Wayanad Itinerary- Exploring the Wild and Wonderful
Wayanad was our introduction to Kerala, our first trip to God’s own country. I have created this Wayanad itinerary based on my personal experience to inspire you for a trip to the idyllic hill station. Located only 275 km from Bangalore, Wayanad is an amazing weekend getaway from Bangalore. I’ll recommend spending at least two full days in Wayanad to experience the best of it. Of course, when it comes to the Western Ghats, the more the better. But two to three nights is the time we normally get on extended weekends.
Story of our first Wayanad Trip
Wayanad was our first trip right after our marriage in December 2015. We were still adjusting to our new jobs and didn’t want to extend our leaves for honeymoon. So I booked a nice coffee resort in Vythri and Friday-night bus tickets for the Christmas weekend. We reached the place by 4 am, but our hotel owner was kind enough to have someone take us to our cottage at the wee-hours. It was completely dark so we decided to take the much-needed rest before starting for the day. Yes, it was our first trip after marriage, but I remember the trip for a few other reasons. Well, that’s a story for a different day.
On our second trip, we went with my in-laws to celebrate our anniversary. This time it was a road trip and a luxurious stay amidst the jungles of Sultan Bathery. Based on our experience I have created a few alternative Wayanad itineraries for all types of holidays.
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What do you need to know about Wayanad before you visit?
Travel guides and itineraries abound the internet. But here are a few things you need to know about Wayanad before you visit. Wayanad is not just a small hill station, it’s a mid-size district in Kerala. So it is impossible to “cover” Wayanad in 2-3 days. If you want to visit all the top destinations listed in the travel guide in a couple of days, remember that many of them are far apart from each other. Here’s some information that will help you decide how you want to plan it out.
Wayanad is a fascinating place, not just for nature-lovers but also for history-buffs. Archeologists found traces of human civilization that have existed here for over 6000 years. The Edakkal caves are the glowing evidence of the claim. However, there is not much of documented history of this region before the 18th century. Wayanad has the largest tribal community in Kerala. Many of these tribal groups were treated as slaves by the landlords for a long time. The historic Bonded Labor Act of 1976 made this unconstitutional. Now, most of these tribes make a living from their skills in agriculture, carpentry, and craftsmanship. You can learn a lot about the tribes of Wayanad and their life in the Wayanad Heritage Museum.
Wayanad is surrounded by the Bandipur, Nagarhole and Mudumalai forests in the east. These three together with the eastern forests of Wayanad has the largest tiger population in the whole world. While the whole district is covered in green, if you love jungle safaris you should stay towards the east near the Muthanga hills. The region Sultan Bathery in the interiors of Wayanad is famous for the Edakkal Caves and other heritage sites.
Most people, however, stay in Vythri and Kalpetta for the serene and a very typical “Wayanad” experience. These places are located at a higher altitude are close to the famous breathtaking spots of Wayanad. These include the Chembra peak, the earthen dams, lakes, river-islands and more. This is also where you will find aromatic spice gardens, coffee groves, and tea plantations. For a rather offbeat experience, you can stay in Thirunelly in the far west.
Wayanad Itinerary – Best Places to visit
Resplendent lakes, dense forests, aromatic spice plantations, scenic treks – Wayanad is truly a nature seeker’s paradise. Personally I like to choose places that are not too crowded, so plantation trails, river-walks, and treks are higher on my list of preferences. Chembra peak was the top recommendation from my friend I consulted before our trip. However, the trek often remains closed either because the roads are damaged due to monsoon or due to forest-fire alerts in the dry seasons. So while you may be all upbeat about doing the trek which ends at a heart-shaped lake at the top of a hill, do have a backup plan always. So keeping these in mind, these are the optional itineraries to consider for a trip to Wayanad.
Day 1 Wayanad Itinerary
- Reach by 9 am and have breakfast
- Visit the Banasura Sagara Dam
- Check out the Karlad Lake just 5 km away from Banasura Sagara Lake ( if you are put up around Vythri)
- Meenmutty Falls (optional) or Banasura Spice Garden tour
- Break for lunch – Kerala porota is my favorite!
