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Imagine a set of villages built in a forest, where people own boats instead of cars – that’s what a good part of Kerala looks like. Due to its natural aspect, Kerala attracts numerous tourists from all over the world. Recently I’ve written about perfectly looking tea hills in Munnar area in Kerala. This post will be about another sought-after experience – Kerala backwaters.
There are many parts of Kerala that have backwaters – Kasargod, Kochi, Kollam, Kumarakom – you name it. Yet Alappuzha (mostly known among tourists as Allepey) is topping the list of backwater destinations.
In this post, I want to share with you different ways to explore backwaters in Alleppey and some advice from my personal experience. Here are the questions I will focus on:
- Best time to visit backwaters in Kerala
- Types of boats to explore Alleppey backwaters and prices
- Boat riding experience Kerala and social responsibility
- Alleppey to Nedumudy village by boat (and other destinations)
- Where to stay in Alleppey?
- What else to do in Alleppey beyond backwaters?
Best time to visit backwaters in Kerala
Most of the sources suggest that you should visit Kerala from November to March. I was there in the second part of January and it was quite uncomfortably hot during mid-day hours.
Considering high humidity in the area, I would recommend planning backwater experience in Kerala in December or January. From the other side, it is a high season, thus prices will be higher than you might get in other months of the year.
Don’t miss also a detailed introduction to Indian seasons and when is the best time to visit different parts of the country.
Types of boats in Kerala and prices
Depending on your budget, you can either splurge for a houseboat or experience backwaters on a budget on a government-run ferry. I talked to a few boat owners to share with you below main types of boats in Kerala and their average cost.
Alleppey houseboat rates
A houseboat is arguably one of the most popular ways to experience backwaters. Basically, you rent out a boat for 24 hours. You have a boatman which will take you through different canals, plus you have a chance to spend a night floating on the water.
There are all amenities: bedroom, common area, cooked food, AC – you name it. Prices start from 6000 INR (~90 USD). Ensure you double check everything that is included in the price to avoid extra charges at the end. It is quite easy to find a houseboat either through the hotel connections where you will stay (most of the hotels offer this experience) or ask the locals.
Pluses of choosing a houseboat: It’s an all-inclusive deal if you are into this type, though the more commodities you have, the more expensive will be the prices.
Minuses of staying in a houseboat:
- Expensive and in my opinion, not that great value for money for the reasons explained below.
- Mostly, you will be going through large canals together with other houseboats because it’s not practical to run such a big boat in the narrow spaces.
- You will be parked after 5 p.m. till next morning since Kerala Transport doesn’t allow private boats to commute during this time.
- You will miss the local feel of the experience unless you step down from a boat till 5 p.m. and explore the area around. According to the experience of other foreigners I’ve talked in Allepey, the boats start in the afternoon and drop you back next morning. You might not have time to explore the area in general.
Looking for more houseboat experiences? Check out the houseboats in Kashmir.
Shikara boat in Alleppey
Shikara is a local boat with a roof and a comfortable seating for a group of people to explore backwaters during the daytime. It costs 200-300 INR per hour per person.
Pluses of renting shikara in Kerala:
- Fewer people than in Government-run ferries
- It has a roof/cover from above that protects you from the sun during the daytime.
- Cheaper than the houseboat
- Basic level of comfort
- Possibility to go to some smaller canals beyond main routes
Minuses of going by shikara: It is still quite expensive and it doesn’t provide that much local insight to the destination as you will be mainly surrounded by the tourists.
Canoe with petrol or motorboat in Alleppey
This is a simple boat that can transport 2 to 10 people depending on the size. The average cost during winter is 250-300 INR/hour. You can also find “day packages” – the whole day can cost around 700 INR per person including the food/snacks. In this case, I recommend confirming which food is included.
Pluses: Usually, they are much smaller than Shikara boats and give a possibility to visit smaller canals.
Minuses: Mostly (with a few exceptions), canoes are open boats, so you need to apply a good dose of sun crème not to get burned during the daytime.
Padding boat in Alleppey
A simple boat paddled by a boatman. If you are into this experience, I suggest to go by Government ferry to one of the neighboring villages and hire a local boatman there. It’s quite tiring to paddle, thus don’t expect to go far if you start in Alleppey itself. The boat price is around 200 INR/hour per boat.
Pluses: Eco-friendly; Quite, no motor; It can go to the smallest canals; All the boatmen I talked to have a decent level of English. They can give you some insight into what you are visiting.
Minuses: Slow and hard to paddle; No shades or cover as in the case of Shikhara boat; Simple/basic wooden seats which are not comfortable during long journeys.
Government ferries in Alleppey
These are the regular ferries which are used by local people to commute from one village to another. During the last few years there were plenty of tourists who gave preference to explore Kerala backwaters on the government ferries, thus there was introduced Government tourist ferry.
The concept is pretty much same, but the ticket is a bit more costly (though still comes under 100 INR). You get access to an upper-view deck (it’s awesome for those into front photography and stuff) and there are fewer people. These ferries go through major canals without any particular destination.
Most of the ferries start from central boat station, not far from the bus stand.
Pluses of going by the government ferry: Experience scenic Kerala backwaters on a budget and in a local way. One way tickets cost from 10 to 60 INR depending on your final destination. If you go to a far-away place, ensure you know the schedule of return boats. Usually, the last leaves around 3-4 p.m.
Minuses of choosing the ferry: Noisy, really noisy. The ferries are quite old and it becomes even more visible, once they start moving. If you go by non-touristy boat, it might get crowded, thus choose your seat once you board.
Note: if you choose a government ferry, ensure you have enough water with you and some snacks/food as you might pop into a local shop in the village, but it will have only basic minimum products (bread, pulses, bananas, etc).
