• cochin, kerala

Backwaters & Back-alleys of Kochi, Kerala

I’ve spent the last week in Kerala, and got a nice dose of trying to work online with very dodgy Wi-Fi. I do guest posts and writing outside of this blog, so I’ve decided I will start sharing links to those pieces. I recently was voted 3rd place for top expat blogs in India. I did an interview with that organization about my move to India as well as featured article: Top Ten Difference Between Rural Ohio and Tropical India. Now on to Kerala!

We drove EIGHTEEN hours to get to this city, so expectations were a little high…

My boyfriend had meetings in Cochin last week and I figured I’d tag along, but I assumed this venture would be by train. After tatkal (the last minute ticket system) failed us, and flights were long gone, we realized day-of-travel that we’d have to drive for him to make his meeting. Poor planning at it’s finest. But don’t worry, I’ve got you some Kochi travel tips!

cochin kerala

cochin kerala

Pumped up on mountain dew, and the guys on booze, our driver, Babu (and friend), drove us to Pride Biznotel Emerald Hotel after what felt like an eternity in the back of a Wagon R.  The hotel itself was in an old building with marble floors and toy ships as décor. It is antique and fancy. Rooms were 2,500 with A/C, hot water, and a soft mattress. All seemed well and fine until Ben found this sign:

cochin kerala

A Little Bit About Kerala

Cochin (Kochi) is in the state of Kerala. The green jungles of “God’s own country”, range across the west coast below Karnataka & Goa.

cochin kerala

Known for its amazing sea views, Ayurveda treatments, and teak wooden houseboat tours along the backwaters, Kerala’s tourism is booming. The state has a great mix of beach and jungle, like Goa, but is a less touristy. Driving near the Western Ghats you’ll see fields of rice paddies, coconut groves, and elephants! There is a national park here and you guessed it: tigers, pythons, panthers, and monkeys to name a few.

cochin keralaphoto credit flickr

Not only boasting exquisite nature, but Kerala also maybe the most thriving state in India. Like Goa literacy rates are high as well as life expectancy, and infant mortality rates are at the lowest.

Kerala is a democratically elected communist state. You’ll see the red communist flags all the roads. It may seem strict, but at the same time, Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” is BLASTING from the street-side speakers. Although blossoming in some areas, Kerala has the highest liquor consumption and suicide rates.

cochin kerala

cochin keralaYou can see the red flags in the photos above & the women cooking over coals on the street side.

Points of Interest:

Fort Cochin, Mattencherry Palace, Chinese fishing nets, Jewish quarter & synagogue, St. Francis Church, Dutch Cemetery

cochin kerala

All of these are near to each other. I discuss all these attractions over on it’s own post: Fort Cochin. (To be honest, Kochi is a crowded yet small city that after seeing Fort Cochin area, I agree with the guidebooks that it’s time to move on. Although being less touristy, prices on luxury hotels are the cheapest we’ve seen in India. We’ll be coming back often for Ben’s job, so I’m sure I’ll find more to tell you about Kochi.) Kochi is often advised as only a 1-2 day stopover hub. After spending three days there before headed on to Kovalam beach, I agree.

The Famous Houseboats

cochin keralaphoto credit flickr

You can take these vintage houseboats from Kochi, but better to head on down to Alappuzha (Alleppey) These waterways used to be the roads for the city. Houseboats can be luxurious and expensive even though only rice barges. If you pick the right boat tour you will meet locals and walk through the villages. Staff will cook local food for you and make everything comfortable for you sleep aboard. I haven’t got to do this yet, but plan to soon!

I had planned to go on the backwaters my first trip to India, but skipped it because it seemed like it would be lonely to do solo. I think it will be better with a group of friends, family, or significant other to go with!

Kochi Journey Tips (and Kerala)

  • Like the rest of India, men here hold hands and walk arm and arm as a sign of a close friendship. I’m used to this and have seen it all over India. It isn’t as prevalent in Goa, a place that has been so westernized, so it was refreshing to see again! Ben’s friends lived in Kerala for a year and while reunited with old friends they hold his hand the whole time they talk to one another.
  • It’s much more conservative in Kochi than Goa. Best not to wear shorts here. I spent three hours at the brand new mall and never saw another foreign tourist. Needless to say, a few people wanted photographs, and a handful of teenage boys followed me around for the first half hour.

cochin keralaIt can be confusing what is acceptable when girls have midriffs and cleavage showing on the regular (like the girl on the top right)! Here’s a guide for how to dress in India as a woman.

