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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Wrenn-Haye

Discover the Beauty of Kochi Kerala South India

Updated: Apr 6

"The beauty of Kochi lies in its seamless blend of tradition and modernity".

General Overview

Kochi or ‘Cochin’ as it is also referred to, is a flourishing port city and is the largest city in Kerala located approximately 43 kilometres (27 miles) north east from Cochin International Airport which serves thirty-two different destinations; it is known as being an exceptional holiday destination for people from all over the world and when you visit you will see why.

This metro city showcases a rich history and a blend of cultures, with Arab, Chinese and European influences which have been traced back many centuries when it was the centre of the Indian spice trade where it was known to the Arabs, Jews, Greek, Romans and Chinese merchants. 

Kochi sits in the coastal State of Kerala in the south west corner of India located in the Ernakulam district approximately 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Kerala’s capital Trivandrum, and is known for its green pastures and beautiful landscapes. 

The origin of the name ‘Kochi’ comes from the Malayalam word ‘kochu azhi’ which translated means ‘small lagoon’. It has therefore earned its nickname ‘The Queen of the Arabian Sea’ due mainly to the city’s calming lagoon waters and coastal lines that stretch for some 48 kilometres (30 miles). 

If you are interested in exploring the city's historical side, then we would say that two days are enough for Kochi. However, if you want to take things at a slightly slower pace and experience the city sights, plus the surrounding areas, then we would suggest that five days is an ample amount of time to add to your itinerary.


Before Cochin was established in 1102 AD after the break up of the Kulasekhara Empire, it originally formed part of the Tamilakam territory. This region was controlled for the first five centuries by the Tamils. Not only was it controlled by the Cheras, but also by the eastern Pandya and Chola dynasties.

Kochi developed itself as a major trading city after its port was established back in 1341. This materialised following the documented flooding of the Periyar River when a floor was created in the sea and presented the opportunity for it to become an ideal port location.  After that time, it earned a significant position in the Malabar Coast trading route, particularly for spices.

Some time later in 1503, the first European settlement was established in Kochi by a Portugese navigator called ‘Pedro Alvares Cabral’ who colonised Cochin from that time until 1663. ‘Fort Kochi’ is one such place in Kerala that reflects such influences with its colonial bungalows and many different styles of houses of worship.

Later in 1663, the Dutch eventually wrested Kochi from the Portuguese and went about improving the settlement thereby introducing a Dutch influence, adding their own touches through renovation to the existing architectural buildings, as well as creating a street layout and establishing gardens. 

The ‘Mantancherry Palace’ or ‘Dutch Palace’ as it is known, is one for the sightseeing agenda in ‘Fort Kochi’ and a visit here will give you an insight into such influences by both the Portuguese and the Dutch. It was initially built in 1555 by the Portuguese and donated as a gift to King Veera Kerala Varma in the hope of establishing trade relations. Unfortunately however, it was never used by either the Portuguese or the Dutch, but instead the palace was used by the rulers of Kochi for important ceremonies.  It was eventually renovated by the Dutch when they took over. Be sure to take the time for a visit here and learn more about its history.  It is open 5 days a week from 9:45 a.m to 1.00 p.m and 2 p.m to 4:45 p.m. Closed on Friday and Saturday.

In the 18th century, a few families of the Shephardi Jews made their way to Kochi after their expulsion from Iberia in 1742 by the Alhambra Decree. They were known as Paradesi Jews, or more commonly foreign Jews. With their European language skills they were considered useful for the trade connection with Europe. 

Today there is an area in Kochi called ‘Jew Town' which is a unique location that has plenty of history and is worth a visit in our opinion. You will find the large Paradesi Synagogue there which is over a hundred years old and it houses many rare antiquities. It sits in the corner of ‘Jew Town’ and adds to the curious charm of the Manttancherry area. The synagogue is open every day except Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Timings: 10 a.m to 12 noon and 3 pm to 5 p.m. Visitors are expected to enter the synagogue barefoot.

