Kovalam is famous for its beaches, among the most pristine in India. Kovalam is extremely popular among westerners due to shallow waters and low tidal waves. It is also one of the oldest tourist enclaves in India, a well known part of the tourist circuit since the 1930s. Kovalam shot into the limelight in the early 1970s with the arrival of masses of hippies. That started the transformation of a casual fishing village of Kerala into one of the most important tourist destinations in all India - the Kovalam beach.
Kovalam was brought to the public eye by Her Highness The Queen of Travancore Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bai decided to build a palace for herself at a rock top near the beach, as her private residence better known as Haylcon Castle. Later, in 1936, the next Queen, HH Karthika Thirunal choose this palace for her honeymoon with her newly wed husband, 1st Prince GV Raja. It was Prince G.V Raja who found immense tourist potentiality of the region and decided promote the region among state guests, by inviting Thomas Cook & Sons- UK to develop the region. The Maharaja of Travancore soon started hosting regular state banquets and accommodation of his European guests in Kovalam Haylcon Palace. This made the beach popular among European families living in nearby Madras and Bombay Presidencies as well as elite Travancore families to spend their holidays. Thus, the move helped to lay foundations of modern tourism industry in South India. Post independent India, the beach was popular among Indians and few tourists. It was 1970s, the hippie culture helped to revive the beach, with vast influx of tourists, spending their wild holidays here. When Kerala government thought of making tourism as a major industry, towards 1990s, Kovalam was the first tourist destination to be highlighted and promoted. Today its an intentionally renowned beach.
Kovalam has 3 major beaches in its 17 km coastline. The southernmost, known as the Lighthouse Beach is the most popular of the three. Many hotels, restaurants, lodges and shops are located here. It is frequented by outsiders who stay and enjoy Kovalam.
The Northern most crescent, (with the different names Main Beach/Leela Beach/Samudra Beach) - is crowded on weekends, is very popular with the locals, day-travelers, and passing-by tourist buses. During the week it's quiet. Hawa Beach in between is among one of the beaches in India where topless sunbathing is tolerated and well appreciated by the locals. The tourism department provides a vigilant life guard service on both Lighthouse and Hawa beach.
The Kovalam beach sand is partially black in colour due to the presence of Ilmenite and Monazite and this colouration is off-putting for some visitors and also causes the dry sand to heat up particularly fiercely, so you might want to consider bringing some footwear if you don't want to walk in the sea.
Many tourists in Kovalam are between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. Those expecting a replica of Goa will be pleasantly surprised by the more relaxed atmosphere, a bit more laid back, the food a touch softer and lighter.
Kovalam is about 16 km (20 min in a taxi) from Trivandrum. Taxis can charge around ₹400-500 to get to Kovalam. When asked where you want to go, say Hawa Beach, Leela Beach/Main Beach or Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam.
In an auto-rickshaw ₹150-170 (per head) is a fair price. Avoid going above ₹170. If in doubt ask to use the meter, but in reality they really don't work at all. Advice being if they are trying to rip you off go to leave for another rickshaw and they will often back down and offer you a fair price; if not, get in a different rickshaw. Even if India is a cheap country, the prices for gasoline are international standard, so don't expect super cheap private transportation. If you go by public bus from Trivandrum-East Fort to Kovalam Beach you only pay ₹8 for the half hour trip. If you're landing at Kochuveli train station, you can take AC bus from right outside the station to Trivandrum East Fort bus stop. And take connecting bus from there.
Buses to Trivandrum can also be caught from Kovalum Junction as well as Ambassador taxis and Autos to pretty much anywhere.
Be very careful walking around the junction, especially at night, as there are no traffic lights (what's new?) and the street lighting is very minimal. The intersection can be busy.
Tourist taxis are the most convenient way to travel around attractions, especially while travelling in a group. Most airports and railway stations have tourist taxi services that would take you anywhere you would want to go.
The rate should be around ₹15 per kilometre on auto rickshaw but some drivers may try to overcharge up to ₹100 for 1 km.
