Which Kerala Beach is Right For You? Part 2 -Central Kerala

In Part 1 of our Kerala Beach Guide we discussed the popular Kerala beach resorts of Varkala and Kovalam in southern Kerala. However if you only have a short time in Kerala and are arriving in Cochin, here are some other beach options in Central Kerala.

Marari Beach

Marari Beach is a long quiet beach near the small fishing village of Mararikulam. Marari is a great option for those looking to combine the backwaters with a beach stay, as it’s only 20 km north of Alleppey, and a good stopover between here and Cochin.

The beach is clean and unspoilt, and much less developed than Kovalam and Varkala. Most of the accommodation options are expensive though, the most popular being the Marari Beach Resort, but cheaper homestays are available.

Recommended for those wanting to combine the backwaters with a Kerala beach.

Cherai Beach

Cherai is the nearest decent beach to Cochin, located on Vypeen Island. This 15km stretch of beach is located next to a backwater lagoon with views of coconut groves and paddy fields.

Cherai can be reached from Fort Kochi on a 10 minute ferry ride, plus 40 minutes by bus or taxi. It’s easily visited on a day trip from Cochin, but there are also plenty of places to stay if you’d rather base yourself at the beach.

Recommended for those on short trips who are already visiting Cochin and want to relax on a Kerala beach for a day or two.

Part 3 of Which Kerala Beach is Right For You? covers the quiet off the beaten track beaches in Northern Kerala.

Which Kerala Beach is Right For You? Part 1 – South Kerala

Kerala is a long narrow state edged with 360 miles of golden, palm-lined coastline adjoining the Arabian Sea. There are plenty of beaches on offer from secluded coves, to bustling fishing villages and upmarket resorts.

It can be difficult to choose which Kerala beach is right for you. This Kerala beach guide takes you through the options, starting in Part 1 with the popular resorts of South Kerala.


Kovalam is the most popular Kerala beach resort, conveniently located only 30 minutes south of Trivandrum. This trio of palm-lined beaches was once a budget backpackers hang-out, but has now become very popular with tourists on package holidays, with plenty of upmarket hotels on offer.

The development of the resort has been haphazard, resulting in the loss of much of its character. However if you are looking for a wide choice of accommodation and restaurants, and a lively beach scene then Kovalam is for you. Prices are higher in Kovalam than in other parts of Kerala, but budget choices are possible, as well as many luxurious resorts offering ayurvedic treatment.

Kovalam and Varkala both have rough seas with strong undercurrents, so you must be careful when swimming, but hiring a boogie board can be fun.

Recommended for tourists looking for luxurious resorts, ayurvedic spas and a lively beach scene.


Varkala, Kerala Beach

Varkala, Kerala Beach

Varkala is the second most popular Kerala beach resort, located north of Trivandrum. The beach is spectacularly located beneath steep red cliffs with fantastic views and beautiful sunsets.

Varkala is less commercialised than Kovalam, but is no longer quiet. There are plenty of tourists around, and new hotels are being built all the time. However it is a much more relaxed option, with the cliff top lined with chilled-out bamboo cafes and shops. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy the views including dolphins during the day and amazing sunsets later on.

There are plenty of opportunities for ayurveda and yoga. Varkala is only 30 minutes south of Kollam, so is easily combined with a backwater trip.

Recommended for those looking for a quieter option than Kovalam, but still plenty of accommodation and restaurant choices.

Other South Kerala Beach Options

If Kovalam and Varkala both sound too busy for you then there are many quiet stretches of beach south of Kovalam and  north of Varkala. You can choose to stay at luxurious resorts or the occasional guesthouse, and are likely to have the beach to yourself with not much else going on.

Recommended for those looking to get away from it all, especially tourists who can afford the expensive resorts along the coast.

Part 2 of the Kerala Beach Guide covers the beaches of Central Kerala – ideal for those looking to combine backwaters and beaches. If you sign up to the Kerala India Travel RSS Feed, you’ll receive new articles direct to your reader.

Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide (Part 5)

This is the fifth and final part of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide. In Part 1 we explained what Kerala houseboats are, in Part 2 we let you know what to expect on a houseboat trip, Part 3 talked about the sights and sounds you’ll experience on your journey, while Part 4 focused on the practicalities of booking your houseboat trip.  This final section addresses the often overlooked environmental considerations of houseboat trips, and answers the commonly asked question ‘Is it worth it?’.

What environmental impact do Kerala houseboats have?

Kerala houseboats have become a very popular way to explore the backwaters of Kerala, which has led to a rapid increase in the number of boats in the waters, especially around Alleppey where there are hundreds.  The diesel-guzzling outboard motors that some houseboats use have had a significant impact on the delicate ecosystem of the backwaters.

I must admit that we didn’t give this much thought when we booked our trip, or while we relaxed on board and enjoyed the beautiful scenery passing by. It was only when we stayed at a backwaters homestay near Alleppey after our trip that we realised the problem the houseboats cause.

