Kerala houseboats are one of the most popular activities for visitors to Kerala. Lonely Planet listed a trip on Kerala houseboats as one of the ‘Top 10 things to do before you die’, and we agree that it is one of the best ways to experience the Kerala backwaters.
It is a wonderfully relaxing experience to cruise through the beautiful backwaters in such comfort. However, visitors are often confused about whether taking a houseboat trip is right for them, and how to go about booking a trip. This multi-part guide will give you all the information you need to plan your trip.
What are Kerala Houseboats?
Kerala houseboats are converted rice barges, know as kettu vallam, that were once used to transport rice, spices and building materials to backwater towns and to the port at Cochin. In recent years the increase in roads reduced the need for these cargo boats, so locals converted them for use by tourists, which have become increasingly popular.
The kettu vallam are still made by hand, using the ancient boat building techniques that we learnt about on our canoe trip. The wooden hulls are constructed from jackwood, amazingly without using a single nail or artificial substance. Instead the huge planks are kept together using coir (coconut fibre) rope tied in knots, and then waterproofed using cashew oil. The attractive canopies are made from bamboo and plaited palm leaves. All of the materials are natural and ecofriendly.
What are houseboats like inside?
The Kerala houseboats are now designed with tourists in mind and most feature very comfortable and luxurious interiors. Our houseboat was typical – it had 2 bedrooms with private bathrooms, a covered lounge area with open sides to make the most of the views, and an upstairs uncovered deck for even better views. There’s a small kitchen at the back, used by the staff to cook you delicious meals, which are eaten on a table in the lounge.
The bedrooms are fairly small and simple, but you don’t spend much time shut up in here anyway. We spent most of our time relaxing in the reclining chairs or cushioned chaise longues in the main living area. Nothing beats lying back in comfort watching the beautiful backwaters go by.
This was pure decadence for us, but many houseboats are even more luxurious. Facilities can include air conditioning, jacuzzis and even televisions (why you’d need one I don’t know). Some houseboats are huge, with up to 10 bedrooms.
Part 2 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide takes you through what to expect on a houseboat trip.
Part 3 talks about the sights and sounds you’ll experience on your journey.
Part 4 focuses on the practicalities of booking your houseboat trip, including the cost.
Part 5 addresses the environmental considerations of Kerala houseboats, and answers the question ‘Is it worth it?’.
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