Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

How to Take a Trip on a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

The first thing that anyone will ask you about your trip to Kerala is if you took a trip to the backwaters. And it really is *the* thing to do here.  The backwaters are huge and there are a variety of ways to explore them, so to ensure we had the full picture, we took three trips into the backwaters.  And they were three very different trips.  This one, though, was my favorite.  A two-day trip on a Kerala Houseboat in the backwaters with no engine.  It’s gloriously peaceful.  And there’s something special about seeing this part of the country from a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat.

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Kerala Houseboat

Book an overnight Kerala Houseboat Trip

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Head out for a fabulous time – but book early.

How to Visit the Backwaters of Kerala

There are several ways to visit Kerala’s backwaters, and it goes without saying that there should be a boat involved.  You can

  1. Take a day trip (or a half day) into the backwaters on a houseboat.
  2. You can take the cheap and cheerful ferry from Alleppey to Kottayam < I wrote about that here
  3. You can take the tourist boat from Alleppey to Kollam – this is useful if you’re heading further south, say to Varkala.  Our experiences of riding this boat are here.  But you should note that it’s currently not running as one of the canals is blocked.
  4. You can take an overnight trip on a houseboat.  That’s what this article is about.

Taking an Overnight Trip on a Kerala Houseboat

You’ll be overwhelmed with choices when it comes to picking a houseboat to overnight on the Kerala’s backwaters.  If you’re in Kerala right now, every second tour operator has lots of choices.  Your hotel or guesthouse will have its favorite choice.  And the quality varies wildly.  It’s best to go with the ones that get the best recent reviews.  Like this one.

Booking an overnight trip on Kerala houseboats

There are several options for booking overnight trips on houseboats in Kerala.  Obviously, you can book directly with the houseboat, by wandering to either the port in Cochin or to the boat jetty in Alleppey (where most houseboats depart from).

You can book with a bricks and mortar agent in either Cochin or Alleppey.  (we did, but that’s because there wasn’t an option for online booking when we traveled this route).

You can book with an online provider.  We use and recommend GetYourGuide – and their best-rated and reviewed overnight trip is this one.

Our Experiences on our Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

We booked our engine-free retreat in Cochin at the Stanley Wilson offices in the center of town.  We would get our own (basic) boat, with a private bathroom, dining area, and bedroom and we’d be punted through the backwaters to the beach and back. We’d get three meals a day prepared on the boat for us, bottled water, and tea or coffee too.

Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

We’d have three meals all prepared on the boat and we’ll spend the night in glorious solitude.  We chose to pay the 600 INR taxi fee to get there in about 90 minutes, rather than spending most of the day on a bus and then picking up an auto-rickshaw.

Going from Cochin to Alleppey

And so, after a quick taxi journey and a long wait for the southbound train to pass the tracks.   The level crossing gates shut some 30 minutes before the train was due – we arrived in the tiny hamlet of Cherivally, Thazhuppu.

Waiting at the Train Crossing

Arriving in Alleppey for our Houseboat trip

We were right not to expect the photos to be the reality.  No photo ever shows you the amount of garbage and trash that is present.  No tourist site ever shows the level of wear and tear that accommodation has accumulated since they took the photos.

But it was still pretty peaceful.  Not a honking car or bike horn to be heard.

Our Houseboat in Kerala

Our Keralan Backwaters Houseboat

Our boat was about 45 feet long.   An open, but roofed area at the front allows us to sit in plastic garden chairs and enjoy the scenery.  Behind us, there was a small table with two chairs where we were served lunch, dinner, and breakfast.

Front Seating Area Kerala Houseboat

In the center of the boat is a small room.  It’s big enough – just – for a small double mosquito-netted bed, carefully jammed against the fan that would keep us cool overnight.  At the rear of the room, what might once have been an en suite shower room was now a toilet.  I don’t want to know where it emptied to.  There’s now a leaking sink and what was once a shower.  It’s simply a museum-like display of shower attachments.

India, I’m finding requires the gritting of teeth.  It needs the shrug that asks “Well what do you expect? without, of course, expecting an answer.

Our boat is moored alongside two others.  There are bungalows next to the waterway.  For another US$40 you can spend the night in this peaceful idyll.  Or so says the marketing material, I’m still struggling with the amount of garbage alongside the word idyll.  We have two guys on our boat, they will punt us along.  They tell us about the area in their broken English.  They also prepare our food over the next 24 hours – in this tiny little kitchen. The guys did a great job looking after us.

