High up in the lush, misty mountains of Kerala, just a stone’s throw away from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, is the beautiful town of Thekkady. Located in the Idukki District roughly 160 miles from the state capital, Trivandrum, this area is an important tourist destination in Kerala. As such, the surrounding area is loaded with remarkable things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India.
I learned during my time in Alleppey that the Idukki District is where many of India’s famous spices came from, and that they were distributed to the rest of the world via the port at Alleppey. These spices—black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg—are staples in Indian cuisine and help shape the flavors of the subcontinent. The area is also home to endless expanses of tea and coffee plantations, and you can drink some of the best tea in the world here!
Of course, Thekkady is much more than its spices. The area around the town is home to the world-famous Periyar National Park, also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve. A prime location to view and interact with wildlife, this area of the Idukki District also offers unique cultural opportunities, one-of-a-kind adventures, and some of the best south Indian food on the planet. After spending two remarkable days here, I highly recommend spending a minimum of three days to get the best experience. But without further ado, these are the 10 things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India!
Visit Periyar Tiger Reserve
The main attraction in the Thekkady area is Periyar Tiger Reserve, also known as Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. This 357-square-mile park in the south Western Ghats near the Tamil Nadu border is a nature lover’s dream. Home to hundreds of species of flowering plants and environments that range from tropical forests to grasslands to lakes and rivers, it’s no surprise that a wide range of animals can also be seen there.
The lakes and rivers of the park house roughly 40 species of fish. They include the unique Periyar trout and several species of barb. Herpetologists will delight in the number of reptiles present, which include king cobras, Malabar pit vipers, and 28 other species of snake. Two species of turtle call the park home, as well as 13 types of lizards. The park is also a great birdwatching location, as 266 species can be seen in its skies and trees.
But the main attraction for many is the 35 species of mammals, which include macaques, mongooses, Indian giant squirrels, wild boar, antelopes, Asian elephants, and rare and elusive tigers. It’s one of the best things to see and do in Thekkady, India for animal lovers!
Entry Fees and What to Expect
The bus ride that takes you into the park costs 20 rupees ($0.27 USD) for foreigners. Once you arrive at the park, it will cost you another 500 rupees ($6.68 USD) to enter. Inside the park, you have your choice of adventurous activities, including nature walks, boating, Jeep safaris, and more. If you’re going to specifically see tigers, I recommend visiting the park across multiple days. This will increase your chances of seeing one, but try not to get your hopes up. They’re so elusive that even locals can go months or even years without a sighting!
During my visit to Periyar National Park, I only had time for one activity, as I had a packed schedule. I wish I could have done more, as a 2.5-hour nature walk (1,400 rupees/$18.70 USD) and a Jeep safari (8,500 rupees/$111.38 USD for two people) would have been right up my alley.
But if you have the time, I recommend spending one day minimum in the park. Then, research the activities and add additional days depending on how much you want to see and do there. My activity of choice was visiting the gorgeous Thekkady Lake. On the morning of my visit, a cloud of mist hung over the glassy water and wafted through the trees, giving it a picturesque mystique. At the very least, visit this lake if you’re pressed for time. It’s one of the most beautiful things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India, and is well worth your time.
Stay at the Woodnote Resort
There are decent places to stay in Thekkady and then there’s the Woodnote Resort. Located in a scenic area of the Cardamom Hills, the Woodnote Resort is perfect for those who’d like to soak up a bit of luxury in-between adventures in the wild and untamed natural environments that surround it. The wonderful experience begins the moment you walk through its doors, where you are immediately greeted by the friendly staff and served some of the Idduki District’s finest spiced tea. And that’s just the beginning of why staying there is one of the top things to do in Thekkady, India.
The Woodnote Resort boasts 29 rooms and suites that vary in size and price. Any of them is more than enough for a traveler to lay their head at night. My room was a huge suite on the first floor. It boasted an entry room with a couch, rocking chair, to chairs, a TV, a desk, a stocked fridge, and a large closet. There’s also WiFi and air conditioning, so it contains all the modern comforts you could possibly need.
