Kerala Itinerary: how to spend 3 weeks in Kerala

In this post I will share with you a 3 week Kerala itinerary. Kerala is a small state in South India that promotes itself as God’s own country. With its palm-fringed backwaters, pristine beaches, spectacular nature and delicious food it indeed comes pretty close to paradise.

Kerala is also one of the most developed states in India with the highest literacy rates and life expectancies in the country. As a result, Kerala isn’t as chaotic as the rest of India. In general, things are cleaner, better organized and more relaxed.

People in Kerala have a lot to be proud of. It’s lush green landscapes and rich cultural traditions make it one of the most popular states in India. This post will help you plan your Kerala itinerary to make the most out of your time in God’s own country.   

My Kerala itinerary

In this post I will share with you my own Kerala itinerary that I drafted after lots of research about what to see and do. It includes both the popular highlights such as the backwaters in Kerala and some off the beaten path places. 

This Kerala itinerary takes 3 weeks, but I must say I am a slow traveller and like to take my time in the places I visit. This same Kerala itinerary could also be done in two weeks if you have less time available. At the other hand there are so many things to do in Kerala that you could also easily spent more time in Kerala.

Kerala's backwaters
Kerala’s backwaters

Kerala itinerary: 3 weeks in Kerala

Day 1: Trivandrum

I started my Kerala itinerary in Trivandrum. Trivandrum, also known as Thiruvananthapuram, is the capital city of Kerala. Trivandrum is a hub of cultural activity, with a rich tradition of dance, music, and theater. The city is home to the Kerala Kalamandalam, a renowned center for the study of traditional Indian arts.

The city is also home to several ancient Hindu temples. The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple is one of the oldest and richest temples in Kerala. Unfortunately, only Hindus are allowed inside, but the Dravidian style architecture is impressive to see from the outside.

One day in your Kerala itinerary would be enough to see the city’s main attractiomns.

Where to eat: The iconic Indian coffee house in Trivandrum became famous for its strange pigeon coop like building. They serve great biryani and other Indian food items. 

Where to sleep: Rather than staying in Trivandrum I suggest that you already make your way to nearby Varkala for a more scenic location and better selection of accommodation options. However, if you do find yourself in Trivandrum I can recommend La Casa Homestay or the friendly Mary Land homestay.

Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum
Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum

Day 2 – 4: Varkala

Kerala has a long coastline of palm fringed and sandy beaches. One of the most popular beach destinations in Kerala are Kovalam and Varkala. After visiting both, I preferred Varkala that is more geared towards backpackers and has a larger variety of things to do. 

Like Gokarna in Karnataka, Varkala is a small temple town that is an important Hindu pilgrimage center. Pilgrims visit the 12th century Janardhana Swamy temple dedicated to Vishnu. Many also come to perform the last rites of loved ones at Varkala beach.

Varkala beach is therefore a religious place and at the entrance you can see priests performing the traditional ceremonies for the visiting pilgrims. The red sandstone cliff in the back is also the center of activity with a great number of restaurants, hostels and resorts. 

Varkala’s main beach can be a bit crowded, but there are plenty of other nearby beaches that offer a more quiet experience. The palm fringed secluded beaches around Varkala are some of the best in Kerala. Furthermore they are surrounded by lush green landscapes and tranquil backwaters. 

Varkala practicalities

How to get there: From Trivandrum there are frequent buses to Varkala. Varkala also has a train station with trains to Trivandrum, Kollam, Alleppey and beyond

Where to eat: Varkala is one of the best places in Kerala to try sea food. One of my favourite restaurants were the Darjeeling cafe and Gods own country kitchen.

Where to sleep: Varkala cliff is full of hotels and guesthouses ranging from cheap and simple beach huts overlooking the ocean to guest homes and luxurious ayurvedic resorts. At black beach and Odayam beach are some more up market resorts that are perfect if you are looking for a more quiet and peaceful place to stay. In Varkala I recommend The Barefoot. A good budget option on the north side of the cliff close to black beach.

Varkala beach makes a great start of your Kerala itinerary
Varkala beach

Day 5 – 7: Munroe Island

Munroe Island is a bit off the beaten path, although no longer a hidden secret. For many, including myself, this is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spots in Kerala and a very worthy addition to any Kerala ityinerary. One of my reasons to visit South India was to see the famous backwaters in Kerala. I went on several backwater tours but nothing could come close to the natural beauty in Munroe Island. 

Munroe Island is a network of smaller islands where the Kallada river meets Ashtamudi Lake. A tour to Munroe island means going through a maze of narrow canals fringed with palm trees. Even better is to stay at one of the welcoming homestays and explore the lush gardens, spice plantations, coconut farms and rubber plantations. 

