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National Geographic Expeditions - India

South India: Hiking & Biking in Kerala - With National Geographic

Highlights

  • An active expedition through Kerala, India guided by an expert

  • Tremendous hikes through the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary & Yellapetty

  • Mountain bike tours along the Cardamom Mountains of the Western Ghats

  • Explore the Periyar National Park and the Cochin backwaters

  • The last day is for relaxing at a spa accommodation where you will have yoga sessions on Marari Beach

Description

A journey to Kerala, India promises exquisite food, friendly locals, and a colorful blend of colonial and local charm. Above all, the unique and diverse nature awaits you...

South India's serenely beautiful state boasts endless cotton fields and spice- and tea-covered hills. Discover the intricate network of backwater waterways and the Western Ghats dotted with well-protected wildlife reserves. You can even head down to the paradisiacal Marari Beach and enjoy the enchanting Arabian Sea.

To ensure that you have enough time to absorb all these sights, we have planned an action-packed excursion for you! During several cycling and hiking tours, you will explore India's most beautiful state together with a National Geographic expert and a small group.

Destination

Asia

Cochin - Munnar - Suryanelli - Vandanmedu - Periyar - Kumarakom - Marari Beach

Dec. 06 - Dec. 19, 2020 - Photographer and author Kay Maeritz

Dec. 05 - Dec. 18, 2021 - TBA

Welcome to Kerala! The adventure starts the moment you arrive. Drive into the historic capital of Cochin, a fishing bay in South India. The bustling metropolis has many exciting stories to tell because of the many traders, explorers, and travelers drawn to its shores for the past 600 years.

Once a popular destination for the spice trade with China and the Orient, Cochin fell under the alternating rule of the Portuguese, Dutch, and French. This influence remains clearly visible to this day. It reveals itself in the Portuguese and Dutch-inspired architecture and the artistic Chinese fishing nets that line the shore.

From the airport, you will drive one-hour to Dutch Bungalow - Heritage Hotel. In the evening, you can enjoy the welcome dinner for you and your excursion group. It will be the perfect time to get to know each other before the adventure begins!

Travel time airport - Dutch Bungalow Heritage Hotel: about 1.5 hours / about 40 km

2 nights at the Dutch Bungalow - Heritage Hotel with full board in Cochin, India.

Today you will get to know Kerala's capital. Visit the Dutch Palace, the Jewish synagogue, Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, and the Church of Saint Francis. During a drive along the coast, you will discover the famous fishing nets, which were introduced by Chinese traders in the 14th century. The tour ends at the 500-year-old Fort Kochi. The beautifully well-preserved destination is the ideal place for a leisurely walk amongst the colonial buildings.

Wake up to a delicious breakfast and then make your way to Munnar! The stunning route will take you over the gentle hills, through winding valleys, and past emerald-green tea plantations.

In the early afternoon, you will reach your accommodation for the next four nights: Windermere Estate.

Munnar is India's largest tea-growing area. The plantations dot the surrounding landscapes, providing stunning panoramas. Since the city was a former summer residence of the British Raj elite, the region retains a colonial charm. This destination is perfect for those seeking peace and quiet; or for the trekking lovers and tea fanatics.

Travel time Cochin - Munnar: approx. 4 - 5 hours / approx. 130 km

4 nights at the Windermere Estate with full board in Munnar, India

Set your alarm clock early because today's adventure takes you through the Sandalwood Forest to the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. After a 60 kilometer drive, you will embark on an exciting hike from Alampatty to the Thoovanam Falls.

This sensory adventure will leave an everlasting impression. Follow the damp smells of the mist-clinging trail and walk beneath the mighty shadows of the Western Ghats. The beautiful mountain range was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. This natural paradise is home to wild elephants, big cats, and Indian bison. You can also observe a variety of indigenous birds and reptile species, such as the flame-throated bulbul or the yellow-legged buttonquail.

Enjoy the two to three-hour hike until you finally reach the gushing Thoovanam Falls. Rest by the splashing water, and take the time to immerse yourself in this unique environment. Keep your eyes peeled because with a little bit of luck, you can encounter elephants, Indian bison, or giant squirrels. After you have finished exploring the area, trek back down the trail to Alampatty.

On the way back to Munnar, you will enjoy an authentic meal at a local restaurant. Then the journey continues to the town of Marayoor - home to the only natural sandalwood forests! Discover its ancient dolmens and rock paintings that date back to the Stone Age! Once you return to your accommodation, refresh a bit before witnessing a stunning sunset from a nearby viewpoint.

Travel time Munnar - Chinnar Sanctuary: about 2 hours / about 60 km

Hike to Thoovanam waterfalls: approx. 4-5 hours including breaks & sightseeing

Since Yellapetty borders the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the views you will encounter are unforgettable. Your drive to today's destination will lead you past rolling mountain ranges drenched in soft, natural lights and misty fog. The scenic route takes you through Mattupetty Dam, Echo-Point, and Kundala Dam.