Boat riding and social responsibility
Since so many sources have written about socially responsible traveling, here is my take. As much as people are debating this, none of the boats you will choose will be socially responsible. Government boats generate the most pollution because of the old equipment; houseboats and petrol canoes will be much less polluting, yet still leaving a mark; making a poor boatman paddle a group of several people is also arguably responsible.
Sometimes, the smaller boats or shikaras filled with tourists going through local canals and clicking everything on the way gives a zoo feeling (please don’t be them). Real people live in these villages and it’s their daily life, though it might look like a movie scene for the visitors. I recommend connecting to these people (most of the villagers I met are really lovely) and ask their permission to take a picture.
The best way might be to take a government boat, because they move according to the fixed schedule every day, with or without you. Further on, once you find a local area you will be more interested to explore, continue by foot. The best way to be responsible for this experience is treating local people ethically.
Alleppey to Nedumudy by ferry boat
There are plenty of destinations you can explore from Alleppey by ferry – check out Kerala State Water Department for schedule. I’ve chosen a close destination – Nedumudy.
Despite scenic views, in my opinion, the highlight of Kerala backwater experience is village tourism. In the first half an hour there is a surreal feeling of moving on the boat through canals surrounded by green palms and boats. After a while, it starts being repetitive.
I went off in one of the numerous stations a few kilometers before Nedumudy. I’ve seen a network of smaller canals and a park on the map so I thought that might be an interesting area to explore. Kind of Alleppey village tour by yourself.
Side-note: there are stations from both sides of the canal every now and then. If you get lost (most probably not) local people are helpful in giving directions to the nearest station.
Surprisingly, I haven’t seen other tourists on the shore/in the villages. Once you go into the “non-touristy” local area, you can walk on the pathways and get an insight into the village life.
I realized I’ve gone “too local” once I’ve stopped meeting kids who were asking for pens. Surprisingly, there are still areas not affected by tourism even in a touristy Alleppey.
You can catch a government boat from the central station (9.500774, 76.34361). Alleppey to Nedumudy ticket costs 10 INR.
Please remember, that you are a guest and it’s not a museum even if it looks like. Taking pictures of public places, canals, waters, churches is ok, clicking local people near their home without asking is not ok.
Where to stay in Alleppey?
If you come during the winter season, accommodation options might appear starting from the station itself if you arrive by bus. There are different agents who might approach you with the deals. Further on, while walking on the streets, some people stop by and ask if you are looking for accommodation.
I’ve stayed at Allepey 3 palms guesthouse (aff. link) because I bumped into Saji (the house owner) on the bus stand. It’s a budget guesthouse/homestay. There are both dorm sharing options and private rooms, yet it’s a home partially remade as a guesthouse. Saji is very hospitable. He can help you out with activities around and he has even his own boats where he runs eco-friendly trips around Alleppey.
About accommodation: the rooms are clean and have all basic necessities. Saji’s mother prepares delicious dinners and everyone gathers in the common area for food in the evenings. The dinner is included in the price. The guest house is a walking distance away from the boat and bus stations as well as the cafe street.
Would I recommend it? If you are not particularly fussy about the conditions (e.g. personal TV and stuff), then yes. The guesthouse is clean and good value for money. It has a common TV, music system, fridge and other appliances in the common area which you can use. The owner is helpful and welcoming 🙂
Read also: how to find accommodation in India?
Other things to do in Alleppey
I’m confidently skipping a few temples and museums as this is not the specialty of Alleppey. Yet, if you have a spare half day and think about how to spend it in the best way, I would recommend paying a visit to Marari beach, which is 15 km away from Alleppey.
How to reach Marari beach from Alleppey? You can catch a bus on a bus stand. Most of the buses go up till Mararikulam train station, though some of them stop quite close to the beach here(9.601822, 76.302756). You can hail an auto from the train station for 60 INR. Marari beach is clean and peaceful and if you are planning to swim/sunbathe – this is the place.
Read also: Awesome beaches in Kerala
There is also a local beach in Alleppey, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more of a picnic spot for locals, so you might expect some extra trash from the snacks on the sand. Also, you will see people jumping on the waves mainly dressed in pants/suits. Nevertheless, Alappuzha beach has scenic sunsets.
Last tips about backwaters in Kerala
- While walking through the touristy part of the backwater villages, I’ve spotted two homestays. Range – 1500-2000 INR and include all meals (as there are no cafes in the village areas). They even had a mark of TripAdvisor logo. If you are looking for some village homestay in backwaters, consider checking out.
- Except for the government boats, other rates are flexible. Once you move a few hundred meters away from the central bus stand and touristy area of the town, the prices get cheaper. I’ve asked several boatmen and above are the best deals I’ve found (without bargaining).
- Whichever way you choose, it usually takes half a day to one day to explore the backwaters.
- Coming by train? If you feel hungry, there is one of the best IRCTC canteens I’ve discovered during my whole train experience in India. It’s in the station itself. The food is budget (Fish thali 50 INR), tasty and cooks roam around in white caps.
- In my opinion, it’s better to plan your experience in the following way: arrive in the afternoon and spend the next day from the early morning in backwaters.
- The other side of the scenic backwaters – There are many broken boats in back canals…
Alleppey is well connected to other tourist destinations. There are several buses and trains from Ernakulam/Trivandrum daily. There is one bus daily from Munnar. Check the bus schedule here.
Hope this post will help you get an idea about the backwater experience in Kerala and its costs even if you choose another town. I tried to put all the stuff I’ve noted down during my trip. What about you – have you visited backwaters? What else would you suggest?