Kerala is famed for its ayuvedic and medically proven massage therapy, so you have massage centres dime a dozen lining the beach as the interiors near the hotels and restaurants. Some are real good, but most are fake and will try to fleece you with nothing more than a warm scrub. Go to guys which have a license from the tourism dept.
As you walk the beaches at Kovalam you are met by many people trying to sell you things, such as sunglasses or clothing. The main ones I encounted were women selling fruit. The sellers were very persistant, but in no way threatening. One of the women offered to let me take her picture for free, but obviously I then had to buy some of her fruit.
The beaches of Kovalam have plenty of attractions......The hub of activity for the resort through the day and evening.
However, Please be aware that the sea can become quite rough with strong undercurrents.
There are lifeguards present, who blow whistles to alert bathers if they are straying out of the "safe zone"
Nudity and topless bathing are prohibited..a strong "sensible" costume/bikini will reduce the risk of you being parted from your attire by the waves!
You will be stared at on the beach, by the locals..but this is usually harmless. It can be daunting though to be surrounded by a large group of men of all ages, as happened to me twice.
One in the group asked the usual "where are you from? etc" then they requested that I had my photo taken with them. (I'm a 40 something..not a teenage model type!) At this moment the tourist police arrived, to move the crowd away. Well at least they asked, apparently it's not unusual for "sneaky" photos to be taken of sunbathing tourists, for publication in papers/mags.
Spotted at kiosks etc..beware, they are often reclaimed bottles from departing holidaymakers wastebins..at the best will be half full...or else be topped up with moisturiser or coconut oil...... Don't think you'll get a better/quicker tan, the Keralan sun can be deceptively hot, even if overcast.
Be suspicious, if there is a selection of 1 only of each brand, and/or with old price labels on (displaying the currency of the country it was purchased in)
Either bring a good supply from home, or buy from reputable shops/pharmacies.
Some of the fruit sellers and other vendors also sell bottles of coconut oil etc, and will tell you you'll get a good tan. Again avoid!!!
I usually feign cries of 'Allergy' with appropiate gestures, if I'm given the hard sell (Also works for perfume vendors, if their wares may be dubious)
Although not on the scale of other Indian cities/towns etc, there are a few beggers in Kovalam, these started to increase in numbers during my stay, and were gathering nearer and nearer to my hotel, somedays they were doubling up - instead of one there would be two sat together.
I always find this a problem...if I give to 1 should I give to them all?
Aware that I'm "Rich Westerner" and therefore should share my wealth, but again, it cost me a lot to make this 'Once in a lifetime' trip.
I did start to wonder if there was some sort of "organisation" to this, and a few days later the local newspaper reported that organised gangs were transporting beggers to the resorts!!!!!!
I also read elsewhere that orphanages "opened" during the tourist season, (open for donations etc!) only to be closed (if they ever existed) when the tourists had gone home. I don't know how true this is, just something I read.
There is an orphanage in Kovalam, that the Manos reps visit regularly, and will take pens /donations etc from you to give to the children.
Tired from my journey, I went to buy fruit. I just wanted 2 bananas and insisted that was all I wanted. I was being hounded to buy papaya etc by the lady. She then whipped out a knife, cut a wedge of pineapple and handed it to me. Before I knew it, the rest of the pineapple was peeled, and I was given it. I refused, she got angry, saying that she'd cut it now, so I had to buy it. I started to walk away. 2 bananas were thrust at me, and 400 rupees demanded! I refused to pay,even in my tired state, and not having got used to the currency I knew this was extortionate. I paid 100r, later found it was 50 r for a fruit salad.
Day 2 another fruit lady called me over, said she saw the trouble I had yesterday, and would give me a good price 50 r for fruit salad, I'd found out this was the going rate, and handed over 100 r note, which disappeared into her skirt folds quicker than greased lightning. I then asked for my 50 r change, She insisted that I'd given her 50, and proceeded to produce a 50 r note, from the skirt. I'm 100% sure I'd given her 100, but couldn't prove it. As she was getting annoyed, I thought it best to leave it
I finally found a "trustworthy" one, and bought my fruit from her, she used to find me on the beach, ask what time I wanted my fruit , then brought it over..no problem!
until...for 2 days I didn't want fruit.
On the 3rd day-my last day, I placed my usual order. 50 rupees? I said, the reply was that as it was my last day and I hadn't bought fruit for 2 days, I should give her a special price!
She then noticed my camera and asked if I wanted to take her photo (by now I knew that often taking a pic results in a request for payment) So I took my pic and gave her 100 rupees, with mixed feelings - got some nice fruit and a photo, she had quite an interesting face, but felt a bit cheated, by being asked for more money because I hadn't bought her fruit for 2 days.
Crikey! hope our local Asda doesn't start charging extra, because I've not been spending my money there for a few days!
The sea can be quite rough at Kovalam, as evidenced by heavy erosion of the shoreline and the badly battered sea wall that has even collapsed in a couple places. Watch for red flags designating areas where it is not safe to swim depending on the conditions. In addition to big powerful waves, there is also a strong undertow that. It didn't seem like a safe place for children to swim at all. I wouldn't even recommend that adults venture too far into the water. On the bright side, the beach has soft fine sand that's great for bare feet.
There is no direct access to most of the hotels at Lighthouse Beach by road. Instead, you will be dropped off either in the parking lot north of the beach or on a small road (Light House Road) that dead ends south of the beach near the lighthouse. This can be rather unnerving after the sun sets because it's so dark. From the parking lot to the north it's a matter of following the paved walkway along the beach until you reach the hotel. From the road to the south it's quite a bit more difficult to find your way. It's worth paying a porter to carry your bags just so you find the place. Either way, make sure you have a flashlight/torch if you'll be arriving after dark. Otherwise you'll be hard pressed to find your way.
The sea can be quite strong with large waves appearing out of what looks like calm, on a couple of occasions it pulled me over and it was quite a fight to get upright . Make sure that you are a strong swimmer whilst lifeguards are allegedly present they are centainly not conspicious and mainly only on the bigger Lighthouse Beach.
The undertow of the Kovalam beaches can be quite strong! I experienced this myself as I was threading water one afternoon talking with a British guy that I had met earlier in India. After chatting I turned to head towards the beach and realized we were quite far from shore. Luckily we were both strong swimmers! We swam diaganol against the current and made it back to shore safely. I had heard that a couple of Indian tourists had drowned just a week or two before my arrival at Kovalam. The water can be deceiving as it doesn't look dangerous at all!!! In 1985 there weren't any lifeguards on duty but this may have changed by now....