Family holiday to India: Mumbai, Goa and Kerala

Family holiday to India: Mumbai, Goa and Kerala

Did you visit India before having children and now wonder whether you could take your kids there? Or have you always wanted to visit India and now you have children you’re not sure whether you’re brave enough to take them? Well, I was really interested to hear how my friends Rob and Emma got on when they took their two boys on a family holiday to India over the Christmas school holidays. They had an added complication: one of their boys has a nut allergy. Rob has written a great report about their family trip to India which took in Mumbai, Goa and Kerala. So, read on to hear an honest account of their India adventures…

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala, India

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala

Family holiday to India

My wife Emma and I have travelled a lot, including a year-long trip around the world taking in South America and Asia. Since having our two boys, now aged nine and seven, we hadn’t been anywhere more exotic than Turkey so we were keen to take them on an adventurous three week trip to celebrate my 50th birthday.

We wanted to choose somewhere far flung, somewhere that would put the kids out of their comfort zone (and make them appreciate how lucky they are!) but also be relatively safe. We whittled it down to India or Sri Lanka but plumped for a family holiday to India, as I knew for sure there was a beach I’d been to in Goa, which I thought the kids would love – plus the curries are somewhat milder! So for Christmas 2018 we set off on our family trip to India – landing in Mumbai, then on to Goa for nine days of beach action followed by a six day jaunt around Kerala’s best sights and finally three days of R&R on a Keralan beach.

Galgibaga Beach, Goa with kids

Galgibaga Beach

A concern for us was that one of our sons is allergic to peanuts so we had to remember to ask before each meal if anything was cooked in peanut oil or had peanuts in it but it was all fine much to our relief. Everyone understood us and they tend not to use peanuts in Goa or Kerala including in the cooking oil.

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Family holiday to India: Mumbai with kids

Mumbai was a baptism of fire for the kids. All big Indian cities are pretty crazy but we went a step further and took them on a slum tour in one of the world’s largest slums – one million people living in an area the size of 60 football pitches. It was organised by Reality Tours and is highly recommended. Even for seasoned travellers it’s an eye opener but perfectly safe.

Reality Tours Mumbai India with kids

At our tour guide’s home

It was so interesting: the industry of the people there was amazing – thousands of businesses thrive from pot making or recycling plastics to aluminium smelting.  Many people live in tiny one room houses just a few feet across.  Our guide who earns a few pounds a day and is comparatively rich by the slum’s standard took us into her house. It was only around 6ft x 10ft with no toilet or bathroom and a mattress on the floor but it was spotlessly clean. She was lucky enough to have a washing machine chained up outside which she shared with her family and was a complete luxury to them. We visited the school and slid down alleyways only a couple of feet wide with the sewer running alongside.

Where to stay in Mumbai with kids

We stayed at the Residency Hotel Fort Mumbai in the south of the city. The hotel is in a great position for the sights: near the Gateway of India and Colaba. South Mumbai is the best area to stay in for first time tourists. The hotel is really good value and we enjoyed great breakfasts.
After a visit to the Gateway of India, we had afternoon tea at the five star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, incredibly good value compared to the same experience in the UK.
Gateway of India Mumbai India

Gateway of India

After just one day and one night, the boys didn’t want to leave Mumbai but the promise of a beach and warm sea was enough to get them moving. A flight and a bit of a hairy taxi ride down to south Goa ensued. If you visit India you have to get used to the driving. They’ll overtake slowly with cars coming in the opposite direction, even on corners, but with a few beeps of the horn they all manage to avoid each other – although it is a little disconcerting for a European initially.

Family holiday to India: Goa with kids

Patnem Beach was our destination. I’d been to Goa a few times: partying in north Goa and then chilling in Palolem and Patnem beaches in the south. Palolem used to be pretty quiet but is now much more crowded and lively so we stayed in Patnem which is really family friendly. You’ll be lucky to find a bar open after midnight so it’s nice and peaceful and full of chilled out European families with kids.

Patnem Beach at sunset, Goa India

Patnem Beach at sunset

Where to stay in Goa with kids: Patnem Beach

Patnem is a beautiful curved, palm tree fringed sandy beach about half a mile long with around 20 beach hut resorts along it, each consisting of a beachfront café restaurant and a number of huts, varying from cheap, basic, bamboo single rooms to more luxurious options. We booked accommodation at Papayas after a friend of ours who goes every year to Patnem gave us a list of beach hut resorts to contact. We rented a nice brick bungalow with two bedrooms a few metres from the beach. Christmas is obviously peak season but even then we paid only about £45 per night for all four of us. Out of peak season it would be less than half of that.