  • Ayurveda massages come from Kerala. I recommend either a four-hand massage or a Shirodhaha massage where they continuously drizzle oil on your forehead (third eye). If you have health problems, this is a great place to seek out holistic cures. I personally am waiting until Kovalam for a nice beachy massage.
  • Keralans and Tamils wear Lungis. These are little wraps to let the men feel the breeze in this extreme heat (it was HOT in Kerala). Not only are they worn by construction workers, and the everyday man, but even in Lulu Mall I saw them on mannequins in expensive stores. Obviously, we bought a few. When Ben lived in Kerala he used to rock a lungi.

cochin keralaphoto credit flickr

  • Lots of food in Kerala involves cocout milk and cashews. The most popular dish according to our Keralan friend is the fish fry. It’s SPICY! Of course there is seafood, curries, and juices. My favorite street food was the egg puff and my preferred western food was when I found imported hotdogs!

cochin kerala

cochin kerala

  • High season is November to March. Obviously prices will be higher, but well… the monsoon won’t be happening… Trust me, I’ve stayed through one:  although beautiful it’s not a good travel time. Everything will be closed.
  • Keralans speak Malayalam. Goans speak Konkani. You might be surprised to know each state has it’s own language in India (over 500 altogether!) and some people can’t even speak Hindi. Technically Hindi and English are the languages used in Parliament. Translating here was really hard for us! Our driver could barely communicate when we got lost. On an eighteen hour drive with dead cell phones (so no maps) you can bet we got lost a couple times.
  • Like Goa, there is a Portuguese influence (as well as Dutch!). I recommend taking time to wander through the streets for some photographs.

cochin keralaphoto credit flickr

cochin kerala

  • The police are quite strict. At bars we hide our beers. Strangely, while babu and I were walking along Fort Cochin we were stopped with a series of questions. After later telling my boyfriend about it, we all agree they presumed Babu and I were either up to something or I was in need of help. After questioning all was fine, but it was made clear we were going to continue to get more questions when the two of us went out together. (There is a taxi drive strike in Goa so we couldn’t admit Babu was a driver; he was “an employee for my environmental company…) You just don’t see a lot of western girls with Indian men here. The thought of being questioned in Goa is laughable!
  • For all you expats missing home: there are two KFC’s in town, a Subway, and a Pizza Hut. The two main shopping malls are Oberon and the brand new LuLu’s, the latter which has a McDonalds and Costa’s Coffee.

Any Kochi travel tips I should know for next time?If you’re headed toward Kerala, check out this articles on how to Backpack Kerala, the best thing to do in Kochi, tips for the tea fields in Munnar, and adventure in Varkala.


About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Marijs November 6, 2014 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    Hey! It’s great to find a blogger who is living in India. Look foward to going through your blog. Do you have any recommendations to stay in Kochi? It’s our first couple of night in India (and the first time there) so would like to stay somewhere where we can relax a bit from the busy city. Would you recommend the area around the fort Kochi or are there cooler, hipper areas?

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      In Kochi I always stay on Marine drive where its nice and quiet, but there backpacker area is Fort Kochi so that’s where you’ll meet people. MG road is crazy don’t stay near there. But if you want to relax and do some shopping, maybe stay near lulu mall so you can get western goodies. My boyfriends company has an apartment in Marine Drive so I’m not sure on hotels

  2. Mithun Paulose December 13, 2014 at 2:24 am - Reply

    Hey , thank you for this amazing article
    Every destination has a defining attraction ..
    Cochin is my home town.. I miss cochin as i live in Toronto now…
    I moved to Toronto last year…i cant express how i really miss Fort Cochin ,Mattancherry, the chinese fishing nets ….

    The culture is a bit different and yes people do ‘stare’, but its all worth it…Its god’s own country.

    • Rachel Jones December 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Mithun, Yes kochi is lovely

      • Mithun Paulose December 19, 2014 at 12:06 am - Reply

        and cochin biennale is around the corner

  3. Dana May 15, 2015 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Great post! Egg puffs look delicious. Heading to Kerala next week, hoping before the monsoon is in full swing. Have you made it out to Munnar or Thekkady yet?

    • Rachel Jones May 28, 2015 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      I haven’t made it to those yet! they are on my long mental list lol

  4. Harish May 31, 2015 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    Hey Rachel,
    I am from Mumbai, India and have never travelled much except for few regular places. I am planning to travel to Kerala and that’s how I ended up on your website. I hope to read more of your blog. I’m a freelance web developer so finally going to take advantage of my career and start travelling, first within India.
    Any tips for solo traveller who has to work while travelling?

    • Vyas June 9, 2015 at 6:28 pm - Reply

      If you are planing to visit kerala. Please do not visit allepy just for the sake of houseboat its really worst. Whereas you can find amazing picutres of houseboats in backwaters but that’s not the reality.

      I recommend do spend more time in Munnar its really super place.

      Munnar is the only place I liked in Kerala.

      Thank you

  5. Vyas June 9, 2015 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Hippie,

    We been to Allepy in the month of April 2015. Just by seeiong the fantastic backwater pictures we desiced to stay in a houseboat. And then we book fro 1 full day stay Indraprastanam Houseboat with BR & Dinin hall equiped with airconditioner. We are really excited when we saw the house boat before we boarded. Soon after we entered the hpuseboat the manger came and collected the balance amount that we are supposed to pay. and then the boat started.

    I never felt that that am in backwaters infact i felt that am ovver the sea. And the service was really worst (like A/C etc..). And after 6 he stoped bya a place where we found other houseboat fellow’s too stoped by and it was really worst place and its full of bad smell.

