My partner and I traveled to Kovalam Beach (also known as Lighthouse Beach), India during June 2015 to explore the surf and culture of the region. Most days the wave conditions were rough at the start of monsoon season, but on the days when the sea was calmer there was fun to be had. A big thank you to the Kovalam Surf Club members who helped orientate us on our trip. We thank you for your hospitality.
We spent a total of 14 days posted up on the beach front. Our methodology for exploring was making sure we were situated the first day by doing some preplanning before arrival (booking a one night stay and flights). The rest of the days we would wing it. During the down time we researched things to do when WiFi was available, talked to locals for ideas and simply stepped out of our hotel and walked in all sorts of directions. Below are some of my personal tips and highlights from the trip.
Getting There & Transportation
- Visas & Passports – Make sure your passport is valid for 6 months from the time you arrive in India. You can complete everything online with a e-tourist visa without having to go to you your local consulate. We used the following (https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html) and printed out our visas at home. This is a single-entry option and it is valid for only 30 days upon arrival. You can check to see your visa fee by country here. Be sure to bring a printed copy with you. You will need a scanned passport photo for the visa process.
- Airplane – We flew into Cochin International Airport (COK) then took a connecting flight to Trivandrum International Airport (TRV). Since we had a large board bag, we opted for flights instead of a train ride from Kochi. If you have a long layover in Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, I recommend staying at the Sama Sama Airport hotel. It’s a pay by hour hotel and costed about $70 USD for 7 hours. Definitely worth a good nights rest and comfort.
- Taxis – After landing in TRV, head to the Trivandrum Domestic Airport Taxi Service towards the exit of the airport. This is where you can get a prepaid rate to Lighthouse Beach with no extra charges by the driver when you arrive. The fare for both of us and all our luggage totaled 500 rupees (approx. $7.80 USD). Bring your own tie downs if you plan on placing your boards on the roof. The rest of the time you can have your hotel arrange a taxi for you. Out of all our taxi rides, we really enjoyed our time with Mr. Baiju.S.S’s 24 hour taxi service (+91 9995565278 / firstname.lastname@example.org). Mr. Baiju was very friendly, knowledgable and had a great A/C taxi. In general, you can estimate taxi fare at about 10-13 rupees per kilometer.
- Rickshaws – We didn’t actually try them during our stay, but they are readily available and parked at both ends of the beach.
Monsoon season is considered off-season in the area, which means you can find great deals in the area and many vacancies (you’ll find that weekdays are more quiet than weekends). Be sure to go around to different hotels to find the best bargain. Rates are often negotiable during off-season.
- Airbnb – Book a place of your choice for your first night to get yourself situated and familiar with what else is available in the area the next day. This allows for flexibility incase you find a better location and price for the rest of your trip. The app is also great for asking your host questions about directions, transit options and estimated prices.
- Achutha Tourist Home – Located right on the middle of the beach promenade, we stayed the rest of the time here for 800 rupees/night. It had a perfect deck for checking the surf, cable TV, A/C and WiFi (works except for during power outages). Located right below an internet cafe, restaurant, money exchange and snack stand. (Ask for Saji at +91 9567505599 or email@example.com / address: Light House Beach, Kovalam, Trivandrum -27, Kerala, India)
What to Bring
- 230 Volt Outlet Adapter
- Surf shirt / leggings (This is especially for females who will be surfing if you want to avoid unwanted attention. It is also respectful to the culture of modesty in dress for women in the region.)
- Mosquito repellent
- Waterproof sunscreen for body and lips
- Dry bag or ziploc for your phones, wallets, etc. to keep things dry during the on and off rains.
- Wet-ones or hand sanitizer
- Flip-flops for the shower/beach
- Flashlight or head lamp incase of power outages
- A currency exchange app downloaded prior to arriving. We had a great experience with the XE Currency App for iPhone.
- If you plan on visiting the temples, you’ll need to bring a sari or sarong to cover legs (both for men and women)
- A collapsable hand fan is nice to have on walks to stay cool amidst the humidity
- We always like to travel with a luggage lock as well
There are numerous places to try along the promenade as well as in the back. Items tend to be less expensive as you walk further away from the beach. We didn’t try everything possible, but out of the ones we did, here are some of our memorable experiences.
