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Bus-Free Through India: Houseboating Through Kerala’s Backwaters

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Backwaters houseboat

While I did a short kayaking trip through the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, boating had been a smaller component throughout the trip traveling without bus tours through India.

That was all changing today, with a houseboat trip and kayaking excursion through the Backwaters.


Local women doing laundry in the Backwaters

After long distances cycling through India and high-altitude camping in Silent Valley National Park, I was excited to relax.

The Backwaters, a long body of water composed of two giant lakes in southern Kerala — a state in southern India — where the people are dependent on the water.

It’s also one of the top places to holiday in India and a great option for those traveling solo in India like I was. 

On an overnight houseboat excursion with Cruisers — arranged by my tour outfitter, Kalypso Adventures — I was able to do a homestay on the water, staying in the home of three men, Chef Sabu, Engine Operator Baiju and Captain Sasi.


My room on my Cruisers’ houseboat. My boat was the Cruisers II.

Historically, these boats were used to transport rice up and down the river; however, with a rise in tourism and people requesting to experience these boats, many of them started offering tours instead.

Made of steel and bamboo with coconut coir roofs, these ambient vessels offer a mix of culture and luxury with simple yet comfortable air-conditioned rooms with ensuite toilet, shower and sink and a common deck with cushioned benches and chairs and a bowl of fresh fruit.

fresh fruit

Fresh fruit and a coconut drink were the perfect welcome.

The tour began and ended in the coastal town of Alleppey. After being welcomed with fresh coconut milk — still in the coconut — and a garland of jasmine, I immediately pulled out my telephoto lens to snap some photos.

Colorful houses flanked by palms and mango trees lined the shores, with women washing pots and clothing in the water, beating the fabrics against stone steps.

At some points, fruit plantations came into view, as did areas full of chickens, cows, and goats.

It was particularly interesting watching the fishermen go out in their wooden canoes to reel in the day’s fresh catch, before biking along the banks to sell it door-to-door.

jasmine garland

I was also greeted with a garland of fragrant jasmine.

This, as well as floating supermarkets, provide people with nourishment.

There are also boats that transport gas for cooking.

If people need other supplies, a ferry costs 5 Rupees (about $0.08 USD) per ride and can bring them to shop-filled towns.


A cormorant dives for food in the Backwaters.

The birds were another highlight of the boat trip, with colorful King Fishers, graceful black crows, egrets, and herons performing aerial acrobatics.

My favorite was the cormorant, who would balance on broken tree trunks before diving into the water for some fishing.

You’d often see them swimming, their heads bobbling above the surface like the eye of a covert submarine operation.


A tasty Indian lunch aboard the Cruisers II.

Along with seeing the sites, food is a must-mention of a houseboat excursion.

Chef Sabu loves cooking, and excitedly served three traditional Keralan meals large enough to feed a family.

Rice and bread were always accompaniments, paired with spice-rich dishes like cabbage with coconut; fried mini shrimps; fried local fish; coconut curry with coconut, cumin and garlic paste; sambal; stewed tomatoes; and couscous and long bean salad.


A fiery sunrise in the Backwaters.

After a comfortable sleep, I awake to a bright-orange sunrise, looking like a basketball set on fire above banana trees.


Me, about to kayak the Backwaters.

Kalypso Adventures also arranged for me to take a kayaking trip through Alleppey, the oldest planned town in the Backwaters.

Because I wasn’t sure the views would really be that different from what I’d seen on the boat, I left my camera behind.

Big mistake.


Locals use canoes for fishing and for transportation.

The views from that close to the water were extremely different, from being eye level with the birds and locals to being on top of the water’s mirror reflections of the surrounding tropical plants.

I highly recommend pairing the kayaking with the houseboat for this unique perspective (and bringing a camera or GoPro to capture it with).

To give you an idea of my experience, here are some of my favorite photos from the journey:


A view of the houseboats and Backwaters from the departure dock



Locals in the Backwaters.



Ducks gliding across the water in the shape of a heart. I’ve never seen anything like this!



There were so many ducks in the Backwaters.



Fishing in the Backwaters.



A local home in the Backwaters.



Locals waiting for the ferry in the Backwaters.



Beautiful boat in the Backwaters.


kids fishing

Kids fishing in the Backwaters.



Bird-watching is a must when visiting the Backwaters. I recommend a telephoto lens if you’re taking photographs.



There are so many beautiful birds in the Backwaters.


Pazham Pori

Pazham Pori (essentially a banana fritter with spices like cardamom and turmeric). The food aboard my houseboat was absolutely delicious as Chef Sabu cooked traditional Indian dishes using local ingredients.



The sun setting on a village in the Backwaters. This is where we docked for the night, and I got out to take some photos.



Walking around one of the Backwaters’ villages, I met a man and his daughter who excitedly asked me if they could have their photo taken.



Birds are everywhere in the Backwaters.



A calm morning on the Backwaters.

Stay tuned for more Bus-Free Through India, with new articles in this 8-part series coming out every Tuesday!

Have you ever visited the Backwaters of Kerala, India?

This post is based on a semi-hosted press trip I took with Kalypso Adventures, experiencing their Multi Activity Holiday tour. It’s part of a series called Bus-Free Through India, as the tour focuses on showcasing the real India through cultural, sustainable and adventurous offerings, as well as traveling from place to place by cycling, trekking and kayaking. Stay tuned for this next chapter in my series, Bus-Free Through India.

Bonus Kerala, India Travel Guides

10 Reasons Why Kerala Should Be Your Next Trip

An Organic Farmstay Experience In Kerala, India

Cycling The “Scotland Of Asia” To An Organic Farm In India

Cycling India’s Cardamom Trail In Kerala

Ascending High Peaks & Hiking Through The World’s Highest Organic Tea Garden In Kerala, India

Why Kerala’s Silent Valley Is One Of The World’s Best National Parks

Cycling Kerala’s Culturally-Immersive Canal Route

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is a New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. Alleppey travel guide on at 12:44 pm

    Its one of the most beautiful write up on Alleppey which is one of the best backwater destinations in Kerala
    The incredible pics which you have inserted are just fascinating and the information will surely help first time visitors to kerala

    • jess2716 on at 5:24 pm

      @Alleppey Travel Guide: Thank you!

  2. suraj on at 6:23 am

    Nice blog post. Alleppy is a wonderful place. your experience with those backewaters are pulling me again to a trip to the serene environment of the Alleppy.

    Thanks for sharing wonderful post.

  3. Kas on at 2:45 am

    Great post about the Alleppey backwater with amazing photos.I’m glad I found this web site..Thank you

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