A more adventurous option is to get a bike on hire. The highway is a pleasure to drive on, with the cool breeze and coconut palms lined along the way. Once on the highway, drive north for the plains, drive south for the hills. Avoid driving through Thiruvananthapuram city, it's congested. The old highway, also called MC road, is also good to drive on. The MC road can take you deep into the hills. Try out the throaty Enfield 350 cc bikes for a truly vintage experience, check your fuel levels before you leave.
Two wheelers do not have to pay the highway toll, simply ride through the side lane.
The beaches are the star attractions here. Kovalam has three crescent shaped beaches separated by rocky outcroppings. The larger of the beaches is called Lighthouse Beach, known for its 35-m-high lighthouse which towers over it atop Kurumkal hillock. Most of the foreigner’s stay on Lighthouse Beach, which is more developed. There are some vendors on the beach, but they are not too pushy. It takes less than five minutes to walk from Lighthouse Beach to the second largest beach, Hawah Beach. This beach is named thus for the topless European women who used to throng there. It was the first topless beach in India. However topless bathing is banned now.
The northern part of the beach is known as Samudra Beach. A large promontory separates this part from the southern side. Samudra Beach doesn't have tourists thronging there or hectic business. The local fishermen ply their trade on this part.
The old lighthouse, located at the southern beach is a local landmark, for being one of the oldest lighthouses of Kerala, guiding ships to the nearby Vizhnjam port. The lighthouse can be visited 15:00-17:00 daily.
Scenery from the Leela resort and the Govt guest house, Kovalam are breathtaking. The beach and rocks are most beautiful when you view from the rooms here.
- Motor Boat Ride - In 2009 local fishermen/catamaran people added a few motor boats to their fleet, destroying the peace and serenity of the coves. They hope to make some extra money from Indian tourists, but are not aware of the impact on the environment and Western tourism.
- Surfing - Some fine waves from time to time (0.5-2 m). You can hire surf boards and body boards on the beach from USD6 a day. During peak season they will try and charge more unreasonable amounts but just say no. Body boarding can be enjoyed by anyone. Surfing takes a bit more skill. It is wise to follow the life-guards' instructions as there are some strong currents that can suddenly whisk the unwary out to sea. The new artificial reef is creating some good surfing conditions, more on ASRltd.com website and .
- Wooden Boat Ride - At Kovalam's Main Beach/Leela Beach you can go out on the ocean with a traditional Catamaran. These ancient boats are rowed with a bamboo paddle and manoeuvred by experienced local fishermen. There are 11 registered boats available. Rides last from about 15 to 120 minutes and cost ₹300-600 p.p. The best time for going snorkelling from the boat is in the early morning. Most romantic are the "sunset cruises". No advance booking necessary. First come - first served.
There is a wide range of shops selling good quality souvenirs. Most of the beach front shops are the general Kashmiri stores you see everywhere.
Beware of hawkers though. Once you show interest in a certain product, they will pursue you everywhere until you buy it.
Try some of the shops behind the beach front stores. You'll get a better price plus some hidden gems.
- Little Tibet Arts (between Malabar and Coconut Grove Restaurant) is a nice little shop with fair prices. The very nice Tibetan owner seems to be the only one of the dozens of shop-owner"s that won't hassle you!
Kovalam Junction is about a 10-15 min walk up the hill from the main beach. You will pass through it on your initial arrival into Kovalam. Your main reason for coming here will be the ATMs, the post office, and Divine Supermarket. There are also a few good cheap eateries located around the area, a decent supermarket, and a few grocery stores where you can save a little money from the beach store prices.
Kovalam junction: there are four ATMs here which accept all the major cards. They are open 24 hours a day and protected by security guards.
There is an ATM just inside a hotel driveway a short distance (10-minute walk) from Hawa Beach toward Kovalam Junction. This ATM only accepts Visa cards but is often out of money as it is closest.
The ATM's are:-
- Federal Bank (next to the Divine Supermarket) – has a daily limit of ₹20,000 and the full amount is allowed in 1 transaction.
- ICICI ATM next to the restaurant/café almost opposite the supermarket – has a daily limit of ₹20,000 but a limit of ₹10,000 per transaction
- Canara Bank ATM next to the Post Office – again a daily limit of ₹20,000 but only ₹5,000 per transaction.