The separate bedroom contained three seats, a small loveseat, and my favorite, an ultra-comfortable king-sized bed! I loved the sleek, modern bathroom, which included a toilet, sink, and a super luxe shower. Unlike many other accommodations in India, the shower was attached to a tub. With a tub, you don’t have to worry about water getting all over the bathroom floor.
As if the immaculate and super clean lodgings weren’t enough, the resort has its own coffee shop. At the Central Café, you can enjoy delicious snacks, tea, and coffee in-between meals at their exceptional restaurant, Drizzle. The food there is out of this world, and I highly recommend eating breakfast and dinner there. More on that later!
If you’re looking for a modern, lavish place to relax between adventures, the Woodnote Resort is just that. It’s one of the best accommodations I’ve ever stayed at in the country and is easily one of the top things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India.
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Enjoy an Authentic Southern Indian Breakfast
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the accommodations at The Woodnote Resort, let’s dive into the taste of its breakfast food. Their onsite restaurant, Drizzle is a South Indian food paradise!
Making Dosas and Idiyappam
I got the opportunity to visit the restaurant’s kitchen and tried my hand at cooking dosas and idiyappam (also known as string hoppers). To make idiyappam, you press rice flour into noodles, add fresh coconut, and steam them with a small amount of coconut oil. Let’s just say I’m much better at eating South Indian food than I am at making it!
I enjoyed the dosas right in the kitchen with a sweet and fresh coconut chutney that contained nice chunks of coconut meat. The light and flavorful sambar was good as well, but the chutney was out of this world. It contained just enough chilies to give it a nice kick of heat. No joke, it was good enough to drink!
Idiyappam and Chicken Curry
But it was in the dining area that I got my first taste of the string hoppers, which came with a side of chicken curry. The curry contained coconut milk, a mix of various spices, curry leaves, cinnamon, and star anise. The combination of the sweet idiyappam and the savory curry was like nothing I’d ever eaten in my life. The thin, soft noodles with the fresh coconut and the creamy, meaty curry was outstanding. It was an explosion of seemingly contradictory flavors and textures, but they all worked in perfect harmony. My taste buds were in heaven!
I never thought I’d find a south Indian dish that topped dosas for me, but this dish did it for me. The idiyappam was so delicious with the curry that I almost didn’t need the chicken at all. Having this dish is easily one of the best things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India. To not try it at the Woodnote Resort would be a crime!
Bathe an Elephant
During my time in Thekkady, the amazing staff at the Woodnote Resort helped me arrange several memorable activities. One of them was the opportunity to bathe an elephant! You can take part in this activity, as well as others like a 3-hour jungle safari and Kerala and Tamil Nadu sightseeing tours, at Tusker Trail in Kumily.
Elephants can be the sweetest and most gentle animals around. Their gentle spirit was on full display as the elephant laid down right in front of me. She allowed me to brush and scrub her sides. As I brushed her, I also cleaned her with water and picked bits of dirt and insects that were stuck to her sides and back. More than once, her trunk curiously rose toward me as if she were trying to get a better sense of who I was. She was such a sweetheart and a truly beautiful and magnificent animal!
NOTE: After arriving at Tusker Trail, I became aware that they also offer elephant-related activities that are not ethical. While I enjoyed my time bathing the elephant, I also implore everyone to never engage in harmful activities like elephant riding or having an elephant bathe you with water. Just know that, if you visit Tusker Trail, your money will be supporting these practices.
See a Traditional Kathakali Performance
Without question, one of the top things to see and do in Thekkady, India is a traditional Kathakali performance. Kathakali is a form of Hindu performance art and Indian classical dance. It tells stories involving folk mythologies and religious legends. These legends have their basis in Hindu epics and the Puranan. The Puranan is a genre of Indian literature that includes myths, legends, and traditional lore.
