Periyar National Park extends around the banks of a huge artificial lake that was created by the damming of the Periyar River in 1895. It has 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.
Location of Periyar National Park
Periyar is located in Thekkady, around 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Kumili in the Idukki district of central Kerala.
How to Get There
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.
When to Visit
Unlike many national parks in India, Periyar stays open all year round. The most popular time to visit is during the cooler, drier months from October to February. However, the aroma of the moist vegetation in the monsoon season also gives it special appeal. The monsoon rain starts to ease up a bit in August, but June and July are particularly wet. The best time for viewing elephants is during the hotter months of March and April when they spend the most time in the water.
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. Periyar is also best avoided on weekends (particularly Sundays) due to crowds of day tourists.
Opening Hours and Activities
Periyar is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Slow boat safari trips take place inside the park, with a duration of around 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. Guided nature walks that last for around three hours start between 7.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. in the morning, and 2.00 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. in the afternoon. All day border hikes and bamboo rafting trips leave at 8 a.m.
Entry Fees and Boat Safari Costs
Adult foreigners pay 450 rupees, and children 155 rupees, to enter the national park. The price for Indians is 33 rupees for adults and 5 rupees for children. There are also additional parking fees and camera fees.
Boat safari trips cost 225 rupees per adult and 75 rupees per child. The trips are best booked online, as long queues of up to three hours are common otherwise. However, online tickets are usually sold out far in advance. If not booking online, visitors must purchase tickets from the boat jetty, near the Wildlife Information Center. They 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.
Other Activities in Periyar National Park
It's only possible to enter the park on a guided tour or activity, not alone. There are no jeep safaris as such, only boat trips. The best way to explore Periyar and see the wildlife is to participate in one of the many eco-tourism activities that are on offer. These include nature walks and hikes through the forest with reformed poachers as guides, bamboo rafting, and night time jungle patrols. The activities can be booked online here.
Periyar Tiger Trail treks and camping, conducted by rehabilitated poachers and tree cutters, cost 6,500 rupees for one night and 8,500 rupees for 2 nights. (Tiger sightings are rare though)!
Another option is a jungle jeep safari package to Gavi village.
Various organizations offer these trips, including Touromark Jungle Tours, Wandertrails, and Gavi Eco Tourism (which is a project of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation). The trip incorporates a jeep safari and walk through Gavi forest, and boating on Gavi lake. However, it's quite commercial with up to 100 other tourists doing the same thing. You won't be going anywhere remote! The safari 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 rides through the forest and countryside can be privately organized through many hotels. Elephant Junction offers farm tourism, including elephant rides, feeding and bathing.
Visiting Periyar During the Monsoon
Periyar National Park is one of the few national parks in India to remain open during the monsoon. Most of the activities in Periyar are still weather dependent, but boat trips operate throughout the monsoon season. If you do visit Periyar during monsoon time and go trekking, keep in mind that leeches also come with the rains so make sure you wear the leech proof socks that are available at the park.
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 10,000 rupees per night for a double room, Aranya Nivas starting from 3,500 rupees per night, and the cheaper Periyar House, which starts from around 2,000 rupees per night. Summer and monsoon season discounts are offered. All other hotels and resorts are located a short distance outside the national park. See Tripadvisor for current special offers.
Staying at a KTDC property is advantageous as their location inside the park enables them to offer a range of exclusive activities from their premises. These include wildlife boat cruises, nature walks and trekking, bamboo rafting, border hiking, elephant rides, and jungle patrols.
Other Attractions Around Periyar
Kadathanadan Kalari Center is nearby and has performances of kallaripayutu, Kerala's ancient martial arts.
If you're interested in local life, Wandertails offers this private day trip of the rustic life of Thekkady.