If you’ve ever wondered what my friends and I are cackling about around the lunch table– the answer is probably you.
But, when the laughter dies down and we lean forward in earnest, we’re most likely planning our next weekend getaway.
In a country as enormous as India, there is never a shortage of potential destinations. But, with our tight class schedules and undergrad budgets both money and time is limited.
It was my beautiful friend Hannah who suggested Kerala as the destination for our girls trip.
Kerala. Kerala. Kerala. I’d heard so much about it that I knew I had to visit. When I saw how affordable the plane tickets were I nearly spit out my chai. It was settled.
6 Girls. 2 Cities. 4 Days.
Day 1: Early morning flight to Kochi
After a relaxing hour and a half flight, we touched down in Kochi, Kerala. To put it in perspective, that’s just enough time to read about half of a page-turner. I chose Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time.
My friends and I decided to book two 1-way tickets to save money. We flew from Hyderabad –> Kochi on AirAsia and from Kochi –> Hyderabad on Indigo. Most travelers uncheck the “multiple airlines” box when they are searching for affordable flights. However, I have found that switching airlines midtrip is no more inconvenient than flying with the same company both legs. You have to check in for your flight all the same. The only thing that really changes is the gate.
[This strategy is extra convenient if you’re only traveling with a carry-on. That way you don’t have to keep track of weight allowances and such.]
The heat was heavy-handed in Kochi. Luckily, the travel bug has cooling side effects, so the heat did not dull our enthusiasm.
The price of the taxi from Kochi to Alappuzha did, however (no less than 2000 rupees.)
Remember that undergraduate budget I mentioned earlier? Well, it compelled my friends and me to bus hop.
As a result, we saved over one thousand rupees. We also got to experience both the government and local bus. The primary difference? Air conditioning. My survival tactic was sleep.
I might have been knocked out on the bus, but as soon as we arrived in Alappuzha I was revived. After a quick lunch at a local bakery, we caught a rickshaw (they call them tuk-tuks) to our hostel.
My friends and I stayed at Sea Land Beach Home-– a budget hostel located directly on the beach. It was the best decision we ever could have made. Not only did we save money (a lot of it, actually), but we never had to worry about transportation to and from the beach.
If you’re wondering about the water temperature– it was magnificent. We spent hours frolicking in the waves and swimming out into the deeper areas.
This beach was remarkably calm throughout the duration of our stay. We shared our time with about 25 other vacationers– locals and tourists alike. The western tourists were exclusively from Europe- Russia, Germany, France, Holland, etc.
There were also several lovely beach cafes right on the sand. The food was sub-par, but the view and service were remarkable.
Overall, our Alappuzha food experience was bland. We ate at 4 different establishments and were unsatisfied with them all. Kerala is famous for its beef and seafood but for whatever reason both types of meat were largely unavailable while we were there.
Positive Note: The fresh juices and smoothies were memorable and delicious.
Day 2: Our Backwater Canoe Adventures
The next morning– after a long night of mosquito warfare– my friends and I prepared for our backwater excursion. Alappuzha is famous for its beautiful rivers and canals. The manager of our hostel arranged a canoe for us to view the river. Most of my friends accepted. Anecia and I opted to wander on foot.
Let’s start with the good and work our way to the bad.
The Good: The backwaters are absolutely gorgeous. The water is a subtle green color, community members navigate from place to place in small row boats, coconuts are abundant, and people are beyond friendly.
The Bad: Since winter is ending, it was unbelievably hot. Fortunately, the riverbank was shaded by trees. But many of the dock platforms lack proper coverings. Had we not been pragmatic about our sun exposure we probably would have passed out. In addition, the government ferry does not run on any discernable schedule. It also does not stop at every docking station. I’m sure that there is a pattern– but there are no signs to direct non-locals. Anecia and I ended up stranded at a docking station for upwards of 2 hours. She documented the entire experience in her travel vlog available here.
Despite our unfortunate circumstances, we actually had a pretty nice time. After we resigned to the fact that our specific ferry was never coming, we walked along the bank of the river and caught another. It turned out to be one of the best Alappuzha travel hacks of all time.
Tip: Don’t pay the exorbitant rate for a canoe ride (they won’t let you row anyway). Hop on the government ferry, snatch a window seat, and ride to your heart’s content. You’ll see the backwaters and you’ll only pay 4 rupees each way. Added bonus: kids ride free!
