When you’re planning a trip to India, it can be difficult to know where to go because the country is so large and there’s so much variation between its regions. If you can only pick one area to visit, make it Kerala. This state in south-west India is very varied, which means it’s a great place to explore to get a flavour of numerous aspects of India’s culture. It’s also a wonderful option if you’re travelling in a group of people with different interests, as there should be something to keep everyone happy.

Natural Kerala

Undoubtedly one of Kerala’s strengths is its stunning natural landscapes and these are certainly worth discovering during your time. As it’s on the coast, there are some wonderful beaches – think golden sands and palm-lined shores. The beaches around Kovalam are a good starting point, with many little coves to enjoy here. As well as its coast, Kerala has some striking inland areas and one that you shouldn’t miss is Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. This reserve is home to some of India’s most exotic animals, including elephants and tigers. Spend a day or two here and you can take walks through its unspoilt jungles, looking out for wild boars, porcupines, flying squirrels and numerous birds as you stroll.

Cultural Kerala

Life in Kerala moves at a slower pace than you may be used to, especially in the state’s rural areas. The best way to get to grips with this side of the region is to go on a cruise in its backwaters. This will typically involve staying on a houseboat that’s been converted from a traditional rice barge, and will allow you to visit remote riverside communities that predominantly rely on farming and fishing for their livelihoods. Stopping at some of these settlements and interacting with the villagers will give you an amazing insight into how these people have lived for centuries. It’s incredible to visit their homes and see how they farm the land around them.

Historical Kerala

Like much of India, Kerala was once under European rule and nowhere is this more apparent than in the city of Kochi. In fact, Fort Kochi is the oldest European settlement in India, having first been established in 1500 and occupied by the English, Dutch and Portuguese. There are several sites worth visiting here, including the Mattancherry Palace, which was originally built by the Portuguese before being modified by the Dutch, the city’s synagogue and the Tripunithura Hill Palace, which was once the residence of the local Maharajas.

Foodie Kerala

Another thing Kerala shares with the rest of India is incredible food, and you’ll certainly enjoy sampling some of the local dishes as you travel around the state. It’s possible to arrange an Indian cooking class during your stay – especially if you’re travelling with a company like Explore Worldwide – where you can learn the secrets of the local cuisine. It isn’t just food that Kerala is good for, though, as the state is also home to numerous tea plantations. It’s worth stopping at one of these for a few hours to marvel at the rows upon rows of tea bushes and to sample some of the teas that are produced here.

Relaxing Kerala

While the natural scenery in Kerala is probably enough to soothe you, there are other ways of totally unwinding on a holiday here, one of which is to indulge in a traditional Ayurvedic treatment. Ayurveda has been practiced as a healing treatment in Kerala for centuries, with this tradition unbroken by the various occupations and invasions the state has endured. There are many Ayurveda health centres in Kerala that you can visit if you’d like to learn more or have a treatment.