Large cruise ships dock at Ernakulam Wharf on the North-East side of Willingdon Island. This terminal lacks facilities. Smaller ships dock at Samurdika Cruise Passenger Facilitation centre with Air-condition, screening services, prayer room, plenty of seating space and car parking. The international Airport of Cochin is 43 km distance, 1 hour 15 min away by car. There isn’t anywhere to walk to in the immediate vicinity, the port is about 10km from the main city. There is public transport just outside the terminal in the shape of ferries that can take you to some of the points of interest of Cochin, and there are also taxis and rickshaws for hire as well. Expect to haggle. A ride to the city centre can cost anything from 5 to 20 USD, depending on your negotiating skills. You could also hire a taxi for the day.
The local currency in India is the Indian Rupee (INR) and exchanging money is fairly easy. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or hotels, as the rates are poor. There are a few bank offices in Cochin, as well as independent exchange shops that you can compare the rates from. Make sure you get some smaller notes for little purchases and tipping, such as 20,50, 100. Traditionally, the rates would be more favourable in India, than in your home country. There are ATMs throughout the city but bear in mind that they might not always be compatible with your card and there is a limit per transaction and per day. The ATMs are less likely to work on weekends and public holidays. If you planning to withdraw cash, make sure you have notified your bank you would be abroad, and you are aware of any fees. You can also pay with credit cards at many outlets, but again that would occur fees.
The opening hours in Cochin vary a lot. Most independent shops are closed on Sundays, but if they are near tourist areas, they would stay open all week. In general, shops open at 9 am, take a couple of hours lunch break and close at 5 pm. The shopping malls are open 10 am to 10 pm. The banks are open from 10 am to 4 or 5 pm. There are over 25 public holidays a year in the state of Kerala, make sure you check if they would affect your holiday.
Tipping in India is expected pretty much at every corner, although it’s not considered mandatory. At some restaurants there is a “service charge” added to your bill, which is different from the “service tax”. If that is added to your bill, only tip if you have received exceptional service. As a guide, tip the porters that would approach you to carry your bags about 20 INR per bag, leave about 10% of your bill in a restaurant, tip your hotel maid about 50-100 INR per day, about 300 INR per day for your chauffer or tour guide, if you are happy with their service.
The local languages are Hindi, Malayalam and English. Most signs are in Hindi and English and almost everyone speaks English.
The local time in Kochi is GMT + 5.30 and the international dialling code is 00 91 484.
Things To Do
We recommend seeing the Kerala Folklore Theatre and Museum – the lifelong work of George Thaliath and his wife Annie George, opened in 2009. The building is an architectural masterpiece itself – building it took 7 years and the work of 62 skilled builders and carpenters. The ground floor is built in Malabar style, the first floor in Kochi and the second floor in Travancore style. The museum displays around 4000 treasures of stone, wood, bronze sculptures, ancient terracotta, Stone Age artefacts, jewellery, paintings, musical instruments, tribal and folk art, masks and other traditional art forms. The theatre, situated on the third floor, conducts authentic daily at 6.30pm.
Mattancherry Palace (also called the Dutch Palace) was built and gifted to the Raja of Kochi, Verra Kerala Varma in 1555. Later, in 1663 the Dutch renovated and extended it, hence it’s also called the Dutch Palace. The architecture is in Portuguese style, influenced by Keralan temple design. Today, the palace serves as an art gallery, showcasing some rare art murals and paintings, depicting scenes from the Hindu book of Ramayana and other Puranic legends.
The rich culture in Kochi, representing Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and English influences, is also apparent in the Indo-Portuguese museum. Situated in the garden of the Bishop’s House, it showcases the heritage of one of the earliest Catholics communities in India. Amongst the exhibits are a piece of the teak altar and an Indo Portuguese Monstrance from the Church of Our Lady of Hope, Vypeen, a chasuble from Bishop’s House, a processional cross, made of silver and wood from Santa Cruz Cathedral and other precious metal objects and vestments.
The Chinese fishing nets, one of the most recognisable sights of Kochi are also worth seeing, as well as providing excellent photo opportunities. The legend says that they were first brought by Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan and were introduced to the fishermen of Kochi by the Chinese Explorer Zheng He in the 14th century. They have been in use ever since. You can learn how to use them in exchange of a small fee and purchase the morning catch, have it cooked, and enjoy it while watching the beautiful sunset.
There is a lot more to do in this rich with culture and unique experiences coastal city. The other sights you can visit, time permitting are the Jewish Town – another cultural treasure of Kochi with antique stores and fabulous photo opportunities. There are not many Jews that live there today, but despite that, the Paradesi Synagogue – the oldest one in the Commonwealth is still open for worshipers and tourists. See the St Francis Church, the Santa Cruz Basilica and the Hill Palace. If you feel like venturing out of Cochin, go to the Mangalavanam bird Sanctuary and Cherai Beach. Cochin is where you can have the freshest (and very affordable) seafood directly from the ocean, book an Ayurveda treatment or go for a backwater ride on a houseboat.
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