The Kerala Houseboat Experience

Houseboat in Kerala Backwaters

Overnight Cruise in backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat is considered one of the definitive experiences for travellers to Kerala. Houseboats are built on the lines of the traditional Riceboat or Kettuvallam (traditional mode of transport for men and materials in the Kerala backwaters) and sail through backwaters South of Alleppey giving travellers an upclose experience of the life in backwaters of Kerala.

Luxury Houseboat
Luxury Houseboat (Rainbow Cruise)

The Houseboat is always exclusive to a couple or one set of travellers. This makes an overnight houseboat “Must do” for honeymooners and offers an compelling option for a family or group of friends looking to have an exclusive time together. All houseboats are accompanied by a navigator and a chef. Cuisine served here is personalised as per guest preferences. Meals are prepared fresh and served in the dining area overlooking the backwaters.

Watch Locals Commute in backwaters
Watch Locals Commute in backwaters

A typical houseboat experience starts at 12 noon from Alleppey and ends at 9:30 AM at Alleppey or Kumarakom (lakefront on the opposite end of Alleppey).  1 night cruise is most popular, however 2 nights or more are preferred by experiential travellers looking to go deeper in the 3000+ kms backwaters network and spend more time among the backwaters villages and countryside.

Private Vehicle in Backwaters
Private Vehicle in Backwaters

A typical 1 night houseboat itinerary looks like this

Day 1

11:45 – Check in and Welcome
12 noon – Start off for 1 hour cruise around Alleppey backwaters
1 PM – Stop for Lunch. Park houseboat in middle of backwaters under a coconut tree. Hot Lunch is served in dining area.
3 PM – Resume the cruise to flow deeper passing villages, markets, churches etc. Can stopover for a tender coconut water and purchasing fresh vegetables / fresh catch of the day for Dinner.
6 PM – Cruise gets parked on the edge on the edge of the backwaters in a quiet area
7:30 PM – Dinner gets served

Viewing Deck in a Houseboat

Day 2

7 AM- Cruise resumes
8 AM – Breakfast gets served in dining area
9 AM – Checkout at Kumarakom or 9:30 AM Checkout at Alleppey

Houseboat Parked for Lunch
Houseboat Parked for Lunch

Houseboat industry since its inception in late 1990s has evolved and now there are many different types of houseboats available such as:

  • Standard Houseboat – These are almost always Non AC houseboats and smallest of them all. These were operational in late 1990s and early 2000s and only a few remain operational now. Here bedrooms and open areas are small with overall amenities simple. The reason why some travellers opt for this is that the boat can enter narrower canals and therefore offering a better experience. Most of these are either 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom.
  • Deluxe Houseboat – Deluxe houseboats are significantly upgraded and bigger version of Standard houseboat and come in AC and Non AC variants. Rooms and open areas are more spacious. This is popular with travellers looking for a backwater experience at a good price point. Here Air Conditioning is operational only when the boat is stationary in evening. Most of these have either 1 or 2 or 3 bedrooms. Only a few are built to have 4 or 5 bedrooms.
  • Premium Houseboat – Premium houseboats are newer, more stylishly decorated and offer bigger bedrooms and common areas. All Premium houseboats have Air-Conditioned bedrooms and AC can be operated anytime of the day. The common areas remain open and non Air-Conditioned. Most of these have either 1 or 2 or 3 bedrooms.
  • Luxury Houseboat – Luxury houseboats are newer, bigger and grander version of the premium houseboat and only a few luxury houseboats gets built every year. Here some have common areas Air-conditioned, some have a Jacuzzi on rooftop, some have Jacuzzi in bathrooms, some have a large glass window from bedrooms etc. Each Luxury houseboat is unique in a way and called with different prefixes such as Elitaire, Super Premium, Super Luxury etc.
  • Group and Conference Houseboat – There are few houseboats that get built for groups having more than 5 rooms (houseboats upto 20 rooms are available). These have a upper deck hall areas where conference, meets and events can be held.
  • Houseboats with Upper Deck – Some Deluxe and Premium houseboats come with a viewing deck on top offering travellers total exclusivity and superior views. Houseboats with upper deck are fewer and only select houseboat companies offer them. Flipside of an Upperdeck houseboat is that on a windy day an Upper Deck houseboat can be forced to be parked on the banks whereas the regular houseboat continue to sail.
Views from Front Viewing Area of Houseboat
Views from Front Viewing Area of Houseboat

Alleppey backwaters in Kerala has 450+ houseboats. Most of these are small local houseboat operators. There are few companies who own 10+ houseboats and consistently offer excellent services. Best Houseboat companies are ones that offer good quality boats, have excellent team and have private jetties for guests to arrive and depart. Whereas small local houseboat operators can offer cheaper rates, however they all get parked on common Alleppey Jetty (where finding the Houseboat you booked can be difficult on a rainy day) and their overall service standards may be always upto expectations.

Smaller - Standard Houseboat
Smaller Houseboat for experiential travellers (Spice Coast Cruises)

1 night Houseboat Cruise forms a popular part of Kerala travel itinerary and 2 night cruises are very popular for romantic getaways.

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