India // Kerala //

The beaches

Kovalam consists of four distinct coves, each with markedly different characters. The largest and most developped, known for obvious reasons as Lighthouse Beach, is where most foreign tourists congregate. It takes about five minutes to walk from one end of the bay to the other, either along the sand or on the paved esplanade which fronts a long arc of hotels, guesthouses, handicraft shops and restaurants. A major sea-defences project was in full swing at the time of writing to create an artificial reef roughly 100m offshore. There’s a red-and-white-striped lighthouse on the promontory at the southern end of the cove, when you can scale the 142 spiral steps and twelve ladder rungs to the observation platform.

Heading northwards from Lighthouse Beach, you round a small rocky headland to reach Hawah Beach (or Eve’s Beach) – almost a mirror image of its busier neighbour, although backed for most of its length by empty palm groves. In the morning, before the sun-worshippers arrive, it functions 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, Kovalam Beach is dominated by the angular chalets of the five-star Leela above it. Home to a small mosque, the little cove is dominated by coachloads of excited Keralan day-trippers on weekends. To get here, follow the road downhill past the bus terminus. A short walk further north, Samudra Beach was until recently a European package tourist stronghold, though the large hotels clustered just beyond it, on the far side of a low, rocky headland, nowadays host mainly metropolitan Indian and Russian holiday-makers.

  • Warning: swimming safety