The coastal village of KOVALAM may lie just 14km south of Thiruvananthapuram but, as Kerala's most developed beach resort, it's a world away from the rest of the state. Although hippy travellers started holing up here three decades ago, the boom really kicked off in the early 1990s, with the arrival of Kerala's first charter tourists. Prices have rocketed, construction continues apace, and in high season the beach gets inundated with package tourists.
Kovalam consists of four fairly small stretches of sand; the southernmost, known for obvious reasons as Lighthouse Beach, is where most visitors spend their time. It takes about ten minutes to walk from end to end, either along the sand or on the concrete pathway which fronts a long strip of resorts, guesthouses and restaurants. Surfboards can be rented here for an extortionate Rs275 per hour, or boogie boards for Rs60. Alternatively, for around Rs300 you can take a ride on a traditional kettumaran (kettu meaning tied; maran logs), which gave the catamaran its name.
The red-and-white-striped lighthouse(daily 3–5pm; Rs5), at the southern end of the beach, opens for two hours each afternoon, when you can scale the 142 spiral steps and twelve ladder rungs to the observation platform.
South of the lighthouse, a tiny white-sand cove opens into a much larger beach, overlooked by a scattering of upmarket hotels, which you can reach by following the lane that peels off Lighthouse Road, before Varma's Beach Resort.
Heading northwards from Lighthouse Beach, you round a small rocky headland to reach HawahBeach, backed for most of its length by empty palm groves. In the morning before the sunworshippers arrive, it functions primarily as a base for local fishermen, who hand-haul their massive nets through the shallows, singing and chanting as they coil the endless piles of rope.
North of the next headland, KovalamBeach is dominated by the angular chalets of the five-star Leela above it. Only a short walk further north, Samudra Beach is very small, especially at high tide, and is backed by a cluster of package-tour resorts surrounding a tiny temple. It holds little to recommend it during the day, but comes alive at night, when rows of restaurant tables spring up along the seawall.