Kerala (www.keralatourism.org) has the best tourism organization in India, starting with a helpful Airport Information Counter (tel. 0484/261-0115), usually open for all arrivals.
Getting There & Away
By Air -- Cochin International Airport (tel. 0484/261-0115) is one of India's best. It's located alongside National Highway 47, in Nedumbassery, which is 42km (26 miles) from the historic heart of Fort Kochi. There are flights to and from most major centers in India; international flights are mostly from the Middle East, including Dubai, Singapore, and Sri Lanka
A prepaid taxi service into the city is available at the airport; transfers to Fort Kochi should cost Rs 695.
By Train -- Kochi is well connected by rail to almost every part of India. Some of the journeys can be long and grueling, however, so check on times, or opt for train travel only within Kerala. Departing from Delhi, the biweekly (Tues and Sat) Trivandrum Rajdhani makes its way to Kozhikode, Kochi, and Trivandrum; this is one of the best connections in Kerala -- some of the journey is very scenic but it's a punishing 48 hours if you start from Delhi. For schedules, visit www.indianrail.gov.in.
Kochi has two principal commuter railway stations: Ernakulam Town Station (tel. 0484/239-0920 or -5198) and Ernakulam Junction (tel. 0484/237-5429 or -5131). The computerized reservations office is at the Junction Railway Station (Mon-Sat 8am-2pm and 2:15-8pm; Sun 8am-2pm). For reservations, call tel. 132; for status of current reservations, call tel. 1316.
By Road -- Traveling around Kerala with a rented car and driver can be wonderful and exhilarating; there's plenty of natural beauty worth taking in, and Kerala's main roads are in relatively good shape. North of Kochi, coast-hugging National Highway 17 passes through Kozhikode and runs all the way to Mangalore and Mysore in Karnataka, and on to Mumbai. Traveling south between Kochi and the capital Trivandrum (6 hr.), National Highway 47 has been resurfaced in recent years, and the highway really spreads out for the popular segment between Kochi and the backwater towns of Alleppey and Kottayam. For journeys between Kochi and Madurai, you can expect long but beautiful stretches along National Highway 49, which traverses hairpin mountain passes, or you can detour via Periyar for equally scenic views. Private and state buses connect Kochi with many cities and towns throughout South India; these provide something bordering on a theme-park experience, however, and have a reputation for thrill-ride speeds. For long-distance private bus schedules (much more comfortable and punctual) to (and from) Ernakulam, contact Kerala SRTC Office (tel. 0484/237-2033); alternatively the Karnataka SRTC (tel. 0484/236-0229) and Tamil Nadu (tel. 0484/237-2616).
By Taxi & Auto-Rickshaw -- Speak to your hotel management about the most up-to-date rates. For the most part, it's best to negotiate a mutually agreeable fare before starting off; expect to pay Rs 7 per kilometer, with a Rs 10 minimum charge; alternatively, you can offer a small-but-generous Rs 50 for an hour's sightseeing within Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. After 10pm the rate is one and a half or double. Taxicabs are reasonable (1 hr. around Rs 150) but really only useful if traveling farther afield: A one-way trip between Fort Kochi and Ernakulam shouldn't cost more than Rs 350. If you're hiring a car and driver for travel around Kerala, you should be charged no more than Rs 1,400 per day (up to 200km), plus Rs 150 per overnight halt.
Note that the bridges connecting the mainland and Fort Kochi with the islands usually charge a toll, which you will be expected to pay.
By Ferry -- The ferry is a cheap way to get to and from any of Kochi's main areas; the journey between Fort Kochi/Mattancherry and the mainland takes around 30 minutes and departs every half-hour; Willingdon lies around 15 minutes away. Ernakulam's most important jetty is the Main Boat Jetty (off Fore Press Club Rd.) for services to Willingdon Island, Fort Kochi, and Cherrai Beach; at Fort Kochi the main jetty is next to Brunton Boat Yard. High Court Jetty off Shanmugham Road, from where you can get to Bolgatty Island, is less regular since the construction of the bridge between Bolgatty and the mainland. Ferry services begin at 6am and continue until 9:30pm; fares are nominal.
Guided Tours & Travel Agents
Not a travel agency as such, but worth investigating if you haven't planned anything in advance but would like to arrange a day trip, rent a bike, or book a backwater cruise, is Traveller's Paradise (K.L. Bernard Master Road in Fort Cochin (tel. 0484/221-8633; www.bloominthenaturalway.com), a charitable initiative where all profits go towards supporting the development of local villages, helping to provide education, health benefits, and general social upliftment.
When To Go
In terms of climate, the best time to visit Kerala is between October and March. December and January are peak-season months, and many resorts charge accordingly, some even tripling their rates; if you plan to visit during this time, book well in advance. Note, however, that August is when boat races are held, and September can be really pleasant -- not too muggy, with the lakes filled with monsoon water and prices low. Rates are also favorable in April, which is temple festival time (though the heat is a little more intense, you're catching the tail end of the season, when most resorts start routine maintenance). In fact, from February to May, caparisoned elephants often take to the streets to participate in spectacular temple festivals; by far the biggest and most colorful is the Thrissur Pooram Temple Festival, which takes place at the end of April/early May, 74km (46 miles) north of Kochi. With two rival temple groups, each armed with 15 elephants and gorgeously heisted parasols, vying with each other to make their procession and fireworks display grander than preceding years, this is a photographer's dream and well worth planning a trip around. Bear in mind, however, that most hotels in Thrissur will be booked for many months in advance, so plan well ahead, and ask Babu John for assistance -- given enough warning, he can even arrange for you to witness the festival (which sees thousands of ecstatic devotees crushed into the streets around the temples -- potentially as frightening as it is thrilling) from a hotel rooftop. Thrissur is (58km/36 miles) from Kochi airport.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.