16th May 2018
Have you ever been on a cruise? What about a cruise on the backwaters of a tropical country, surrounded by palm trees and beautiful views? If the answer is no, you should start planning a trip to Kerala asap! I recently spent two weeks in India with the Kerala Tourism Board and Kerala Blog Express on the #tripofalifetime. As part of this trip we got to spend a day and night on a houseboat, cruising the backwaters of Kerala. Read on to find out everything you need to know about doing a houseboat backwater cruise in Kerala, India.
Enjoying a coconut drink onboard our Spice Routes houseboat while cruising the backwaters of Kerala, photo by Jinson Abraham / Kerala Tourism
About Kerala & the backwaters
Kerala is a region in Southern India, famous for its natural beauties. The backwaters are one of these. The backwaters of Kerala are a group of internal waters that stretch for 900km. Similarly to the canals of Venice; they act as roads and passageways for the areas where the proper roads don’t reach. As such it’s not uncommon to see all kinds of boats transporting all sorts of things while cruising the backwaters. The backwaters connect very large sections of the region so there are a number of different ports from which you can start and end your cruise. We set off from Alappuzha and returned there after an afternoon, night and morning spent on board.
Cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India
About Spice Routes & houseboats
We did our backwaters cruise with the luxury houseboat company Spice Routes. Spice Routes takes the traditional kettuvalloms; large boats that used to carry spices, provisions and much more, and turned them into luxury houseboats. Houseboats today are adapted to ensure travellers have access to all modern conveniences, while enjoying an authentic experience on the backwaters.
The lounge / dining area of our Spice Routes houseboat
Our Spice Routes cruise was on-board their houseboat Clove. This boat had the kitchen in the back, three cabins with a double bed and private bathroom, and a large communal area with a dining table for meals and couches for relaxing. All the rooms had air-conditioning and a fan. There were three crew members on board (a driver, an assistant and a cook) that did their best to ensure we had an incredible trip.
Our bedroom onboard our Spice Routes houseboat
Houseboat prices & rates for a Kerala backwaters cruise
Prices for a houseboat cruise on the backwaters of Kerala range massively depending on the type of boat, with rates starting around 50 GBP per person per night and going as high as 300 GBP.
A typical kettuvallom boat cruises the backwaters of Kerala, India
Palm tree reflections in the backwaters of Kerala, India
Our Spice Routes backwaters cruise
We started our cruise in Alappuzha, also known as the “Venice of the East”, a town famous for boat races, beaches, marine products and coir industry located in the “Rice Bowl of Kerala”; a region of lush paddy fields and the only place in the world where farming is carried out below sea level. We set off around 1PM and were offered lunch as son as we departed. We got to enjoy some tasty curries while watching the palm trees and backwaters cruise past us, all while comfortably sat in an air-conditioned room (I’m not usual an air-con snob, but in the Indian heat it’s necessary)! After lunch, we got to sit by the prow to enjoy the view, while the captain cruised the boat and told us about the area.
Enjoying the view during our backwaters cruise in Kerala, India
If you’ve done river cruises in European cities such as Venice, London or Budapest you might be expecting a lot of sailing with little to see until you reach one of the main landmarks, where everyone rushes to a the window to snap a photo. Cruising the backwaters of Kerala is very different. There isn’t a specific end point or main tourist attraction that you are sailing to; the cruise itself in the calm backwaters surrounded by palm trees is the attraction.
A traditional kettuvallom boat surrounded by the palm trees of the Kerala backwaters
The highlight of the day for me was seeing the sunset over the backwaters. The sky turned a beautiful orange and we enjoyed seeing the sun dip below the palm trees and horizon. Just after the sun had gone down, around 6:30PM we docked for the night. None of the houseboats cruise at night, as this is when the fishermen operate, and they don’t want the houseboats to interfere with the nets. We were given the opportunity to disembark from the boat and go for a walk in the rice fields and town where we had docked. This is a great opportunity to see a place that you might not otherwise be able to access, as the roads are limited. The staff on-board Spice Routes are very flexible and asked us what time we wanted to eat, and arranged dinner according to that. We finished off the day with some more lovely curries and relaxing in the lounge before going to bed in our respective rooms.
Sunset over the backwaters of Kerala, India
Enjoying the sunset over the backwaters of Kerala from our Spice Routes houseboat
Sleeping in the houseboat can be a bit bumpy if you’re not used at spending time on boats, however it didn’t present an issue to myself or any of my fellow travel bloggers. The boat is docked so the movement is limited, the houseboat will occasionally rock when other boats sail past too fast. In the morning when the crew start turning on and moving the boat however this becomes more noticeable and it can be harder to sleep. In my opinion, this made for a great way to wake-up call! Ditch the alarms, on your backwaters cruise you will be naturally woken up by the movement of the boat and noises of the river. While the boat sailed back to the harbour and end point of our cruise we were served a typical Indian breakfast, with also some more traditional Western choices (eg. cereal) for those who like me can’t handle a curry early in the morning.
Morning views over the backwaters of Kerala, India
Spending a day and night on a houseboat while cruising the backwaters of Kerala was one of my favourite experiences of Kerala Blog Express. Have you been on a backwaters cruise before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! Want to see more of Kerala and need some help planning your trip? Check out these day-by-day Kerala itineraries.