Kathacali combines comedy, elaborate and colorful costumes, and traditional “eye dancing.” A crucial element of the performance involves the performers moving their eyes and faces in an exaggerated manner in time to live music. It can take up to six or seven years for Kathakali performers to learn to do it correctly!
I recommend going to see a Kathakali performance at Kadathanadan Kalari & Navarasa Kathakali Thekkady. All shows there cost 200 rupees ($2.67 USD) and last an hour. If you get there early, you can watch the main performer, who wears vibrant green makeup, get his costume and jewelry put on. The makeup is so elaborate that it takes 30 minutes to apply it!
The show itself was incredibly fun to watch. The main performer brought members from the audience onstage several times for funny but wordless comedy bits. Later, the performance incorporated other costumed performers as well as intricate arm movements and dancing. It was a thrill to watch! If you want to have an interesting cultural experience that’s unique to this part of the world, this is one of the best things to see and do in Thekkady, India.
Check out a Kalaripayattu Martial Arts Performance
While you’re at Kadathanadan Kalari & Navarasa Kathakali Thekkady, you’ll also want to take an additional hour to check out a Kalaripayattu martial arts performance. A martial arts form thought to have been created by Parashurama (the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism), Kalaripayattu incorporates hyper-athleticism with extensive knowledge of pressure points on the human body, Ayurveda, yoga, compassion, discipline, respect, and other principles.
The performance takes place in a large, stadium-like room with a rectangular pit in the center. In the pit, the performers first worship the walls, the weapons, God, and themselves. Their high-energy show included sword-fighting with shields and stick fighting. They also included acrobatics where the performers walked on their hands and even flipped over each other! The stick fighting and rod-whipping was so fast, it was a total blur!
But the highlight of the show for me was when they incorporated the element of fire. They did some awesome fire dancing that had me mesmerized. The big climax of the show saw the performers diving through a hoop that had been lit on fire! Even from the stands, it had my own heart beating out of my chest! If you’re building a list of things to see and do in Thekkady, India, you have to add a Kalaripayattu performance. It’s a can’t-miss!
Have Dinner at Drizzle Restaurant in the Woodnote Resort
The breakfast at the Woodnote Resort is so outstanding that I wasn’t sure if they could top it. But I was wrong. I returned to Drizzle at night after a long day of adventuring with my friend Ebbin. This time, we enjoyed an unbelievable buffet-style meal that included beef curry, parottas, butter chicken, paneer, ghee rice, and more.
My mouth watered uncontrollably as I watched them prepare the beef curry in the kitchen. The onions, garlic, ginger, masala, and beef together had such a divine aroma. The fumes from the chilies they added almost knocked me out!
But it was nothing compared to the actual flavor of the curry. The flavors of all the spices married perfectly with each other thanks to the creamy coconut milk. It helped bind everything together. The onions, curry leaves, and tomatoes in it were perfection. The flaky, chewy layers of the parotta perfectly held on to the flavors and created an amazing contrast with the spicy beef. It had a nice amount of heat to it, and by the end of the meal, my tongue was completely numb!
The ghee rice was also exceptional with the paneer. The creamy, flavorful paneer curry was almost exactly like butter chicken curry. Speaking of the butter chicken, it was so tasty and rich! We finished up with gulab jamun for dessert. This northern Indian snack is like a dough ball that’s doused in a sweet syrup. It’s super sweet, but is an amazing way to end your meal! It’s one of the top things to see and do in Thekkady, India for sure!
Take a Road Trip to Tamil Nadu
Even though Thekkady is in the state of Kerala, the town of Kumily is so close to the border with Tamil Nadu that a quick day trip is more than worth your time. Ebbin, my friends at the Woodnote Resort, and I took a safari Jeep down a winding mountain road past coffee and tea plantations, roadside macaques, and much more until we reached the flatlands of Tamil Nadu far below. Taking this road trip is among the best things to do in Thekkady, India!
