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Exploring Kerala’s Backwaters: Why you should Travel by Kayak…

January 11, 2018
Our guide with his hilarious (but very practical) sunhat!

The glistening backwaters of Kerala are one of south India’s most prized landmarks. Miles upon miles of beautiful waterways that weave through local villages and farming communities. Renting a houseboat for the night is considered by many to be the best way to travel through the lagoons. These large boats are like floating hotels, but they come with a BIG price tag to match. If you’re an adventurous type or on a budget, then here’s my top tip…DON’T rent a houseboat, take to the water on a kayak instead.

Traveling through India? Be sure to check out my other blog posts with 30 Travel Tips for Rajasthan and Northern India and Backpacking Rajasthan: Delhi to Jaisalmer

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Aboard our kayak!

Aboard our kayak!

5 Reasons why you shouldn’t Hire a Houseboat in Kerala

1. An overnight stay can cost between 5,000 – 20,000 Indian Rupees (£58 – £232). That would have been the most expensive thing we’d done in the whole of India! The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is 100% true here. This should not be seen as a budget activity.

A typical houseboat in Kerala

A typical houseboat in Kerala

2. They are terribly polluting. From petrol fumes to leaving a trail of litter floating in the water. Kayaks are far more eco-friendly.

3. These large boats cannot fit down the smaller, narrow waterways so for the majority of your trip you’ll likely be surrounded by other houseboats.

The backwaters are jam packed with houseboats, hire a kayak to take in the narrower waterways that the big boats can't travel down

The backwaters are jam packed with houseboats, hire a kayak to take in the narrower waterways that the big boats can’t reach

4. I’ve heard horror stories from other travelers about the poor conditions of these boats – dirty bed sheets and cockroaches in the bedroom.

5. For this very reason, it’s advisable to view the houseboat before you agree to climb aboard. But, if like us you arrive in Alleppey the day before you wish to travel then that may be a bit tricky as the boats head out on the water from 8am each morning. (You can book boats in advance through an agent or your accommodation, but I’d still recommend you see it before you head out on the water).

Travel by Kayak instead

Get in a kayak! Kayaking is by far one of my favourite ways to travel. It’s affordable and keeps you fit.

We booked a four hour tour with Oscars Cruise through our wonderful hosts at Alleppey Beach Garden (I’d highly recommend a stay if you’re looking for somewhere close to the backwaters).

After arriving at Oscars, we were whisked away on mopeds to a local village where we boarded the kayaks. There was the choice between single and double kayaks – I opted for double so I could snap away while Chris paddled along!

Life on the backwaters

Life on the backwaters

The initial paddle was a little tricky as we navigated our way across one of the major crossing channels for the larger houseboats, but soon we arrived in some of the more peaceful canals.

Peace and serenity away from the big noisy houseboats

Peace and serenity away from the big noisy houseboats

We took a moment to shelter under a nearby palm tree – we’d set off just after lunch and it was hot!

Our guide was great fun and very knowledgeable. Check out his crazy, but very practical, sunhat.

Our guide with his hilarious (but very practical) sun hat!

Our guide with his hilarious (but very practical) sun hat!

We watched as children crossed the waterways on their way home from school.

Street life on the waterways

Street life on the waterways

Kayaks do not disturb the local wildlife in the same way as the big gas-guzzling boats do, so you’ll be surrounded by birds and turtles and all manner of animals.

It's great for bird lovers!

It’s great for bird lovers!

We saw the famous houseboats from afar, and joked about how bored the passengers looked. We stopped at a cafe on the banks for a refreshing coconut and some freshly cooked prawns on the bbq.

Choosing fresh prawns for the bbq

Choosing fresh prawns for the bbq

What if Kayaking isn’t my Thing?

Not a problem. There are plenty of other options…

Board a public ferry. Join the locals on their daily commute. Journeys range from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours and cost a few rupees (less than a pound). Try the ferry from Alleppey to Kottayam – budget travel at its best! One step up would be the government run tourist ferry. Visit the State Water Transport Department for journey details and times.

The public ferry at sunset

The public ferry at sunset

Hire a Shikara. These long covered boats come with a roof, seating and driver. They can fit between 6-25 people. Expect to pay around 1,000 Indian rupees (£11.60) in the high season.

Or a local canoe. If you’re not keen on paddling yourself then hire a canoe for a few hours and get someone else to do the hard work.

To think this is someone's home...

To think this is someone’s home…

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Have you ever considered kayaking in Antarctica? Slightly different climate! Read this post from fellow travel blogger Travel For Life Now.  