- Board a bamboo raft and visit Kuruvadweep
- Spend time at the Pookode lake (if it’s not too crowded)
- Retire at the resort
Day 2 Wayanad Itinerary
If you love trekking and natural beauty, then this is the perfect day2 itinerary for you.
- Wake up early morning for Chembra peak trek
- Pack your breakfast or have it after the trek
- Drive by the Karapuzha Lake
- Tea plantation and tea factory tour
However, the Chembra peak is often closed due to forest fire, bad weather, and other reasons. So this is the alternative itinerary which is suitable for both trekkers and families.
- Trek to the Soochipara waterfalls.
- Explore the Edakkal caves in Sultan Bathery
- Visit the Ancient Jain temple located in Sultan Bathery(optional)
- Short trek to the Phantom Rock
- Then visit the Heritage museum Wayanad
- In the end, rest at the Kalpetta tea estate
Skip to this section for my detailed review of each of these places and other important information.
Day 3 for more
If you are staying for 2 nights, and have even half of the day 3 in Wayanad you can attempt the Chembra peak trek in the early morning. Otherwise, start driving and check out the beautiful churches and viewpoints on your way. Drive through Bandipur National park on your way back to Bangalore. You can also take a longer route through Gudalur in Tamil Nadu. That will take you inside the Mudumalai National Park.
Where to stay in Wayanad?
I will recommend you to stay away from the town in a plantation resort or homestay. Most of the places are closed by 6 pm and driving after sunset on the hilly roads is not a great idea. So during our stay at a Coffee Estate Resort at Vythri, we spent our time walking in the coffee plantations and hiking through the forests up to the river all of which was in the 300-acre property. Located just 3km away from the bus stand, there is a small rivulet flowing through the property as well.
We loved the traditional Kerala porota and king-fish curry which we had for dinner.
On our second trip, we stayed at Sterling Resort in Sultan Bathery. It’s located inside the Muthunga forests and offers luxury in the lap of nature. However, because of its location, it is quite far from most of the attractions in Wayanad and has poor network coverage. This is the perfect place for a relaxing family vacation.
Browse hotels and homestays at Sultan Bathery.
Top Places to visit in Wayanad in 3 days
Still confused about planning your itinerary. Let me help you here. Here is a snapshot of the top places to visit in Wayanad in order of my preference.
Banasura Sagara Dam
Built on a tributary of Kabini, Banasura Sagara is the largest earthen dam in India and the second largest in Asia. But what’s more important than the records is the fact that it’s by far the most beautiful dam I have ever seen. The spectacular lake with Banasura hills at its backdrop is dotted with tiny islands. There are beautifully curated gardens and parks with a large variety of plants. There are walkways, bridges and pools enveloped in lush green foliage. It almost looks like a page cut out of a fairytale.
The lake is brimming with activities and there is no dearth of entertainment for kids or adults. Earlier vehicles were allowed to enter the premises of the Banasura Sagara Lake, but now the parking area has been moved. If you don’t want to walk to the lakeside, you can board the vans that ferry people to and from the ticket counter. Water-sports include speedboating, bamboo-rafting, kayaking, coracle rides, and even water scooters. Outside the lake, you have the largest zip-lining trail in Wayanad, inside the Banasura Sagara Dam’s premises. Besides these, there are children’s parks, a horror-house, a VR-room, fish-spa among other numerous options that I noticed.
A trek to Chembra peak is still on my wishlist and I’m going to fulfill it soon. Hiking amidst the tea gardens and forests to the heart-shaped lake must be amazing. The roads were closed on our last visit, so we parked it for next time. I’ll update this section with more details when I do the trek so, for now, watch this video and get inspired like me.