In 1773, the Kingdom of Mysore took over Cochin. Eventually later in the eighteenth century in 1795, Kochi came under British rule and finally became part of the British empire itself in 1814, after being ceded by the Dutch. Unfortunately the British at that time tore down many of the structures that had painstakingly been built by its predecessors, subsequently putting the city back to its original obscurity. It remained part of the British Empire until India's independence in 1947.

Following India’s independence in 1947, Kochi became a central training academy for the Indian Navy, which is still the case today. Their training ground can be found in ‘Fort Kochi’ and it takes up extensive grounds; you can see many sub-mariners training in and around the streets too. Worthy of note is the great Naval Maritime Museum which has very interesting historical exhibits, should you wish to add this to your sightseeing agenda.

Indian Naval Museum Signage Fort Kochi Kerala India

In the twentieth century, Kochi was developed into a modern port with dry docks and ship repair facilities and Willingdon Island was created which connects ‘Fort Kochi’ with Ernakulam, as well as other towns via rail bridge and road. Cochin therefore remains a major port city today.

The People and Religion

There is a population of 3,604,550 people that live in the metro area of Cochin. The people are known as ‘Kochiites’ and the natives are called ‘Malayalis’; the offical spoken language is Malayalam.

Kochi is generally a much more cosmopolitan city than the rest of the State of Kerala and given that it is a well developed city, it is home to many different communities and castes who reside across the area. The people are known for being extremely friendly and down to earth and they tend to lead a simple lifestyle following a traditional way of life.

'Friendly Dance Troupe in Fort Kochi'

Kochi is a mixed multi-cultural and secular community comprising mostly Malayalees, Tamilians, Gujaratis, Jews, Anglo-Indians, Sikhs, Konanis and Tulus.  The popular religions that are practised in the region are Hinduism and Christianity with a small section of the society following religions such as Islam, Jainism, Buddhism and Skihism.

Where To Stay in Cochin

Depending on what you wish to achieve from your visit to Kochi and what you would like to experience whilst you are there, it is worth taking the time to investigate further the place you wish to stay.

For instance, if you are a history and culture buff then ‘Fort Kochi’ is definitely the best place to stay. If on the other hand you are looking purely to visit the backwater vicinity, then you may prefer to stay in urban backwater areas such as Bolgathy and Marinedrive. Alternatively, if it is shopping that you are wishing to indulge in, then the MG Road area is considered the best place to stay in modern Kochi and finally for those seeking to stay near a beach, then opt for the Cherai Beach district.

We personally chose to stay for two nights in the delightful and enchanting ‘Fort Kochi’ area before heading off to the Allepey backwaters on a houseboat.

Our choice of accommodation was a pleasant mid-priced homestay called the ‘Francis Residence’ run by hosts Francis and his lovely wife Rosey. The establishment has six beautifully appointed rooms and it has been certified as a ‘Diamond House’ by the Kerala Government and Department of Tourism.

It is surrounded by the ancient monuments and remains of the colonial era, plus seaside scenery. Ideally located for cultural exploration of the area.


One of the best things to do when in Kochi is to book either a half day or full day tour of the historical 'Fort Kochi' and 'Manttancherry' district by tuk-tuk.  Our travel company in the UK booked this in advance for us as part of our travel itinerary.

Tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) for sightseeing in Kochi Kerala India
'Our Tuk-Tuk For Our Sightseeing Tour'

This is a fantastic tour and after an initial chat with your driver, who also acts as your guide and who provides a live commentary about the culture and history as you whisk around the city streets, will ensure that you visit all the highlights that you want to experience. You can of course book such tours with 'Get Your Guide' which we are generally fans of when we travel. Click here for tour information. 

Our Guide in Fort Kochi for our Tuk Tuk Sightseeing tour
'Our Driver and Guide in Fort Kochi'

We personally elected to observe inner Kochi as it were, taking in the local life and also chose to break up our first day with two separate half-day tours, so that we could stop for a lovely local lunch sampling some wonderful seafood which the area is known for.

In the morning we were collected directly from the ‘Francis Residence’ by our friendly driver & guide who whisked us off in his tuk-tuk to see some interesting local sights and our second tour resumed directly after lunch.

