Hit the best beaches in and around Marari, go searching for lighthouses, then take a river cruise in Alappuzha. Can you see why we love a tropical vacation here?
The beaches in India were one of the most surprising things I discovered when learning more about this country. Exploring India's colorful cities, enchanting palaces, and golden temples are sometimes what comes to mind when you think about how you'll spend your vacation time here as an ILP volunteer. But, a vacation in India can also be full of sand, palm trees, snorkeling, riverboat cruises, and more if you know where you to go.
READ NEXT: India's Dreamiest Destinations
One such tropical getaway is on India's southwestern coast, known as the Alappuzha region. We're spotlighting this particular getaway option for a few reasons: it's kind of the "jewel of the south", a place to trek to lighthouses, go beach combing, take a swim, and experience a few key adventures you really can't get anywhere else ... like a river cruise down the maze of rivers here. Intrigued? Here's just a glimpse at what your trip around Alappuzha could look like!
First Off, A Little Info
We're focusing on a couple of locations found within the state of Kerala, which hugs the southwestern coast of India (and boasts some of our beachy vacations). It's a huge area, with 350+ miles of coastline along with jungly river spots inland. You can see why we're just honing on a couple of spots in this particular post — you could easily spend months traveling around this single Indian state!
But right here, we're focusing on Marari and Alappuzha (along with a couple of more southern beaches). Both areas are found just south of Kochi, one of the largest cities on the coastline. Though there is plenty to see in Kerala, this spread of destinations found in this blog post are perfect for a 3ish day itinerary. That timeline fits nicely in the vacation plans for our ILP volunteers who are living and teaching English in India for a semester (and love a good beach vacay).
Things To Do In Alappuzha
First off, you may hear this part of India referenced as Alleppey — they're the same place. Alappuzha is the Indian name, while Alleppey is the English name. Regardless of which you use, the name references a city situated right on the coast. Even though Alappuzha is found on the coast, the beaches come second to the maze-like network of rivers and canals here. Sometimes, the winding water is the only thing that cuts through the thick jungle! Taking a cruise down these tranquil waterways is the number one thing to do while you're in Alappuzha (though we'll also detail a couple of other activities for your time here).
Boat The Backwaters
Taking a river cruise down the network of lagoons and canals can't be missed when you're in Alappuzha! Whole communities are perched on the river's edge, with wider waterways serving as a kind of "highway" for boat travel. Boating down the labyrinth of rivers is both a way of traveling and a definite bucket list thing to do while in Alappuzha.
Picture a relaxing boat ride as you take in the tranquil sights of the labyrinth of backwaters. Most tours also include a traditional lunch (dishes like a veggie curry, or fish curry served with rice on a banana leaf) that adds to the atmosphere. Depending on your budget and what kind of experience you're looking for, there are a few options to choose from:
Go By Canoe: We love some of the perks of traveling by canoe. Most of them are covered (giving you a break from the scorching sun), and the smaller boat means you can navigate the more tranquil and narrower canals. These smaller waterways often give you more of a peek at local life as you slowly make your way past. Canoes are typically for groups of up to 4-6, with a driver (you won't be paddling), and are quite affordable.
If you're really really on a tight budget, some have admired the backwaters via public water taxi. It's the most affordable, but it's kind of like traveling on a major highway rather than ducking down the more quaint streets).
The Alleppey Shikara: These boats are a bit of an upgrade to the canoes, with purple velvet loungers underneath the covered longboats. These can fit anywhere from 6-22 people but only travel on the main waterways — not the smaller backwaters.
About The Houseboats: The houseboats here look pretty dreamy. These style boats are the most expensive option (by far!) and can be booked for 1-5+ day cruises on the river. They're the most picturesque option, but tend to be rather expensive (by a lot!) and are so large, they only travel the biggest waterways. Sometimes, they're prone to getting stuck in traffic jams, especially in the high season. It may be the option for you, but we'd rather admire these houseboats from a distance while navigating the quieter and more quaint waterways.
The iconic candy cane stripes of this lighthouse make it a popular place to visit, between backwater tours and trips to the beach. Built in 1862, there is now a small museum inside the lighthouse where you can admire a couple of old relics from when the lighthouse was operating. There are also 100+ steps to climb to get you to the top, which gives you a nice view of the city below and the coastline.
Picking A Few Beaches
With hundreds of miles of beaches along the coastline, we're narrowing down some fan favorites that are doable in a shorter trip in this part of India.
Plan on lots of time to unwind on this beautiful beach. You'll find a long stretch of golden sand and a line of coconut palm trees, swaying in the breeze. On one end of the beach, there's a group of little stands selling the catch of the day (nearby is a local fishing village) and fresh coconuts.
Marari beach is a little off the beaten path (most hang around the beaches closer to Alleppey) which means it's one of the area's less crowded beaches, though things can get busy around sunset, especially on the weekends.
It's a nice beach in the area, but if you can make the trip, you won't regret heading further south to places like Varkala or Kovalam.
If you want to make the trek even further south, Varkala is definitely worth it. (Find Varkala beach three hours away from Marari). This beach is sometimes touted as one of the best in Kerala, boasting absolutely stunning cliffside views, you're signing up for a day in paradise.
You'll need to venture down the staircases to access the sandy shores, but above the beach (along the cliffside) you'll find a collection of yoga studios, shops, and restaurants, and surf shops if you'd like to try surfing! You can also take a horseback ride on the beach if you'd rather.
While you're soaking up the beach, you can also visit the nearby Janardana Swami Temple, which has been around for over 2,000 years! Find it here.
Kovalam beach is around 3.5 hours south of Varkala but is a fan favorite when it comes to beaches in Kerala. The beach itself is a hot spot for water activities like snorkeling and windsurfing, along with a beautiful spread of sand for sunbathing. The lighthouse is also an attraction, same with the string of shops and restaurants (the seafood dishes here are lovely).
Other Tips For Travelers
When Should I Visit?
October to March is the prime time to vacation in Alappuzha (December/January are the best months: it's peak season in December). You'll find milder weather and clearer skies. April to June are the summer months, with high temperatures that sometimes deter tourists. It's the hottest time to visit (and low season) but if you base your days around the water, it can be a great time to visit.
Monsoon season is from July to September, with the most torrential downpours at the end of July and most of August. The rain does cool things down, but best to avoid a trip here in August.
About The Beaches Here
There are some comments about strong tides for the beaches in Kerala, so be mindful of the tide schedule when you visit (sometimes, high tide sweeps in and leaves little or no sand on some beaches).
Other beaches have a bit of a trash problem. It's less of an issue on more popular beaches, but even on the most famous, you'll likely see some trash in the water and on the shore. There is also an almost uncountable list of "wild beaches" in the area that aren't very popular and suffer from problems like more trash and those who use the beach as a toilet. Best to stick to the popular beaches which are better maintained.
Cochin airport is the nearest international airport (with plenty of flights from bigger hubs in India like Delhi). It's about a 90-minute drive from that airport to Marari beach to give you an idea of orientation. That's the best airport to arrive in though some travelers do prefer traveling by train. Alappuzha has a train station with multiple connections if you'd rather!
What's this about volunteering in India for a semester?
Yep, that's right! Hi, we're ILP (International Language Programs). For decades, we've been sending groups of college-aged volunteers to countries all over the world for humanitarian services, like teaching English.
We have volunteer locations all over, but India is one of our very favorite locations ... can't you tell? We're accepting applications now — come see if this adventure-packed and vibrant country is right for you!