Kovalam is arguably Kerala’s best known attraction which if it’s enthusiastic claimants are to be
Kovalam is arguably Kerala’s best known attraction which if it’s enthusiastic claimants are to bebelieved, is India’s most famous beach. Given that it is so close to the capital of the state, reaching Kovalam is never difficult. Three crescent-shaped beaches, separated by rocky headlands, form Kovalam’s main hotspots. There are also less frequented beaches along the coast, just as picturesque but somewhat quieter. No less enticing are the Ayurvedic centres that have come up all around the beaches, promising rest, relaxation and even cures for all kinds of ailments.
Looking around this sun-andsand paradise, it is difficult to imagine that Kovalam was once a small fishing village with an even more gorgeous beach. It was discovered first by bohemian travellers, and day-trippers from Thiruvananthapuram soon followed, climbing the rocky promontory to Halcyon Castle, for spectacular views of the sea.
The views remain splendid, even though Kovalam has changed dramatically. It now has all the trappings of a globally famous beach destination, with seaside eating joints that serve Italian food and signboards in German. Although the quiet, rustic charm of a village is certainly missing, it is difficult to complain, with the sun shining down and the ocean an ideal setting for a long, relaxing break.
Things to See & Do
Kovalam is linked to the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram by smooth, straight roads. Take the road heading right from Kovalam Junction to reach the three main beaches – Eve’s or Hawa Beach and Ashok Beach, the main Kovalam Beach, to the left, and Ligthhouse Beach just up ahead.
It is possible to hire fishing boats and traditional catamarans from fishermen for Rs. 100 an hour, though only visitors with some experience with navigating boats through the water are advised to do so.
TIP Be warned that despite signs on the beach, every year, two or three drowning accidents occur. The areas between red flags placed on the beach signify danger, as indicated by the boards across the beaches in English, Malayalam, Hindi and German, while the areas between green flags are safe.
Lifeguards are present on the beach in case of emergencies, but it is advisable to proceed with caution around the water.
The Three Crescent Beaches
Of the three crescent beaches in Kovalam, Lighthouse Beach is the most popular. This southernmost beach is named after the old Vizhinjam Lighthouse that stands sentinel on a rocky promontory. Although it is not open to visitors, its distinctive beams cast a glow over the ocean at regular intervals after sunset, adding charm and an air of reassurance to the beach. A monument dedicated to two 15th century poets from Kovalam, Ayyippilla Asan and Ayyanappilla Asan, is located at ITDC Junction, near Lighthouse Beach.
The promontory that separates Eve’s or Hawa Beach from Lighthouse Beach is called Edakallu; a sunset viewing point that, however, does not offer the best view by any measure. Hawa Beach is fairly clean and popular. The rocky hill that separates Hawa Beach from the third of Kovalam’s famous beaches, Ashok Beach, is home to the Government Guest House and Halcyon Castle. This beautiful castle is one of Kovalam’s landmarks, currently unoccupied thanks to an ongoing conflict regarding its ownership.
Ashok Beach was named after the former ITDC Hotel Ashok, whose architect Charles Correa won an award for designing it. This unique architectural marvel blends with the natural contours of the rocks on the hill between Ashok and Eve’s Beach and now belongs to the Leela Kempinski group. It is known as the ‘The Leela Kovalam Beach’. As rocks jut out of Ashok Beach at various points, the safest part of the beach is near the Leela, which makes it all but private. This part of the beach is also not particularly clean. A mosque, the Kovalam Jama Masjid, stands on the beach, opposite a Ganapathi Temple.
This beach lies to the north of Ashok Beach and is accessible through a detour past Kovalam Junction. At high tide, the sea swells to swallow most of the beach, leaving behind a long sea wall that one can walk on to claim the awesome sight of large waves crashing on the rocks below.
Very close to the beach, right opposite Hotel Samudra, is the Kovalam Sri Dharmasastha Temple, which attracts huge crowds during the annual festival, held in January.
Vizhinjam is a small fishing village 2km south of Kovalam. The Vizhinjam Fishing Harbour is a natural port, one of the busiest in the district. It is a rather dirty place, though it offers interesting insights into the fishing culture of the region. More intriguing is Vizhinjam Cave Temple, dating back to the 18th century, located near Vizhinjam Junction. The Cave Temple has unfinished carvings of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi on the outside and a single-celled shrine within.
Timings 9.00am–5.30pm Closed Monday
The Marine Aquarium, housed in a dilapidated building with paint peeling off, is located near the Theatre Junction. This outwardly shabby oyster of an aquarium reveals rich treasure of marine wealth within its holds, with gorgeous specimens of underwater fauna, including clownfish (of ‘Finding Nemo’ fame), squirrelfish, moon wrasse, butterfly fish, lionfish, giant turtles, aggressive surgeonfish, trigger-fish, deadly piranhas and sharks. This aquarium has perfected the technique of image pearl production. A mould of shell cement is implanted into a pearl oyster, which, in two-three months, produces a pearl in the shape of the mould. Pearl images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Hindu gods and goddesses as well as other unique designs are on display here.