Papayas beach restaurant view, Goa India with kids

The view from Papaya Beach restaurant

We absolutely loved Patnem. For a family beach holiday you could not beat it. The local people are so friendly and trusting – allowing you to run up tabs and pay days later. One guy who couldn’t withdraw any more cash was even told – ‘just pay us when you come back next year’! The food is amazing at pretty much every restaurant – fresh barbecued fish and prawns were around £5 or £6 and delicious curries £2 to £3 a head. So even with drinks we struggled to spend more than £20-£30 each night. Lunch for four was normally a tenner. They also cook every type of food under the sun so the kids were happy eating mainly western food and everything was safe to eat there including the meats. Although I got a bit brave and tried river oysters at a beach shack a few miles away and had a bit of a dodgy tummy so avoid them… A friend informed me afterwards that he had them fried, and that it’s unwise to eat anything uncooked from the rivers! Breakfast for us was lovely fresh fruit and muesli while the kids enjoyed cereal and pancakes.

Bodyboarding at Patnem Beach in Goa, Family trip to India

Bodyboarding at Patnem Beach

The weather was blue sky every day and a dry heat, so 30 degrees didn’t feel too hot with a nice sea breeze. The sea was warm so the kids stayed in it pretty much all day. The sea felt very safe even with some nice waves to body-board on, there were lifeguards and very little undertow. Often the sea was calm so really little kids happily played in it too.

Exploing Goa with kids

Whilst in Patnem we explored other beaches on an Enfield motorbike and moped, which the boys loved, although I’m not sure how much Emma liked driving the moped! Some favourites included Cola Beach to the north and Galgibaga Beach to the south – and it was great fun riding the Enfield through beautiful scenery to get there.Goa with kids

We went kayaking with the boys half a mile out to sea and saw dolphins not too far from the boats. We also went on a dolphin watching boat trip at dawn with one of the local fishermen and saw loads more as the sun rose. Although a great place just to laze in the sun and read a book, Patnem is also full of yoga retreats.

Bridge between Patnem and Galgibaga in Goa, family holiday to India

Bridge between Patnem and Galgibaga

We didn’t want to leave Patnem and nor did the boys. They’d made many friends and had the freedom(ish) to roam within a 100 metre strip of beach so they enjoyed that little bit of independence.

Family holiday to India: Kerala with kids

The one big hiccup on the trip was that the overnight train from Goa to Kerala which we’d booked months earlier got cancelled. Indian trains virtually never get cancelled so that was a big disappointment as it would have been an adventure for the boys – ‘what, we actually sleep on a train?’ Emma and I had enjoyed the sleeper trains when we’d travelled around India many years before so we were also looking forward to it. Instead we had to fly down to Kochi. I must say we were really impressed with all the internal flights we took in India – better than Ryanair for sure!

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi, Kerala

Kochi is the old Portuguese colonial city in Kerala and many of the Portuguese buildings still stand. The old town is vibrant and lovely to explore. We spent a day ambling around and stopping off at some quite cool, bohemian coffee and tea shops. Dinner was amazing pizza in a busy strip of outdoor restaurants near the park at the end of the headland near the famous Chinese fishing nets.

Where to stay in Kerala with kids

We stayed mainly in home stays in Kerala which is a popular thing to do in India. Most are usually a big house where the owners have a few rooms they rent to travellers or where they have built extra flats onto their property. There’s a bit of a misconception about India being dirty everywhere. Sure – you’ll see more rubbish, dirt and dust than on UK streets but often the places you stay at are absolutely spotless. Where we stayed in Kochi – The Pod was possibly the most sparkling of the lot and run by a lovely family and only £18 per night for a twin room.

We then hired a driver to take us on the next leg of our journey travelling around Kerala. There was a bit of a hiccup when he turned up late and the car didn’t have all the seat belts functioning but we managed to get enough working to get by. When you hire a car in Kerala use Trip Advisor to find the top taxi services and then be really specific about what car you want, how new it should be and that it has working seat belts! Within a few minutes of setting off we also had to tell our driver that he wouldn’t get a tip if he kept answering his phone whilst driving which is a usual Indian habit.