Puthuvype Fisherman’s Beach:

First stop was ‘Puthuvype Beach’ located in the fisherman district of ‘Fort Kochi’ where we observed the local fisherman on the beach untangling their nets after their first catch of the day. 

It was also a bustling residential area, plus we witnessed the fisherman going about their daily business of the traditional style of fishing in their hand-made boats, as well as seeing the fisherman relaxing after their morning fishing session; an enjoyable experience walking on the beach and learning about how the boats are actually hand-made over a twelve week period.

'Puthuvype Fisherman’s Beach'

Dhobi Khana Public Laundry:

Next stop was the city’s public laundry where the dhobis manually wash and iron clothes in a traditional way.

Established in the 1720 for the purpose of cleaning laundry at a central community location, it is still used today by hotels, homestays and residences from around the whole area.

'Dhobi Kana Public Laundry'

The public laundry area consists of local men and women who stand in separate stone cubicle areas that are filled with water and buckets to separate the wash and rinse process and they manually handwash each item several times before they are hung out to dry on lines in the sunshine.  It is a very manual laboured job and the local people work vigorously at ensuring the laundry is cleaned thoroughly.

Whilst at the laundry, we even tried our hand at some ironing ourselves with a traditional solid iron that weighs 10kg (22 lbs) and which is not fuelled by electricity, but by coconut husks which are heated in a vat before being placed inside the iron itself where they carry on burning to maintain the heat. 

There is one particular elderly lady who works in the ironing section using such an iron and she is a real character; she actually laughed out loud when we lifted the iron which is very heavy to lift, let alone to work with ironing linen and clothes all day long. Think she saw the look on our grimaced faces as we tried to iron the sheets. We take our hat off to her, she certainly has some stamina that's for sure.

There are also electric irons of course, but most are the solid irons that are in use providing an excellent press due to their weight. The ‘ironers’ stand barefoot on a wooden plank of wood all day long ironing. Quite something with not only the heat of the irons themselves, but also the heat of the day. We thought the temperature in the area was quite intense and we were only there for a short while so we could only imagine how exhausting this job was.

We found it totally fascinating to see this public laundry still active today and cleaning clothes, linen etc in the old fashioned way, especially as the items were washed, ironed and folded in a professional manner ready to be collected by whoever concerned.

These people do rely on donations so be sure to leave some Rupees in the box before departure.

Tirumala Devaswom Temple:

Located in the Cherlai district in the heart of Mattancherry town in Cochin, this temple is the biggest and considered to be the most important socio-religious institution.  The temple was actually established in the latter half of the 16th century; also known as ‘Gosripuram’.  We were not allowed inside the temple as tourists, but we learned a lot about its history.

Markets and Spice Markets:

From here we were taken to the fruit and vegetable markets selling a huge selection of fresh fruit and vegetables; the colours all around are just beautiful and the produce makes your mouth water. We tasted some of the fruit which was incredibly delicious. This was then followed by a trip to visit the 'All Spice Market'.

What a wonderful place this 'All Spice Market' was; we observed people scrutinishing the dried spices for quality control, as well as seeing the wooden boxes being made by hand. We were privileged to watch a skilled craftsman at work putting the boxes together; the process from start to finish was unbelievable to watch and we were told that this was the only man in the area that is skilled enough to produce these boxes in bulk for the spices to be packed up and distributed across the country and internationally.

Again, if you have a few Rupees to hand it is a nice gesture to leave some for these people, who earn very little for their trades.

The smells of the spices were amazing as you can imagine and you can expect to see lots of packaged spices for sale as well as nuts; we chose to purchase pepper flavoured fresh cashew nuts which tasted wonderful and very moorish The information that was shared with us about the spices themselves and the history of the spices sold in ancient times is very interesting, especially as Cochin became a major spice trading route back then and remains so to this day.

Candle Making:

We were fortunate enough to be able to see a demonstration of a manual candle making process but unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photographs for you to see. 

The local ladies work tirelessly making thousands of candles each day for the religious insitutions, so given the fact that there are numerous temples, churches and other places of worship, as well as religious celebrations in Kochi, this is quite a spectacle to see as they are made in batches and all by hand, no automated machinery involved.

