Athirapally waterfalls

Backpacking in the Backwaters of Kerala, India

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The waterways and coast of Kerala are filled with plenty to amaze and absorb travellers.

A relatively small state of India, Kerala nevertheless has plenty to offer the backpacker who wants to spend time among tropical greenery and exotic wildlife. Situated on the lush Malabar Coast of south-western India, Kerala is well-known for its eco-tourism offerings, bustling fishing communities and traversable canals, and older backpackers arranging travel insurance over 70 will do well to make long term plans, because there is plenty to fill weeks or even months of travelling if you’re up to it.

soorya houseboatBoating in the backwaters

The backwaters of Kerala, a chain of lagoons and lakes interconnected by canals, are among the biggest drivers of travellers to the state. There are plenty of opportunities to take a cruise with local providers, particularly in the town of Alleppey, which is known as the “Venice of the East” for the miles of canals that provide a unique way of exploring the town. In August, the backwaters also play host to the annual Snake Boat Race, which regularly attracts hundreds of participants in colourfully-decorated canoes.

Kerala has a predominantly tropical climate, with flora and fauna to match: depending on where they travel, visitors can expect to see crocodiles, flying squirrels and Indian porcupines. It is recommended to make some time in your backpacking schedule to visit one of the state’s numerous conservation areas for the rare opportunity to see Bengal tigers, lion-tailed macaques and Indian sloth bears.

Getting about in the towns

The state of Kerala is very densely populated, even by India’s standards, with villages that line almost the entirety of the coastline – this makes sticking to the coast a good strategy if you’re worried about finding a place to stay for the night. Elephants are a common sight on the highways, and coastal trekkers may wish to pay a visit to the elephant sanctuary at Guruvayur, which keeps several dozen elephants which are regularly painted in bright colours for religious ceremonies.

elephant in Kerala, India

Although Kerala’s coast tends to be more village than sand, Varkala Beach offers a tranquil escape for the crowds, and is regularly visited for the water spouts and spas that line the cliffs adjacent to the Arabian sea. According to local belief, a dip in the waters here washes away all the sins of one’s life.

There are many religious festivals in Kerala and even if you’re only there for a few weeks, it’s likely you will see at least one. The biggest festival is Onam, the harvest festival, which falls between August and September and lasts for ten days. Expect to see plenty of dancing in the streets, energetic outdoor ball games and feasting while the festival takes place.

Five things not to miss in Kerala

  • Travelling in a houseboat along miles of canals
  • Exploring Fort Kochi, an ancient fishing port with stunning Jain temples
  • Enjoying the view at the Athirappilly Waterfalls
  • Getting close to elephants and tigers at Periyar National Park
  • Taking a dip in the waters on Varkala Beach

Athirapally waterfalls

For more great places to go backpacking in this part of the world check out the Asia Destinations page or the Top Backpacking Destinations Facebook page

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