One of the best things to do in Kerala is seeing the famous Kerala Backwaters and the best place to visit the Backwaters of Kerala from is Alleppey or Alappuzha which is it’s Indian name. In all honesty the boat tours are the only reason you need to visit Alleppey as a traveller to India and it’s not somewhere you need to spend any extra time in either (which is said by someone who had an extra day there which wasn’t needed) as it does not benefit from any more popular Kerala Tourism activities.
2 Nights and 1 Full Day is enough time to spend in Alleppey when backpacking India and in this time you can do one of the many options of boat tours to see the Backwaters of Kerala:
Now when they say ‘canoe’ in Kerala they do not mean a plastic boat which is what I thought of, you will not be paddling and the boat will be motorised. The canoe is very small though and one of the most popular ways to see the Backwaters of Kerala as a backpacker because is the cheapest option, especially if you are a solo traveller in India.
Canoe Boat Tours of the Kerala Backwaters generally last all day from 8:00am-5:00pm and include lunch so you really get your money’s worth and I found that the price for a canoe tour in Alleppey was 1000Rs.
Not only this but the biggest benefit from doing a canoe tour around the Backwaters of Kerala is that the boats are so small they can go down the smaller canal ways where you can see much more local life and see a really quiet side. The bigger boats, including the Shikara Boats do not go down these small canal ways.
The downside to the canoe tour I would say is how small the boats are and how long the day is. There are seats but they are very low to the ground so long legs may become a bit uncomfortable and there’s no room to move about which might feel a bit too much for 9 hours, however you do get off the boat a few times during the day too.
Had I been travelling solo in Alleppey I would have gone out on a canoe backwaters tour with other travellers due to the price.
This is the boat myself and my 3 friends took from Alleppey and we had it to ourselves. We still paid 1000Rs per hour for 4 hours bringing the total to 4000Rs including lunch for a Shikara boat around the Backwaters and we really enjoyed it. Note that we did do this on Christmas Day which is the height of peak season in Alleppey, in low season and not on a special holiday this will reduce to 600Rs-800Rs per hour I believe.
The benefit of the Shikara boats in Kerala are that they not a huge boats, not the size of a Kerala houseboat at all but they have plenty of seats and lots of space to get up and move about which makes the journey a lot more comfortable.
We stayed mainly on the bigger canals and the big lake of Vembanad Lake and we saw some canoes go down small side canals that we could not go down, however we did take a side canal that was a bit bigger to fit our boat which I doubt a houseboat could go down and this was definitely a highlight of the trip. We went under a bridge and the water was covered in green plants, we sailed slowly along it with the palm trees hanging over the top of the canal and it was so so quiet!
The downside was that although we initially thought 4 hours would be enough, we stopped for lunch after 2.5hours of being on our boat tour so when we got back on we only had 45 minutes left which went so quickly and we were all so chilled after lunch that an extra hour or so would have been good!
We got off at the side of the canal for Lunch and Lunch was served on a Banana leaf with rice, samba and a few sauces which was simple but nice! I believe that this is the same lunch that is served on all of the tours except the Houseboats.
Although we didn’t get to go down the smaller canal ways that I have heard are really nice and they did look nice, I enjoyed that we had enough space to move about on the boat and because of this I was happy with the compromise. If you are trying to Alleppey to do the Backwaters of Kerala in a group a Shikara boat is a great option as they can easily fit 8 people on and at 4000Rs in total for 4 hours, this is really reasonable when split between a group.
A houseboat in Kerala is what you may think of when you think of sailing along the Backwaters because the houseboat is the iconic image I think. They definitely look great and very comfy!
It’s possible to hire a Alleppey houseboat for the day but the most popular option is of course to get it overnight.
The benefit to the Alleppey house boats is waking up on the backwaters which I’m sure is amazing. The only thing is that you’ll have to make sure you plan your accommodation in Alleppey around this so you don’t end up booking accommodation and then booking a boat too and having to pay 2 lots of accommodation! That’s not budget friendly.
The houseboats are different sizes from very big to much smaller and are very spacious making them really good for families exploring the Backwaters of Kerala and I saw a lot of Indian families on them.
They are the most expensive Boat Tour Package as I was quite $150.00 over Christmas at Peak Season in Kerala but that can decrease down to $100.00 when it’s quieter and in lower and off peak season.
In terms of booking a Houseboat in Alleppey I know it’s risky but I would suggest waiting until you arrive in Alleppey to book one or ask the accommodation of where you are staying the night before or after to send you some prices. It will be cheaper to book a houseboat on the Backwaters once you are there rather than online in advance.
The major downside to the houseboats is that they have to stay on the Lake and on the bigger canals and cannot go down the smaller side canals, even the ones the Shikara can go down, I feel because of this you will miss out on a special side to the canals but they benefit from being very fancy and comfy, accommodating a lot of people and offering the unique experience of spending the night on the Kerala backwaters.
