Information about Alleppey Backwaters, canoeing in Alleppey and Houseboats.
Our Kerala trip did not have the best start. We couldn’t find our hotel, my phone screen cracked, and one of us lost our bank cards. In the midst of all the chaos, the only thing that went right was our decision to ditch the houseboat and explore the Alleppey backwaters on a canoe.
Kerala Backwaters Introduction
A little background – Kerala is more than just the beaches. It is famous for its backwaters that are truly unique. There are many little canals that connect lakes and lagoons of Kerala to small villages and towns. Alleppey is one such town and it is in Kuttanand region. [More info about this on eKeralaTourism.net]
Alleppey was on my wishlist ever since I saw a picture of a friend who got to explore this area on a rustic houseboat. As I journeyed from Goa to Kerala with San, I imagined us sitting on the deck of a houseboat too.
More than just the houseboat, the vision in my head also included us immersing ourselves in the local culture and listening to the sounds of nature. Little did I know that the reality in Alleppey was a little different.
Alleppey Town – the Ugly Truth
We arrived in Alleppey on a train from Goa. The view from the train window was spectacular and we were very excited after we crossed Ernakulam station (Cochin).
We got a tuk tuk from Alleppey train station to reach our guest house, and this is when all the f**k up started. Our tuk tuk driver couldn’t find the place. Google Maps indicated that our guest house was INSIDE the water. We called on the phone number that was listed on the email confirmation, but there was no answer. We asked around, but no one in the area knew of the hotel.
At this point, I decided to call the customer service number for Bookings dot com and they mentioned that it is a newly listed property. My phone got pretty badly hung and it couldn’t disconnect the call. I pressed a little too hard and the phone screen cracked. Aargh!
Extremely hungry, tired and uncomfortable in the scorching heat, we had no idea what to do. That’s when our tuk tuk driver took us to a cafe, so that we could use the WiFi on our laptop to book another place. At that moment, we found an amazing little coffee shop next to the canal – kind of like Amsterdam. This is Cafe Paradiso in Alleppey. This is where we decided to just chill, and forget about everything that had happened.
Alleppey town wasn’t exactly quiet and peaceful – but very few towns are. There were some nice parts too., for instance – Alleppey Beach. However, the beach isn’t the main attraction in Alleppey, the backwaters are. So are the houseboats – Kettuvallam.
To my utter shock, the houseboats that I saw in and around Alleppey were rented by big groups and families, most of who were playing their loud dance music. They seemed to be circling around in the same area – perhaps they had a time limitation?
If this was not enough, we got a bigger shock when we found out the price for a houseboat. Maybe it would have made sense if we were in a group, but not just two in number. Also, considering how Alleppey town wasn’t exactly lovely, we were sure we would need to get out to see the true beauty of the Kuttanand region.
With just 2 days to spare before we were going to head to our next destination – Sri Lanka, we had almost given up the thought of exploring Alleppey’s backwaters. That’s when we checked this thread on Lonely Planet about canoeing in Alleppey.
Wait, but canoeing in Kerala?
Yes, these are not your typical kayak like canoes, these are wooden Shikaras. Shikaras are narrow boats that are rustic and can seat just two to five people. Meanwhile, Kettuvallam – or houseboats make sense for bigger groups, or those who don’t mind spending a little more.
Canoeing in Alleppey Backwaters – Our Experience
It is slow, peaceful and relaxed – the canoeing experience was everything we wanted in Alleppey.
It was a day long experience that was organized by someone else for a group of six people. In order to start out canoeing experience, we first met at the government ferry stop in Alleppey town. That’s where we met our group and we boarded the ferry together.
This ferry appeared to be the main medium of transport. There schoolchildren who were returning back home, people going for work and just 6 – 7 travelers. Around twenty minutes later, our group got off at one of the villages that’s along the canals.
We walked along the canals and couldn’t believe how different [and much better] this place was as compared to Alleppey town. Everything was so green! This was the Kerala of my dreams. This is how I had imagined it to be.
San and I luckily got our canoe just to ourselves along with the boat guy. We started our canoeing experience on a slow pace in a narrow canal.
As we moved from canal to canal, I couldn’t stop looking around in amazement. There were bright green paddy fields around us. The Kuttanand area of Kerala is also known as the Rice Bowl of India because of this.
More than just the paddy fields, there were banana trees, jackfruit trees, mango trees, pretty birds and yellow flowers. Sometimes there were fishermen who were walking along the canals in their lungis.
There were also women who were washing clothes next to the canals. In a while there was also another shikara with a little “floating shop” with fruits that cruised past our boat.
There were also little houses along the canals with pretty gardens. It appeared the people who owned these houses were not rich, but in my opinion they had it all. A house by the canal, sunlight, peaceful surroundings, simple life and fresh tropical fruits & vegetables – that’s all I want in my life too!
