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Exploring India: Kerala

If there is one place that embodies the slogan 'Incredible India' to perfection, that has to be Kerala. This is a lush, exuberant region that never fails to impress visitors, whether they are Indian tourists, backpackers on their gap year, or newlyweds on their honeymoon.

In its 15,000 square miles, Kerala is packed with mesmerising landscapes that range from thick jungles and extensive mangroves to some of the best-rated beaches in the world. And if that wasn't enough, Kerala is also dotted with colourful markets, huge spice and tea plantations, and historic cities that can keep you entertained for days on end. To put it in a nutshell, Kerala has it all, whether you are after a relaxing beach holiday or an exciting adventure in one of the most vibrant Indian regions.

What to See and Do

With its charming colonial buildings and lovely seaside setting, Kerala's capital is a great starting point for first-time visitors. Trivandrum is known for being a green city where lush urban parks offer a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the evening, take the local bus to Kovalam, just a few miles away from Trivandrum, and join the locals who come here to enjoy some truly spectacular sunsets.

Cosmopolitan Kochi is another fascinating metropolis worth visiting. High rises line the waterfront creating a very distinctive skyline. Take a boat tour along the islands just off Kochi for the best views of the city. Kochi is also the place to indulge in luxurious Ayurvedic spa treatments or to shop until your drop in the local shopping centres.

Fishing boats at Vizhinjam harbor, Trivandrum

Fishing boats at Vizhinjam harbor, Trivandrum

Beaches and Outdoor Adventures

If palm-fringed, picture-perfect beaches are your idea of paradise, Kerala will captivate you with its 340 miles of stunningly beautiful beaches. Some recommendations include:

- Varkala, a vast expanse of golden sand beaches that is great for surfing
- Kannur, a remote beach known for its laid back atmosphere
- Bekal, which stands out for its dramatic coastal scenery
- Marari, where the main things to do are swimming in crystal-clear waters and chilling out under coconut trees.

For a change of scenery, you can head inland towards Kerala's hill stations, get lost in the dense forests of Wayanad, or explore Kerala's wildest side at Thekkady's Tiger Reserve.

One of Kerala's stunning beaches

One of Kerala's stunning beaches

Eating Out 

Kerala is home to some superb and incredibly varied Indian food. Some must-try dishes include kaddala curry (a creamy, black chickpea curry eaten for breakfast and served with coconut cakes), kallumakkaya (a delicious mussel stir fry teeming with flavourful spices), and fish molee, a local coconut curry specialty. Have a sweet tooth? Try the local mango pudding, roasted acorn squash, or the ada pradhaman, a scrumptious cashew, coconut, and cardamom concoction.

A man cooking over an open coal fire

A man cooking over an open coal fire

These are just some reasons to visit India and to head straight for Kerala, the jewel of India and a fantastic destination that you must include in your gap year.