Kerala
The months between November and February are perfect to visit Kerala. Expect moderate temperatures and lush green estates. Of course these are peak months, so expected higher rates and crowds at popular places. We wanted to avoid the tourist hordes, so we visited during March, which is a shoulder month. It was perfect but some days did tend to get extremely hot and humid, especially in the backwaters.
July and August are popular with tourists too as this is peak monsoon season. Kerala’s monsoons are special – expect an abundance of greenery and beautiful waterfalls.
Day by day itinerary for a road trip in Kerala
Day 1: Fly into Coimbatore and drive to Munnar
This day is reserved for arriving in Munnar, the first stop on your road trip of Kerala. Fly into Kochi or Coimbatore. We chose Coimbatore International Airport because it is serviced by Myles. We picked up are rental car at the airport and kick started our road trip.
Roads are in great shape and there are lots of supermarkets and restaurants on the way. Stock up on snacks, fruits for your road trip. There’s no need to go overboard as hot food is readily available during the length of this road trip in Kerala. Stop at Thoovanam Falls on the way – the gurgling waterfall is worth a pitstop only if you’re visiting during monsoon months (July & August)
The scenery will begin to change dramatically as you inch closer to Munnar. The searing sun will give way to a nip in the air. Winding roads punctuated with undulating tea plantations and rolling hills will welcome you to the area.
Accommodation in Munnar
Munnar town is quite crowded and chaotic. We suggest staying in a hotel in a village called Chinnakanal. The village is a convenient forty minute drive from Munnar. Here it is possible to stay in a hotel or homestay in the midst of gorgeous tea plantations. Two hotels that boast of great views in the area are Terrace Greens and Club Mahindra. We chose the former for our stay in Munnar – rooms at Terrace Greens aren’t luxurious but they are spacious and well-equipped. Food is tasty. However the lack of wifi in the rooms lets it down.
The hotel is nestled in the countryside, so make sure you stock up on provisions beforehand. Munnar is twenty kilometres away and Surianelli village, which has a large bustling market, is just 5 kilometres away
Expect panoramas such as this as you inch closer to Munnar. You will spot tea estates everywhere 🙂
Stay in Chinnakanal instead of Munnar town if you want to wake up to these views 🙂
Days 1-4: Explore Munnar and Chinnakanal
There are lots of things to do in the area but waking up to the sight of endless tea plantations would have to be one of my favourite experiences in Munnar. Low hanging clouds float over verdant tea estates, lending magic to the proceedings.
But we weren’t just exploring tea estates or photographing them. Here’s a list of other things to see and do in the area:
Anayirankal Dam and Lake: a picturesque boating and picnic spot, Anayirankal Dam and Lake provides photo opportunities by the dozen.
Mattupetty Dam and Lake: one of the most popular sites in the area, it tends to get quite crowded. We didn’t love the viewing area but really enjoyed driving along the lake.
Top Station and Echo Point: Combine your trip to Mattupetty Dam with a drive to Echo Point and Top Station. This makes for an incredibly scenic drive. Expect gorgeous views of the Western Ghats and magical low-lying clouds everywhere.
Kolukkumalai tea estate: A bumpy ride gets you to the world’s highest tea plantation, where tea is picked and processed in a traditional fashion. Kolukkumalai is gorgeous and definitely worth a visit.
A traditional tea factory: It should be illegal to leave Munnar without visiting a traditional tea factory. Watch tea leaves being painstakingly picked and processed into high-quality tea. Make sure you pick a bag or two for friends and family back home.
So many smiles – Munnar and its surroundings are incredible 🙂
A tea-picker smiles as she gathers leaves at work
Make sure you visit Anayirankal Dam and Lake on your road trip in Kerala
Out of a picture postcard? Colourful towns and villages around Munnar
Day 5: Drive from Munnar to Thekkady
After luxuriating in the green environs of Munnar for a few days, it is time to continue with your road trip of Kerala. Start early as the drive from Munnar to Thekkady is one of the prettiest ones – you will want to stop for photographs every few kilometres.
The drive begins, quite predictably, with endless stretches of tea estates. Gradually these get replaced by spice plantations and coffee farms. Roads snaking through Kerala’s Cardamom Hills are lined with bright red hibiscus flowers and chrome sunflowers. Every once in a while, purple wild flowers make an appearance, as if to add even more colour to the landscape. Check in to your hotel on reaching Thekkady.
Accommodation in Thekkady
Try to opt for an experiential hotel in the area. Choosing a hotel that in the midst of a spice plantation amplifies the experience manifold. We stayed in Shalimar Spice Garden, which we discovered on Plush Escapes. Shalimar Spice Garden is a rustic yet luxurious hideaway in Thekkady. The hotel is located in the middle of 30 acres of spice plantations. Rooms are well-equipped, spacious, and boast of huge balconies. The hotel boasts of a gorgeous pool area dotted with hammocks and swings. The in-house restaurant serves delectable food. We loved our stay at Shalimar Spice Garden and would recommend it wholeheartedly.
