Well-known for its proximity to the scenic backwaters of Kerala, Kochi (formerly Cochin) is a large historical coastal city in south-west India.
A seaport since 1341, Kochi has architectural influences from the times of Portuguese, British and Dutch rule and is the perfect place to start exploring Kerala from. Home to stunning beaches, Kochi is surrounded by the sloping hills of the Western Ghat mountain range and lush rice paddy fields.
If you’re planning a trip to India, exploring this city is a must. After you’ve taken in the sights at Fort Kochi, there are a number of places to visit in Kerala, all less than 160 kilometres from the city centre.
The backwaters of Kerala are a great starting point – especially the Kochi to Alleppey route. We’ve put together some other day trips you can take. Here are our top five.
Kumarakom Backwaters: 48 kilometres from Kochi
Original photo: Sanjoy Ghosh
No Kerala trip is complete without a visit to the backwaters. While Kochi to Alleppey is the most-travelled route, the more remote area of the backwaters is the area surrounding Kumarakom.
Perched on the edge of Lake Vembanad, explore this area by houseboat for the ultimate Keralan experience. The web of islands, streams and blue waters surrounding this tree-lined lake has been ranked as one of National Geographic’s destinations of a lifetime.
Imagine sitting on a narrow wooden boat, tall coconut trees to your right and the gentle sound of the water rushing past you.
The boat turns and you head toward a small mangrove, where the trees are bowed over, dipping their leaves into the sparkling water. Monkeys call to one another in the trees above you. The sunlight dances across the water as the bow breaks the flat surface, sending ripples toward the boat.
It takes just over one hour by car to get to the backwaters of Kerala from Kochi. Public transport is reliable, with the option of a bus ride to the village of Kumarakom.
Athirappilly Falls: 66 kilometres from Kochi
Original photo: Ponraj Krishna Pandi
Take a day trip to the largest waterfall in the state. Athirappilly Falls is a top place to visit in Kerala. The waterfall cascades down 24 metres into the Chalakudy River, with a dramatic roar as it meets the pool below.
Athirappilly Falls can be experienced from above or below. After the monsoon season in Kerala (after October) the waterfall will be at its most dramatic. It’s spine-tingling watching the waters swirl around the pool beneath the falls. The wet Kochi weather causes water levels to rise and unpredictable currents make the pool dangerous for swimming all year round.
For a more adventurous day trip from Kochi, this can be added to a hike through the forest. As the tallest waterfall in Kerala, seeing this beauty for yourself makes the drive through the frenetic Keralan roads worth it.
Thattekad Bird Sanctuary: 64 kilometres from Kochi
Also known as Salim Ali Sanctuary, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary covers an area of 25 square kilometres and is perfect for bird watching and experiencing nature. Being the first sanctuary in the state, this is one of the most popular places to visit in Kerala.
The wildlife is varied, mixed between forest and water birds. The sanctuary is also home to three different varieties of cuckoos, including the common hawk-cuckoo and the fork-tailed drongo-cuckoo – earning itself the name “cuckoo paradise”.
Kerala’s state bird, the great Indian hornbill, can be found among the waters of Thattekad, and with good Kochi weather, birds of prey might even be spotted.
The two-hour drive from Kochi is worth it – experience towering trees, water-filled landscapes and a chorus of birdsong.
For nature lovers, this place presents an idyllic break from the bustle of Kochi and a chance to spot some of the rarest birds in Kerala.
Cherai Beach: 32 kilometres from Fort Kochi
Original photo: Liji Jinaraj
Kochi is famous for its proximity to the beach and the calmer seas of West India.
Sweeping along the coast, Cherai Beach is 10.5 kilometres long. The beach is clean, with white sands, and is popular across Kerala for being a hotspot for dolphin sightings. The most popular time of year to visit is from September to May when the Kochi weather is a little cooler. The peak season is between December and February.
The clear waters are perfect for spotting the shoals of bright fish that attract dolphins to the area. The picture-perfect beach is lined with coconut trees, making this the ultimate day trip from Kochi.
Thommankuthu waterfall: 74 kilometres from Kochi
Original photo: Bimal K C
Named after Thumban, a tribal leader who died in its waters, this thundering waterfall is wider and shorter than Athirappilly Falls. Thommankuthu is located inside a luscious forest with a scenic hiking trail.
The trail runs through the forest, past the waterfall, and carries on for almost ten kilometres into the forest. The trees surrounding the pathways are home to some of Kerala’s famous wildlife, from mountain hawk-eagles and great hornbills to lion-tailed macaques.
For safety reasons, entry into the waterfall itself is strictly prohibited. It is notorious for slippery rocks and strong currents of water.
The surrounding area tops our list of places to visit in Kerala. Perched alongside the Western Ghats, there are more than enough hikes from Kochi to Thommankuthu Waterfalls to keep even the most outdoorsy of participants happy.
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Original featured photo: Mark Mrwizard