South India’s most popular wildlife reserve, Periyar, encompasses 777 sq km, including a 26-sq-km 1895 artificial lake created by the British. This vast expanse – which became Kerala's first tiger reserve in 1978 (though founded as a sanctuary in 1934) – shelters wild boar, sambar, bison, langur, 2000 elephants and 35 to 40 hard-to-spot tigers. It's firmly established on both the Indian and foreigner tourist trails and known for its scenic lake cruise. But if you dig deeper, perhaps on a trek with a tribal villager or an ex-poacher, Periyar's hilly jungle scenery takes on a wild, magical feel. Bring warm, waterproof clothing.
Kumily is the closest town, with hotels, restaurants and Kashmiri emporiums. Thekkady, 4km south of Kumily, is the park centre, with the KTDC hotels and boat jetty. Confusingly, when people refer to the sanctuary they use Thekkady, Kumily and Periyar interchangeably. The best wildlife-spotting months are December to April.