Often still referred to by its former name Cochin, Kochi is the main tourist hub of the tranquil southern Indian state of Kerala. Not your typical, chaotic Indian metropolis, Kochi’s more relaxed demeanor makes it a more accessible destination for travellers.
Sprawled over a series of Venetian-style canals, these famous backwaters are a major drawcard. The natural port and access to the spice route has brought a myriad of traders and travellers over the years, from the Middle Eastern Christian, Arab and Jewish settlers in the 15th century to the Portuguese, Dutch and British, who fought to control the harbour from the 1500s to the 1800s.
As a result the area is now a melting pot of cultural influences, no more evident than in the diverse architectural styles of Fort Cochin.
Explore the atmospheric Jew Town in Mattancherry, and breathe in the aromatic air of the Spice Market. There are plenty of historic sites to be visited here, from the ornate synagogue to the Dutch-style Mattancherry Palace. Walk the streets of historic Fort Cochin, admiring the European architecture or the famous Chinese fishing nets.
A trip out along the backwaters is a tourist favourite. Either by houseboat or in a smaller, rowed vessel, the everyday happenings and intoxicating calm of the backwaters is unforgettable. Complete your restful stay by indulging in an ancient Ayurvedic oil massage.
Eat and Drink
Small restaurants can be found all over Kochi. But for tourist-friendly eating and a variety of choice, the streets of Fort Cochin are a safe bet for finding a meal. There are plenty of European options to appeal to the tourist clientele in the area, including some notable cafes. But most eateries are Keralan or North Indian, and seafood features on many menus.
Where to Stay
Accommodation in and around Kochi is mostly homestays and guesthouses, and there are some stunning properties among them. Some travellers choose to base themselves outside town on one of the quite backwater islands of Vypeen or Kumbalanghi which are linked by bridges and ferries.
Here you can stay in traditional guesthouses or mid-range hotels and relax and enjoy the tropical calm of the area. There are also plenty of homestays and boutique hotels in Fort Cochin if you want to be closer to the action.
Mahatma Gandhi Road, or MG Road, is the retail high street of Kochi, located in the more developed mainland area of Ernakulam. Here you will find a wide selection of handicraft and clothing stores side by side.
Broadway Bazaar Walk, also in Ernakulam, is a slightly narrower strip, with smaller shops. Antiques stores and tourist-oriented shops can be found in the streets around Mattancherry Palace in Jew Town, as well as the historic Spice Market on Jew Town Road.
Kochi Like a Local
There are plenty of opportunities to engage with the local way of life in Kochi. Staying out on one of the quieter backwater islands will assure you a unique and more traditional perspective of Kochi.
Opt to take one of the traditional, small canoes along the backwaters and you will be able to see the narrower waterways used by locals. Take a cooking class at a family home to get a unique insight into their fascinating culture and laid-back lifestyle.