The Secret Vineyards of Tamil Nadu
This area of Tamil Nadu is mostly farmland where they grow everything from green beans to bananas to cotton. Something that truly surprised me were the grape vineyards, which we stopped to explore. Unlike other vineyards I’d visited in the past, the grapes here grew on top of wires overhead instead of closer to the ground. That way, you can reach up and grab bunches of grapes easily.
They’re light, fruity, and full of juice. They’re also super inexpensive at just 50 rupees ($0.60 US) for a kilogram!
As you venture further into Tamil Nadu, you’ll find roadside stands that sell alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine. I didn’t want any alcohol that day, so I tried a non-alcoholic wine. It was like a fresh, carbonated grape juice. They also sold jars of jungle honey, dried fruit with honey, and honey with nuts! The honey with nuts looked so unique that I bought a jar for just 140 rupees ($1.86 USD)!
Along the roads of Tamil Nadu, keep an eye out for vendors selling coconuts and bananas. I wanted to try an orange coconut and found just that as we headed back toward Kerala. These coconuts are filled with refreshing milk that tastes quite different from the kind in green coconuts.
After you finish the milk, ask the vendor to cut the coconut in half so you can scoop out the meat. While there’s little meat inside, the bit of meat there is really soft and delicious! You can enjoy a coconut for only 40 rupees ($0.53 USD)!
While you’re there, be sure to try a red banana. They taste like really sweet and ripe plantains. The stand I visited also had some small yellow bananas, which weren’t quite as ripe as I like. That said, they were still pretty nice. I had a lot of fun trying all the different types of bananas in south India! If you love bananas like me, I think you’ll enjoy it as well. They’re all different from each other!
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Eat Handmade Banana Chips at Kairali Chips
Kerala may be “the land of coconuts,” but it also produces another product that makes this state famous around the world. I’m talking about bananas. Not only is banana used in a lot of dishes here, but it’s also extremely popular fried into crunchy chips!
There are countless shops throughout Kerala that sell banana chips, but my favorites came from Kairali Chips in the town of Kumily. The chips combine bananas with Kerala’s other staple, coconut oil. This makes eating the banana chips here one of the best things to do in Thekkady, India.
I visited the shop, where I had the opportunity to watch the cooks fry up a batch right in front of me. The process takes only 15 minutes. They come out hot, fresh, and a little salty. And although they’re fried in oil, they’re not greasy or oily at all!
This shop sells several flavors, so I recommend buying a few kinds and seeing which ones you like best. Outside of their regular flavor, they also sell banana chips coated in masala and black pepper. There’s a sweet kind that contains jaggery, sugar, ginger, cardamom, and cumin! You can also buy jackfruit chips and honey with dried nuts.
Another thing you must buy there is the homemade chocolate. Their display cases are filled with what looked like dozens of varieties of chocolate, ranging from mango chocolate to coconut chocolate to almond chocolate. The almond chocolate I tried strongly reminded me of almond fudge and melted in my mouth. It was even better than the Swiss chocolate I’d had years earlier in Switzerland!
Cook and Eat Tribal Food with the Mannan Tribe
I’ve had countless memorable experiences while traveling through India. I’ve experienced the beauty and infectious love and harmony at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I have been graciously invited into locals’ houses to share a homecooked meal with them. I’ve experienced kindness and generosity that is far beyond any I’ve experienced just about anywhere else. And the afternoon I spent cooking and eating with the Mannan tribe in the mountain jungles of Thekkady is right up there with those experiences. It was one of my favorite things to see and do in Thekkady, and Kerala, India as a whole.
Preparing Tribal Food in the Jungle
Ebbin and my friend Dennis from the Woodnote Thekkady joined me on this special adventure, which began the moment we arrived in the forest clearing. There, a family including a mother, daughter, aunt, and brother, prepared a fire to cook chicken, tapioca, spinach, fish, ragi, and more.
As they cooked, they mostly spoke a dialect that is a several-century-old blend of Malayalam, Kannada, and Tamil. However, the daughter, Devon, spoke some English.
