GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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The most convenient way to tackle Kerala is with a car and driver, allowing for the maximum amount of flexibility. Spend at least a day in Kochi, soaking in the beauty and the cultural offerings. A four-day itinerary can also include two days of ayurvedic massages and great local food in the resort town of Kumarakom and an overnight houseboat cruise through inland waterways. Drive inland to Thekkady or Munnar and spend two days viewing the wildlife in Thekkady's Lake Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (take the 4 pm boat cruise or a more adventurous jungle trek) and scenic Munnar, Kerala's Switzerland, with the added attractions of wild elephants and the Rajamala sanctuary. Some travelers arrive in Kerala by car from Madurai, in Tamil Nadu; if that's your plan, visit Idukki on your way west toward the coast. Another option is to travel south from Thekkady to Trivandrum, Kerala's capital. Explore its sights and quiet lanes before heading for the mellow beaches, palm-fringed lagoons, and rocky coves near Kovalam and Varkala beach. If you want to get away from the crowds, head for the rarely visited north to see the extraordinary Theyyam festivals of Kannur, the sweeping vistas of the fort at Bekal, near Kasargode, and the pristine beaches along the northern coast.