Sailing to Kuruva Island on a Bamboo Raft
A visit to Kuruva island is a truly memorable experience. It’s not the typical island that comes to your mind when you think of one. It’s a group of three islands on the river Kabini that are accessible waterways only. The islands are rich in flora and fauna, a great place for hiking and bird-watching. To maintain its unique biodiversity the island is protected. You can visit only with a forest permit and by boarding on these bamboo rafts as you can see in the picture above. The raft is nothing but a large number of bamboo logs piled together to stay afloat in the river.
Kalpetta tea estate
Wayanad is known for coffee and spice plantations, while Munnar is for tea. Well, at least that was my idea before visiting Wayanad. I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of rolling hills covered in lush green tea shrubs all along our route in Kerala. After an exhausting and rather underwhelming experience in the Edakkal caves, we asked our driver to take us somewhere which is un-touristy. He took us to one of the many tea estates in Wayanad. To our relief, there was no one there except the farmers and a few animals. We loved the solitude amidst the beautiful tea gardens.
Coffee groves, orchids, paddy fields – I have visited many of them. But I can’t think of something more mesmerizing to the eyes as the vast stretch of tea gardens with tall trees in between. A trip to an off-the-radar tea garden was one of my favorite experiences in Wayanad. You can also visit the tea museum to know more about tea production.
Love Coffee? Experience Chikmagalur – The Land of Coffee in Karnataka.
Located in Sultan Bathery, few kilometers away from the Edakkal Caves, this is one of the least famous places in Wayanad tucked away from the common tourist route. However, this is one of the most striking sights you can see without much trekking. On your 10-minute trek you will also walk through the Rubber-tree forest and see bowls tied to the bark of the trees to extract latex. Time to remember those geography lessons! In fact, you can even trek to the top of the Phantom Rock, which we saw some experts do in very little time.
Edakkal Caves is the only place in India where you can find stone-age rock-art. These are older than the Elephanta caves or Ajanta Ellora. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, remember that episode where Jon Snow discovered the white-walker paintings in the caves? That’s roughly how the carvings in the Edakkal caves look, except not so cartoonishly colorful. Even hearing about the place made me intrigued and my expectations knew no bounds. Unfortunately, we were greeted by a 2-hour long queue under the scorching heat. It’s located at the top of a hill, so it involved trekking in the crowd. It’s not really a great experience you can imagine. It reminded me of the long queues of Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata.
Once we reached the top we felt like we could finally spread our arms and get some air. The caves were beautiful, but don’t expect the intricate carvings of Ajanta Ellora there. These are pre-historic rock-carvings, at a time when Man was learning to communicate through art. It’s a beautiful idea, just go around and feel it. It’s difficult to do so on a peak holiday season with so much cacophony around. But it’s worth trying to. The views from the caves are breathtaking. There are some modern carvings outside the main caves, beautification is done for tourists. The picture above is one of them.
Wayanad Heritage Museum
The Heritage Museum of Wayanad, located in Sultan Bathery is another under-rated gem. It is mainly dedicated to the life and history of the tribes of Wayanad. You will find the items of their daily use which have remained almost unchanged for centuries. You will also find some stone artifacts excavated from different places in Wayanad which were made to celebrate the victory of tribal warriors. You will also find many ancient sculptures of Hindu deities as well as tribal deities excavated from different regions – under the river, inside the forest or under-ground.
“Soochi” means “needle” and “para” means “rock” in the local language. Soochipara falls are the needle-shaped three-tiered falls that plunge from the Vellarimala hills in Wayanad. It is also known as the Sentical Rock Falls. Surrounded by forests of deciduous trees this is the most beautiful waterfall in Wayanad. And it is a perennial waterfall. Even in the absolutely dry season in December, water was jutting out from between the rocks forming this beautiful rainbow that you can see in the picture above.
A road trip in Wayanad will be slow because you might feel like stopping the car every now and then just to look around. Lakkidi is a quaint hamlet in Wayanad covered in green. The Lakkidi viewpoint is at a hairpin bent along the road in the hills. The captivating views will make you fall in love with Wayanad.