Exploring Kerala with kids

First stop was into the mountains to visit Munnar, about four to five hours away. Munnar is an old hill town established for the British Raj in the 19th century. Although the town itself is not particularly enticing these days, the surrounding area is very pretty with rolling hills full of tea plantations. Don’t stay right in the town but find yourselves a nice plantation to stay in. We stayed at Dew Drops Farm Resort which was in a stunning setting.  We had a lovely walk around their plantation hearing the stories about the wild elephants and the odd tiger in the area. We were disappointed not to see an elephant but the guide said it’s best not to bump into one as they can be quite dangerous. Our driver took us to a tea plantation tour and it was fascinating to see how tea was made from the leaves using ancient looking machines. We also saw a local Keralan dancing show and the boys loved the martial arts show with fighting, swords and fire.

Tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala, India

Tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala

Next we went to Thekkady which was a very windy four to five hours drive away making the boys a little car sick. We stayed at a cheap and cheerful place right on the edge of the tiger reserve called Wild Window. It was run by a lovely family and had views of the forest where on the first night we saw wild boar wandering out to eat.

Monkeys on the road to Munnar, Kerala India

Monkeys on the road to Munnar

Everyone comes to Thekkady to visit Periyar National Park where there are lots of different animals including wild elephants and a few tigers. We visited it the next day and as we had younger kids, and couldn’t do the kayak trip due to their age, we took them on a large boat trip on the huge Periyar Lake. We saw lots of animals including bison and deer coming to the water’s edge to drink but unfortunately not any elephants although we’d heard some had been spotted the day before. Only a small proportion of visitors get to see the wild elephants and the tigers keep themselves well away from the visitor areas. It was still a lovely trip though in a stunning setting.

Alleppey on New Year's Eve, Kerala India

Alleppey on New Year’s Eve

Allepey with kids

Next we drove back to the coast to Allepey (another four hours or so) to do the Keralan backwaters boat trip. We didn’t book in advance as it’s more expensive to do so and if you turn up the day before your trip you can actually inspect the various boats on offer. Even in peak season we had no problem as our driver had a relative with a boat and it worked out perfectly. This was a highlight of our Kerala trip: it’s so peaceful being transported through the lakes and rivers on your own two bedroom boat and having all your food cooked and prepared for you. There are various stops on the way to see some of the villages and then you sleep on the boat and come back the next day. A 24 hour trip was the right length for the boys: they loved their time on the boat and played pirates happily on the top deck. We paid around £150 for the whole boat trip.

backwaters boat trip from Allepey with kids, India family holiday

Backwaters of Kerala

Where to stay at the beach in Kerala with kids

We finished off our family holiday to India with a shortish drive south to Varkala – probably the most hippy and Goa-like place in Kerala. This time we stayed in a resort with a pool – the Akhil Beach Resort which was really nice.

Cliff-backed beach of Varkala, Kerala India

Cliff-backed beach of Varkala, Kerala

Varkala has a spectacular beach under red cliffs and pretty big waves but we only managed to get onto it once as the boys loved the pool so much. To be honest we were quite happy chilling by the pool with a book too as the last few days had been quite a journey. Varkala has loads of yoga retreats, some great shops and some truly amazing cliff top restaurants looking out over the sea and the sunsets. Similar prices to Goa (maybe even a little cheaper) but possibly with an even bigger selection of fish and seafood. We loved it there.

Overall we enjoyed Kerala but we are not sure the hours spent travelling inland, with the somewhat stressful Indian roads and driving style, with two young kids, was really worth the effort. This section of our family holiday to India might be better suited to slightly older children.

Galgibaga beach, Goa India family trip

Galgibaga beach, Goa

The children loved Patnem so we’ll definitely be going back to India. However, a super-highway from Mumbai to south Kerala is planned so I’m wondering how long Patnem will remain the secret lovely little spot it is now.

Rob runs the online retail business 2 White Bears, selling eco products which aim to reduce single use plastics and household waste.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, it is at no additional cost to you, although I receive a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.

Have you taken a family holiday to India? Let me know how you got on in the comments below.

For more family-friendly travel inspiration, check out the holiday ideas section of this site.

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