The backwaters of Kerala on a private houseboat to explore worth it for a long time, why this is and what better alternatives there are, you will find out here.
This is a collection full of insider tips and we’ll show you the very best ways to experience the beautiful nature of Kerala backwaters – off the beaten track and in the middle of authentic Indian life! Also, our alternatives are cheap and on top of that real highlights.
The Backwaters of Kerala: The biggest highlight of South India
The backwaters of Kerala are a ramified network of 44 rivers, 29 lakes and more than 1,500 km of canals and natural waterways. They are located in the southwest of India, in the hinterland of the coast with probably the most beautiful name in the world, the Malabar Coast.
A visit is undoubtedly one of the biggest highlights of a tour of southern India and the landscape is unique in the world.
Most of the small canals are overgrown with water hyacinths, coconuts are on the shore and the sky is deep blue. Many travellers rent a houseboat for a few days to explore the backwaters. Why this is not a good idea (more) and how you have a much more unique and authentic experience, you will find out here now.
Why renting a houseboat is not (anymore) worthwhile
A houseboat trip through the famous backwaters of Kerala has been on our bucket list for a very long time and it was very clear to us that we would definitely rent a houseboat here.
But when we arrived in the city of Alleppey, the reality was very different and our romantic idea was suddenly pure illusion: The number of houseboats has at least tripled in the last five years and of ‘lonely’ and ‘romantic’ is nothing more to feel! A houseboat joins the next one and instead of marvelling at the backwaters it is more likely that you will watch your neighbour eating…
The offseason is a bit quieter, but still crowded and the prices are outrageously expensive. For one night you have to count on a whole, but very simply equipped boat with at least 125 EUR.
By the way: A “day tour” is a very short pleasure here, because it often starts at 4 pm, then you drive through the backwaters for a short 3 hours, stop for the sunset, eat and go to sleep.
The next morning you are back at 9:30 clock back at the starting point and whether you’re an early riser or not, it’s not worth it.
Rent a houseboat at the backwaters of Kerala: There are definitely MUCH better and clearly cheaper alternatives!
Alternative # 1: Take the local ferry from Kottayam to Alleppey
The route of the public ferry from Kottayam to Alleppey (often called Alappuzha) is one of the most beautiful of the entire backwaters, is dirt cheap (cost: about 30 cents !) and takes about four hours.
Since the ferry is a major means of transport for local residents, it drives very regularly.
We had a whole school class with us, we could watch the villagers along the river and thus had the feeling of being in the middle of the Indian everyday life.
At the same time, we admired the beautiful landscape and all the small canals.
Glad travel tips:
· Be on time at the jetty and secure a seat as far ahead.
· Take a little time for a walk: near the boat launch, the landscape is gorgeous!
Alternative No. 2: Canoe through the Kerala backwaters
For us personally, the canoe trip was the absolute highlight of the backwaters.
We drove for a whole day with a non-motorized wooden canoe through the beautiful little waterways. And although we booked the tour easily and without previous internet research on our hostel, was from a tourist rush far and wide to feel anything.
The group was small (about 8 people) and we were spread out on four canoes. Due to lack of engine noise, we could admire the beautiful and peaceful nature, saw many birds and have meandered through all the small channels through which no large (home) boat fits.
In between, we stopped to drink a cool coconut and to buy snacks from the villagers. This day was absolutely fantastic and one of the most beautiful during our entire tour of South India.
Cost of this activity: 1,000 INR per person (~ 15 €)
Alternative no. 3: Even with the canoe through the backwaters drive
Instead of letting yourself be driven around in a wooden canoe, there is also the opportunity to paddle you and get into a good sweat. We are pretty sure that this is probably the most authentic – though the most exhausting – way to explore the backwaters off the beaten track.
It starts early in the morning at 6h long before the houseboats fire their engines and just when a new day begins shortly after sunrise for the residents on the river.
The groups are usually very small and a half-day trip costs 1,500 INR (~ 23 €).
In Alleppey, numerous agencies offer canoeing, but also almost all hostel owners can help you with the organization. Unfortunately, we did not find out about the possibility until shortly before departure, but next time we would definitely prefer this option to all others.
Kerala Backwaters: Accommodation in Alleppey
In the very tourist town of Alleppey, there are some great and cheap homestays. With a bit of luck and if you book in time, you can find real bargains and maybe even get accommodation right on the canals or on the beach!
We have booked all accommodations in India in advance, as in the peak season in the winter months; everything was often already booked out a few days before.
We have booked our accommodations in Kerala through AirBnB* Booking.com *. Airbnb offers great accommodations in 191 countries with locals at really fair prices. If you are not registered there then it is high time!