Planning Our Kerala Trip
We’d wanted to visit Kerala for a long time. 2017 was going to be the year… until we stumbled on flights to Colombia during the second biggest Carnival in the world; Barranquilla. Off we went to Colombia and our trip to Kerala was put on the back burner yet again.
When it was time to plan our 2018 Winter holiday, Kerala was at the top of our list again and this time we meant business as we started to plan our itinerary, nothing was going to sidetrack us (look, squirrels!).
Deciding Where to Visit
Our usual planning consists of reading lots of blogs, consulting lots of books and magazines, asking around and reading around. Planning for our Kerala trip was no different, we made lists of all of the places that kept cropping up in our reading and recommendations. We made itinerary after itinerary. All of the usual places and activities were there, a houseboat on the backwaters and a train journey, some wildlife. Cochin, Kovalam, Trivandrum for cities, heritage and beaches. Munnar and Thekkady for hill stations, National Parks and wildlife. Temples and culture were a must too. We were sure we’d both love the food, we were really looking forward to some great meals. So many places to see and things to do, and only 18 days to do it all in.
Once or twice we came across blogs and articles that extolled the virtues of North Kerala over the more popular South. We looked at the map again and realised that some of the things we’d found mentioned were actually in Northern Kerala. As we read we realised that North Kerala had everything we wanted and more, the area is more compact, the beaches quieter and the people just as welcoming and there’s still plenty to see and do. So that was it, North Kerala it was.
Overnight Train Journey
Initially, we wanted to book a flight from Birmingham to Mumbai, travel down the coast on the overnight train and start our Kerala holiday with a few days near Kannur at a homestay we had identified on a lovely beach. After a few days relaxing, we’d travel to Wayanad into the hills before dropping down to Cochin to either take the train back to Mumbai or fly home from Cochin.
Sadly it wasn’t to be. My workplace wasn’t fast enough getting back to me with confirmed holiday dates, so by the time my holiday was confirmed, all of the seats on the flight we wanted had been sold. We opted for plan B. Plan B was the not quite so convenient flight to Cochin from Heathrow, travelling a shorter distance up the coast to Kannur and from there to Wayanad and back to Cochin. Beach to hills, to town, we hoped we’d covered all the main bases.
Planning our Itinerary
We normally book accommodation with a variety of sites and sometimes directly with the hotel or hostel too. In this instance, we booked all of our accommodation via booking.com before we left the UK However we used the option to have a free cancellation so we could change our plans if we wanted to. Because our first rail journey was just a few hours after landing and we knew we’d be tired, we booked those tickets before leaving too.
Learning from our Colombian adventure, we thought we’d benefit from a few days rest and relaxation on a beach after landing before moving up into the hills for a while, finishing in Cochin ready to fly back home. We struggled to find much useful information about travelling up to Wayanad from Kannur. We knew that the trains mainly travelled north/south not east/west, so buses would be our main option. Most of the information on travel websites suggested getting a taxi or hiring a car and driver. We weren’t really interested in taking a taxi; we know all of the arguments about public transport being subject to delays or cancellation or that it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient but we really enjoy it; it’s part of our holiday and we weren’t easily dissuaded. Although we weren’t averse to hiring a car and driver, we were aware that doing so would mean we’d need to be a bit more sure about where we wanted to go than we were, it would also put pressure on us to be actually doing stuff a lot of the time to keep the driver busy, that’s not really our style of travel.
Eventually, we found the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation website and timetable, but there didn’t seem to be any buses from Kannur to Kalpetta. The best options seemed to be either to leave from Kozhikode, which we’d already passed through on the train to Kannur or catch a bus to Mananthavady and change for Kalpetta. The first option was simpler and easier, we knew we could get a train to Kozhikode from Kannur, then all we’d need to do was to find the bus station and a suitable bus. We’d also found that there was a much more expensive private bus leaving from Kozhikode later that day. We reasoned that if we were unable to catch a state bus, we could try to catch the private bus. The Mananthavady option involved 2 buses, therefore, more unknowns. We elected for the Kozhikode option.
We tried to open an account and book tickets but failed miserably, our credit and debit cards failed each time we tried to register on the site. There was no option but to wait until we were ‘on-the-ground’ and take it from there. If all else failed we’d take that dreaded taxi.
Places to Stay
Many of the beaches in Kerala are picture book perfect. Long swathes of creamy or white sand, fringed with coconut palms. But often the sea is too rough to swim, so we chose our first port of call very carefully.
We chose Beach n Bay homestay right next to Kizhunna Beach. Kizhunna beach is around 10km north of Kannur and easy to get to. It’s part of a long chain of beaches, none of which get particularly busy. We were assured that Kizhunna was particularly quiet and also usually safe for swimming. We hoped to be able to attend a Theyyam ceremony while we were at Kizhunna.
We booked to stay in Kizhunna Beach for 4 days before heading up-country to Kalpetta, the capital of the hill area called Wayanad. There we’d booked a stay in Trekking Trails Eco Lodge, for a couple of days before moving even further up-country to Sultan Bathery to Three Roots Stay. While in the Wayanad area we hoped to see some tea and coffee plantations, do a little walking and maybe a visit to the National Parks. Most of all we wanted to see some local life, people watch and just enjoy the place.
For our final destination, we decided to drop back down to the coast and into Cochin. Staying at a small hotel called Fort Bridge View, right in the heart of the historic city. We aimed to spend our final few days exploring the city and taking in some of the sights of this cultural fusion of a city before flying home from Cochin.
All of the bookings were either refundable until the last moment or not pre-paid, so we lost very little in flexibility but gained some peace of mind. All of the ‘not pre-booked’ stages were researched so that we knew they existed, even if we couldn’t book them. Nothing else was booked although we had a good idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see when we got there.
So the itinerary’s complete, time to set the plan in motion…