- Catholic Bank ATM at the Hotel Swagarth up Cardiac Hill. Daily limit is ₹20,000 but only ₹10,000 per transaction.
There are money changers on the shore line on Lighthouse Beach and these do not charge any commission. If you change T/Cs or money at your Hotel or an Thomas Cook exchange then you will be charged commission. Bank will also change money but expect to wait.
There are many restaurants along the beach front at Lighthouse Beach. The days catch is usually laid in front of them in the evening for those who like fish. Most restaurants have a leisurely approach to life and an hour between ordering and receiving your food is not uncommon. But don't get uptight, just relax and enjoy.
You can grab a top fruit salad from the fruit ladies with all the trimmings for less than US$1. But, they'll remember you and if you don't buy from them again they will take it very personally.
Head up the hill from the beach to Kovalam Junction and sample some of the many local restaurants. The speciality of the area is Chicken Fry. Fried chicken in a red masala paste with freshly cut chillies. Some places are spicier than others. For between US$2-3 you will get 2 pieces of chicken fry, vegetable sambal and some paratha (a richer version of roti). Beef fry and fish fry are sometimes available as well. Note: These establishments are very local orientated so do not expect cushy surroundings, its very much eat, pay, leave. Expect great chicken.
- Bethel (down the alleyway between Fusion and Swiss Cafe). A good vegetarian restaurant in Kovalam. Friendly staff and comfortable, cozy, open-air seating with two levels. They serve delicious Keralan, and other Indian foods, as well as a medium selection of (equally tasty) Continental and Chinese cuisine. The owner (who cooks there) was a chef in an upscale veg restaurant in Varkala for 8 years. Mains ₹50-110.
- Coconut Grove, Lighthouse Beach, Kovalam.
- Fusion restaurant, Lighthouse Beach, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. First floor restaurant on the beach front with beautiful ambiance and great food. Unique menu offers food from the East, the West and fusion of both. Great seafood. Good service. Super atmosphere. Highly recommended.
- The German Bakery. Go for the date shake and the excellent banana pancake. A full range of baked goods are available too. Plus one of the best views in Kovalam! Easily the best and most popular place for breakfast on the main beach.
- Hotel Sea Rock. Famous for their grilled sea food.
- Malabar Cafe (Malabar Hotel), in front of Lighthouse Beach.
- Spice village Restaurant, Lighthouse Beach, ☏ , email@example.com. Near the Lighthouse Beach with traditional Kerala cuisine and European dishes as well as continental with fresh vegetables and fishes updated
- Suprabatham, Kovalam (200 m away from Lighthouse Beach, accessible via a path between German Bakery and Hotel Orion). One of the best vegetarian restaurants in Kovalam. Friendly waiters.
- Don't miss out on fresh coconut from the coconut walla on the corner. It's organic, it's healthy, it helps the local farmers to support their families, it's cheap - only ₹25.
- There is a beer and wine store 500 m up the road from the beach. You are supposed not to show any purchases from that store near the beach - keep it i.e. in a cloth bag.
- Usually the restaurants serves "special tea" (beer) if you ask, but they will ask you to have the bottle under the table.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
Many hotels have ayurveda and yoga available.
- Devi Beach Resort, Lighthouse beach (Next to Spice Village restaurant), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Opened December 2011 with basic large rooms which are spotless, ideal for those with difficulties using stairs the hotel has 5 ground floor rooms and 5 first floor rooms ideally situated for the beach and overlooking paddy fields each room has western style en-suite shower room and private balcony from ₹1000.
- Green Valley Cottages, email@example.com. Room service with good vegetarian restaurant right next door. Located next to the remnants of a former rice paddy field just off the beach. Rooms from ₹500 per night.
- Hotel Sea Breeze, Lighthouse Beach, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. From ₹600
- Hotel Sea View Palace, Light House Beach (20 metres' walk from the light house along the tiled pedestrian pathway), ☏ , email@example.com. The hotel is established in 1994 and is located right on the beach front with beautiful view of the beach and the Light house offering clean and cosy rooms with homely ambiance. ₹1500-3000.