Perfume Factory:

From the spice market we made our way in the tuk-tuk to ‘Jew Town’ to a well-known perfume factory which houses the world’s largest perfume bottle which stands 3 metres (10 feet) high and contains 3,600 litres of perfume.  You even have the pleasure of being adorned with a shower of spray at the press of a button whilst stood underneath it. The scent is pure Jasmine which, with its intense aroma, blew us away.

The World’s Largest perfume bottle housed in a Perfume factory in Jew Town Mattancherry Kochi India
'The World’s Largest Perfume Bottle'

Also housed in this establishment is the largest incense stick ever made, which is on show for everyone to see.  It weighs 412kg (908 lbs) and is 21 metres (69 feet) in length and if lit, would burn for more than one month.

The beautiful smells and huge selection of perfumes on sale was beyond belief and you can choose your scent and your own special glass bottle; the prices are reasonable, but you can still barter too if you buy multiple bottles. So, if you are a perfume fanatic this is the place for you to invest in some marvellous scents to take back home, some of which are totally unique and some that replicate well-known branded perfumes.

Afsal Rahumania Biriyani Catering

As my husband Richard is a Head Chef by trade, he was speaking with our guide and asked if there were any catering outlets that we could visit, to see the workings of such a site.  Funnily enough, our guide was good friends with the owner of the above catering establishment, so he made a telephone call and it was agreed that we could see inside this particular catering business.

What a fabulous experience, it so happened that the company was preparing food for a big wedding that evening and there was lots for us to see.  Food being prepared and cooked over open fires, freshly caught fish being descaled and baked for the feast, as well as general food preparation across the whole open kitchen.

We really enjoyed our visit here and hearing all about the catering that they do for the many weddings and religious celebrations that take place across Fort Kochi and Manttancherry. In fact, the owner even wants to open a restaurant in the UK which we surprised to hear and he asked us to keep in touch.

Chinese Fishing Nets:

One of the most iconic things to see in Fort Kochi are the Chinese Fishing nets which are known locally as ‘Cheena vala’.  The fishing nets can be found around the Fort Kochi Beach area and other places close by.

The huge cantilevered fishing nets which are set up on teak wood and bamboo poles, were originally erected here around 1350 and 1450 AD by traders from the court of Kublai Khan and they are a legacy of one of the first visitors to the Malabar coast.

The ‘Cheena vala’ are still active today and when we visited we were fortunate enough to see them in action, as they just had a catch of fish.  Quite impressive the way that they work.  Worth a visit to this area to see them.

Local Beach Visit:

It was great to visit one of the local beaches in the ‘Fort Kochi’ area and feel the sand between our toes with the sun out, as well as to see the glorious warm Arabian Sea. A much needed relax after our day's sightseeing.

Sightseeing Conclusion:

Obviously there is so much to do and see in 'Fort Kochi' as we have said before, we have merely shown you a snippet of our personal sightseeing agenda, whilst staying in this particular location You may like to consider some of the other options including: -

  1. Indo-Portuguese Museum.

  2. Mattancherry Palace.

  3. St. Francis Church.

  4. Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica.

  5. Dutch Cemetery.

  6. Kerala Backwaters

We cannot obviously speak for other areas in Cochin as we only visited 'Fort Kochi' and the 'Allepey Backwaters'.

Auyervedic Treatments:

Given that Kerala is known for Auyervedic treatments for health and general well-being, we decided to treat ourselves to a full body massage and some reflexology at one of the Auyervedic centres close by the ‘Francis Residence’ where we were staying.  The treatments were out of this world and left us feeling relaxed.  We highly recommend booking yourself a massage or some reflexology, or even a facial when you are visiting Cochin or anywhere else in Kerala for that matter.  The general sense of well-being that follows is fantastic.

Not only did we indulge in some treatments, but we also visited an Ayurvedic shop that sold many unusual products for general health as well as hand-made charcoal free incense sticks with unusual aromas, various teas and spices, face masks and creams as well as freshly made tinctures for all sorts of conditions. We invested in a few items to bring back to the UK. Again these type of retail outlets in and around Kerala are certainly worth a browse to see if anything takes your fancy.