Enjoy four to five hours of hiking from the center of Yellapetty, through the Shola Forest, and uphill on narrow paths along the mountain ridges. Immerse yourself amongst the breathtaking views of the famous West Ghats. This area is also known for its abundant wildlife! Keep a lookout for wild elephants, indigenous bird and reptile species, and many exotic plants.

While you immerse yourself amongst the beautiful nature, we will have a picnic ready to munch on before heading back down the mountain. Your downhill journey leads you along a different path toward lush tea plantations. Once you arrive at the Yellapetty bus station, your coach will be waiting to take you back to your accommodation.

Travel time Munnar - Yellapetty: about 1 hour / about 30 km

Hike from Yellapetty: about 4 - 5 hours including breaks & sightseeing

Feeling a bit tired from the past two days? Today, you can look forward to hours of relaxation. Drive along the spectacular panorama route to the village of Vattavada.

Vattavada is a perfect example of an agricultural eco-project and shines with natural beauty. The local farmers grow strawberries and winter vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and garlic.

As part of a local eco-project, especially reforestation, you can exchange ideas with local school children about environmental protection. Small presents, such as books or pens, are welcome during this interactive experience.

In the early afternoon, you will return to your hotel.

Travel time Munnar - Vattavada - Munnar: approx. 3 hours / approx. 80 km

Did you enjoy the past four nights in Munnar? Well, the adventure doesn't stop there! After a short transport to Signal Point, you will continue your journey by bike! On your mountain bike, you will cycle for about 30 km until you reach Suryanelli.

We have organized an escort vehicle to follow you on your journey. A bike mechanic will be in the car, ready to give you spare parts, food, water, and any first aid supplies you might need during your bike ride. They will also transport your luggage so that you can enjoy the unique landscape without any worries.

Since the late 19th century, the massive expansion of tea production has strongly influenced the development of the region. Surrounded by breathtaking sceneries, you will continue cycling through the endless tea plantations.

Your first sightseeing stop is Lockhart Estate and tea museum. Learn about the regional teas and then visit the Lockhart factory, one of the oldest orthodox tea factories in this area. Continue your cycling exploration to the Lockhart Gap, a remarkable lookout point that is also the last stop before heading to your accommodation. Bike downhill to Suryanelli, where you will arrive at your accommodation, Mountain Club Resort.

Cycle time Munnar - Suryanelli approx. 6-7 hours / approx. 30 km (incl. breaks & sightseeing)

1 night at the Mountain Club Resort with full board, Suryanelli, India

Set those alarm clocks early because today, you will continue your cycling journey to Nedumkandam. The tour will lead you around the idyllic Anaerangal Lake and through more tea plantations. Do you smell the sugary aromas as you bike past the small villages? Don't worry, we will stop along the way at one of the sidewalk cafes where freshly prepared juices and banana fritters are served. The region also boasts distinctive cardamom gardens, whose dense fragrance hovers over the hills of the Cardamom Mountains.

In Nedumkandam, you will board your coach and continue your journey to your next destination, Vandanmedu. Upon arrival, you will visit a 55-hectare spice plantation. Afterward, you will check in to your accommodation at the idyllic Carmelia Haven Resort.

Cycle time Suryanelli - Nedumkandam: approx. 6 - 7 hours / approx. 47 km (incl. breaks & sightseeing)

Travel time Nedumkandam - Vandanmedu: about 30 minutes / about 14 km

1 night at the Carmelia Haven Resort with full board, Vandanmedu, India

Treat yourself to a late breakfast and a relaxed morning before embarking on your last day of cycling. Pedal through more spice and tea plantations, and soak in the unparalleled surroundings. For lunchtime, you will arrive in Periyar at your next accommodation, The Elephant Court.

The rest of the day is up to you! Kick back at the luxurious hotel or take a walk with your guide through the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Climb amongst the lush rainforest and keep your eyes on the trees for rare bird sightings. Not only are there over 300 bird species in this national park, but you will also have the chance to encounter elephants, tigers, and bison!

Cycle time Vandanmedu - Periyar: approx. 2 - 3 hours / approx. 23 km (incl. breaks)

1 night at The Elephant Court with full board, Periyar, India

Enjoy a delicious breakfast at the hotel before setting off for your next destination, Kumarakom. From there, you will change to a new means of transport that will also be your accommodation for the night: a houseboat.

Are you ready for the highlight of your adventure-packed tour? The backwaters of Kumarakom! The extensive network of waterways lies below sea level, creating a unique ecosystem along its shores. Discover the different crevices of this water labyrinth aboard your comfortable houseboat. While the tropical lagoon landscape slowly drifts by, you can observe the life of the locals and wildlife.