Day 3: Munnar- A Different Kind of Paradise
My friends and I drove to Munnar in the middle of the night. We wanted to stretch out our time in Alappuzha.
Little did we know, Munnar was waiting to take our breath away.
Munnar is a 4-5 hour drive from Alappuzha. Because it is a mountain town, we opted for a car instead of a nerve-wracking bus ride (you wouldn’t believe how fast those buses turn corners.)
My friends and I stayed in a highly rated homestay called, Lizmerry Casa. The room and board were a little pricey, but the service was exemplary and the rooms were clean and comfortable.
It’s customary for the host of your lodging in India to refer you to a trusted contact for sightseeing. You’re welcome to arrange things on your own– but the process is much more stressful and time-consuming. Our hosts arranged for us to travel with a family friend named Jills (all-time favorite) and thus began our jeep adventure…
Who knew that one car would give us so many hours of fun!
I’ll admit it. I was a jeep skeptic. I thought it was too expensive. And it was rather pricey.
We ended up paying Jills 3000 rupees/day + tip (500 per/person).
HERE’S WHY IT WAS WORTH EVERY PENNY:
- We never felt like any destination was too far (we were charged a flat rate and didn’t need to worry about km)
- When we were hungry, Jills made sure that we didn’t solicit any overpriced, tourist restaurants
- Jills was more than a driver. He was a guide. He knew his way around Munnar like the back of his hand. We were never lost or idle.
- We were always warned when we were about to waste our money or enter an unsafe area.
- After we completed our itinerary, Jills started taking us to places that he thought we would like to see (none of which required entrance fees)
Day 4: Our Final Hours
We booked evening flights back to Hyderabad so we only had 5-6 hours left in Munnar. We wanted to visit the spice farms and waterfalls.
We ended up visiting a paid waterfall. WORST DECISION EVER.
Thank God we were with Jills. Without him, we would have had to pay 100 rupees per camera. We decided to just take my Canon and leave the others in the car.
Pro Tip: Many tourist attractions charge two separate camera fees. There will be one price for a “point and shoot” camera and another price for “professional” cameras. The professional camera charge is usually 2-3x more expensive than the other. How do you get around this rule? TAKE YOUR LENS OFF! Ticket sellers almost always associate large lenses with “professional” cameras. Take your lens off while they examine your camera and then put it back on once you get inside.
Don’t get me wrong, the waterfall was pretty (though very underwhelming) but it was massively overpriced. The price did include a guided walk through the gardens.
There were beautiful flowers blooming. They even let us pick some lemongrass.
After the waterfall, we stopped at a popular spice farm (I stayed in the car) and then took the scenic route to the airport.
10 Things to Note about Kerala-
- Cards are seldom accepted. International cards are even more difficult to use. Make sure you have cash.
- Lodging is relatively affordable- and there are many, many options to choose from.
- Transportation is noticeably overpriced.
- There are dozens of paid attractions that have free equivalents. Munnar is very fond of entrance fees-it’s heavily trafficked by tourists- but there are almost always free equivalents nearby.
- Toddy (coconut wine) should only be purchased and consumed early in the morning when it fresh. It ferments throughout the day and tastes like vinegar after a while.
- Never pay to see a waterfall. Trust me.
- All day jeep rental might seem like an unnecessary luxury, but it is the preferred method of travel for locals and tourists alike. The mountains are very steep in Munnar and I felt most secure in a vehicle with suspension and 4-wheel drive.
- Kerala does not have any bars (except in 5-star hotels). If you want alcohol, you must wait in a 50-60 person queue at a government regulated booth. This is a male dominated sphere. As a lady, I was gawked at when I approached the booth. Just hold your head high and move with confidence. That’s the best advice I can give.
- Also, there is a 5 beer maximum per person. Liquor does not flow freely in this state. There are… certain… places you can go to get around this rule. But be prepared to pay 5x more than usual.
- Research restaurants before you go. Service is horribly slow, menu items are regularly unavailable, and staff has no knowledge of ingredients. (Don’t blame it on the language barrier. They really just don’t know)
Thanks for reading! Check in later this week to see details on my weekend road trip to Goa!