Our canoeing experience also included a visit to a family and eating lunch in their house. We sat in their garden and ate food on banana leaves. There was rice, fish curry, vegetables, papads and salad. Here’s a picture of my meal.
After finishing lunch, we went for another walk to explore the village area a little more. We climbed a bridge for a view of the village.
We got back to out canoe after our walk and cruised on the other nearby canals. Gazing at the villages of Kuttanand from our cute little Shikara (canoe) was a lot of fun. We stopped in another place for tea and after that canoed to the government ferry stand.
It was around 5 in the afternoon when San and I reached back to the Alleppey town. As we sat in our favorite coffee shop next to the canal, we realized how happy we felt with our day. Want the same experience? I have handpicked a canoe tour for you from Get Your Guide – a reputed website for booking tours and experiences.
If you were too lazy to read my detailed description above, I will summarize for you.
Why experiencing Alleppey’s backwaters on a canoe is better than a houseboat:
Houseboats Can’t Go in Narrow Canals
The real beauty of Alleppey is in the small villages that are along the narrowest canals. Houseboats are big and they can’t enter these small canals but shikaras (canoes) can.
There are many houseboats that crowd the main lakes and canals but luckily the canoes can easily escape that ugliness.
MAJOR Price Difference
Our canoeing trip along with lunch with locals and public ferry cost was INR 800 per person. The price has gone up to INR 1000 per person, which is still way less than the houseboat. The cheapest houseboat costs at least INR 5000 per couple per day.
Houseboats Make More Sense for Big Groups
Houseboats are big and expensive. It only makes sense to rent one if you’re more than just one or two. San and I absolutely hate traveling in big groups so
More Local Experience
As mentioned before, we visited a local family’s house and ate lunch with them as a part of our canoe experience. We also got away from the houseboat traffic, that are only for the tourists. Houseboats have a typical touristy route and they can’t enter narrow areas where one can see villages. None of the locals chill in the houseboats, instead they ride shikaras (wooden canoes).
Shikaras (Canoes) are Quieter
The Houseboats that we saw on Alleppey’s backwaters weren’t exactly quiet. If you are like us and are looking forward to immersing yourself in the sounds of nature, then you may not be happy on a houseboat. The hum of the engine totally messed up the otherwise peaceful surroundings. On the other hand, when we canoed through the canals, the sounds of birds and water made us smile.
Our time in Alleppey wasn’t long but we explored around a lot. Apart from canoeing in Alleppey and visiting the nearby villages in Kuttanand area, we ended up doing a few other things as well.
Things to do in Alleppey [apart from canoeing or houseboat-ing]
Alleppey Beach was very empty and there were hardly any people. The beach was very clean and we didn’t see any trash. It was a refreshing change! Unlike the Goa beaches, there weren’t any shacks on Alleppey beach. Perhaps because of that there were fewer people.
Eat Banana Chips
Banana Chips are addictive! Kerala’s banana chips are famous all over India. I have had banana chips many times but never had they tasted as good as this. Eating the freshly made banana chips in Alleppey is an experience that we highly recommend.
Visit Cafe Paradiso near the Canal
We visited Cafe Paradiso to just use the Wifi after my phone broke and we couldn’t find our hotel. Somehow in the middle of all the chaos, this little coffee shop really calmed us down. Our little visit for WiFi ended up being a longer one and we kept going back for more.
Rent a Scooter and Ride Around
You will find tuk tuks everywhere in Alleppey but to have a little more flexibility, you should consider renting a scooter. This way, you will end up seeing more places than just the main town area.
Are you traveling to Alleppey too?
If you’re planning a trip to Kerala and want to experience the tranquil beauty of Alleppey’s backwaters, then we highly recommend canoeing. You can also consider visiting the nearby Kumarakom, another backwaters destination in Kerala.
- Alleppey Backwaters Canoe tour – this tour is just like ours, except you get picked up from your hotel in the nearby big city, Cochin.
- Backwaters by Houseboat – if you’re in a big group then a houseboat may make more sense to you. Here’s a highly rated tour from Cochin to Alleppey. It also includes a trip to Fort Cochin.
- 4 Day Tour in Kerala – starts from Cochin, includes a visit to the mountains of Munnar, visit Periyar Lake in Thekkady, go on a houseboat ride from Alleppey to Kumarakom, head back to Cochin.
Conclusion – Houseboat or Canoe – which one for you?
If you are a solo traveler or are just two to four in number, then a canoe ride may make more sense to you. It also works well if you just have one day to spare. If you can afford it and really want to experience the houseboat on Kerala’s backwaters, then do a ride from Alleppey to Kumarakom. If you have enough time, then do both. You won’t get to experience the REAL beauty of Kerala [the smaller canals and villages] if you stay just on a houseboat.