The drive to Thekkady is peppered with colourful shops selling all sorts of tropical fruits including golden King coconuts
Choose an experiential hotel in Thekkady to make the most of your stay in the area
The gorgeous entrance to our hotel, located in the midst of spice plantations, in Thekkady
Days 5-8: Explore Thekkady and Periyar National Park
Spend your days in Thekkady exploring its rich spice plantations, the Periyar National Park, and its surroundings. Here are a few of our favourite things to do in Thekkady on your road trip of Kerala:
Visiting Periyar National Park
Boat tours are coveted at the park because tickets are limited. Apparently you can book tickets online but despite multiple attempts, we were unable to do that. If you want to get on a boat safari at Periyar National Park, then plan on getting up early. Get to the entrance of Periyar National Reserve by 5.45 am, park your car, get your entrance tickets (INR 65 for Indian Nationals and £3.5/INR300 for foreign nationals) and board the bus operated by the Forest Reserve. If you get onboard the first bus, chances are you’ll get a ticket for the much coveted boat ride (£2/INR150) . This is what we did but to be honest, we didn’t see much (except for a couple of stray birds). The Periyar Lake is pretty early in the morning. But the boat safari at Periyar National Park is definitely not worth the effort, especially if you’ve been to other destinations rich in wildlife such as South Africa or Australia. If you want to visit the National Park, opt for a Jeep Safari at Gavi instead.
Other than visiting Periyar National Park, here are a few of our favourite things to do in the area.
Chellarkovil: The area boasts of waterfalls and cascades during monsoon season. There was no water at the waterfalls when we visited. But the sleepy village of Chellarkovil makes for a great drive and offers sweeping views of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu too. It’s also a great picnic spot, so make sure you pack a snack or two.
There are some great treks in Kurushmala Hills – it’s better to opt for guided treks in the area
The bustling town of Kumily is the gateway to scenic drives in the Periyar Valley. Pandikuzhi is a great place to stop for a picnic or a few photographs.
Periyar National Park is a popular pit stop on every road trip in Kerala
Chellarkovil is a great picnic spot and offers a sweeping view of Tamil Nadu
Cultural performances at our hotel in Thekkady
Proud of their product? Smiles and fresh peppercorns in Thekkady on our road trip in Kerala
Day 8: Drive from Thekkady to Kumarakom
This drive isn’t the most scenic of the lot as it passes through lots of busy towns and chaotic villages. If you enjoy hiking, make sure you go for a short hike to Eagle Eock in the village of Parunthumpara on the way to Peerumedu. It offers a vantage point from where one can drink in views of the neighbouring valleys, mountains, and villages. Also try stopping in one of the villages on the way for a meal or a cup of coffee – experience everyday life in a village, explore Kerala’s pastel churches, or photographs its brightly-coloured houses. Upon reaching Kumarakom, you will start spotting glimpses of Kerala’s iconic backwaters and lagoons. Check into your hotel and prepare to be smitten by this quaint village of canals.
Accommodation in Kumarakom
The backwaters of Kerala boast of some stunning hotels. On the recommendation of dozens of friends and readers, we booked a pool villa at CGH Earth Coconut Lagoon Resort. And we couldn’t be happier about it. It is definitely one of the prettiest hotels we’ve EVER stayed at (and we’ve stayed in thousands!). You can park your car at their private parking at Kumarakom Jetty and board their boat, which brings you to the hotel. We promise you will fall in love with the hotel almost as soon as you float into the reception area. The hotel complex resembles a traditional village, intersected by canals and lagoons. We chose a room overlooking the backwaters of Kerala – rooms are luxurious and boast of modern amenities. Can’t recommend this one enough!
The iconic backwaters of Kerala at Kumarakom
Devouring local delicacies by the backwaters in Kerala is somewhat of an essential on your road trip in Kerala
Days 8-12: Explore the backwaters of Kerala and experience life on a houseboat
The backwaters of Kerala will seduce you in no time. Spend your days taking in the stunning scenery.
Go for a languorous canoe ride on Vembanad Lake or a sunset cruise in the backwaters.
Treat yourself to a traditional Ayurvedic massage, which is bound to leave you feeling rejuvenated.
Savour local delicacies such as Meen Pollichathu (grilled fish) or Karimeen curry (spicy fish curry), and Sadya (traditional vegetarian feast) at meal times.
Go for a bird-watching walk – Kumarakom bird sanctuary is famous for hundreds of species of birds and attracts bird enthusiasts from all around the world.
Spend your last night in Kumarakom on a houseboat. This is an experience like no other. Make sure you choose a traditional houseboat fashioned out of reed, cork, and bamboo. We spent the night on a 1 bedroom houseboat by Spice Coast Cruises and loved the experience. The evening was spent sailing past duck farms, busy villages, and floating shops. We watched the sun set over the backwaters from the comfort of our houseboat. We devoured a three course meal as the day metamorphosed into night. Most of the evening was spent lounging on the boat while staring at the stars. Make the most of it as it will soon be time to drive out of Kumarakom.
Sunset from a houseboat in Kerala – the highlight of our entire road trip
Lunch on board our houseboat in Kerala – so special
Floating past a duck far on the backwaters of Kerala
Days 12-15: Fly back or continue to the beaches of Kerala
If you have a few more days in Kerala, you should drive from Kumarakom to the southern tip of the state to explore its beaches. Varkala is a perfect pit stop if you like beach destinations sprinkled with bohemia. If you enjoy classic luxury, then choose a decadent hotel in the coastal town of Kovalam.
We had just 12 days in Kerala, so we drove back to Coimbatore International Airport from Kumarkom and boarded our flight back to New Delhi. You can also spend a night or two in Kochi on your way back to Coimbatore. Make sure you drive to Athirappilly Waterfalls if you’re in Kochi.
The Athirappilly Waterfalls need to feature on your itinerary for a road trip in Kerala
And so our roadtrip in Kerala came to an end!
That’s it – an idyllic 2 week road trip in Kerala, India. This road trip offers a plethora of panoramas, sights, and cultural experiences – it is bound to leave you rejuvenated! We loved our time in Kerala and can’t wait to go back!