India is resuming international flights next week, which means a glut of new adventures are opening up in time for summer.
The world's seventh biggest country has been closed to mass tourism for two years since the pandemic struck. But from 27 March, all regularly-scheduled international flights will take to the air again.
There are so many directions to chose from, but the southern state of Kerala should be at the top of any traveller’s list.
Nicknamed ‘God’s own country’, Kerala has a luscious tapestry of land and waterscapes. Home to mind-blowing beaches, national parks and green valleys, the region is most famous for its rambling backwaters, a labyrinth of canals, lagoons and lakes that form a unique ecosystem for the state's often endangered wildlife.
“If you have a one week trip, you’ll be able to experience each and every natural aspect of Kerala,” says V. R. Krishna Teja Mylavarapu, Director of Kerala Tourism.
We’ve pulled together the practicalities, as well as some of our favourite natural spots, so that you can enjoy the holiday of a lifetime in this sensational part of India.
What are the latest travel restrictions for India?
Regular flights to India are now resuming from UK and EU countries, after a period of suspension due to COVID-19.
A limited number of flights between India and the UK had continued thanks to a bilateral agreement between the two governments. But as the schedule re-starts, there will now be many more options and budgets to chose from.
All passengers must submit a self-declaration form via the “Air Suvidha” portal before travelling and must also upload a negative PCR test.
This test must be taken within 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers must also upload a declaration to the portal - confirming the information they have provided is true.
What happens when I arrive in Kerala?
All passengers will undergo thermal screening on arrival in Kerala. If discovered to be symptomatic, you will be taken for a Coronavirus test at a medical facility.
Fully vaccinated visitors can leave the airport and are only required to self-monitor for 14 days.
Full information about travel restrictions to and from Kerala can be found here.
Silent Valley National Park
Kerala is home to five distinct national parks, but our favourite is Silent Valley. Covering
89.52 sq km of land in the Nilgiri Hills, the park is covered in tropical evergreen rainforest - an increasingly rare ecosystem.
Tropical rainforests are rich in animal and plant life, including the endangered lion-tailed macaque and the hairy-winged bat. Tigers, leopards and wild boar can also be found here and there are safari tours available to help you explore the park.
To make the most of your trip, the best time to visit is between October and February. The park is closed to visitors between March and May.
What are the best beaches in Kerala?
Kerala’s beaches are part of India’s Malabar coastline, which runs from Goa in the north, to the Western Ghats in the south.
A continuous stretch of sand dunes run along the coast, giving Kerala a number of distinctive beaches.
Kovalam has been a tourist favourite since the 1930s. This crescent-shaped bay has shallow waters and small waves, making it a safe beach for families.
Surrounded by rocks, the beach even comes with its own lighthouse, and with a long history of tourism, there are plenty of local amenities to enjoy too. These include: catamaran cruises, herbal massages, and, if you’re feeling brave, The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust where you can get up close and personal with crocodiles and tortoises.
If you’re looking for a quieter beach, Varkala may be the one for you. Here you’ll find golden sands descending from cliffs, creating a sheltered bay for sunbathing and swimming. The beach has a laid back atmosphere, perfect for enjoying the region's spectacular sunsets.
Because of its popularity with tourists, there are lots of restaurants lining the cliffs above. “All the money that you spend in Kerala is for the livelihood of the people there. It’s not like a single hotelier is benefitting, the local community is getting the benefit,” says Teja Mylavarapu.
And if you’re after something tasty, then head to Puccini Lala Eco & Wellness Resort, where you can also find small cottages to rent. For some exercise and inner peace, you can also take a yoga class in one of the many studios dotted along the beachfront.
What are the Kerala backwaters?
A remarkable series of lagoons, lakes and canals, the Kerala backwaters form 900 kilometres of interconnected waterways, stretching parallel to the Arabian sea coast. With all this water about, it’s not surprising that Kerala is also home to ‘the rice bowl of India’, Alappuzha.
Alappuzha is actually below sea level and is best explored by boat. Also known as the ‘Venice of India’, you can go on a houseboat cruise here and get to know the local way of life.
“The tourists are travelling in the same boat that the locals are travelling in. So you can experience the same as local people in the backwater area,” says Teja Mylavarapu.
Boat races are also very popular in the backwaters, with long snake-like boats - sometimes up to 30 metres long - sent whizzing down the rivers. The 2020 and 2021 races were delayed or canceled due to COVID-19, but it is hoped all races will restart in 2022.