The local people told us that by the end of the tourism season each year the river becomes so black and polluted that they can’t use it for bathing and washing clothes. This is a major problem, as many houses don’t have running water so they depend on the river. We were shocked that the houseboat trip we had enjoyed so much was having such a terrible impact on the lives of people living in the backwaters. It definitely made us rethink whether we could recommend a trip to others.

How do I choose an eco-friendly houseboat?

Luckily, there is increasing pressure from locals and tourists for houseboats to clean up their act. There are environmentally friendly options available, so it is still possible to enjoy this wonderful trip.

The most eco-friendly option would be to choose a punted houseboat, rather than one that uses a motorised engine. This means your boat would be propelled the traditional way by an oarsman with a long bamboo pole. Obviously this is a much slower way of travelling so you wouldn’t be able to cover long distances, but you would travel at a leisurely and relaxing pace in complete silence.

The other option is to look for houseboats that have a Green Palm Certificate. This is awarded by the Department of Tourism to houseboats that adhere to eco-friendly measures such as using alternative energy, recycling rubbish and disposing of sewage safely.

When booking your houseboat trip make sure you ask these questions. It is only by pressure from tourists that houseboat operators will change their ways and protect this stunning environment.

Is a houseboat trip worth it?

‘Is it worth it?’ is a commonly asked question about Kerala houseboats. Is it worth the expense? Is all the hype really true? The short answer is yes! It honestly is an incredible and unique experience is a truly beautiful place. If you’ve read all five parts of this guide then hopefully you’ve been convinced, and will be enjoying this wonderful journey soon.

Have you been on a houseboat trip? Leave a comment and let us know about your experience.

If you are planning a trip on Kerala houseboats let me know or leave a comment if you have any questions or if I’ve missed anything in this guide.

Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide (Part 4)

Kerala Houseboats are a wonderful way to travel the beautiful Kerala backwaters. In Part 1 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide we explained what Kerala houseboats are, in Part 2 we let you know what to expect on a houseboat trip, and in Part 3 we talked about the sights and sounds you’ll experience on your journey. Now, in Part 4 we discuss the practicalities of booking your houseboat trip.

Where is the best place for a houseboat trip?

The most popular place to book a houseboat trip is Alleppey (also known as Alappuzha). There are hundreds of houseboats here, so you’re sure to find a boat that meets your needs, and the competition keeps prices low. However, the rivers around Alleppey can get crowded with other houseboats which can ruin the tranquil mood. The further you get from Alleppey the fewer other boats you’ll see.

Houseboats travel slowly at 40-50 kilometres (25-30 miles) a day. You can choose to either return to the place you started, or travel to another town.

Kollam (Quilon) is also a good place to book your houseboat trip. We booked a trip here from Kollam – Alleppey. The advantage of this route is that there are far less houseboats around – we only saw a few others until we reached the houseboat traffic jam coming into Alleppey.

Kerala houseboat traffic jam near Alleppey

Kerala houseboat traffic jam near Alleppey

Kumarakom (near Kottayam) is another popular houseboat spot, with the Alleppey-Kumarakom trip particularly scenic.

If you really want to avoid the crowds then head off the beaten track to the northern backwater area Valiyaparamba, 50km north of Kannur. The only other boats you’re likely to see here are traditional fishing boats.

How do I book Kerala houseboats?

There is no need to book a houseboat trip in advance, in fact you’ll get the best prices if you don’t. Even in peak season there are plenty of houseboats available, especially from Alleppey.

You’ll need to arrive in town the day before you want to take your houseboat trip. You can then either go down to the jetty or talk to your hotel/guesthouse about arranging a trip. The most important thing is to make sure you see the boat that you’ll be travelling on. Do negotiate the price (especially in off-peak season), and try to get your agreement in writing. You can also ask around for recommendations from other travellers.

What length trip should I take?

By far the most popular length houseboat trip is overnight for 22 hours, largely due to the cost involved. Some people say they would have been bored on a longer trip, but we didn’t want our trip to end and would have loved another night.

If you can afford it, and have books, journals or games to keep you occupied, then consider a longer trip. Some people even hire a boat for a week, and stop off to explore backwater towns and villages along the way.

How much will a houseboat cost?

The price of an overnight houseboat trip ranges from 6000 – 12,000 rupees (US$123-247 / GB£ 75-150). The cheapest trips are Alleppey-Aleppey. You’ll pay more for longer distance trips, more bedrooms, air conditioning and deluxe boats. It’s also more expensive during the peak mid December-mid January season, and much cheaper during the summer monsoon months.

We paid 10,000 rupees for a 2 bedroom non a/c houseboat from Kollam-Alleppey in mid December.

Are there any budget alternatives?

If you can’t afford to hire a private houseboat you could share a 2 or 3 bedroom houseboat with other travellers to reduce costs.

If this is still too expensive then you can explore the backwaters by canoe, which can be very rewarding, inexpensive and you’ll be able to access smaller canals that houseboats can’t.

You can also take a local ferry which is extremely cheap and you have the chance to interact with the locals. Alleppey – Kumarakom is a scenic route that takes 2.5 hours.

More information on different options is available in our post on the Best Ways to Experience the Kerala Backwaters.