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Travelling by Kayak - Kerela Backwaters

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17 Comments

  • Reply Kayaking in Antarctica-Tips & Recommendations - travelforlifenow.com April 21, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    […] If Kayaking in Antarctica seems too cold to you, why not try Kayaking in the Kerala Backwaters? Read this post from fellow travel blogger Travel […]

  • Reply Louise July 25, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    I never knew one could kayak around Kerala 🙂 I’m not a big kayaker but it definitely looks worth it for the chance to explore the backwaters and smaller areas, compared to the houseboats. And if the conditions on the houseboats could be as bad to find cockroaches on them – no thanks! Especially not for that price.
    I love your guide’s sun hat 🙂 and those fresh prawns on the BBQ – yum.
    I will have to remember to get the double kayaks if we go so I, too, can ask my husband to paddle while I take photos 😉 haha
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Reply Carrie July 26, 2018 at 1:03 am

    I totally agree that a small boat is the way to go in the Kerala backwaters. I went from Kollam, where kayaks weren’t an option, but did a punted canoe tour instead. It was great seeing the people who paid $200 for the houseboat get stuck on the main waterways while we got to go through the tiny streams and get a much closer glimpse of local life — all for $10!

    • Reply nickyherbert August 6, 2018 at 5:39 am

      I love this! The lesson is dont follow what everyone else is doing, make your own path. Love it

  • Reply Nadia July 26, 2018 at 1:39 am

    This is so cool! Sometimes you have to go against the flow of all the tourists and find cheaper/unique options. they pay off!

  • Reply Kylee July 26, 2018 at 2:00 am

    What a great insider tip! I love this idea because you went at your own pace and created your own adventure. That appeals to me much more than being stuck on a houseboat. It’s great that it is a guided tour too because I definitely would get lost. :p Also, thank you for providing alternatives to those who can’t kayaks! Always good to have options!

  • Reply Emily July 26, 2018 at 3:04 am

    I’ve always wanted to do the Kerala houseboat thing ever since I saw Rick Stein (the British TV chef) cooking on one. I never thought about the environmental implications though… That’s really given me pause for thought. How did you first hear about the kayaking alternative? Did your hotel put you onto it?

    • Reply nickyherbert August 6, 2018 at 5:37 am

      Hi Emily, thanks for the comment. Where theres water, I look to kayak. Its a great eco friendly way of getting around. Plus it double up as a workout!

  • Reply Nafisa Habib July 26, 2018 at 4:17 am

    I enjoyed a small boat tour in the Poovar and also Alleppey backwaters. I also loved staying houseboat, it was a cool experience for the first time. During the off-season, you don’t have to pay so high including every meal (yummy Keralan food). I took a small boat to explore the local villages and life as well. But found tiny canals are much polluted.

    • Reply nickyherbert August 6, 2018 at 5:36 am

      Its sad but yes all the waterways around there are polluted. People need to be more aware of the impact these giant boats have on the environment.

  • Reply Rajlakshmi July 26, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    I didn’t know there were disadvantages to houseboat. And you are right, kayaking does sound amazing. Plus so adventurous too. The pictures look fabulous. It’s wonderful way to explore the backwaters.

  • Reply Tiffany Heard July 26, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    I like the fact that the canoes have real seats with backs (usually I just see a place to sit that is not a real seat) Although canoeing looks fun, I don’t know how to swim and always have a fear of falling (I know I shouldn’t think that way )I would probably would use the ferry boat option because I don’t do roaches. lol

    • Reply nickyherbert August 6, 2018 at 5:35 am

      Yes if you cant swim then I wouldnt kayak – not a good idea!

  • Reply Soraya July 27, 2018 at 6:40 am

    I wouldn’t have thought to do a kayak for but what a great idea. It’s a great way to get up close and personal and it’s not so expensive. I also like the idea that it doesn’t harm the wildlife.

  • Reply Shivani Sharma July 27, 2018 at 8:59 am

    My family is planning a trip to Kerala this year and we indeed had houseboats on our mind. But reading this, I’m not sure now 🙂 I’d prefer kayaking, my parents wouldn’t so much 😀 But amazing insights. How long does this kayaking trip last? Also, how far did you stay from the houseboats?

    • Reply nickyherbert August 6, 2018 at 5:34 am

      Kerala is a wonderful place! Yes Im not sure I could get my parents on a kayak either! But perhaps one of the smaller boats which are less invasive to the environment. We stayed at a small family run place called the Alleppey Beach Garden – its a 5 min tuktuk ride from the boats. Highly recommend it. Our kayak trip lasted around 3 hrs.

  • Reply 7 Ways to be a More Responsible and Sustainable Traveller - Travel Interesting September 8, 2018 at 1:52 am

    […] In some parts of the world kayaking is a better option – India, Kerela. […]

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