One thing that makes Kochi truly unique aside from its historical culture, is its food culture and for this reason Kochi is considered a foodie paradise!  

In general Kochi cuisine consists of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes; the locals however tend to lean towards fish and seafood which is plentiful as well as red meat and poultry.

Most dishes contain coconut as Kerala is known as the land of the coconuts and it is used profusely in Keralite dishes; whether it be the coconut kernel, coconut cream or coconut milk. Coconut water is widely consumed across Kerala state which provides a refreshing and sweet contrast to the piquant food.

Banana also features heavily in dishes as Kochi is a major banana growing area; it is used in both sweet and savoury dishes and quite often meals can be served up on a banana leaf.

Two other staple dishes include tapioca and rice and you can expect the main dishes to be made from this served alongside side dishes. Spices of course are an essential ingredient and Kerilite cuisine tends to work well with delicate spices and flavours such as cinnamon, cardamom, chilli, cloves, black pepper and ginger and most of these spices will feature in a good percentage of the dishes.

For breakfast you can expect a variety of dishes such as Puttu which also features coconut, this time grated and mixed with rice and steamed in a bamboo holder and which is then accompanied by garbanzo beans in a gravy that is called Kadala.  Other popular dishes include dosa and sambar.

When it comes to desserts in Kochi, the local residents opt for payasam which is generally made from different items like rice, lentils, baked starch, wheat and jaggery.

Cookery Demonstration:

Whilst we were in 'Fort Kochi' we opted for a cooking demonstration with the lovely Rosy at the 'Francis Residence' where we stayed.

What a fabulous couple of hours we spent learning about popular local delicacies and joining in with the preparation of the recipes, which we then had the pleasure of feasting on for lunch. We highly recommend adding this to your itinerary. The flavours of the food were incredible and we enjoyed every moment.

Eating Out:

There are many wonderful restaurants to choose from; as we stayed in 'Fort Kochi' we can however, only speak of the selection of restaurants that were recommended by our travel company and they include:-

Oceanos: a casual European bistro style restaurant which specialises in tasty seafood dishes +91(0)977 816 0024 for a reservation.

Kashi Art Cafe: a relaxed and quirky cafe set around a tropical garden which is a relaxing place, ideal for cake and chai or cofee. Tel: +91(0)977 221 5769.

Teapot Cafe: close to the Chinese fishing nets and the parade ground, this little place is suitable for light snacks and refreshing drinks. Tel: +91(0)977 727 0123.

Hotel Seagull: located near the backwaters, this atmospheric restaurant offers wonderful views of the harbour and serves hearty cuisine. Tel: +91(0)804 278 1365.

Pandhal Cafe & Deli: a gourmet cafe located in the David Hall Art Gallery serving international cusine. Tel: +91 (0)928 800 1961

There are also so many other beautiful restaurants and cafes to try and you will come across many as you amble around. Do remember though, that not all serve alcohol as Kerala as a whole has very strict laws impinged on it relating to the restricted sale of alcohol. Some hotels have a licence, but prices can be expensive. If you wish to drink alcohol whilst in Kerala, it may be worth purchasing your alcohol in advance from duty free at the airport. Alternatively look out for the dedicated liquor stores which are scattered around back streets, but these have limited opening hours and are not always easy to find.


Kochi is a vibrant, picturesque city that presents a diverse and enriching shopping experience; you can expect traditional bustling markets and bazaars full of beautiful fabrics and intricate handcrafts including colourful jewellery and bamboo and shell wall decor items, sandalwood bangels etc, to modern malls such as Lulu Mall with its sprawling infrastructure, which is a hub for fashion enthusiasts and tech-savvy shoppers.  Whatever you decide, there are a plethora of options for you to choose from.  

In Jew Town, you can explore ancient artifacts such as intricately designed metalwork, wooden carvings and brass sculptures swhich show the craftsmanship of the local artisans. You will also find an abundance of spices in this district too. Do also try and find the time to look in the enormous godowns (warehouses), which are full of antiques including furniture, doors and whole housefronts collected from around Kerala - very fascinating.