Your browser does not support the HTML5 video element.
Discover Southern India's Kerala region with it's multicultural heritage, forts, palaces and serene backwaters, on this cultural highlights tour with a foodie focus. There'll be plenty of opportunities to try delicious Keralan cuisine, with cookery classes and demonstrations at a homestay and on a houseboat, along with visits to spice gardens and tea plantations.
Explore Tour Leader
1 nights premium boat
1 nights simple homestay
3 nights premium hotel
3 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Kochi (formally known as Cochin) has been a gathering place of merchants since antiquity. It is a city packed full of bustling markets and great food experiences. The focus for the start of our food tour is the Fort Kochi area, the oldest European settlement in India dating from 1500, with a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences, much of which survives in the remaining architecture. Built on several islands and criss-crossed with waterways, the city has a very cosmopolitan feel and attracts artists and artisans from around the region as well as offering its own take of distinctive Indian flavours in its street food and local eateries.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5.00 pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kochi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Our hotel for the next two nights is an art decor style property with a choice of excellent in house restaurants located on Willingdon island, just a short distance from Fort Kochi.
Hotel Casino (or similar)
Our destination this morning is the Fort Kochi district. Taking a brief auto rickshaw ride to Embarkation Jetty we take a public ferry to cross the short stretch of water over to Mattancherry Palace. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the palace has undergone extensive renovations by the Dutch earning it the name the Dutch Palace. It houses some of the most exquisite murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends.
From the palace we venture out to further explore bustling Fort Kochi, combining many of the islands best known sites including the Jewish town synagogue where Kochi's surviving Jewish community come to worship and the famous cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets, with an introduction to South Indian cuisine. Venturing into Fort Kochi's numerous alleyways and markets, we will get our first taste of Indian street food including Masala vada, a fritter made from chana dal, fennel seeds and peppers and Bonda, a fried bite size snack made from spicy potato and fried in a flour batter.
Continuing the food theme, lunch is taken at the Tea Bungalow. Todays meal is the perfect introduction to Kerala food and in particular Sadya (literally translated as banquet) which consists of a variety of traditional vegetarian dishes normally served on a banana leaf and served by families at the festival of Onam. After learning about the origins of Kerala's distinctive food from the Tea Bungalows resident chef, we get to sample an assortment of flavoursome dishes freshly prepared.
After lunch we head to Fort Kochi tourist jetty for a cruise around Kochi harbour to take in the sea air and get to see the expansive waterways and islands that have been the beating heart of Kochi's commercial success for hundreds of years.
To round off the day we return to shore for a performance of Kathakali, which is thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala. Its origins may have come from traditional temple rituals and from an art form known as Koodiyattam. It is the face make up which makes this dancing so unique and the dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and co-ordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. The dances usually portray events from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, great Indian epics.
Making the most of our time in Kochi, we rise early to witness the city waking up and preparing for the busy day ahead. Heading to Ernakulam town by public ferry, we take a walk through the busy vegetable market where our tour leader will point out many of the exotic fruits, vegetables and spices used in Southern Indian cooking. We'll make a stop at the Shiva temple to see the court complex from outside then head to local restaurant for a breakfast dosa making demonstration.
Dosas originate from South India, they are a delicious thin batter-based crepe (or pancake) generally made from a fermented batter consisting of lentils and rice and accompanied with aloo masala, potato with onion, turmeric and black mustard seeds or sambar, a soup like vegetarian dal. Popular as a breakfast dish, dosas can equally be taken as a light mid morning snack and are available throughout India and further afield as their popularity has spread.
Mid morning we bid farewell to Kochi and the Indian Ocean and drive inland to the mountainous region of Munnar, a journey of around five hours. En route we stop at a local eatery to sample a traditional thali lunch. Consisting of rice, a flatbread, lentil, dal, seasonable curried vegetables, a chutney and sometimes a fish dish thali lunches; thali is typically served in small bowls arranged on a large plate. Eaten throughout the region, thali is a great way to try different flavour combinations.
Munnar is known for its verdant spice and tea plantations. Kerala has been renowned for its spices for at least 2000 years, the coast had been known by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese for its sandalwood and spices. There was also a flourishing trade in 'black gold' - pepper - which, along with the spices, was sent to Europe by the Jewish and Arab traders. In return, copper, brass and gold coins came to Kerala. It was this trading link which brought Christianity and Islam into Kerala - the first place in India to host these two faiths.
