Periyar National Park extends around the banks of a huge artificial lake that was created by the British who dammed the Periyar River in 1895. It has about 780 square kilometers (485 square miles) of dense hilly forest, with 350 square kilometers (220 square miles) of this being core park land.
Periyar is one of the most popular national parks in southern India, but these days this is more for its tranquil feel than sightings of wildlife -- which many people complain can be few and far between at times. The park is particularly known for its elephants.
The closest airports are at Madurai in Tamil Nadu (130 kilometers or 80 miles away) and Kochi in Kerala (190 kilometers or 118 miles away). The nearest railways station is at Kottayam, 114 kilometers (70 miles) away. The scenery on the way to Periyar is beautiful and includes tea estates and spice gardens.
How to Visit Periyar
Periyar is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unlike most national parks in India, Periyar doesn't close during the monsoon season although activities are weather dependent.
The most popular time to visit the park is during the cooler, drier months from October to February. Herds of wild elephants can best be seen during the hotter months of March and April, when they spend the most time in the water.
The aroma of the moist vegetation in the monsoon season gives Periyar special appeal. The monsoon rain starts to ease up a bit in August, but June and July are particularly wet. Don’t expect to see a lot of wildlife during the monsoon season because there’s no need for them to come out in search of water. If you do visit Periyar during monsoon time and go trekking, keep in mind that leeches also come with the rain. Make sure you wear the leech proof socks that are available at the park.
It's only possible to enter Periyar on a guided tour or activity, not alone. For the most peaceful experience, avoid weekends (particularly Sundays) due to crowds of day-trippers. Regular shuttle buses run from the car park on the southwest outskirts of Kumily to Periyar's main entrance.
Entry tickets cost 500 rupees for adult foreigners and 180 rupees for children. The price for Indians is 45 rupees for adults and 15 rupees for children. There are additional parking fees and camera fees.
What to Do There
The main way of seeing Periyar is by boat. There are no jeep safaris inside the park, only boat trips. The duration of these trips is about an hour and a half. The first one leaves at 7.30 a.m. and offers the best chance of seeing animals, along with the last one at 3.30 p.m. Other departures are at 9.30 a.m., 11.15 a.m., and 1.45 p.m. The lake is particularly captivating at sunset.
Boat safaris conducted by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation cost 500 rupees per person. Tickets for these are best booked online here in advance for weekends and public holidays, as long lines are common at the ticket counters. If you don't book online, you'll have to purchase your tickets at the boat jetty near the Wildlife Information Center inside the park. These tickets go on sale 90 minutes before departure.
Do be aware that some boats are not maintained properly, giving rise to safety issues. There have been a number of accidents in the past.
If you want to save on hassle and don't mind paying a bit extra, Wandertails offers this Periyar Boating Trail.
The best way to explore Periyar and spot wildlife is to participate in one of the many eco-tourism activities offered by the Forest Department Ecotourism Center. These include nature walks and border hikes through the forest with reformed poachers as guides, bamboo rafting, and night time jungle patrols led by trained tribal guides.
Guided nature walks (popularly known as the Green Walk) go for about three hours and depart at 7.00 a.m., 7.30 a.m., 11 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 2 p.m., and 2.30 p.m. All day border hikes and bamboo rafting trips leave at 8 a.m. Three-hour nighttime jungle patrols leave at 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Those who are into trekking and camping can join the program operated by Periyar Tiger Trail in conjunction with rehabilitated poachers and tree cutters. The cost is 7,500 rupees for one night and 10,000 rupees for 2 nights. (Tiger sightings are rare though)!
The only option for a jeep safari is to Gavi village, in the park's buffer zone. Various organizations offer day trips, including Touromark Jungle Tours, Wandertrails, and Gavi Eco Tourism (which is a project of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation). The trips incorporate jeep safari, walk through Gavi forest, and boating on Gavi lake. However, they're quite commercial with up to 100 other tourists doing the same thing. You won't be going anywhere remote! The safari part is merely a drive along a main road through the forest to reach the designated restaurant, managed by the forest department. The boating consists of row boats. Some visitors are disappointed by this.
Elephant Junction offers farm tourism, including elephant feeding and bathing.
Where to Stay
The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) runs three popular hotels within the boundaries of the park. These are the Lake Palace which costs from 13,000 rupees per night for a double including all meals and boat trip, Aranya Nivas starting from 3,450 rupees per night for a double, and the cheaper Periyar House, which starts from about 1,900 rupees per night for a double.
Staying at a KTDC property is advantageous as their position inside the park enables them to offer a range of exclusive activities from their premises, such as boat trips and nature walks. You're assured of getting a ticket for the boat safari.
All other hotels and resorts are located a short distance outside the park, mainly in and around Kumily. There are plenty of options to choose from for all budgets.
What to Do Nearby
Kadathanadan Kalari Center, Mudra Cultural Center and Yodha Cultural Village in Kumily hold performances of kallaripayutu, Kerala's ancient martial arts.
Head to Ayur Sparsh for decent Aurvedic massages and treatments.
Informative spice plantation tours are available at Abraham's Spice Garden. It was established in 1952, and its one of the oldest and largest spice gardens in the area.
If tea is your thing, you'll find a visit to Connemara Tea Factory and guided tour worthwhile.