If you want to add some adventure into the Backwaters of Kerala, a Kayak Tour is for you. There seems to be 2 different daily tours to do- one is a sunrise tour lasting about 4 hours and the second is a full day tour starting later in the morning and finishing in the evening. Plus multiple day and overnight tours too.
The benefit of going on a kayak around the Backwaters of Kerala is definitely that you will see so much more and be much closer to local life and get to stop a lot more too in the villages on the backwaters of Alleppey. Plus if you are a solo traveller without the funds or the want to hire a whole boat to yourself, like the canoe boat, the kayaks are a good way to join a group and meet other travellers whilst only paying for yourself and not for a whole private boat. They also include meals too so if you’re out on the sunrise tour breakfast will be included too!
If you have limited time to spend in Alleppey you could stay overnight in Alleppey, go on a sunrise kayak tour and arrange to leave that afternoon meaning you spend less than 24 hours in Alleppey but still see the Backwaters.
The downside is that it will be hard work as you do need to kayak yourself and swimming is part of the agenda it seems on the tours so no fancy camera’s can be taken on this backwater tour!
Technically two different ways to see the Backwaters of Kerala but I’m going to add them in together. People do live in these Backwaters, many people in fact and they need to get around and get to the mainland and into town which they do via the local ferry.
Getting the public boat around the Kerala Backwaters is definitely the cheapest option so if you are a backpacker on a tight budget in Kerala, this is a good option and to be fair, it does go along all of the main canals that the tour boats go down, but at a fraction of the price.
The big downside is that the boats do get full. We went past one of them and they were full of locals which of course makes sense, and if you did manage to get a seat on the end by the water it would be an ok experience but if you got a seat in the middle of the boat you won’t be able to see much at all, and they looked very hot and stuffy too.
Plus because these are local boats you will not really know what you are seeing and where you might stop, this is also the same for the tourist boats.
No matter which option you choose the Backwaters of Kerala are a must visit when travelling around India and especially South India, in fact they are one of the biggest tourist attraction in South India.
The Backwaters are so unique and so beautiful and although the waterways do seem to get busy, they are one of the few examples of where a good amount of tourism makes your trip better as seeing other boats on the water makes the journey even more stunning.
In terms of where to stay in Alleppey, definitely stay by the beach! There are quite a few hotels and guesthouses in a small area by the beach and this is the best place to stay in Alleppey.
For backpackers the best place to stay in Alleppey is Zostel Hostel. I really like the Zostel Hostels and their one in Alleppey is really cool too! We went there for breakfast before the boat trip as they were the only place that seemed to have breakfast served from an early time and the courtyard cafe area and covered rooftop with hammocks make for great places to chill out!
Alternatively a unique option for accommodation in Alleppey if you want to wake up on the backwaters but not stay on a boat, is that there are actually lots of hotels and guesthouses on the sides of the canal inland which would be a great way to experience the canals on a more local level but not have to pay for a houseboat and instead take a day tour around the canals.
And if you really want to treat yourself a good place to stay near Alleppey is along Marari Beach which has a few nice Resorts and will be perfect if the backwaters of Kerala are marking a special occasion or a treat from backpacking!
These and much more accommodation in Alleppey can be found on Booking.com which offers plenty of choice and great flexible booking options.
Initially it seemed Alleppey was lacking in places to eat but there are actually a few cool cafes and restaurants in Alleppey.
Zostel cafe for breakfast was good and cheap and good for an early morning breakfast.
Cafe Catamaran is also a popular place to eat in Alleppey, it’s got a chilled vibe, it’s right on the beach and served a lot of international food and a bit of Indian food. Just up from Cafe Catamaran are a few restaurants which are perfect if you want a beer overlooking the beach. They won’t have beer on the menu- Kerala is not big on alcohol, but you can get it in a big coffee cup if you hide the bottle under the table!
There’s also an Indian Coffee House along the main road which is a great local chain of cafes and perfect for a morning coffee and dosa or just some cheap local food!
Dreamers Cafe and Restaurant further up the main road under the very ugly bypass is a nice place to eat too, they have a huge menu of Indian and International food.
If you do find yourself in Alleppey with time to spare, a quick bit of research will tell you that you should head to Marari Beach, 15km up the coast from Alleppey. I find it hard to know whether to recommend this or not.
In all honesty it’s not the best beach at all but it is something to do and there’s a cafe called Coffee Temple which is really cool, just a few meters from the beach and alongside a canal and is a good place to go for breakfast or lunch or just a coffee.
The best way to see Marari Beach is to visit one of it’s Fancy Resorts which you should be able to visit just for a meal and to enjoy their private beach area without having to stay overnight.
If you do want to go a tuk tuk will cost 200Rs from Alleppey to Marari Beach each way.
Now you know all about the backwaters of Kerala, do you need to know about Varkala further down the coast of Kerala?
Or will you be heading up to Goa after Kerala?
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