Kitchen on our Keralan Houseboat

The boat is worn.  However, it seems more seaworthy than the ferries we were taking between Kochi and Ernakulam.  We can live with worn and no shower for this short space of time.  On this, our first trip into the backwater, we wanted the peace of no engine.  So we are man (or men) powered on this trip.

Engine Free Kerala Backwaters Houseboat

Exploring the Kerala Backwaters

It is peaceful.  There are no motors here.  We’re punted slowly down a canal, overhanging with foliage, overgrown trees, and creepers scraping the roof.  I shudder, imagining snakes and creepy crawlies. (We’ll get to see plenty of snakes at the Madras Crocodile Bank, near Chennai later in this trip)  There are buildings too, small houses, and kids asking for pens or candies.  There’s also the local bar.  The toddy shop.  It is most definitely a local bar for local people.

the Toddy Shop in the Kerala Backwaters

The canal opens up and there’s a walkway alongside.  Our punters take to the walkway and now use long lines to pull us along.   It is really rather gloriously peaceful.  There are just a few local boats going about their business, all punted along, with no engines.  There are a few folks wandering along the towpath.

There’s a temptation to sit and read, but it’s mesmerizing to just watch the world float slowly past us.  There’s a fish farm on the right.

Heading to the Beach on our Houseboat

Nothing, including us, is moving very fast at all, although as we enter an open lake area, the guys have to work a little harder, as we’re into a slight breeze.  However, it doesn’t take long before we moor up to a tree.  Then we’re led off through what feels like someone’s land, along a vague track in some scrub for about 15 minutes.  There’s a small road to cross and then we’re at the beach.

At the Beach in Kerala

Swim, he says ” You want to swim?” as we stand looking out at the Arabian Sea, where a local guy is having a crap in the sea.  “No, no,” we say, “we’ll just take some photos”.

And despite the public defecation it really is rather lovely.  There’s no one around, although I get the feeling if I strip down to my swimsuit. there may be!

The colorful fishing boats are pulled high up on the sand and it’s incredibly peaceful.

Fishing Boats at the Beach in Kerala

Back on the boat, we drift out to the middle of the lake area – there’s another similar boat about 40 feet away now – anchored like we are,

It’s glorious just enjoying the breeze and a leisurely lunch before we drift back the way we’ve come, back down the canals.  We meet an irritatingly noisy group of tourists shrieking their way along on a small motorboat.  Luckily, they pass quite quickly. 

We go past the toddy shop again and all too soon, we’re back where we started.  I have had a post-lunch snooze, but now, it’s time to take the canoe out.

Canoeing the Kerala Backwaters

Our houseboat has a canoe and it’s for our use, it’s included in our rates for the night.  This is no plastic piece of kit.  It’s a heavy wooden carved thing.

Canoeing the Keralan Backwaters

We each have what looks like a wooden spade and we’re waved off in a general “go on, give us some peace, whichever way you want” direction.  We chose the narrow canal that we haven’t been down. It takes us about 40 minutes to get to a wider channel that looks to have a current.  We spin around and head back again.

Smaller Canals in the Kerala Backwaters

My palms are sore from the wooden spade rowing I’ve been doing.  It’s time for a pre-dinner G&T, which we brought with us as a protection from mosquitoes.  It serves us well, for a while at least.

G&T in the Keralan Backwaters

Dinner on our Kerala Houseboat

Like lunch, there is more than enough dinner to feed both of us and probably two more, although it’s cleared away quickly.  That’s a good job, as we’re joined by a large rat on the front of the boat.  So we finish the G&T quickly and take refuge from the mosquitoes in bed.

Our Kerala Houseboat

Breakfast on our Kerala Houseboat

It’s a peaceful night and an 08:00 breakfast of rice noodles, or string hoppers that we came to love in Sri Lanka, with curry.

And then we’re done, heading into another taxi to head down to our next backwater adventure in Alleppy. and we’re going from there to Varkala.

Travel Tips for Exploring India

Final Words on Taking a Kerala Backwaters Houseboat Trip

This was the favorite of our trips into Kerala’s backwaters.  No engine, and a lot of blissful quiet.  We didn’t go very far, but this was completely different from our other two trips, but as I say my favorite because it felt like we were far away from the madding crowd and much closer to the natural world.

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