I joined them in cooking a dish called ragi, which I helped stir for a while until the mother took over. She served it on large bay leaves along with an incredible chicken curry that was flavorful and quite mild, even though it had chilies in it.
I also loved the fresh spinach, which had been mixed with onions, and the starchy and earthy tapioca. The fish had quite a few spines in it, but the crispy, barbecued skin and soft, flaky flesh was unbeatable! Meanwhile, the ragi was super sticky, so you have to lick it off of your fingers. It was also quite filling.
While I usually like my meals to have more spice and heat to them, there was something special about this meal that made it one of my favorites of all-time. Most of the members of the family I cooked and ate with spoke no English.
Even Devon’s English was limited. Yet, we—a Spanish-speaking Italian and Hungarian guy from Miami and a group of nomadic members of the Mannan tribe—were able to come together and bond over a mutual love of food.
They welcomed me into their midst with open arms and happily shared a bit of their culture with me. I can’t tell you how much experiences like this mean to me. This is why I travel. To meet new people, explore new cultures, and find common ground with them. When I’m able to do that, I get a fuzzy, heartwarming feeling I can’t quite explain in words. But it’s one I hope you get to experience in your life.
If you ever have the opportunity to meet with the Mannan tribe and share a meal with them during your time in Thekkady, I highly suggest you take it. It’s beautiful and will change your life. It’s easily one of the top 10 things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India.
BONUS: Shop at Southern Crafts Handicrafts & Jewellery in Kumily
If you’ve followed my blog or YouTube channel for a while, you’ll probably know that I love collecting unique keepsakes from my travels. I’m not into common things like magnets or items with the country’s name on them. I’m more into one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, especially masks—I have an entire wall in my house dedicated to ones I’ve bought around the world. More than halfway through my Kerala trip, I hadn’t yet found anything that caught my eye, but that all changed one night as I explored Kumily.
Across the street from Kairali Chips is a store called Southern Crafts Handicrafts & Jewellery. As their name suggests, the shop was filled with craft goods like beautiful elephant statues. I also saw some enormous elephant masks that I adored, but they were just too big to fit into my bags. But thankfully, I found something equally gorgeous: a colorful cow mask that was filled with reds and yellows. I had never seen a cow mask, so I jumped at the chance to get it. It initially cost 3,600 rupees ($47.72 USD), but I successfully negotiated down to 3,000 rupees ($39.77 USD).
Now, whenever I look up at my wall of masks and see that brightly painted cow, I remember the beautiful time I had in Thekkady and all the adventures and people I met there. It really is the best souvenir I could ask for. If you like collecting unique keepsakes, visiting Southern Crafts Handicrafts & Jewellery is one of the best things to see and do in Thekkady, Kerala, India.
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From its warm and hospitable people to its gorgeous natural wonders to its drool-worthy south Indian food, Thekkady is one of the coolest and most interesting places I’ve ever visited in India. It might not have the same name recognition as locations like the Kerala Backwaters or big-name cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. But it exudes a charm that is all its own, and an authenticity that travelers like me crave.
Whether you want to explore culture, gastronomy, or nature, or just want to live in the lap of luxury for a few days, Thekkady has you covered. It’s the type of place that makes you richer just by being there, and by the time you leave, your heart will be bursting from the memories of all the people you met and stories you shared. Book a trip to Kerala today to explore the wonders of Thekkady for yourself!
I have to thank my good friend Ebbin Jose for bringing me out to Thekkady and showing me the beauty of this incredible region. These Kerala blogs, and my Kerala episodes, would not have been possible without him. Check out his Instagram and subscribe to his amazing travel and food channel on YouTube!
I also have to give a huge shout-out to my friends at the Woodnote Resort. The warm and friendly staff there really took care of me and accompanied me on several adventures. They gave me a top-notch experience that was full of local knowledge and invaluable information. Check out their website to book a stay with them!
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