How to get there: From Varkala you can take a bus to Kollam. In Kollam you can either take a taxi to Munroe island or the local train (the station of Munroe island is called Munroturuttu)

Where to sleep: I can recommend with all my heart Vijeesh’s homestay which is more than just a place to sleep. Vijeesh is a great guide that can tell you all about the flora and fauna on the island. His family made me feel at home instantly and his mother is a great cook making delicious Keralan food. 

Munroe island is one of the more off the beaten path destinations in your Kerala itinerary
Munroe island

Day 7 – 9: Alleppey

Alleppey, the Venice of India, is where most people go to see the backwaters of Kerala. I must say that after the tranquil backwaters of Munroe Island, the busy waterways around Alleppey were a totally different experience. 

Alleppey might not have the most scenic backwaters in Kerala, but it is the best place to arrange a traditional houseboat. The Kettuvallam design consists of wooden hulls with a thatched roof cover. They used to be the main means of transport around Alleppey. Nowadays they are used for tourism and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

The luxurious houseboat experience doesn’t come cheap, but in Alleppey you have many options to explore the backwaters. I went on a canoe tour and spent a leisurely day floating around the canals. It was pretty impressive to see the large kettuvallams passing by. 

Besides the backwaters, Alleppey has a nice beach to relax and you can experience rural village life in nearby Kuttanad. As a tourist hub it is also possible to take cooking classes, book yoga lessons or take ayurvedic treatments. Although in my opinion there are more scenic places in Kerala where you can do the same.    

Alleppey practicalities

How to get there: Alleppey is easy to reach by bus or train from other places in Kerala. There is even a direct train from Munroe Island to Alleppey

Where to sleep: I stayed in the new Allepey 3 palms guesthouse. It is basic and a bit difficult to find, but a nice and cheap place to stay.

Kettuvalam in Alleppeys backwaters in Kerala
Kettuvalam in Alleppey’s backwaters

Day 10: Alleppey to Kottayam ferry

After Alleppey I was going to Periyar National Park. Rather than taking the bus I took the local ferry from Alleppey to Kottayam for another backwater experience that was again completely different from the ones I had in Munroe Island and Alleppey. 

If you are on a tight budget this is one of the cheapest ways to see the backwaters and it offers a unique insight into life around Kerala’s waterways. The local ferry is an old boat and locals will be hopping on and off. 

The journey takes about two to three hours. If you take the early morning departure to Kottayam you are well in time to catch the bus to Thekkady for Periyar National Park.  

Alleppey to Kottayam ferry in Kerala
Alleppey to Kottayam ferry

Day 11 – 13: Periyar NP

So far, this Kerala itinerary has been about the backwaters, but Kerala has much more natural beauty on offer. It’s pristine nature includes several wildlife parks. Periyar National Park is located in the Cardamom hills of the South Western ghats along the border with Tamil Nadu. 

Periyar is an important tiger and elephant reserve, but you will be very lucky to spot them. More likely you are able to see Indian bisons (gaur), wild pigs, the Malabar squirrel and different types of monkeys. 

Thekkady is the gateway to the national park. Entrance to the park is well regulated to protect its unique flora and fauna. Unfortunately you can’t go off on your own. A guide is mandatory and you need to book your activities at the parks headquarters in Thekkady beforehand. Activities include jungle treks, boat safaris, jeep safaris and bamboo rafting. 

The cheapest and most popular activity is the two hour boat safari at Thekkady lake. I was surprised by the amount of animals I saw, including wild pigs and bison. Later I also went on a bamboo rafting trip and the jeep safari to explore more remote and quiet parts of the park, but didn’t see a lot of wildlife then.  

How to get there: To get to Periyar you need to go to the town of Thekkady. Thekkady has no train station, but has frequent bus connections with places like Alleppey, Munnar and Madurai

Where to stay: In Thekkady you will find lots of nice homestays such as Spice Cottage homestay and Forest View Homestay

Periyar National Park
Periyar National Park

Day 14 – 16: Munnar

Munnar lies in the Western Ghats mountain range. It has a picturesque location at the foot of Mount Anamudi, South India’s highest peak and the confluence of 3 rivers. At an altitude of 1600 meters it offers fresh air and a cooler climate. 

Munnar is one of the more popular hill stations in Kerala. Hill stations in India were once built by the British looking for a place to relax and to escape the oppressing summer heat. Hence, the colonial architecture and english country homes. In the 19th century, it was a Scotsman that opened the first tea estate. Nowadays the vast green tea plantations are the dominating feature of Munnar.

I loved Munnar, not only for its natural beauty, but also because it was very different from other places in Kerala. The only downside is that most of the things to see and do in Munnar are difficult to do on your own. 

Munnar town itself isn’t that inspiring, its real attractions lie beyond. With limited public transportation you are dependent on tours, often organized by your hotel. There are tea plantation tours, tours to the wild elephant village of Aanakulam and cycling or trekking tours.

