Falling in love with small, chilled out cities seemed to be a bit of a recurring theme on my trip to India. After my fleeting love affair with Mysore, the next unexpected city to steal my heart was Kochi; a coastal city that serves as the main hub of Kerala.
When most people think of resting and rejuvenating in India, the most obvious place to spring to mind would be Goa, right? While lying on the beach with a kingfisher in hand might be the epitome of relaxation, there’s a lot to be said for the cows, stray dogs and pushy saleswomen killing your zen. For me, small cities are where I can escape into an imaginary life, wandering the streets pretending to be a local. A city girl at heart, these are the places where I feel the most relaxed and at home.
With its colonial architecture, seaside location, palm trees and friendly locals, I was quite continually content as I strolled along Kochi’s streets and alleyways. Many people recommend just spending a day or two in Kochi. They advice to see the main sights, tick it off your list, and leave. Much like Mysore, I recommend spending a while getting accustomed to the laidback, tropical lifestyle here.
Kochi Through the Eyes of a Local
As part of my partnership with Go Mowgli, I was shown around by Girish- an expert on all things Kochi. Girish is also the owner of Happy Camper, one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Check out my full review here!
Staying true to Go Mowgli spirit, Girish showed me all the hidden gems that I would never have found on my own. I know that I probably sound like a broken down record saying this but, seriously, the Go Mowgli guys really know the coolest, most offbeat areas. Here are some of the things that we saw on my short trip to Kochi.
Street art isn’t exactly something that India, never mind the state of Kerala, is renowned for. When most people think of Kerala, they think of palm trees, the backwaters, spice plantations and wildlife. However, the area of Fort Cochin was brimming with colourful murals around every corner. These are a few of my favourite pieces. `
The Back Alleys of Fort Cochin
With its eclectic mix of colonial Dutch-style architecture and a tropical Keralan atmosphere, Fort Cochin is a wonderful place to get lost wandering around. I explored the charming back streets on numerous occasions. Sometimes alone or with other backpackers, and numerous times with Girish from Go Mowgli as he showed me his favourite spots around the city.
One of the best places was a banana chip shop that deep-fried fresh banana chips in a cauldron of coconut oil (dreams.) And that, precisely, is the best thing about Go Mowgli. They take you to all the places that the locals love and you wouldn’t even think of visiting yourself.
The varied cultural make-up of Kochi is one of the things that adds most to its charms. As well as being home to Chinese fishermen and Arabic traders, Kochi was also once home to a large Jewish community. These days, there’s only a small number of Jews living in the city. However, many tourists still come to Jew Town; the area where they once lived.
The main attraction to this area is the synagogue and a museum that explains the long and complex history of the Cochin jews. I have a bad habit of never visiting museums when I travel (because I have a short attention span/ get bored easily) but am trying to make more of an effort these days. It’s important to be informed and knowing about a city’s history deepens my appreciation of it
This area is also full of shops aimed at tourists however, prices here are much higher than elsewhere so don’t expect many bargains! (Keep reading to find out the best place to go shopping in Kochi!)
If you had told me that my favourite stop on the Kochi trip would be a fishing village, I would have laughed in your face. But, guess what, it was! One of the first stops on our morning tour was a trip to see a local fishing village. Fishing is a crucial part of the area’s economy so it was amazing to actually see such an important part of local life. This fishing village is totally off the beaten path and tourists would never think to go there. However, it’s a vibrant place that’s full of life and charm- the sort of places that Go Mowgli love to show off.
Yes, you read that right. Kochi has its own backwaters. Most people head South to Allepey for the quintessential backwater cruising experience. However, not many people realise that the backwaters actually start as far north as Kochi. While you won’t find many houseboats or tour operators around here, you will be able to enjoy a much more local and authentic side to Kerala’s most famous attraction.
Kerala Folklore Museum
Yes, two museums in one day! Although I’m admitedly not the world’s biggest fan of museums, there was plenty to keep me entertained at the Kerala Folklore Museum. Plus, Kochi has such a rich and colourful history, that I was keen to learn all about it. I loved the Chinese style pagoda building that it was housed in, the intricately decorated masks and puppets, and the beautiful wood detailing throughout the building. A worthwhile place to visit in Kochi.
Chinese Fishing Nets
The Chinese Fishing Nets are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Kochi and are featured in most photos of the port city. Undoubtedly, the best time of the day to see the Chinese fishing nets is around sunset. Being on the west coast, Keralan sunsets are pretty stunning and the Chinese Fishing Nets frame them perfectly.
Remember that time I decided to return to India with a no shopping rule. Ha, that was funny. India has amazing things to buy and, best of all, it’s an extremely cheap place to shop so you don’t need to worry about burning too many rupees.
In saying that, though, it’s not unusual to pay waaaayy over the odds in typical tourist areas. That’s why it’s great to source out some local markets wherever you are. Particularly if you want to buy things like spices, Indian style clothing (like sarees and kurtas, not necessarily elephant pants and “I Love Goa” t-shirts) and perfumes.
Broadway market is a huge place so wear comfy shoes. You can find so many things here- things that you’ll want to buy straight away and things that you don’t know of any need for! This is where the locals shop and I doubt you’ll see many other tourists. In my experience, these are the best kind of places to really get a taste for local life and the overall vibe of a city.
Where to Stay in Kochi
I stayed at Happy Camper and loved my experience there so much that I even stayed an extra 2 nights! The hostel has amazing staff, a great vibe, a delicious breakfast and is centrally located close to all the main attractions around Fort Cochin. It’s the perfect place to meet fellow minded backpackers in a warm and welcoming environment. What more could you want? Don’t miss my full review!
Sow Parnika Hermitage
Although I love staying in hostels, I understand that it isn’t for everyone and that sometimes you just want your own space and privacy. Homestays in India can be pretty luxurious and they’re a great way to contribute to the local economy, too. Sow Parnika Hermitage is a clean and comfortable homestay that offers authentic Keralan cooking to their guests. Any “flashpackers” reading? This homestay offers luxurious dorm rooms that you can rent out as a group. A fun alternative to the usual backpacker’s hostels.
Kochi is a city that really surprised me. I didn’t expect myself to love it as much as I did and I can only thank Go Mowgli for showing me all the best bits. This destination deserves to be so much more than just a quick stop off on your trip through Kerala and has a lot to offer travellers. Particularly those who like to take a bit of time to get to know a city. Take it slow, live like a local and enjoy the relaxed pace of life in this buzzing and dynamic city.
If you love the look of Kochi, I think you’ll love the equally laidback city of Mysore, too. Have a look at my mini-guide!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Go Mowgli on the Kochi City Tour, and also of Happy Camper. However, as always, all opinions are my own and I will only ever promote brands and experiences that I personally love (and think you will too!)