From a climatic point of view, by far the best time to go is from the end November to March, when it's dry, clear and not too hot. April and May are normally quite dry, but get rapidly hotter. From May to November there's first a southwest monsoon (June-July) and then a milder northeast monsoon (mid-October-November), which bring rain and wind to the whole region, especially the coast. There is usually some respite between the monsoons in August and September.
Many Keralan festivals follow the Hindu calendar, which is based on season, meaning precise dates vary. Also taking place are Muslim festivals, some of which (including Ramadan) are held 11 days earlier on successive years, and secular and Christian festivals, which are held on the same date every year (excluding Christian Easter).
Note: airlines and timetables change constantly, so please check airline sites (or a search like Skyscanner) before confirming your travel plans.
From the UK:
The average flying time from the UK to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) or Cochin (Kochi) is 15 hours, including a stopover, as there are no direct scheduled flights. The main European carriers fly via Mumbai, Delhi or Middle Eastern hubs. For the least hassle and the best price, we tend to find Emirates and Qatar Airways particularly reliable.
From Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka Airlines and Air India both operate regular flights from Colombo to Trivandrum.
From Australia and New Zealand:
Various airlines fly from the east coast of Australia via their respective hubs to Trivandrum, average flight time 15 hours; check your stopover time.
From North America:
There are no direct flights to Kerala from the US or Canada. You'll need to fly to Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai and connect onto one of the local airlines.
From within India:
Direct flights to Cochin (Kochi) are available from: Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) and Mumbai. There are also indirect flights from other Indian airports. Direct flights to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) are available from: Dehli, Bangalore (Bengaluru), Chennai, Cochin (Kochi) and Mumbai. There are also indirect flights from other Indian airports.
India has a good rail network - see Indian Rail for timetables or visit Seat 61 for a beginner's guide. There are old-fashioned trains connecting Trivandrum with all the main coastal resorts and other Indian cities (though services can be slow and refreshments are often limited). Booking train tickets can sometimes involve a complicated wait-listing process, but it's worth booking in advance if you want a particular class of seat.
BY CAR & DRIVER
If you can afford it and have limited time, we believe hiring a car with a driver is the best way to see Kerala. It's cheaper than hiring a self-drive car, and the drivers usually arrange their own accommodation and food. Apart from not getting lost, the other main advantage of having a driver is that hawkers, seeing you are with a local, give you more space. To arrange a car and driver, contact our recommended Tailormade Tours Operator. We did this and felt it was worth every penny. Our driver was knowledgeable and unfailingly polite, and he navigated the pot-holed road with easy confidence. (Be warned: self-driving might seem appealing, but it can be hair-raising, to say the least…)
Buses are cheap and link all towns and cities, but they can be very overcrowded and uncomfortable. There are private and state buses, each with various categories of speed and of comfort. Combine with a rickshaw at the bus stop for short hops to your hotel.
There are taxi-cars (some with air-conditioning) and a large number of auto-rickshaws on the roads. Fares are cheap, but agree to a rate before starting your journey and make sure the driver has a clear idea of your destination. Some drivers try to stop off at shops where they get commissions on your purchases, while others fend off all touts and take you straight to your destination.
If money’s no object and time is tight, seaplanes allow you to explore Kerala's towns, beaches and backwaters with ease. See Kerala Seaplane for flight schedules and circuits currently in operation.
Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your arrival. Almost every non-Indian needs a tourist visa from their embassy or consulate. British travellers should consult the Foreign Office for the latest details and advice. For access to certain protected areas (e.g. national parks), you will need a special permit and, often, a guide; these are available locally.
It's important to seek medical advice at least 6 weeks before departure as vaccinations will be required and some may involve more than one injection. Malaria is present in some areas - your doctor will be able to advise you on the risks of malaria and appropriate medication. Insect repellent is essential; use one containing DEET.
The most common health problems for visitors to Kerala are diarrhoea and sun-related problems. It's important to drink a lot of bottled water (tap water isn't safe to drink) and protect yourself from the sun. Also be aware of what, and where, you are eating. Choose fruits that you can peel and avoid fresh salads (or wash them yourself with purified water) and ice made from tap water. Be cautious of ice cream, cold milk and undercooked fish or meat. If you become ill your hotel should be able to recommend a good local doctor or clinic.
Many staff are paid very low salaries and expect to be tipped. In hotels and restaurants, 10% is normal. In other situations, where there is no bill, a few rupees will suffice.
When attending a religious place or event be aware of your appearance and behaviour. You shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops or shorts, smoke, or display affection. Before entering a holy place remove your shoes. Once inside don’t touch any statues or deities. Also be careful of your feet: never touch another person with your feet, and don’t direct the soles of your feet towards another person or anything considered to be holy. In general, use your right hand for all social interactions (shaking hands, passing money etc) and for eating.
Keralan society is definitely family-orientated and there should be no problem travelling with children. However there are few facilities dedicated solely to children, so you may want to bring toys and games with you to keep them entertained.