The backwaters of Kerala are an area of stunning natural beauty and a really beautiful insight into local life. The winding waterways range from broad rivers with all kinds of boats and canoes jostling for space to serene to narrow streams with trees hanging overhead and all kinds of birds to be spotted.
The locals who live in riverside houses use the water for all kinds of washing, cooking and transport and a trip along the Alleppey backwaters is a great way to see all the action of this unique lifestyle. There are several ways to see the beauty of the Kerala backwaters in Alleppey ranging in price from a few cents to a few hundred euros. But whichever way you choose, the backwaters are unmissable sight and a great way to spend a day or two in Kerala.
We spent a few days in Alleppey and used this as an access point to the backwaters of Kerala. This is the most popular way as it is the closest town with access to the backwaters. There are also tours available from Kochin but the time on the water is cut short due to the transport times to and from Kochin.
How to see the Alleppey Backwater by Canoe (the best way)
For an unforgettable experience book yourself in for a the canoe village tour. This can be booked through almost any guesthouse in Alleppey. We stayed at the beautiful converted colonial house Art Packers Hostel. They organised the tour including pick up from the hostel for 1000 INR per person.
We are not usually tour people and you’ll very rarely find us on a group tour but we really loved this one and think it is the best way to see the Kerala backwaters (we organised and paid for the tour ourselves).
The tour begins at 8:15 am with a trip on a public ferry to take you through some of the wider waterways and it means there is more time on the smaller waterways on the canoe. From the last ferry stop you are taken to the house of the tour leader where his wife serves a delicious breakfast. In true Southern Indian style it is served on banana leaves and eaten with your hands.
After breakfast the group is divided into fours and put into canoes to begin the journey through the backwaters. You can sit back and relax as the canoe is paddled through the gorgeous scenery of the Allepey backwaters. Over the next 3-4 hours you’ll see all kinds of local and wildlife. From washing being beaten on rocks, kids swimming and locals getting around on anything that floats to birds, fish and turtles.
There is a midway stop for coconuts and fried banana (and also a toilet) before heading off again. At the end of the tour lunch is served back at the house before you take the public ferry back to Alleppey.
Make sure you pack sunscreen and a hat as you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting in the canoe. Although there is a roof the sun comes in through the sides. Get your eco-friendly sunscreen here.
Pros of the canoe tour
It’s eco-friendly. Because the canoes are paddled by a guide there is no damage caused to the waterways or wildlife living in them.
You can see more. The canoes are much smaller than the ferries or houseboats so you’re able to go down lots of the smaller waterways and see things up close rather than just staying on the big, wide rivers.
It’s so peaceful. There’s no motor on the boats so in the secluded areas, besides the rhythmic splash of the paddle all you can hear are the birds.
You get the best of both worlds. Because the tour starts and ends with a ferry trip you get to travel with the locals and see the everyday life of the busy thoroughfares as well as the smaller, quieter areas.
Price. It’s a tour so yes, it comes with a price tag which is often a turn off for budget travellers.
Group size. There are usually around 30 people on one of these Alleppy backwater tours which means it loses its authentic feel quite quickly. Although the canoes usually spread out and so for most of the tour it doesn’t feel too crowded.
How to see the Allepey backwaters by kayak
Kayaking is a great way to see the backwaters for many of the same reasons as a canoe. You can go down some of the smaller and more peaceful waterways and there’s no noise from a motor. You can book kayaking tours of the Alleppey backwaters through Kerala Kayaking, who offer a half day (4 hours) or a full day kayak tour and lots of other interesting options. If you have the time I would recommend a full day as it means you don’t need to rush and you can explore a lot more. Make sure you take plenty of water!
Opportunity to see the smaller waterways and see more of the local life away from the main thoroughfares.
Peaceful surroundings and no noise from motors.
You get a work out as you go!
It can be very hot during peak season and kayaking can be a lot of work.
Price. It’s quite expensive as you go with a guide and rent equipment so for budget travellers you may prefer a cheaper option.
How to see the Alleppey backwaters by motorboat
If you aren’t feeling so energetic and don’t want to paddle yourself or spend the full day in a canoe, you can hire a motor boat to take you around the backwaters. Prices start from around 80 INR for a two hour tour and there will usually be 8-12 people in a boat.
The boat is small enough to go down the smaller waterways for the best views.
It is a short trip that can be done in half a day if you are pressed for time.
It’s a very cost effective way to see the Kerala backwaters.
The motor from the boat can be loud and creates a less peaceful atmosphere.
The tour is short so you can only see some of the closer and busier waterways.
How to see the Alleppey backwaters by public transport
The backwaters of Kerala are not just a beautiful area for tourists to be visit but are actually home to many locals who use the waterways in everyday life. Because of this there are public ferries running on three routes throughout the network of waterways.
A ride on one of these is a great budget way to see the life of the Alleppey backwaters. You’ll see all kinds of people getting on and off the ferries on their way to school, work and home. You can even hop off the ferry to explore local villages and just jump on the next one that comes past. Be aware the ferries run roughly every 30 minutes. A ticket on the public ferry costs up to 40 INR roundtrip.(depends on the rout)
For more information about the routes and some beautiful photos checkout this article.
Cheap. The ticket for the public ferry is very affordable so this is a great option for anyone on a budget or who doesn’t want to go with a tour group.
Local interaction. This is the way local people get around so it’s a great chance to chat with some locals and see the daily life of the waterways.
The boat is bigger so you stick to the main waterways and miss some of the serenity of the smaller waterways.
The boat has an engine so although the noise isn’t crazy loud it definitely isn’t as peaceful as water lapping against the side of the canoe.
How to see the Alleppey backwaters by houseboat
This is a very popular option for touring the Alleppey backwaters and it makes a lovely trip. However I don’t think the prices are worth what you get and I would personally rather take a cheaper tour option and stay in a nice hotel in Kochi or Alleppey for less money.
But if you’re looking for a special experience you can hire a houseboat with a driver and spend the day and night floating along the waterways. The accommodation is mostly very nice and has an outdoor seating area where you can sit and watch the world float by. At night the houseboats all moor in the same area so it can get busy. As a guide, a room on a houseboat usually starts from around $100.
Private experience. With most of the houseboats you get the entire boat to yourself so it can be a great option for families or a romantic getaway.
More time. People typically stay one night but you can stay longer and cover a lot of area and also be on the water for sunrise and sunset which are incredible!
Price. The houseboats prices are quite high and mean it is splurge for anyone on a budget.
Large boats. The houseboats are large motorised boats so can only go on the main waterways.
Pollution. Because the boats use fuel it’s not the most eco-friendly way to see the backwaters of Kerala especially as the size of the boat is very large for just a few people.
It doesn’t matter which way you choose to see the Alleppey backwaters, just make sure that you do! This area of the country is a stark contrast to the bustling cities and chaos that people normally associate with India and is a really authentic look at life in Kerala. An Alleppey backwaters tour can be really relaxing and a great place for photography.
Where to stay in Alleppey
We had a really great stay at Artpackers Hostel. The hostel is in a converted colonial house and has spacious, well designed double rooms as well as comfortable dorms. They serve free breakfast and have evening events such as BBQs and games nights. Check prices here.
If you’re looking for something less backpackery then have a look at Alleppey Beach Garden.
Where to stay in Kochi
If you decide to do the tour from Kochi because of timing or convenience then we recommend staying at Sonnetta Residency who also arrange the tours.