Savor lunch on board as you cruise to Lake Vembanad, the largest freshwater lake in Asia, and the heart of the Kerala backwaters.

Travel time Periyar - Kumarakom: about 3-4 hours / about 125 km

1 night aboard a houseboat with full board, Kumarakom, India

Enjoy your last meal aboard your cozy houseboat before heading to Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey. The small, chaotic city compares to Venice because of its vast network of waterways and lagoons.

The houseboat will take you to shore, where you will hop into a coach to Marari Beach. The next three nights are for relaxation - you've earned it! Are you already dreaming of turquoise waters, the glistening sun, and a cocktail on the beach?

The following mornings, we have organized one to two-hour yoga sessions on the beach. Stretch out your tired muscles and discover your inner peace as the sound of the crashing waves soothe your soul. Take advantage of these unplanned days to recharge and reflect on the events from the past two weeks. Kick back on the golden sand and share stories with the rest of the group as the final days come to an end.

Travel time Kumarakom - Marari Beach about 1 hour / about 35 km

3 nights at Marari Beach Resort with breakfast, Marari Beach, India

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. It is time to say goodbye to the magical landscapes of Kerala. Eat your last breakfast, then hop into your transfer vehicle. You will be driven to the Cochin International Airport, where you will take your flight back to your home country.

Dutch Bungalow - Heritage Hotel*****, Fort Kochi, India (2 nights)

The 350-year-old hotel building is steeped in history and offers a swimming pool, a restaurant with multinational cuisine, and spacious, air-conditioned rooms.

Windermere Estate****, Munnar, India (4 nights)

In this natural and lovingly designed accommodation, light-flooded rooms with a charming farmhouse atmosphere await you. The restaurant serves regional dishes, made with products directly from the hotel's garden or local market. The outdoor pool overlooks the surrounding tea gardens for a relaxing ambience.

Mountain Club Resort****, Suryanelli, India (1 night)

The comfortable resort features bright rooms, a fitness center, and a restaurant with international, Chinese, and regional cuisine. Enjoy the infinity pool and the views overlooking the lake.

Carmelia Haven Resort****, Vandanmedu, India (1 night)

Carmelia Haven Resort is a natural, environmentally friendly resort surrounded by tea and cardamom plantations. It has a restaurant with multinational cuisine and a large pool that invites you to swim.

The Elephant Court*****, Thekaddy, India (1 night)

Nestled amongst the green hills, this luxurious hotel has an ideal location near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Unwind in the tranquil surroundings, utilize the spa facilities, recharge with international cuisine at the hotel's restaurant, and get cozy at the quaint coffee shop.

Marari Beach Resort*****, Marari Beach, India (3 nights)

This luxurious resort boasts a beautiful sandy beach and a large saltwater pool because of its ideal location on the coast. Enjoy the traditional design, following similar styles of local fishing villages. The resort offers all amenities from comfortable rooms to a variety of restaurants providing high-quality regional cuisine with fresh ingredients from the hotel's garden.

Closest city: Cochin

Closest airport: Cochin International Airport

Duration of the trip: 14 days / 13 nights

Minimum number of participants: Maximum 12 people

Date of the trip: Dec. 06 - Dec. 19, 2020; Dec. 05 - Dec. 18, 2021

Including

  • 13 nights in the mentioned accommodations or similar

    • 2 nights in the Dutch Bungalow - Heritage Hotel, Cochin

    • 4 nights in the Winderemere Estate, Munnar

    • 1 night at the Mountain Club Resort, Suryanelli

    • 1 night at the Carmelia Resort, Vandanmedu

    • 1 night at The Elephant Court, Thekkady

    • 1 night on a premium houseboat, Kumarakom

    • 3 nights at the Marari Beach Resort, Marari Beach

  • Meals according to the program

  • English speaking guide

  • All transfers

  • All admission to the listed sights

  • Snacks and drinks during the active days

  • Mountain bike (Shimano TREK 3700 D or similar) including helmet + knee pads

  • Escort jeep with spare parts, first aid equipment, and mechanics during the cycling days

  • Luggage transport on cycling days

Excluding

  • International flights

  • Optional trips

  • Airport fees

  • Personal expenses, such as tips and souvenirs

  • Drinks during meals, unless specifically mentioned

  • Baggage fees at the airport

  • Visa, if required

Services & Notes

  • Since it is an active expedition, a certain fitness level is required. The trip includes 2 days with 5-7 hours of hiking and 2 days with 5-7 hours of cycling.

  • Visits depend on the weather and the season. Tours can easily be modified by the tour guide.

  • Group size: maximum of 12 people

  • The duration of the excursions in the program are estimates and may change due to local conditions.

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