Munnar is a pleasant place to spend two nights, with its green tropical forests, fresh mountain air and expansive tea plantations blending seamlessly into the hillsides.
Copper Castle Resort (or similar)
Our day starts with a visit to the tea plantations. It is the women who usually pick the tea because of their nimble fingers, their brightly coloured clothes contrast sharply with the greenery of the plantations. Moving onto the tea museum we get to learn how the tea leaves come into the factory as freshly picked leaves and leave as the product we are used to in brewing our morning cuppa just 24 hours later.
This afternoon is free relax at the hotel, use the spa or take part in a yoga class. It's possible to undertake a circular walk lasting four hours through the grasslands and tea plantations, climbing to an altitude of 2000 meters. Alternatively, the hotels has a limited numbers of bicycles for hire.
Descending from the highlands we drive to the teak forests around Thekkady and Periyar National Park. The theme for today is spices and a tour of a spice garden and farm with a resident expert, learning the importance of spices in Indian cuisine and why so many spices thrive in this part of the world (some of the highest quality cardamom is grown in the Kerala region).
As well as cardamom, pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cocoa pods and curry plant is also produced. Having toured the spice gardens we will have a cooking demonstration showcasing how spices are carefully blended and used in cooking. Lunch at the spice gardens is included on this day.
Our comfortable hotel tonight is located in Kumily, and offers a mixture of jungle cottages and rooms amongst the forest with a spa offering Ayurvedic therapies and a swimming pool.
Abad Green Forest (or similar)
Leaving Thekkady we head back towards the coast and our homestay for the night. We stay with local families within a village, and your tour leader will brief you on local customs and traditions.
It is a great opportunity to spend time learning about the real life of Keralans as well as an opportunity to sample some delicious home cooking - perhaps a spicy coconut curry. The rooms are in the same style as a traditional Keralan home with mattresses made locally using coir fibres, a material taken from coconut husks which allows air to flow naturally - ideal in this humid region.
This afternoon there will be a chance to take gentle walks through the surrounding villages where we learn about toddy tapping, a fresh sap collected from palm trees, which undergoes five hours of fermentation to convert it to toddy with 6-7 % alcohol content. This evening join our host family as they prepare a delicious home cooked meal from recopies passed down through the generations.
All rooms are twin share and the majority of them have their own attached bathrooms, although there are some rooms with a private bathroom located in a corridor next to the room. Bathrooms are basic with a toilet and a simple shower, and hot water can be limited at times. All bedding and towels are provided.
Simple Homestay (or similar)
This morning we board our houseboats and begin our journey into the network of the Kerala backwaters. The traditional houseboats were formally used to transport goods from isolated interior settlements to the coast. Designed for their stability many have been painstakingly refurbished and now offer well appointed en-suite twin rooms and fine dining experiences.
The pace is relaxed - enabling us to see riverside village life in its entirety. The industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and the fibre from the coconut palm has many uses. During the day we make a village stop where we see well tendered gardens often with brightly coloured flowers, such as hibiscus, contrasting sharply with the tropical greenery.
On board we will also have a cooking demonstration with the option to cook a fish curry or a vegetarian dish served on a banana leaf.
Premium Houseboat (or similar)
Wake up to views of rural Kerala as we enjoy a relaxed breakfast on board. Disembarking mid mid morning we return to Kochi, arriving in time for lunch. Kochi is well known for its excellent seafood, our restaurant has a prime position at the northern tip of Fort Kochi, an ideal spot to view the activity in the bay whilst we sample freshly caught fish.
The rest of the day is free; should you wish your tour leader can book a table at the highly acclaimed Chef Pillai at Le Meridien, we strongly recommend a prior reservation which should if possible be made at the start of the tour.
Abad Plaza Hotel (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kochi.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kochi at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the hotel.
There is considerable variation between the different regions of India but, in general, the climate is tropical. Summer temperatures on the plains are very hot, but cooled by the South-West Monsoon, which lasts from June- September. During these months it can be very wet and therefore very humid. At altitude, temperatures can become quite cool at night even in the summer and may drop below freezing between December and February so warm clothing is necessary. In the winter, northern and mid India can be very cool, with cold evenings, so warm clothing, including plenty of layers, are essential. The south of India remains warm and sunny during the winter months.