Entry Adults ₹20; Children ₹10 Timings 9.00am–5.00pm Tel 0471- 2483324
Yet another fishing village, Chowara is located around 8km to the south of Kovalam. The Chowara Ayyappa Temple situated atop a hill, offers views of a white sandy beach next to the blue sea, circled by kites.
This beach, known as the Azhimalathura Beach, has been identified as the only place in Kerala where the sea is not eating into the coast, but receding.
Temple Location Half a kilometre from the Travancore Heritage Resort Timings 5.30–11.30am & 5.30– 7.30pm Main Festival 56-day long celebration from 15 November to 15 January
The Pulinkudi Azhimala Shiva Temple, close to Chowara, is located on a lovely spot on a hill.
Temple timings 5.30–11.30am & 6.00–7.30pm
Also at Chowara is the ancient Analothbhava Matha Church by the sea. Mass is held here on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
This old pier used by local fishermen can be found about 10km from Kovalam. The pier is unique in that during the monsoons, when fishermen cannot launch their boats from the beach, they carry their catamarans to the edge of the pier, throw them into the sea and swim to them. This is quite a sight to behold, and people gather to watch them do this. Standing on the pier, one can see the long coastline up to Kovalam on one side and Trivandrum’s Shanghumugham Beach on the other.
Thiruvallam lies at the confluence of Killi and Karamana rivers. Boat rides are available to Karamana at the Thiruvallam Boat Club for around Rs. 300. The famous Sree Parasurama Temple, the only temple in Kerala dedicated to the legendary creator of Kerala, is located here. Family Restaurant nearby is an excellent place to stop for a meal. Yet another unique offering here is the Pozhikkara Beach, where the Karamana and Parvathy Puthanaar rivers join the Arabian Sea.
Location 8km from Kovalam Timings 3.45–11.00am & 5.00–8.00pm Main Festivals Arattu in Thulam and Karkadaka Vavu Bali in Karkidakam Tel 0471-2380706
This is one of two large freshwater lakes in Kerala, the other being the one in Sasthamkotta in north Kollam District. This lake, measuring 7.5sq km, is bifurcated by a road. Relatively untouched, its beautiful and calm waters are a sight to behold, especially on moonlit nights. Vellayani can be accessed by country boat from Kovalam for around ₹500. During Onam, the boat race at Vellayani draws huge crowds. The Government Agricultural College nearby is sprawled across an area of 300 acres. Its main building was once the summer palace of the Travancore rulers. A part of the lakeside is locally known as Kochu Kovalam: a tiny Kovalam. The Vellayani Devi Temple, around 300m from the lake, is a rare temple where the priests belong to a non-Brahmin Vathi caste. Unlike a number of temples in Kerala, this temple has no restrictions in terms of religion; Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews are all welcome here. Once in three years, it has a special festival that goes on for 54 days.
Location 7km from Kovalam via Poonkulam Junction Temple Timings 6.00–8.00am & 12.00– 3.00pm on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays Main Festival 54 day Kaliyoottu Mahotsav every three years, to be held next in 2017
Ayurveda at Kovalam
The 3,000-year-old science of Ayurveda is one of Kerala’s biggest tourist attractions. As a result, a crop of Ayurvedic ashrams, clinics, resorts, centres and spas have sprung up in recent years all over Kovalam.
It is always sensible to opt for classified Ayurvedic centres or those run by qualified physicians, as a large number of spurious centres seek to partake in the Ayurvedic tourism boom. Almost all reputed hotels have their own Ayurveda centres.
Shops, cafés and restaurants line the cemented pavement that runs along the length of Lighthouse and Eve’s Beaches. Stores sell paintings, carpets and products made of metal and wood in the area.
Tibetan shawls, woodwork and Indian handicrafts are on sale in shops like the Yak Boutique and Heaven Handicrafts. Surabhi Handicrafts, a Kerala State Handicrafts Apex Cooperative Society undertaking, is located opposite the car park at Kovalam Junction and is one of the more reliable and reasonable stores here.
Token gifts such as small rosewood elephants, sandalwood crafts, ebony, screwpine, bamboo, banana fibre leaf and batik wall hangings, shells, jewellery boxes and much more are on offer here at the Surabhi Handicrafts emporium.
Kashmir Cottage Crafts Industries, opposite Kovalam’s Bus Stand, sells jewellery, Kashmiri shawls and carpets, bedcovers, silk and paper paintings, walnut wood boxes, Kashmiri papier-mâché items and brass statues.
WHERE TO STAY
Kovalam teems with hotels and resorts. All budgets are catered to. Rates fluctuate between seasons.
In the top bracket is Leela (Tel: 0471-3051234, 2480101; Tariff: On request) at Ashok Beach. Its main attraction is its sheer architectural beauty and the super view. It has 183 rooms, a private beach, swimming pool, an Ayurveda centre and sports facilities. Raja Hotel (Tel: 2480355, 2481355; Tariff: ₹2,000– 5,500) is just 50m from the Leela on Ashok Beach. All rooms face the beach. It has an open restaurant, bar and swimming pool.
