India is one of those places that so many people dream of visiting. However, that dream often dies when children come on the scene. Everyone says “NO, you can’t go to India with kids!” Actually, you can. I won’t lie, a trip to India will be challenging, but it will fill your heart and soul like no other place on earth. Kerala, in the South of India, is a wonderful mellow introduction to India for the whole family.
From lazing on beautiful beaches, hiking in mountainous tea plantations to exploring the jungle and cruising the backwaters, a trip to Kerala is a dream for outdoor families. Without massive highways or crowded cities to contend with, a visit to South India can be full of quiet serenity, which is usually not synonymous with travel in India!
1. Relax on the Beach
One of the most difficult parts of traveling to Kerala for most families will be the flight. Unless you live in Asia, flights are long and the jet lag can be tough. Start your trip with a few days of relaxation at one of Kerala’s beautiful beaches to wash away the travel exhaustion. Try Kovalam for family friendly resorts or Varkala for a more laid back hippy vibe.
2. Cruise the Backwaters
The quintessential Kerala experience is going back in time by cruising the many waterways that line the backwaters. Float through the day watching the lush palm-fringed landscape go by, searching for wildlife, while taking in traditional village life as you pass by. Cruising the backwaters is one of the most tranquil things you can do in India. Yes, even with kids! Take a small canoe adventure out into the tiny waterways to get a closer look at the waterway’s local schools and daily life.
3. Search for Tigers in Periyar
Periyar National Park is one of the most popular national parks in southern India. The main excursion is a slow boat ride (packed with locals) through the artificial lake searching for wild animals on the shores. While tiger sightings are rare, there are an abundance of other animals to see. While this is not the most serene way to see the park, it can be a fun excursion for animal lovers.
In addition to the boat tours, there are a range of eco-tourism activities that allow you to really get out and explore the jungle. These include hikes through the forest with reformed poachers, bamboo rafting, jungle patrols at night, bullock cart rides and tribal heritage visits. Jungle treks are restricted to children 12 years and above, however there are small walks that children of all ages can participate in directly outside of the official fence line of the park.
4. Trek Among Tea Plantations
Staying high in the hills of Munnar, you can get first hand views on how tea is grown, processed and sold. There are ample opportunities for trekking through the steep tea plantations with visits to local waterfalls and tea shacks tucked away in the mountains. Hire a local guide who will teach you about the different teas as well as the medicinal plants that grow wild through these cool and misty hills.
5. Tour a Spice (& Rubber Tree) Plantation
Arouse your senses in Kumily with a walk through beautiful and fragrant spice plantations to learn more about the growing, harvesting and processing of spices. The peeling and drying of cinnamon, and the painstaking task of hand-pollination of vanilla can be seen, as well as the labor intensive picking of cardamom seeds. Look out for trees with plastic bags hanging on the trunk – these are rubber tree plantations. Stop and check them out if you can, they are fascinating!
6. Explore the Jewish Quarter of Fort Cochin
Known as the “Gateway to Kerala”, Cochin has had eclectic influences throughout it’s history. Arabs, British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese have all left their mark on this quaint town. One of the most vibrant is the old Jewish Quarter that can only be reached by walking through myriad of shops and roadside stalls. Ignoring the sellers, look for small details on the buildings showcasing the Jewish history of this area.
7. Let the Littles Drive a Rickshaw
Totally not legal in your home country, but as you will see India’s rules are often flexible! There are an abundance of very friendly, kid loving auto drivers in Fort Cochin who will let your little sit up front and pretend to drive (actually steer!). The kids will have a blast doing something they have never dreamed was possible. The grown ups will sit in the back envious that they can’t do the same. Enjoy being shown around town by your novice rickshaw walla!
8. Go Fishing
A must do in Cochin is a visit to the Chinese Fishing nets. It is fascinating watching the fisherman maneuver the huge nets which date back to 1400 AD. The nets operate on a system of balance and counterbalance and is extremely labor intensive. Rather than just observe from a distance, walk right up to experience it yourself. For a small fee, the fishermen will let you help hoist up the nets or drop them down depending on the time of day. The workers are great sources of information as well about the history of the nets and their daily fish catch.
9. Catch a Kathakali Performance
Kathakali is an ancient form of theater and dance that is traditional to Kerala. The movements of the dance are subtle, think eye movements, yet tell a meaningful mythological story. The performers are required to undergo intense training, including hours of eye exercises when learning the art of Kathakali.
The performers begin preparing their makeup hours before the show each night. Arrive early to watch the transformation from regular person to Kathakali performer happen before your eyes. Often the performers will also allow a quick peak behind the stage to see the various costumes that will be presented later. This is a mesmerizing event that is worth the price and touristic feel.
10. Get Dizzy on the Playground
Let kids be kids with some downtime at the old school playground in the center of Fort Cochin. This all metal playground with several versions of the merry-go-round, swings and the giraffe slide will keep the kids happy for a while. Bring the mosquito bands in early morning or late afternoon as there are lots!
Kerala may not be known for the traditional images of India, colorful orange and red sari’s flowing through dry barren fields or the Taj Mahal, but it is encapsulated with beauty and represents an India that you may never have known existed. With it’s lush hill stations (towns), jungles and beautiful beach resorts, Kerala will leave a lasting impression on little (and big!) travelers long after they depart.
Have you been to India? Would you take your kids there? Tell us what you think about Kerala with Kids.
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