Kerala Backwaters – 24 Hours on an Alleppey Houseboat

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We had read that visiting the Kerala backwaters was a must when visiting Alleppey in India. According to The Lonely Planet, an Alleppey houseboat tour may be one of the most expensive things that you do in India, but it is well worth it. 

So naturally, we booked a houseboat tour and splurged on a cruise to the backwater canals and tributaries of Alleppey.

The Backwaters of Alleppey are known as God’s own country and we wholly agree.

Alleppey Houseboat Tour of the Kerala Backwaters

We had booked our backwaters tour while hanging out in Varkala having no idea what to expect.

After 2 1/2 hour on the train, a driver was waiting for us at the station to transfer us the jetty that would be our home for the next 24 hours. 

We had heard that booking outside of Alleppey was not a smart idea. You could end up with an old rust bucket and be stuck on a terrible cruise. 

But we had a good feeling about our contact in Varkala and decided to chance it. It is much less hassle than walking to the jetty and haggling over a price.

Gou can book houseboats when you arrive for a cheaper deal, but if you want to save time and hassle, you can also book in advance.

Get Your Guide offers several options:

2 Day Alappuzha Backwater Houseboat Cruise – Includes transfers and overnight stay on a delux houseboat. Easy cancellation up to 24 hours in advanace.

Kerala Vembanadu Lake Full Day Cruise – If you don’t want to stay overnight, this 7 hour cruise is a good option. Includes transfers and lunch. Plus easy cancellaion.

What a lovely surprise to see that we actually had a great boat. 

Our houseboat was a spacious riverboat complete with bamboo cover and wicker furniture set up for a 24 hour adventure into the backwaters.

About Alleppey Houseboats

The traditional houseboat (‘Kettuvellam’ in Malayalam) are as elegant as they was historic.

The houseboats are made from old cargo vessels transformed into traditional houseboats. 

They are a beautiful design. Made from twine, wicker and bamboo.

The famous houseboats of Alleppey were made to float down the rivers and backwaters looking timeless.

Our houseboat was exactly what you would want for an exotic Asian Cruise adventure. 

Cushions were set up all around the boat for us to sit and view the Kerala backwaters from any direction. 

A table was set up in the middle of the dark wooden frame and we were welcomed with fresh fruit and coconut juice.

All of this was shaded with a bamboo cover and we sat in luxury as we watched life go by on the river.

About the Kerala Backwaters

sunset on the kerala backwaters in india

They Kerala Backwaters consist of lagoons, rivers, canals and lakes running parallel to the Arabian Sea from Varkala to Kerala in Southern India.

There are 900 km of waterways in Kerala with the vast Vembanad Lake in its centre.

The Kerala backwaters are known as the Venice of the East or the Land of Canals and this title certainly rings true in Kerala. 

The canals and rivers are the lifeblood of Kerala.

People live and work on the backwaters the way other places use roads and highways to commute to work.

Alleppey Backwaters – The Symbol of Kerala

man with bamboo pole on riverbank in  backwatres

The backwaters have always been the symbol of Kerala and we were mesmerized the moment we started our journey.

Lined with swaying palm trees dotted on both sides, it feels as if you have entered a time warp.

Houses line the riverbanks, there are schools on either side of the lake and we could even see small children studying in their classrooms.

Water taxis make regular runs like public buses would in a city, villages are built on canals, and shops and markets sit on the river banks.

There didn’t seem to be a reason for anyone to ever leave the backwaters of Kerala.

Private Houseboat

backwaters kerala india houseboat

We started our backwaters houseboat tour from Alleppey (or Allappuzha) and that is where boarded our houseboat.

Another popular place to board houseboats in Kerala is Kumarakom. These are the two main hubs, but there are 900 km of waterways, so you can find houseboats at many cities along the route. Try looking in Kochi, Kottayam or Kollam as well.

Our tour began at 12:00 noon. We had a full day ahead of us to see life on the backwaters.

Life on the Houseboat

alleppey houseboat kerala backwaters video

“Saji”, our chef got straight to work preparing our lunch as our trusty captain “Captain Kudappe” skillfully steered us through the narrow canals and vast lakes.

We had our one bedroom boat to ourselves. We splurged on our budget for this tour and explored the backwaters in style.

As we watched life go by around us, we ate grapes and bananas and lounged in the sun. When it got too hot, we turned on the fan.

And we hid under the bamboo canopy feeling the breeze of the fresh air.

We entered many small canals while cruising the lake.

The islands and paddy fields on either side were separated by lagoons, coconut groves, brooks and small gushing streams.

Feasts and Relaxation

food on kerala houseboat tour from alleppey
Our meals on our houseboat

The scenery is quite beautiful in the Kerala Backwaters and the chef-prepared food on our houseboat was excellent. 

We were fed 3 meals in total during our overnight trip.

Lunch when we boarded the boat at noon, dinner that evening, and breakfast the following morning. 

There was more food than we could possibly eat and it was an excellent assortment of Indian sauces with rice, chipatti and pappadam. 

Most of it was vegetarian, but we were also served lake fish with each meal.

You can let them know if you want vegetarian or meat ahead of time.

Fishermen and Vendors

man on canoe view from houseboat tour in alleppey india

Vendors will approach the boat and offer to sell prawns, but we declined. 

We had blown the budget enough on the trip and 900 rupees was a little steep for us.

I believe that it is well worth the money though.  These fishermen work hard for the prawns. 

They dive down to depths of 20 feet looking for shellfish. 

That water is dark and murky.  I wouldn’t want to even swim in it, let alone pull myself to great depths looking for fish.

fishing in the kerala backwaters
Fishermen underwater diving for prawns

I do wish that we brought some wine or beer on board with us. I would have loved to sip a cold beverage while enjoying the scenery.