Coffee groves, spice plantations and more
A tour of the coffee groves and spice plantations of Wayanad ranks higher than many other “top destinations” in Wayanad. Wayanad is a popular tourist destination and almost all famous locations are brimming with tourists in the holiday season. Strolling around on your own in a private plantation is a refreshing change from the destination-hopping in Wayanad. Tea plantations are normally much larger and corporate-owned. It’s because tea requires a lot more labor and investment.
Coffee and spice plantations require relatively less maintenance. So you will find a large number of privately owned and operated coffee plantations in Wayanad. Most of the plantation owners also have a homestay to welcome tourists and give them a taste of real Wayanad. We spent a great time in the coffee groves, watched the farmers drying the coffee beans and hiked in the groves to the riverside.
Wildlife tour in Wayanad
Muthunga wildlife sanctuary located in the east of Wayanad is where you can see elephants, tigers and a vast range of exotic Indian wildlife. From what I have read and heard, the jungle safaris in Wayanad wildlife sanctuary are not well-organized. If you are visiting from Bangalore, or even if you are not, it’s worth driving to the nearby Nagarhole National park or Bandipur Tiger reserve instead. They are located in Karnataka but are just across the border of Wayanad.
Pookode Lake is a beautiful lake in Vythri where you can spend the evening with family or friends. Honestly, it’s nowhere close in comparison with Banasura Sagara Lake in terms of beauty or enormity. But if you have seen all the above, or missed some of them for some reason and still have time left, you can check this out. Here you will find the good old peddle-boats and kayaks for sailing in the lake. You can also rent a bike to tour around this lake. There are a cafe, an aquarium and a fish-spa inside the premises.
Karlad Lake is another adventure hub outside the Banasura Sagara Lake. It is smaller and much less attractive than the former, just like the Pookode lake. Lotus blossoms float in the lake adds to its charm. The entry fee for this lake is Rs. 30 per adult.
These are my favorite places and experiences in Wayanad. I missed the Thirunelly Temple on both my visits so skipped that in my reviews.
What to eat in Wayanad?
Thanks to its geography, Wayanad produces a large variety of spices and herbs that lend a unique taste to its cuisine. We tasted the Kerala Porota and King-fish curry for the first time on our first trip to Wayanad and fell in love with it. On our second trip, we tasted another novel dish – Bamboo Biryani. Wayanad is famous for Bamboo rice, that is, rice cooked inside a bamboo log. I can’t recommend enough of the Wilton Hotel in Sultan Bathery for lunch in Wayanad. It seemed to be the most famous and largest restaurant of Wayanad which has been visited by the who’s who of Kerala and India. That itself raised our expectations but the food did leave up to it. Although Wayanad’s population is mostly non-vegetarians, there is no dearth of vegan dishes in its cuisines. That includes puttu, Appam Stu, Kerala Porota, vegetable curry, etc.
How to reach Wayanad?
The nearest airports from Waynad are Kochi (260 km) and Bangalore (275 km via Bandipur). There are many buses from both the cities to Wayanad. I strongly recommend using the Kerala State Transport buses or the Karnataka State Transport buses. Airavat buses are Karnataka based AC Volvo bus services with excellent standards of service and punctuality.
A self-drive road-trip from Bangalore to Wayanad is outstanding. However, if you don’t have a car it makes sense to hire a Jeep or SUV instead of a 2-wheel-drive. Some places like the Chembra peak base is accessible only through 4-wheel-drive.
If you hire a car from Bangalore or any place outside Kerala, ensure that the driver gets the state-permit. Also remember that Bandipur remains closed between 9 pm to 6 am, so plan your driving route accordingly.
So, are you excited to visit Wayanad soon? Or pay a second visit to the heavenly abode of nature? Do you have any other questions on Wayanad trip? Share with me in the comments section. You can check out more Waynad photos on our FB post. If you like the post please share it across.
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