- Coconut Grove – Great Butter Masala Chicken and Lemon Ginger Soda! What I love about the masala here is that it has dried fruits and cashews, which is very different than the ones I’ve had in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Lemon Ginger Soda is made with sweetener, ginger slices, lemon juice and club soda.
- German Bakery – Located on the south end of the beach near the main lighthouse, the eatery had a great upper deck view of the beach. We ordered the Puri Masala for breakfast and it came with a delicious masala tea. I’d say one order is enough to share with two people.
- Snack Stands – Load up on treats and water for snacks or even ice cream to beat the heat. Great way to budget your money on food (10-20 rupees for a roll of cookies, 80 rupees for bottled water). We saved money on breakfast by eating cookies.
- Save money by snacking off the main beach. Seek out the Kerala Egg Puffs (10 rupees each), which is a hard boiled egg in masala sauce wrapped in a flakey puff pastry.
- Eat after 6pm at the restaurants when the fishermen bring their fresh catch.
Things to Do
- *Note – Strong currents and riptides during monsoon season. Do proceed with caution and within your own abilities. There have been recent instances of drownings in this area. Lifeguards work on the beach during the day and you’ll hear them blowing whistles to warn people from going too far out. Lifeguards will also prohibit you to surf at the end of the day near sunset. Do plan your sessions accordingly.
- Surf! – Prepare for head high waves, power in the ocean and strong currents during monsoon season. Lifeguards don’t allow surfing on large days or after dusk.
- Rent a Boogie Board – Bad surf conditions? Then consider boogie boarding in the white water. About 100 rupees/hour.
- Walk the Alleyways – There are many alleyways from the main beach. Explore them by foot. It’s often shaded as well. Do apply mosquito repellent. On your walk you’re likely to see day to day activities, such as laundries, more tourist homes, tour guides, shops, markets, eateries, and temples.
- Kovalam Lighthouse – Climb up at sunset and enjoy the views. There is a small fee to actually go up to the top.
- Poovar Mangroves – Take a taxi ride to the Mangroves and enjoy a beautiful boat ride through the lush landscape. You can arrange for a 2 hour trip from the local tourist kiosks in Kovalam Beach. (1500 rupees pre-paid for the 2 hour trip // 800 rupee roundtrip taxi ride)
- Varkala Beach – Check the surf out and enjoy the views from the cliff side city (doesn’t hurt to bring your boards if you’re going by taxi anyway). There are 3 main sets of stairs going down from the cliff to the beach. If you are a cat lover like me, we enjoyed eating at Cafe Del Mar where there were a few kittens hanging out and looking to taste some of your food. Approximately a 2 hour drive by taxi with a round trip fare of 2000 rupees (you can arrange for a taxi to wait for you instead of finding a different one back).
- Day Trip to Trivandrum – Checkout the temple (be aware of clothing attire requirements by brining something to cover your legs). Taste banana chip samples outside the temple. Have lunch at Ariya Nivaas vegetarian restaurant. A/C rooms are upstairs. Try the lunch Thali Plate where they provide unlimited rice to accompany the variety of dishes (800 rupees for a round trip taxi ride from Kovalam Beach).
- Samudra Beach – Head a little north and walk to the next beach over from lighthouse beach.
- Purchase laundry soap bars – Save space from over packing your luggage by doing laundry in your hotel room. They sell Tide laundry bars (that smell great!) at the connivence stores nearby (about 10 rupees or $0.15 USD per bar). Keeps your swim wear, board shorts, surf shirts and leggings smelling fresh as well.
- To stay cool, avoid exploring by foot between the hours of 12pm and 3pm when it is the hottest out.
- NOTE!: Animal welfare is a large issue facing the region of Kerala – especially the culling/abuse of street dogs. Prior to arriving in Kerala we had not known about the issues until we were already there – even making friends with a stray dog that we wanted to take home. Tourism is a growing economy for the region and after doing some research upon returning home, I’ve learned that there are calls to boycott tourism to Kerala until the state of animal welfare improves. Please do consider this issue in your travel decisions. If you see a severely injured street dog on your stay near Kovalam Beach – try reaching out to the local Street Dog Watch Association-TVM.
Organizations to Support
Kovalam Surf Club
Street Dog Watch Association
Voice of Stray Dogs
Written // Photographed // Filmed // Edited by Patty Fung
Music by Lord Huron “Ghost on the Shore” on the album Lonesome Dreams 2012