Kochi is known as the gateway to the Kerala backwaters. This historic southern Indian city that once played an important role in the spice trade still holds its authentic feel, bringing visitors to sixteenth century Fort Cochin for a glimpse back to the days of the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule.
Most visitors choose to stay in Fort Cochin as this is where you’ll get the most authentic feel. The town became quite tourist friendly with strict government rules and regulations for locals when it comes to haggling, making it the perfect start for travellers wanting to ease into the chaos of India. Another added bonus is that Kochi is quite a clean city where smoking and littering is illegal.
Whether you’re passing through the west coast or beginning your southern India adventure, Kochi is well worth the visit.
Kochi has an International airport that services flights to more countries than you might think. (Note that the airport is named Cochin on some booking sites)
Located about 45 km from Fort Kochi you can either get a pre paid taxi that will cost 1200 rupee or get a local bus (100 rupee) that will take you direct to Fort Cochin. However, this bus only runs during the day and the last bus leaves from the airport early evening.
There are 2 main train stations, Ernakulam Junction and Ernakulam Town. Many trains journey here from cities all over India. Once disembarked you will have to catch a local ferry, bus or tuk tuk into Fort Cochin.
The KSRTC Central bus station services bus routes to and from surrounding cities. This is where you can get a local bus into Fort Cochin.
Not to miss
Watch the fisherman at the Chinese Fishing Nets
Fort Cochin is famous for the dozens of Chinese fishing nets that line the shore. They are one of the most distinctive photographic images of Kerala and you can grab a snapshot right here in Fort Cochin. Watch the men do their daily fishing and even get a chance to partake in the activity. Don’t forget to leave a tip if you do.
Go on your own walking tour
Fort Cochin is best explored on foot and you can grab a walking-tour map from your hostel or one of the tourist desks located in the centre of town.
Visit the Church of St Francis, which is the first church built by Europeans in India. Walk to the gothic styled Santa Cruz Basilica built by the Portuguese in the fifteen hundreds. Take a stroll through Jew Town, home of a once thriving Jewish community back in the sixteenth century. You can spend a whole day walking and admiring the rich history of this ancient town.
Do some street photography
One wouldn’t pick Fort Cochin to be a place famous for street art but a few years ago a mystery artist, who goes by the name of ‘Guess Who’, painted Fort Kochi’s walls with Banksy like stencils to promote expressionism throughout the town. Although many of his works were torn down there are some that still remain and are well worth the search. Aside from the art however, Fort Cochin is an eccentric town to photograph and you can join a photography tour with Blitz Jaunt or With Locals.
Take a tour to the Kerala Backwaters
Many hostels and hotels offer tours to the backwaters south of Kochi. You can also book tours through the Tourist Desk in town. This is a good option if you are not planning to head to Alleppey where you can book yourself a houseboat for the night. Tours generally run from 8:30 – 6pm and include the 30km journey south, lunch in a local village and a relaxing canoe ride through the beautiful narrow canals of the Kerala backwaters. Maritime Hostel in Fort Cochin offers the tours for 850 rupees.
Other attractions & sights
See a Kathakali Performance
Kathakali is Kerala’s unique traditional form of theatre. The dances portray various stories of gods and demons using only hand and eye movements, no voices. Characters are extravagantly dressed in lavish costume and their faces painted with overstated colours. The performances can be seen at the Kerala Kathakali Centre from 6 – 7:30pm each day. If you arrive at from 5pm onwards you can watch the actors applying their makeup.
Visit the Folklore Museum
The Folklore Museum is a superb collection of old artwork, statues, artefacts and jewellery from various regions of southern India. It is a place popular for the art lovers and those who enjoy old architecture and is also a place that teaches you a lot about the history and culture of Kerala. For only 50 rupee the museum is definitely worth spending a few hours while visiting Kochi.
Visit Kashi Art Gallery
Kashi Art Café is a gallery space which hosts an airy tropical garden cafe with a restful ambiance. The gallery runs monthly exhibitions where local artists showcase their talents and the gallery also runs community workshops including art workshops for kids. Stop in to view some of Kochi’s local artists’ work or have a meal in the garden cafe. They serve all day breakfast!
Take a local ferry to Mattancherry
Mattancherry is an old district located just a ferry ride away from Fort Cochin. It maintains an eccentric, rusted feel with old, decrepit buildings lining the shore. Take a walk along the boardwalk for a less touristy view of Kochi and stop off at the sixteenth century Mattancherry Palace open every day from 10am – 5pm, except Fridays.
Food & drink
Kochi presents you with the many flavours of southern India, veg or non-veg. Being close by to the ocean here you will find a lot of seafood, including fish, mussels and prawn dishes.
There are many local restaurants throughout Fort Cochin and food is very cheap. If you want some western food then you can find a few stalls nearby the Chinese fishing nets where you can pick up a variety of pizza dishes and other Asian cuisines.
Finding anything alcoholic in Kochi is difficult as Kerala is a dry state. Most hostels no longer allow drinking after a government ban in non-licensed areas. In saying that there are still a few restaurants that serve beer and wine, just be willing to pay a higher price.
Unlike many other smaller towns in India, Fort Cochin does have a good choice of hostels for those on a backpacking budget. Both Maritime Hostel and Hostel By The Sea offer good rooms at a cheap price. There are also many homestays and guesthouses located in Fort Cochin, many which also offer free breakfast.
Most visitors opt to stay inside Fort Cochin as the main centre of Kochi is rather chaotic and much less tourist friendly.
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