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Explore the Backwaters on a Kerala Houseboat

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Explore the Backwaters on a Kerala Houseboat Martin Child/Getty Images
The backwaters is the rather unappealing name given to the picturesque network of lagoons, lakes, rivers, and canals that run inland from the coast of Kerala, from Cochin to Kollam (Quilon).

Traditionally, the backwaters are used by local people for transport, fishing, and agriculture. Annual snake boat races, held along the backwaters, also provide a great source of entertainment for the locals and tourists alike.

The lush green palm-fringed landscape, diverse wildlife, and houses and villages that line the backwaters make a journey along these waterways seem like a journey through another world. Don't miss it!

How to Best See the Kerala Backwaters:

One of the most tranquil and relaxing things you can do in India is hire a Kerala houseboat (called a kettuvallam) to explore the backwaters. Freshly cooked Indian food and chilled beer make the experience even more enjoyable. Those on a budget can go on one of the many half or full day backwater tourist cruises that are on offer. Alternatively, if you want to check out the backwaters very cheaply, it's possible to take one of the public boat services operated by the State Water Transport Department, such as the one between Alleppey and Kottayam. Travel time is two and a half hours, with numerous daily departures.

What Options Exist for Kerala Backwater Cruises:

The cheapest option for cruising the backwaters is on the Alleppey Tourism Development Corporation ferry between Alleppey and unattractive Kollam (eight hours), which departs at 10.30 a.m. daily from each town. The cost is around $5. (Some people will be interested to know that these boats make a stop at the Matha Amrithanandamayi Mission of the Hugging Mother to drop visitors off). Travel agents and hotels also organize boat tour packages, which start from around $12 with lunch. Many include a stop at a coir village. Some day trips also leave from Cochin, such as the recommended one organized by the Tourist Desk.

Where is it Possible to Hire a Kerala Houseboat:

The best place for hiring a tradtional thatched roof Kerala houseboat is Alleppey. You'll find hundreds of them there. From Alleppey, you'll be taken on an adventure through the various backwaters to places such as Kumarakom, Kottayam, and Alinkadavu (near Kollam). There's a wide range of destinations to choose from to suit all travel plans. Houseboats will usually slowly travel a distance of around 40-50 kilometers (25-30 miles) through the backwaters each day, so you'll get to see lots of different scenery.

What Durations are Houseboats Hired For:

You can hire a houseboat for as little as a day, or as long as a week! It's really up to you. Day trips run from around midday until 6 p.m. Most people go for overnight hire, which includes a serene sleep out in the middle of nowhere, in a lake or other similarly peaceful spot. The houseboats then return by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. the next day. Two night houseboat hire is also popular. However, it can become boring for any length of time longer than this. 48 hours on a houseboat is definitely long enough to take in all the sights and re-charge your batteries.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Houseboat:

The cost of houseboat hire greatly depends on the quality of the boat and the time of year. The minimum rate for overnight hire is around $80, however most people pay around $150 to hire a deluxe air conditioned houseboat for two. Rates easily go up to $250 for a luxury houseboat. Large family sized houseboats, with multiple bedrooms and living rooms, are also available for hire. Prices start from around $285 for one of these, for an overnight trip. All costs include freshly cooked food, made by an on-board cook, and drinks.

When is the Best Time to Hire a Houseboat:

Peak season is from December to the end of January, when the weather is cooler and dry, but it's possible to hire a houseboat all year round. Some people find that the monsoon season has special appeal and choose to combine their houseboat hire with an ayurvedic treatment. March to May gets very hot and humid, so if you hire a houseboat during this time, an air conditioned one is definitely recommended.

What Are Some Reputable Kerala Houseboat Operators:

There are so many houseboats for hire at Alleppey that it's advisable not to book in advance, apart from during the peak season. Instead head down to the jetty, inspect the boats there, and negotiate the best price. During peak season, the availability of quality boats drops dramatically, and prices get hiked. As prices aren't properly regulated, they can fluctuate widely. To get an idea of prices and what's on offer (and also to book in advance if you wish), reputable companies that have a range of houseboats for hire include the opulent Spice Coast Cruises, Coco Houseboats, Lakes and Lagoons, Morning Mist Cruises, and River and Country Cruises.

Also have a look at this list of Kerala Tourism Approved Houseboats.

Are there any Kerala Backwaters Tours from Kochi?:

If you're visiting Kochi and want to include a backwaters trip as part of your experience, it is possible to go on a convenient day tour from Kochi. Take a look at these popular tours offered by Viator. They're easily bookable online.

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