8 Places to Experience the Backwaters of Kerala

The network of tranquil canals connecting the inland lakes is an experience unique to Kerala.

The backwaters of Kerala are the lakes formed by rivers and streams, these lakes then merge into the Arabian sea. Some of these lakes are man made by farmers to store the fresh water that can be used for drinking and especially farming.

In 2018, I had decided to spend my 30th birthday in the quietness of Kerala backwaters by myself and I couldn’t have chosen better. Here’s all the information you’ll need before making a trip to Kerala and experiencing the magic yourself.

Airports: Trivandrum, Kochi, Kozhikode, Kannur (International airports from South to North)

Backwaters of Kerala

Backwater is a common term used in India for the network of lakes, canals, and other water formations. And Kerala is known for it. The backwaters in Kerala provide drinking water and water for the irrigation of paddy fields (popular choice of the crop here).

kerala backwaters with strip of land on horizon lined with coconut trees

These waterways have played a crucial role in the economy of Kerala, as these routes were frequented by boats carrying goods to the trading centers. Many villages continue to be connected only through these ways even today. It’s a sight to appreciate in the soft morning light, people from these small villages washing clothes near the canals, kids swimming freely in the same waters, the island lined with coconut trees, and occasionally in distance, we can see the paddy fields. It feels like a different world altogether. I wonder how would I do in a world where I can’t walk to the nearest shop but have to take a boat instead.

I highly recommend one to take a canoe or a hand-driven boat and not a motorized boat. The joy of gliding past these houses, coconut trees, under the blue sky, through the blue waters, with no sound but of the paddle cutting through water and the birds, that joy is something else.

It is said that the people from the backwaters area learn to swim before they learn to walk.

Also read: https://thesolespeaks.com/first-time-travel-india/

8 Places to Experience the Backwaters of Kerala

1. Allepey/Alappuzha

An old pier on Alleppey beach while people hang around
Alleppey beach is beautiful too

Allepey is the most popular destination to experience backwater rides in Kerala. This is where I had landed up in 2018 to celebrate my 30th birthday. I have to add, it didn’t disappoint in the least bit.

Alleppey is also known for the famous snake boat races, the pictures of which I had seen in School.

It rains about 5 months a year in Kerala, so it’s no surprise that Kerala is also home to Umbrella museums. Do visit the two in Alleppey for some very creative umbrella designs, including some with bluetooth and music system.

2. Kumarakom

A red Canoe front on backwaters of Kerala with coconut trees in distance

Kumarakom is just about as popular as Allepey to see the backwaters and considered the most beautiful stretches of backwaters in Kerala. It’s surrounded by paddy fields and rubber plantations that makes it a picturesque picnic spot for many.

A popular destination in Kumarkom is the Kumarakom bird sanctuary that’s considered a bird-watching enthusiast’s haven.

3. Kappil

Kappil is at the confluence of river, sea, and the backwaters.

4. Kollam

Kollam is considered to be the beginning of the Kerala waterways. 71 km north of Thiruvananthpuram, Kollam is one of the oldest ports in Kerala.

An 8 hour cruise through the backwaters will take you all the way to Alleppey (the longest backwater cruise in Kerala).

Ashtamudi lake at Kollam is known as the gateway to backwaters and on the rid e along backwaters one must consider stopping at Alumkadavu village. Alumkadavu village is known for the artisans who craft kettuvalloms, the beautiful structure that goes on the boats.

5. Thiruvallam

Thiruvallam is known for a temple that is 2000 years old as much as it’s known for the backwaters.

6. Kochi

A giel in purple t-shirt sitting on left side on a canoe that is passing by Kerala backwaters

Kochi, also known as the Queen of the Arabian sea, is one of the most beautiful harbours in India. Known for it’s quaint cafes and stunning sunsets in Fort Kochi, it’s consists of a cluster of islands on lake Vembanad. I was particularly fascinated by the Chinese fishing nets lined along the coast.

Some known islands: Bolgatty, Vypeen, Gundu, and Vallarpadam.

7. Kozhikode

Kozhikode being lesser known is still unspoilt by the wave of tourism and makes for a great place for boating esp. in canoli canal, elathur, and Kallai river.

The bird sanctuary of Kadalundi is a beautiful place for identify birds in peace and quiet.

Festival: Korapuzha is known for Korapuzha jalotsavam (waster festival).

8. Valiyaparamba

Along the Tejaswini river, one can explore the backwaters of Valiyaparamba from Kottappuram (Nileswaram) to Kannur. The scenic stretch is fed by four rivers and consists of many smaller islands.

Variety of Boats to cruise through the Backwaters

Houseboats

House boat on Kerala backwaters

if one image could define Kerala, a houseboat sailing along the backwaters would do a good job. Houseboats are designed to be self sustainable and generally have a bedroom, living room, and a kitchen on board, that allows travellers to soak in the experience to their heart’s desire.

On my canoe ride in the backwaters of Alleppey, in 2018, the site of a houseboat in the water and made compelled me to make a promise to myself that I would return and take a ride in the houseboat.

Canoe

Canoes are perfect to wander into the small canals that are impossible to enter otherwise. The serenity of sitting in a canoe is quite something. This is my favorite form of transversing the backwaters but it’s not for everyone esp. considering the limited seating capacity (2-4) and its slow speed.

Government Ferries

Government ferries are the most economical way of exploring the backwaters. It’s the mode of transport for locals who use it for their regular commute. It’s generally slightly bigger than a Shikara boat with two levels and costs the least (we’re talking Rs. 5 as opposed to Rs. 500).

Kerala Shikara Boats

Shikara boats are more smaller than the government ferries but bigger than a canoe so it’s ideal for friends. It’s sturdier too which allows for some movement.

Other Experiences along the Backwaters of Kerala

Toddy

The fermented water looks like diluted milk is a favorite of the locals. The traditional country shops have thatched roofs and serve toddy with fried crabs or Karimeen (local fish of the backwaters).

Some people would say Toddy is an acquired taste, but I have rarely ever fallen for a fermented drink that quick.

I hope you make it to Kerala backwaters someday and if you have already been, I hope you get to go again 🙂

Karimeen

Karimeen is a fish native to the backwaters of Kerala, some parts of Goa, and Chilika lake (Orissa) in India. 2011 was named as the Karimeen year in Kerala.

I hope you get to experience this magic of Kerala backwaters, if you have already been, then I hope you get to experience it again 🙂

6 thoughts on “8 Places to Experience the Backwaters of Kerala”

  1. Hope the covid leaves Kerala quickly so locals and visitors can come back and enjoy the delights of
    “God’s” own country. Sunanda

    Reply
  2. We spent over a week in Kerala taking the ferry from Kollum to Alleppey and then a houseboat trip from Allephey and a few days exploring Kochi. it is such a different and fascinating part of India. Your post brought back great memories. Maggie

    Reply
    • That must have been such a beautiful experience. Unfortunately, I was traveling in Kerala upon returning from my year-long trip in South America so I had little money left.
      I was very close to Kerala and was planning to venturing there when the pandemic got worse so I dropped all plans. Writing this post made me fall in love with Kerala all over again.
      It breaks my heart that Kerala is experiencing yet another story at this point and the lack of tourism has closed many a businesses there.

      Reply
        • Thank you so much for your kind words. And it does feel like that. Everyone seems to know someone personally who’s died of Covid.
          It feels kind of pretentious to be writing about travel too at this time but this is my happy place so I write.

          Reply

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