Welcome to Kochi!
A melting pot of sights, sounds, and smells, Kochi, India, is an old-world merchant town turned bustling financial hub. Spread across countless islands and peninsulas, the city is a fascinating example of how India has grown and developed over the years, with modern office blocks standing just a stone’s throw from fishermen casting their nets by hand, as they have done for centuries.
While the better-known sights are hard to miss, a true worldwide local will scratch beneath the surface and discover one of India’s most fascinating destinations. This is our guide to getting the very most out of your time in Kochi.
Begin in the Heart of the City
When you first step foot out of Kochi Airport, you may be at a loss of where to go. Historic, charming, and at times a little overwhelming, the historic district of Fort Kochi is the beating heart of this vibrant city--so it’s a good choice for your first stop. Dating back to the days of Portuguese rule in Kerala, the area around Princess Street offers a beautiful array of colonial buildings which used to house traders and merchants, making it an interesting contrast to the street-side vendors frying fresh samosas just a few streets away. From the ruins of Fort Emmanuel to the Santa Cruz Cathedral and Vasco da Gama Square, Fort Kochi is a place to be experienced, rather than simply visited.
Worldwide Local Tip: The famous Chinese Fishing Nets are one of the most popular sights in Fort Kochi. Avoid the touts and crowds by catching the ferry across the channel to Vypin, where you have much better views and a greater chance to interact with the fisherman as they work. The journey takes just 10 minutes, costs Rs. 3 per person (less than $0.05!) and is a great experience.
Getting Around in Kochi
Walking is, without a doubt, the best way to experience the historic heart of the city, with virtually all sights within an easy 30-minute stroll. TukTuk drivers will offer city tours for as little as Rs.50 (under 1 USD) per hour, although these tend to be little more than shopping tours and aren’t generally worth the hassle. Ferries criss-cross the numerous waterways surrounding Fort Kochi, although printed timetables can be hard to come by. Simply asking at the waterfront is a great way to make friends and get information--or check with the manager at any of the hotels in Kochi.
Worldwide Local Tip: Indians are amongst some of the most connected people in the world, with smartphones and 4G internet almost everywhere. As such, ride-hailing apps such as Ola, are a brilliant way to arrange a licensed taxi at a fair price. You can even book a TukTuk from your smartphone.
A Can’t-Miss Neighborhood
A short walk from the Fort area is the district of Mattancherry, also known as the Jewish Town. The maze of winding streets and charming shops make this an excellent area for people-watching while enjoying the Kochi weather. The stunning Jewish Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace are an oasis of calm for both locals and visitors alike.
Worldwide Local Tip: Walk inland from Mattancherry Palace along Palace Road for 10-15 minutes, and you will soon leave the tourist shops behind. This is where local Keralans come to shop, eat and drink, and is a grittier, yet arguably a more authentic taste of modern life in Kochi.
Eat Like a Local at the Restaurants in Kochi
Kerala is world-renowned for its fresh fish, often cooked with delicate spices and fresh coconut milk. For the most authentic experience, forgo the smart restaurants of downtown Fort Kochi, and instead sniff out one of the many eating halls along Cheralai Road. The Masala Dosa, a thin pancake stuffed with a spicy potato mixture, is a Keralan staple and can be found almost everywhere. Be prepared to get your hands dirty, though, as cutlery is often not provided. If you’re unsure, ask a fellow diner, and they will be all too pleased to give you a crash course in eating with your hands! Due to strict liquor license laws, the nightlife is almost non-existent in Kochi with the majority of restaurants closing by 10 pm, so be prepared for an early night.
Worldwide Local Tip: Many local restaurants will usher foreign guests straight into their air-conditioned dining rooms. While this can be a welcome respite from the heat, you can miss out on the convivial atmosphere of the main dining hall, so feel free to say no. Expect to pay around 10% more if you choose to stay in the AC room.
Have a Spectacular Time in Kochi, India!
Unlike some other, brasher Indian cities, Kochi’s charm lies in its unassuming nature. By embracing travel as a worldwide local, you’ll unlock a truly unique city, one that is bound to keep you coming back for more.