3 Pin Round
Catholicism, Hindu, Islam and Sikhism
Hindi and English.
Kerala is a tropical region with high humidity. Lightweights are needed all year round with some warmer clothes for the cooler winter evenings (November to March) in Munnar and Theddaky. Casual clothes are the most practical: tight fitting garments, brief shorts and skirts should be avoided, since they attract unwelcome attention.
Walking shoes or trainers are required for the tour of the tea estate in Munnar and sandals are recommended for the rest of the trip.
One main piece of baggage and a daysac. Remember - hotel porters are not always available, so don't overload yourself.
Binoculars, torch, insect repellent and water bottle.
Bus, Boat, Ferry, Tuk Tuk
\kerning220 Accommodation in India is as varied as the country itself. On this trip we stay in a mix of standard hotels, a simple homestay and aboard a simple houseboat. Standards do not equate to standards in the UK and it's best to approach each type of accommodation with an open mind. Service can be slow in places especially when travelling with a group. For the most part hotels do not have heating so in the winter months it can be chilly and if you feel the cold you may wish to ask for extra blankets. Hot water is not always available 24 hours a day in some of the smaller properties, and with a group staying you might find if you are showering last you may miss out on the hottest water. Please also note that a number of hotels in India do not serve alcohol due to the complicated licencing laws or for religious reasons. On the backwaters we stay in traditional houseboats, a time-honoured form of transport. These characterful boats are made of anjili wood and bamboo, and come with a small number of twin share, en-suite cabins that are air-conditioned (only available at night). The houseboat has a dining area where the home-cooked, locally-sourced Keralan meals are enjoyed, and a large deck to sit and gaze on at river-side life. Depending on the group size we may have to split the group between two or three houseboats, but you will reunite for any disembarkation stops as well as the overnight stop. The houseboat moors at the side of the backwaters for the night, allowing the crew to hook up to an electricity supply to run the air conditioning and lighting. Our homestay offers a fantastic insight into local life in this tropical region. The rooms are in the same style as a traditional Keralan home with mattresses made locally using coir fibres, a material taken from coconut husks which allows air to flow naturally - ideal in this humid region. All rooms are twin share and the majority of them have their own attached bathrooms, although there are some rooms with a private bathroom located in a corridor next to the room. Bathrooms are basic with a toilet and a simple shower, and hot water can be limited at times. All bedding and towels are provided. With India's ever-growing middle-class, domestic travel within India is booming and as such securing accommodation is becoming increasingly challenging. Whilst we will always try to stay at the accommodations we list, there may be occasions where accommodation is changed, sometimes at late notice. \kerning0
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
;\red82\green82\blue82; India: Holders of passports endorsed British citizen, as well as Australian, New Zealand and US passport holders may be eligible for the e-Tourist Visa to enter India. The visa can be applied for through the official Indian government visa website only - https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html . Please check all eligibility criteria that can be found on the website but important points are listed below - You must be arriving into one of 29 selected entry points which can be found via the official Indian Government website link above. However, you can exit from any of the authorised immigration check posts in India. Passports must have at least 6 months validity from the date of arrival in India and at least two blank pages for stamping. Visa applications will take approximately 4 days to process. There are different validity visas and the costs are as follows: 30-day validity (travelling between April and June) - $10 30-day validity (travelling between July and March) - $25 1-year validity - $40 5-year validity- $80 Those applying for a 30 day electronic visa can only apply within 30 days of arrival for your visa to be valid. Furthermore double entry is permitted and you can only obtain two 30-day visas in a calendar year. Please note these costs are subject to frequent change so you should check on the official Indian government visa website mentioned above. Biometric data will be collected on arrival in India. If you are not eligible for the e-Tourist Visa, please refer to VFS Global to apply for your Indian visa - https://www.vfsglobal.com/india/uk/how_to_apply.html Whilst the online form offers a relatively quick way to apply for a visa, some applicants have reported difficulty in completing the form. If you do require assistance, then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. They can complete the online visa on your behalf for a service fee + the visa cost. See www.travcour.com 20
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.