Golden Sands Kovalam, Kovalam Budget Hotels
You have to envy the travellers who first discovered Kovalam Kerala back in the 1970s. Before the appearance of the crowds and sand beds that nowadays spill over the resort's quarter of beaches, this must have been a heavenly location. It was long before the warren of hotels, shops and restaurants crammed into the palm groves behind the Kovalam Beaches of Kerala.
Four decades of unplanned development damaged the famous headland, with its golden sand Kovalam bays and trademark rock promontories. Virtually every conceivable patch of dry ground behind the Lighthouse Beach has been buried under concrete along with most of the area's Kerala character. Lighthouse Beach was the most spectacular beach in Kovalam.
Kovalam, Yesterday and Today
Kovalam's boom peaked in the mid-1990s. The European charter companies started sending planeloads of package tourists here. Then the backpackers promptly decamped north up the coast to Varkala. The local businesses were doing well. They felt pinch by the sudden suspension of charter flights from the UK in 2008.
Now the resort depends on an unlikely mix of British fifty-something on extended sun-and-booze breaks and middle-aged German and Scandinavian ayurveda tourists who, forbidden by their doctors from lying in the sun, kill time drinking juices in the cafes.
The Kerala government is hoping to reverse Kovalam's decline with the construction of an offshore artificial reef which, it claims, will generate perfect waves for big-spending surfers. But for the time being, the resort looks like a pale shadow of the beach paradise many come here expecting.
For holiday experience that lives up to the glamour of the brochures, you'll have to press further south down the coast. In south of Kovalam you'll see a string of high-end resorts huddle in the coconut groves above a series of idyllic coves. A world away from the poor fishing villages just beyond their high walls. These places offer a seductive combination of traditional Kerala architecture, ayurveda massages and exclusive beach across-at eye-poppingly high prices.
Kovalam's main claim to fame is its four stretches of beach, separated from one another by rocky promontories or streams.
Most of the tourists visit Hawha Beach (or Eve's Beach), and Lighthouse Beach near the striking red-and-white lighthouse on the headland.
Samudra Beach, about 4 km north, is becoming an increasingly popular option. Some 8 km south of Kovalam, beaches like Nellinkunnu, Pulinkudi and Chowara are gaining popularity as alternatives. Chowara is home to some of Kerala's best known Ayurvedic centres.
Buses from Trivandrum loop through the top of the village before coming to a halt outside the gates of the Leela, on the promontory dividing Hawah and Kovalam beaches.
If you don't intend to stay at this northern end of the resort, or at Samudra beach, get off a couple of hundred metres earlier, just past the Blue Sea hotel where the road bends. Then follow the lane branching to the left which drops steeply downhill towards the top of Hawha Beach.
Expect to be plagued by commission touts as you arrive; an approach via the back paths is a good way of avoiding them. The friendly tourist office is just inside the Leela's gate. The office works daily 10am to 5pm, closed on Sundays in low season; Tel: 0471 2480085. They stock the usual range of glossy leaflets on Kerala and can offer up-to-date advice about cultural events in the area.
Stay at Kovalam Kerala
Kovalam in Kerala is chock-full of accommodation in all categories. Little of it could be considered great value by Indian standards. But since the demise of character tourism in the resort, rates have been taken a bit of a tumble, particularly mid-range, and you can pick up some hefty last-minute discounts if the season is slack.
Whatever your budget, it's worth tying to haggle down the quoted price, especially for your stays of a week or more. As ever, ignore offers of rooms in the street. The tip that your hotel or guesthouse owner will be obliged to pay the tout will be added to your room tariff. There many hotels in Kovalam including Kovalam budget hotels.