- Hotel Shirleys Beach, Temple road (near avaduthura devi temple), ☏ . A family run place. The rooms are spotless and well managed.They also conduct fixed departure tours which are so cheap and they also run their houseboat company in alleppey.its all under one roof! From ₹600.
- Muringa Vila, ☏ . A small family run guest house with stylish apartments (some with kitchen) and the Little Shanti Coffee Shop, serving local and international foods on their sea- view terrace. Located at Kovalam's Main Beach (or Leela Beach) right behind the Ganesh Temple. All rooms with private bathrooms and sea facing balconies.
- The Beach Hotel, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Private veranda towards the sea. Double non AC room ₹4,000-11,000.
- The Beach Hotel II, ☏ , email@example.com. Double non AC room ₹3,000, Double AC room ₹4,000.
- Hawah Beach Resort, Hawah Beach, ☏ .
- Pappukutty Beach Resort, Hawa Beach. It has 38 well furnished A/C Rooms with all modern amenities inside. It also has a beach facing restaurant, swimming pool. From ₹1,200.
- Sea Face Hotel, Howah Beach, ☏ , . Pool and balcony to the sea. ₹6,000.
- 1 Hotel Samudra (KTDC Samudra), G V RajaRoad (on Samudra Beach), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. A 3-star deluxe hotel
- The Leela Kovalam, ☏ , email@example.com. A 5-star hotel with a private beach. The Heritage wing houses the famous Halcyon castle, the honeymoon palace of Travancore Queens which costs almost thrice than other rooms. Almost all suites are sea facing, as sea surrounds all the three sides of the property.
- Taj Green Cove Resort. Located on one of India’s most popular beaches the property is spread across 10 acres of land, offering a breathtaking view of the backwater, lush landscapes, coconut palms, and unspoiled beaches. The resort is located on the most northern beach of Kovalam.
- Travancore Heritage. A seaside resort in Chowara near Kovalam. It is built with traditional Kerala style architecture in 15 acres of land, landscaped with coconut palms.
- Turtle on the beach, Beach Road. A 4-star boutique luxury hotel. It is right next to Hawa Beach. The road to beach is a steep 300 m narrow stretch (used by cars as there is a car park at the end). Great view of the cliffs and beach from sea facing rooms.
Ayurveda and health resorts
Swimming in the ocean here can be dangerous and many people drown. The lifeguards mark different areas of the sea as dangerous. They are not kidding. If the current catches someone, it pulls them both down and out.
You also have to be careful of the jellyfish. The small orange jellyfish are dangerous, and the purple ones are harmless.
There is an official !dea mobile operator store up on a hill/junction ~1km walk / ~15 minutes. 9am-6pm, closed Sunday. ₹100 for SIM card (and they can help cut it to mini or micro SIM for ₹50 by going to the shop across from them; if you go, it will likely be ₹100 to cut). Bring a copy of passport + visa + passport photo and the mobile phone number of a person who will verify you (ask your hotel owner). It may take as little as 24 hours or less to activate.
Otherwise, you can pay many "dealers" at the bottom near beach about ₹300 for a SIM card they will go to the shop and do it all for you (some will quote much more like ₹800 for SIM with 1GB plan).
- Agasthyarkoodam peak in the Western Ghats
- Akkulam lake and picnic spot in Thiruvananthapuram
- Chowara Beach is another spectacular white sandy beach around 4 miles down south of Kovalam, and has a slew of resorts and lodges, and offers a breathtaking view of the sunset from atop the nearby cliff.
- Kumarakom in Vembanad Lake
- Palaruvi water falls
- Ponmudi hill station and Golden Valley River Resort and Eco Point
- Vellayani Lake is a pristine lake around 6 miles inland of the beach, and is worth a daytime visit to experience the relaxed daily life of the locals, and enjoy some local savories like Kappa and Karimeen
- Vizhinjam - Head down to the harbor at sunset for some spectacular shots of the area with the seaside Mosque in the background. The atmosphere is quite lively with fisherman heading to and from the sea. Note: Once the sun is down, it is probably best to head back to Kovalam unless you are with a guide. While hostility/violence to foreigners is very rare, you do not want to get caught up in a scuffle between the rivaling Christian and Muslim communities.