Spread across islands and peninsulas between the Arabian Sea and Kerala backwaters is the historic and picturesque city of Cochin (originally Kochi). This lively Indian city dates back to the 14th century when a flood formed a natural port and attracted spice traders from around the world. Cochin today presents a hearty mix of Asian, Arab and European cultures, all visible in the city’s diverse neighborhoods, architecture and markets.
Catch a ferry to Fort Cochin, a district of sleepy streets lined with grand colonial buildings, hotels and homestays. Visit the Portuguese-built St. Francis Church, India’s oldest European church. Investigate the huge Santa Cruz Cathedral, which lights up spectacularly after dark. Learn about one of the first Catholic groups in India at the Indo-Portuguese Museum.
See tombs of traders and explorers at the Dutch Cemetery. Walk along the waterfront where fishermen bring in the day’s catch via cantilevered Chinese fishing nets. Buy fresh fish from the small market and have it cooked on the spot at nearby food stands.
Walk or take a rickshaw to the Mattancherry district. Spot Hindu murals and portraits of maharajas at Mattancherry Palace, established by the Portuguese in the 1550s. Wander the streets of Jew Town and experience Spice Market’s colors and smells. See the pigeon-feeding ritual at Jain Temple or admire local art exhibitions at Kashi Art Gallery.
Cross to the mainland via bridge or ferry to Ernakulum, Cochin’s modern district. Stroll along Marine Drive, a waterfront promenade bustling with shopping malls and street vendors speaking the native Malayalam language.
Enjoy a colorful Kathakali dance performance at theaters such as the Kerala Kathakali Centre. Arrive early to watch performers meditate and meticulously apply their make-up.
Another highlight of Cochin is a tour of the Kerala backwaters. Relax on a houseboat as you glide along palm tree-fringed canals and lagoons past villages and settlements that epitomize Kerala’s rural culture.
Cochin is 954 miles (1,536 kilometers) south of Mumbai. Prepare for its hot equatorial climate.