Alas, we sipped tea as our thoughts were occasionally broken by chirpings by the cormorant cuckoos and egrets.

It’s A Long Time on a Houseboat

alleppey houseboat view of backwater canal in kerala

There are many options for houseboat tours from Alleppey. You can do a couple of hours, an overnight and even several days.

Boats range from small daytrippers to huge houseboats with several bedrooms. Our had one bedroom which was perfect for Dave and myself.

Be prepared, after you’ve watched life on the river for a few hours, the houseboat tour becomes a bit monotonous. 

It is a good time to read a book, meditate, or play a game of travel scrabble.

We found that a few hours is more than enough on a houseboat and really you can see all that you want to see in one afternoon.

But it is a romantic notion to sleep in the Kerala backwaters.

You can book day tours of the Kerala Backwaters:

Kerala Vembanadu Lake Full Day Cruise – If you don’t want to stay overnight, this 7 hour cruise is a good option. Includes transfers and lunch. Plus easy cancellaion.

Nightime on the Houseboat

sunset on kerala backwaters

We tied up for the night at about 5:00 pm, as the sun was setting and ate our dinner at 7:00.

It is serene to be out there alone and to experience an overnight tour, takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the daytrippers and lets you see local life in a more intimate setting.

The bugs came out in full force and you couldn’t stay out and enjoy the evening for long after dinner. 

By 8:00 pm we were in bed under the safety of our mosquito blanket.

I would have liked to have anchored in the lake rather than mooring up to a dock. It took away from the authenticity of the experience.

Every time we ate, we moored the boat. 

It would have been so nice to anchor in the harbour or to keep driving.  We never seemed to dock at scenic areas either. 

All of the boats seemed to dock in groups as well.

Impression of Kerala Backwaters Tours

woman washing in kerala backwaters

The Kerala Backwaters are a must see destination in India.

It was fascinating to see a glimpse of how every day life goes on in the area and the scenery was beautiful. 

Was the Alleppey houseboat tour worth the money? 

Yes. We had a private boat, chef and captain.

We toured all day through the backwaters and we were fed 3 delicious meals. (included)

Was the Alleppey Houseboat Tour an unforgettable experience?

boathouse kerala

Not really. We didn’t love it.  But we are glad we did it.

We would have liked to have been able to get off the boat to explore the villages of the backwaters and see the sites.

We took a similar trip in Vietnam to the Mekong Delta, and at the time, we mocked all our stops to get off the boat to see rice paper making factories and touring distilleries. On this in Kerala, we wished that we had something to do other than watching life from the sidelines.

Once we docked for the night we tried to relax to watch the sunset, but after it went down, there wasn’t a lot to do as we waited for dinner.

After dinner we went straight to bed because of the mosquitoes. Once the sun went down, the mosquitoes were brutal and we could have used a mosquito net on the boat.

Get an Air conditioned Houseboat

kerala alleppey houseboat views

We recommend getting an air conditioned houseboat. 

It is hot at night and there isn’t much of a breeze. Plus the bugs are a plenty.  An air conditioned room would take care of all of the discomforts. 

We ended up having to sleep with our door and windows open and the fan on full force.

When to do a Backwaters Tour in Alleppey

kerala backwaters houseboat tour boat

It was November when we toured Alleppey and it was the perfect time to do a Kerala Backwaters Tour.

The busy season was still a couple of weeks away and the system wasn’t over crowded with house boats yet. 

I hear that it can become almost gridlock in the high season and I can believe it. We saw many houseboats parked waiting for the chaos to begin.

Peak season is said to be between September and February, but it doesn’t really pick up until December.

We were in Alleppey in November and it felt quite peaceful.

Other Times to Tour the Kerala Backwaters

If you want to go to the backwaters when there are few crowds, the monsoon season between June and August can be quiet and the rains can keep temperatures comfortable.

From March to May it is hot and humid so you will want to splurge on a houseboat with air conditioning. Although we felt that we could have used air conditioning in November.

How to Get to Alleppey

  • The closest airport to Alleppey is the Cochin airport.
  • It is a good idea to book transport in advance to your hotel or houseboat.
  • Most tours leave from Alleppey and Kumarakom.
  • Other popular ports are Kochi, Kottayam and Kollam.
  • Kumarakom is approximately 70 kms from Cohin airport.
  • We took a two hour India rail from Varkala to Alleppey.

Cost of Our Alleppey Houseboat Tour

We booked our tour in Advance while in Varkala with Om Shanthi Tours – Beside Cafe Italiano at North Cliff Beach for $135.00. Because we booked in India is was very reasonable. IOur tour included:

  • Transfers from Skylark Guest house to train station
  • Train from Varkala to Alleppey (2 ½ hours)
  • Transfers from Train to Kingfisher Tours
  • Transfers Kingfisher Tours to boat
  • 22 hours on boat with 3 meals, personal chef and captain.

Contact: [email protected]

Overnight houseboat tours from Varkala to Alleppey start at 7500 Rupees ($135 Canadian) for two people.

Day trips are cheaper and you can just hop on one when in Alleppey.

If you want to book ahead, we use Get Your Guide for our tours around the world. They are reputable and offer reliable service including free and easy cancellation with 24 hours notice or last minute bookings.

alleppey houseboat in the kerala backwaters india

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The entire experience was very humbling. To see local people enjoying their lives in simple activities gave us a perspective and much-needed break from our hectic travel schedule.  

I couldn’t believe the calmness that the view was eluding. We could just sit there doing nothing but gazing for hours.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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