    I was dounted and even enquired the customers who travelled in a different houseboats serive. Even they to replied same saying its over all a bad experience.

    People should get motivated just by seeing Allepy Backwater Pictures which we found in internet. Why because the reality is different.

    What was you experience #hippie if you ever travelled in houseboat in allepy-kerala.

    And out of this . You website is really very informative and keep doing the amazing work.

    Thank you.

  6. Laura July 16, 2015 at 3:20 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,
    I can’t stop reading your blog, is amazing! I will be traveling to India in 2 weeks, and even though is monsoon season and I read about it my traveler fellow wants to visit both Goa and Kerala area. I already read your post about Goa (great info, thanks!), but what about Kerala? is everything closed then? :( we already have our flight from Cochin to Varanasi so for sure will go there…
    Thank you!

    • Rachel Jones July 16, 2015 at 3:37 am - Reply

      yes most is closed there in popular backpacking spots like kovalam and varkala but the cities will be on like normal – you may not see any other foreigners tho!

  7. Lo January 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Hey Rachel, do you have any tips/recommendations on places that do ayurvedic massage + nutrition certification in Kerala? We’re heading to kochi, verkala and trivandrum and I’d really love to take a course!

  8. Yogesh February 11, 2016 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Which is the most happening area to stay in Kochin….I need to stay for 2 days and have a departing flight at 6 AM.

    • Rachel Jones February 13, 2016 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      Most tourists choose fort kochi, but it is 2 hours in traffic from airport. near airport is nothing too nice but is best you stay there before you leave.

  9. Anna July 28, 2016 at 2:16 am - Reply

    So happy I found your blog! I’m also a blonde who looks very American (as I am) and I find it interesting people want to take pictures with you all the time, I will report back if I have the same experience. I am headed to Kochi in late Dec/early Jan. I will be traveling alone to get there but then will be meeting up with a group of people for the remainder of my time there. If I land the night before the rest of the group, I was planning to stay at an airport hotel alone the first night, until my hotel in Fort Kochin would come pick me up the next day. The hotel has an airport shuttle… do you think that is fine if I plan to just eat dinner in the hotel (alone?) and rest in my room overnight until my ride arrives the next day? I will have had a long travel day. I’ve traveled a lot of Europe and flown internationally and stayed for a night or so alone, but have always met up with people and it was in Italy and the UK, places I’m much more comfortable.

    • Rachel Jones July 28, 2016 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Hi Anna, I think you will have the same experience with the photos :) South India though is much more relaxed than the North and you won’t get bothered as much down there. Yes I think your idea is good to stay at the airport hotel. You’ll be so tired, you’ll want to stay in your room! Most hotels do room service at no added fee. The traffic from airport to Fort Kochi is huge and it can take up to THREE hours at bad times but as quick as 45 minutes. I’ve sat in all kinds. I used to live in Kochi near Marine Drive when my boyfriend worked there!

  10. ISKANDAR February 22, 2017 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    Do u have any recommendations on how many nights to spend in a houseboat?

    I will be arriving at kochi but won’t come back to that city again since my next journey after kerala is pondicherry.

    Is it convenient to take train to pondicherry after finishing my houseboat trip?

    Thanks for your answer

    • Rachel Jones February 23, 2017 at 10:25 am - Reply

      I wouldn’t want to do more than one – but that’s a personal opinion. As for the train, I am not sure. It would be a very long journey! I would imainge you would have to go back to Kochi to catch a train to Chennai and onward – you can check the train website though.

  11. Vidyut Rautela June 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    In Kerala doesn’t matter where you are, in a beach or in hills, relaxed vibes all around… Fort Kochi but a place you can go again and again without getting bored… Have you been to Galle Fort too?

  12. Johanna January 20, 2018 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel!
    I looove your blog and it’s totally inspiring me to just go to India and go for it! :)
    I found a tefl course in Kochi, but as I’ve never been to India before I’m not sure if it’s a good first city to stay in for a month. Would you recommend Kochi? Many thanks in advance for your two cents :))

  13. A Detailed Kerala Itinerary For 3 Nights & 4 Days, 5 Days, 6 Days & 7 Days April 16, 2018 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    […] Day 04: Today leave early morning and drive to Kochi. If you have some time in hand visit Alleppey beach.  You may even go for a day of sightseeing today in Kochi. Overnight stay at Kochi. To know more about Kochi, you may read this blog on Kochi by Hippie-inheels: Backwaters & Back-alleys of Kochi, Kerala […]

  14. Brad April 28, 2018 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Hey Rachel,

    Good write ups on your travels. Just wanted to point out that…. HINDI is NOT the National Language of India. We have 22 Official Languages of which Hindi is one. Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu are the various Official languages other than English. Just FYI.


    • Rachel Jones April 28, 2018 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      I changed it from “Hindi and English are the national languages” to they are the ones “used in Parliament”. India doesn’t actually have a national language, but you’re right has 22 “official” ones.

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