Munnar practicalities

How to get there: Munnar has no train station and the way to get there is by bus. There are daily buses to Cochin and Thekkady. The road from Thekkady to Munnar was one of the most scenic journeys in Kerala. It reminded me of the scenery from the famous Kandy to Ella train in Sri Lanka

Where to sleep: Munnar is a place to carefully select your accommodation. Do you want to stay out of town in nature, but without facilities or the less scenic option in the midst of noisy Munnar town. 

It is good to be aware that Munnar often refers to a pretty large area. To make things more confusing you have Old Munnar and New Munnar town. There is no shortage of accommodation options, but the more remote, the more dependent you are on your hotel for transport, activities and food. Therefore it’s best to choose wisely. 

For tranquil nature choose Green Tea View, Thoppil homestay or Green Valley Vista. A good option in old Munnar town is Greenview holiday inn.

Cardamom hills in Munnar Kerala

Day 17 – 20: Cochin

Fort Kochi started as a small fishing village. Due to its strategic location on the Malabar Coast, colonial powers loved it. The Portugese were the first to arrive and they were also the first to build an actual fort as well as catholic churches. 

After 160 years the Dutch took over and they used Cochin as the capital for the spice trade with the Dutch East India Company. Finally in 1795 Cochin became part of the British colonial empire till India’s independence in 1947.

Cochin still is the commercial capital of Kerala and remains an important city for the worldwide spice trade. The modern part of town are the new high rise buildings of the busy business district of Ernakulam. On the other side of the river is the historic town of Fort Kochi that has kept much of its historic heritage and easygoing vibe.

Fort Kochi still feels more like a small village than a city. One where the colonial architecture brings color and charm to the quiet and peaceful streets. The churches, palaces and forts built by the Portugese, Dutch and British are still there together with the mansions of wealthy tradesmen.  

Fort Kochi was a great place to end my Kerala itinerary. So far, the cities in Kerala were a bit of a disappointment. It was always the lush and green landscapes beyond that were the main reason to visit, but the towns themselves were often an uninspiring noisy affair. Fort Kochi was the exception and is in itself a worthy destination with a variety of things to do. The relaxed atmosphere makes this a great place to spend your last days in Kerala.

Cochin Practicalities

How to get there: Cochin has good train and bus connections with other places in Kerala and beyond. Most likely you will arrive in Ernakulam. From there one needs to take the ferry to the historic area of Fort Kochi.

Where to sleep: Fort Kochi has great accomodation options. For budget travellers I can recommend one of the many homestays. In Fort Kochi I stayed in Mother Tree B&B and I had a very pleasant stay here with Shyam and his family. Other homestays with good reviews are Kevin homestay, Dream catcher homestay and Aaron’s homestay

Fort Kochi in Kerala
Fort Kochi

Kerala itinerary extensions

If you have more than three weeks it is easy to extend your Kerala itinerary. You could spend some more time in any of the above places or make a small detour into neighbouring states.

From Periyar you could make a day trip visit to the Madurai Meenakshi temple for example. In the South you could also visit Kovalam beach and Kanyakumari, the most southern point of India.

I can also recommend to combine your Kerala itinerary with the state of Karnataka. Although less popular, Karnataka also has lots of ancient temples, wildlife parks and beautiful beaches.

Sustainable Travel in Kerala

Kerala is a beautiful state, but to preserve its national parks and nature, it is important to be aware of the possible negative impacts mass tourism can have. Traveling sustainably in Kerala, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact and support the local community. Luckily, Kerala itself has lots of community-based and eco-tourism initiatives.

Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors, artisans, markets and restaurants. It is better to try South Indian cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods. South Indian food is very vegetarian friendly and it is easy to follow a vegan diet.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels.

Kerala has a number of community based tourism initiatives with excellent homestays. Where possible, I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.

You can also try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.

Use public transport: Kerala has a well-developed public transportation system with trains and buses. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of private cars to reduce carbon emissions.

Leave no trace principle: I encourage you to take all your trash back with you when you visit Kerala and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. Kerala is a state with a Hindu majority. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.

People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly, especially at religious sites. Learning a few basic phrases in Malayalam, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

For more practical information about travel in Kerala I can recommend my Kerala travel guide

Disclaimer: This post with a 3 week Kerala itinerary contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

5 thoughts on “Kerala Itinerary: how to spend 3 weeks in Kerala”

  • I love this itinerary. Kerala is on my list to visit but I haven’t yet done much research to make it a reality. This is therefore really useful & has opened my eyes to all that Kerala has to offer. I particularly like the look of Munroe Island which I had never heard of before. Thanks for sharing!

  • i was supposed to visit Kerala last May, but never got round to doing much planning as I had to cancel in March! This will help immensely for when I can finally plan it and make this trip a reality!

  • Wonderful guide! India is high on my bucket list and Kerala sounds like a must visit for when I finally make it there. Thanks for the insightful guide!

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