KTDC’s Hotel Samudra (Tel: 2481412, 2480089; Tariff: ₹2,450– 8,400) near Samudra Beach has deluxe rooms and two suites, all facing the sea. Facilities include a swimming pool, a beer parlour, a restaurant, coffee shop, an Ayurveda centre and tour packages.
Uday Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel (Tel: 2481654; Tariff: ₹8,000– 35,500) is on Samudra Beach. If it is variety you want, this is the place to stay for authentic Aurvedic treatments, innovative entertainment and a variety of food. Their coffee shop is open 24×7.
Hotel Sea Face (Tel: 2481835-36; Tariff: ₹2,000–9,672) has a fine location. Ayurveda, catamaran rides and backwater cruises are offered here. Narrow curving roads lead to The Travancore Heritage (Tel: 2267828; Tariff: ₹3,700–23,000), a sprawling hilltop heritage resort. Here, you can enjoy the ambience of a 150-year-old palace fitted with modern amenities. It has a private beach and an Ayurvedic centre.
Somatheeram Ayurvedic Beach Resort (Tel: 2268101; Tariff: ₹4,900– 26,300) at Chowara is a pioneering Ayurvedic resort. It has a private beach, organises boat rides and various cultural programmes for guests. Manaltheeram Ayurvedic Beach Village (Tel: 2266111/ 222; Tariff: ₹4,100–17,750) is a sister concern of Somatheeram in Chowara. Ayurvedic treatment, boat rides and cultural programmes are on offer. Nikki’s Nest (Tel: 2268821-22; Tariff: ₹5,100– 12,750), a seaside resort on Temple Road, Chowara, is set on a palmfringed hill that slopes down to a private beach. An Ayurvedic clinic and cultural programmes are offered.
Beach & Lake Ayurvedic Resort (Tel: 2382086; Tariff: ₹2,338–7,000) is a lovely place close to Pozhikkara Beach. To its north is Edayar Island, a haunt of birds.
WHERE TO EAT
All hotels here have their own restaurants, which offer reasonably good Kerala food, particularly seafood. There are also a large number of restaurants all along Lighthouse Beach, such as Garzia, which serves great Kerala seafood, Swiss Café, which serves Swiss specialities and German Bakery, famous for its cakes, coffee and snacks. Visitors can pick up fresh brown, sesame and whole grain bread, baguettes, brownies, apple strudel, muffins, rolls and all kinds of pastries here, as well as hand-made noodles, baked potatoes, assorted pizzas, pastas and seafood dishes.
Beatles, named in honour of the band’s visit to Kovalam several decades ago, faces the sea and is only 25m from the water. The fish and prawns in banana leaves on offer here are delicious, as is the pepper-grilled fish, squid thoran and prawn curry. Fusion Restaurant offers a blend of different kinds of flavours. Lonely Planet serves very good vegetarian south Indian food.
This little fishing village is close to the mouth of the Neyyar river, locally referred to as the Poovar Puzha. This is a beautiful and exclusive spot, which offers the unique experience of being close to the sea, the river and the backwaters, in a far quieter space than Kovalam. It is a destination designed for relaxation and ease, with resorts that facilitate just that.
Estuary Island (Tel: 0471- 2229222; Tarrif: ₹3,900–11,000), offers 80 rooms, a swimming pool, health club and Ayurvedic spa. Isola di Cocco (Tel: 2210008/ 800/ 918; Tarrif: ₹7,500–15,000), set amidst coconut groves and lagoons on the banks of the Poovar Puzha, is very close to the beach, just beyond the reaches of the Arabian Sea.
Poovar Island Resort (Tel: 2212068-69; Tarrif: ₹5,600–10,500) is set on an island in the backwaters and is only accessible by boat. The resort offers most major amenities such as floating cottages, rooms, restaurants and authentic Ayurvedic treatments, as well as a great spread of food.
When to go Best from October to March; the monsoons, from June to September, are ideal for Ayurvedic treatments
Tourist Facilitation Centre
Directorate of Tourism
KTDC Central Reservations
District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC)
Location Kovalam’s string of beaches lies at the southern extremity of the Kerala coast
Distance 13km S of Thiruvananthapuram
Air Nearest Airport: Trivandrum International Airport, Thiruvananthapuram (16km/ 30min). Prepaid taxis to Kovalam cost around ₹600
Rail Nearest Railhead: Trivandrum Central (13km/ 30min). Taxis to Kovalam will cost around ₹600
Road Kovalam is about 13km off NH47 that links Salem to Kanyakumari via Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Alleppey, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram
Bus Kovalam’s KSRTC Bus Stand (Tel: 0471- 2480365/2481365) is located near Vizhinjam Church on the Vizhinjam- Poovar Road. It has services every 15min to Thiruvananthapuram