A Guide to Alappuzha & the Kerala Backwaters

Alappuzha is a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, coined as 'the Venice of the East'. The vast network of palm tree lined canals and lagoons known as the slithering Kerala backwaters, offer a unique and tranquil travel experience filled with succulent greenery, striking sunsets, lush paddy fields, waterside villages and thousands of houseboats. 


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Kerala Backwaters


The Kerala backwaters are a labyrinth of 900km of serene canals, lagoons, rivers and extensive lakes stretching across the state that drain into the Arabian sea. The Kerala backwaters run inland from the coast with Alappuzha, formally known as Alleppey, being its main entry way. The backwaters connect villages and are used as a transport network for mainly fishing, coconut, spices, rubber and other agriculture. However, today they also serve as regenerated travel experiences, being the foundation to Kerala's tourism industry. The backwaters is home to a rich array of aquatic animals in its unique ecosystem from crabs to turtles, and water birds like the Kingfisher. 




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Alappuzha Backwaters


Although the backwaters extend across the entire state of Kerala, the main backwater regions are around Ashtamudi Lake and Vembanad Lake. Arguably, the most majestic and charming backwaters are those found around the coastal city of Alappuzha, south of Vembanad Lake showcasing Kerala's backwater paradise. The district has many backwater routes, each offering something different. Popular routes are:

-  Alappuzha to Thottappally

-  Alappuzha to Kumarakom

-  Alappuzha to Kottayam

-  Alappuzha to Mankotta

-  Alappuzha to Alumkadavu

-  Alappuzha to Kidangara 




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How To Get To Alappuzha


The nearest airport is Cochin International Airport. There are multiple domestic flights coming in from India's big cities like Mumbai and Delhi everyday. The distance from Cochin to Alapuzzha is 53km and can be reached by car or by train, although that will take longer. A private driver or prepaid taxi from the airport will cost around €40 and will take over an hour, sometimes closer to two hours to reach the backwaters and is what I recommend. You can also arrange the private shuttle via your accommodation. Trains are available from Ernakulam Junction railway station to Alapuzzha and will cost around €1-2. More information regarding trains to Alappuzha can be found here.




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Best Time To Visit The Kerala Backwaters


Kerala has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons - winter, summer and monsoon. Winter expands from October to February, summer is March to May and monsoon season is from June to September. The most comfortable time to visit is from October to early March with the coolest and driest month being January with a temperature of 29C. Monsoon season will still be warm but with more rainfall it will take away from the serenity, therefore not recommended. 

As winter is peak tourist season, this results in an increase in demand, thus inflated prices. Temperatures can still soar during this time so it is recommended to seek accommodation with air conditioning. 




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Kerala Backwaters Houseboat


So, how do you navigate around the Kerala backwaters? One of the most popular and unique ways to experience the palm-fringed backwaters is to cruise along on a kettuvallam - the traditional rice barges which have been tastefully reinvented into houseboats. Alappuzha is the houseboat capital with a thousand in the district. Houseboats are available to rent for a few hours, overnight or multiple days. It makes for the perfect vessel to soak in the backwater paradise. The thrilling views of the sunset and sunrise, the moonlight, ancient temples, village life on the banks, and the rich biodiversity are at your disposal from the balcony 24/7, with the boat only stopping for the night. The modern houseboat has all the luxuries of an impeccable hotel with beautifully furnished bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchenettes and balconies, complete with a cook and cabin crew who will prepare and serve you local delicacies and traditional Kerala cuisine. More modest and budget friendly options are also available and can be booked via AirBnB, hotel websites or preferably via a local tour company within Kerala. The cost of hiring a houseboat depends on the size and quality of the boat starting from around 5,000 rupees for a basic houseboat with no air conditioning, to 20,000 rupees a night for a more luxurious experience.




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Backwater Stay Without A Houseboat


Staying on a houseboat is definitely not the only way to enjoy the backwaters. There are various backwater facing resorts, AirBnBs and villas that you can rent, ranging from luxury to budget friendly. Many of the resorts will have their own houseboats, private boats, canoes or kayaks to rent for a few hours, or they will arrange to book one for you, allowing you to experience the backwaters in motion as well. Staying in the backwaters without a houseboat also provides you with the freedom to explore the water banks by foot or bike, discovering day-to-day village life, toddy tapping, and mingling with the locals. Bike hire is usually available free of charge or for a small fee from your accommodation. I rented a water facing AirBnB pictured below which included free use of kayaks and bikes. Through the AirBnB I booked a private luxury boat tour for three and a half hours, which cost 3500 rupees, but can definitely be found for cheaper when booking direct. 




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What To Do In The Kerala Backwaters


It is likely that you are rightly visiting Alappuzha and the Kerala backwaters to switch off and unwind. However, there are many things to do in Alappuzha to soak in the Malayali culture. 

CANOE RIDE - If you're not staying in a houseboat then renting a canoe (or boat) for a day or a few hours is a must. This is an idyllic way to spend a few hours taking in the serene paradise around you. The canoes are small therefore have the advantage of being able to reach the smaller backchannels where larger boats can't access. The experience is relaxing, slow paced, and quiet, allowing you to see the waterside village life close up. The trip will often include breakfast or lunch also. A private canoe will cost 200 rupees an hour for 2 people and can be arranged directly or through your accommodation.  

KAYAKING - For the more active and adventurous traveler, strap on a lifejacket, pick up a paddle and take thrill in kayaking through the Kerala backwaters. As the channels get narrower while you escape the main rivers, you get to know what the region is truly all about, and will make friends with the locals in no time. Kayaks are often free of charge or available to rent for a small price from your chosen accommodation. This can be done with or without a guide. 




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