The fifth and final part of our Kerala Houseboats guide explores the environmental impact of houseboats, and answer the commonly asked question “Is it worth it?” You can receive new articles direct to your reader by signing up to our RSS feed.

Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide. In Part 1 we explained what Kerala houseboats are, and in Part 2 we let you know what to expect on a houseboat trip (including delicious food!). Now find out what you’ll see on your houseboat journey.

What will I see on Kerala houseboats?

Beautiful Backwater Scenery
One of the joys of a houseboat trip is escaping the dust, noise and hassle of other parts of India, and immersing yourself in the lush, emerald watery world of the backwaters. The tropical scenery is stunning – we never tired of it.

You’ll float past riverbanks lined with abundant green palm and coconut trees, verdant paddy fields, and colourful waterlillies and lotuses. You’ll emerge from narrow rivers and canals into expansive lagoons, before returning to smaller waterways.

Kerala Backwaters Scenery

Kerala Backwaters Scenery

Colourful Birdlife
The backwaters support a unique ecosystem resulting in a huge range of wonderful birdlife. We aren’t bird spotting experts at all, but were amazed by the number of majestic eagles and blue kingfishers we saw along the way. You can also see woodpeckers, Malabar hornbills, cormorants, darters, plovers, and brahminy kites.

Village Life

Village scene in the Kerala Backwaters

Village scene in the Kerala Backwaters

The highlight of the trip, and the reason you can’t get bored on Kerala houseboats, is the ordinary village life you’ll witness along the way.

You’ll pass by women in brightly coloured saris washing clothes in the river and beating them on rocks.

You’ll see fishermen in lunghis launching nets, dugout canoes overflowing with freshly picked coconuts, and grinning children waving hello. It’s a fascinating insight into backwater life.

What will I hear on Kerala Houseboats?

No Cars
What you won’t see or hear is cars! It’s a wonderful break from chaotic, noisy Indian traffic to escape to a world where transport is by canoe and bicycle. So peaceful…

Temple Songs
The backwaters are an interesting mix of Christian, Hindu and Muslim cultures. At different times of day you may well hear the call to prayer, Christian hymns, and Hindu chants.

Friendly People
The only other thing you’re likely to hear is the sound of cheerful children trying out their English on you.

Leave a comment and let us know what you saw and heard on your houseboat trip.

Part 4 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide focuses on the practical aspects of how to book a houseboat trip and how much it will cost. Sign up to our RSS Feed to receive new articles direct to your reader.

Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide we explained that houseboats are converted rice barges hand built from traditional materials, that now feature comfortable and luxurious interiors and facilities for tourists. They are a wonderful way to explore the beautiful backwaters region. In Part 2 we let you know what to expect on a houseboat trip.

What do trips on Kerala houseboats involve?

Kerala houseboat trips typically last 22 hours, leaving at around midday and finishing at about 10am the next day. They don’t usually stop during the day, or include any activities – it’s all about leisurely crusing along and drinking up the sights floating past. At dusk the housboats moor at the riverbank in time for a beautiful sunset. You’ll stay here overnight and set off for your final destination in the morning.

You can decide to start and end at the same place for a circular route (typically Alleppey-Alleppey) or travel from one place to another (i.e Alleppey-Kollam), which can be a great way of covering distance while having a break from public transport.

You can hire an entire houseboat to yourself (popular with couples) or share a multi-room houseboat. Arrangements are very flexible and it is likely that you will be able to arrange a trip to suit your needs.

You’ll have your own staff of 3 locals including a cook and 2 crew members. They generally stay in the kitchen area at the back of the boat, except for the captain who’ll be up front steering while the boat is on the move . Our crew were very friendly – the captain even let us have a try at steering the boat ourselves. An upper deck means even greater privacy, but generally the staff don’t feel instrusive of this romantic experience.

The main living area of our houseboat

The main living area of our houseboat

Who takes a houseboat trip?

Kerala houseboats are a popular trip for many visitors to the region, both domestic and international. When we came across other houseboats they were most commonly occupied by honeymooning Indian couples. It is a lovely romantic trip for couples, but can also be great for groups of friends.

What’s the food like?

Delicious! You have your own chef and three meals are included in the price, plus a big basket of tropical fruit, fruit juices and tea. It’s a great chance to sample traditional Keralan food made with fresh and tasty ingredients. Lunch is the main meal – we enjoyed a feast of nine different dishes! Rice, chutneys and a variety of vegetable curries.

Our Keralan feast

Our Keralan feast

Dinner was simpler – rice, chapatis and two vegetable curries, but still lovely. We’re vegetarian and it was fantastic for us, but fresh fish is available and I’ve heard people raving about it.

Breakfast was also Keralan style – dosas with coconut chutney, bananas cooked in honey and fresh pineapple. Again, very delicious and much more interesting than toast!

Part 3 of Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide is now available and talks about the wonderful sights and sounds you’ll experience on a houseboat trip. Sign up to our RSS Feed to receive new articles direct to your reader.

Kerala Houseboats – The Essential Guide (Part 1)

Kerala Houseboats

Kerala Houseboats

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.

Relaxing on a houseboat

Relaxing on a houseboat

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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