One of the most popular experiences for travelers in the Southern region of India is to take a boat tour on the backwaters in the beautiful state of Kerala.
The Backwaters of Kerala is a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets formed by more than 900 km of waterways. The backwaters present a unique ecosystem where freshwater from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea. Local oarsmen take tourists to an amazing world of lush greenery and tranquility hidden from street views. From small wooden boats to large rice barges, there is something for everyone on the backwaters.
For overnight cruises, you set sail on a traditional kettuvallom. These giant 100 foot long boats have been adapted into fully furnished houses ranging from one to four bedrooms. Boats have open air living rooms, AC in the bedrooms and fully functioning western style bathrooms. Each boat also typically comes with a captain, a chef and other houseboat guides to take care of your every need while on board.
[box]TRAVELERS TIP: If you opt for an overnight stay on a larger boat, make sure to make time to explore the smaller, narrower waterways on a small wooden boat. The scenery, wild life and human life you will encounter on these small byways will be the highlight of your journey.[/box]
On my first trip to Kerala, I opted for a short half-day trip out on small (motorized & non-motorized) boats. It was a wonderful day slowly cruising the tiny backwater lanes taking in rural life of India. It was fascinating to see how closely connected the villagers were to their surroundings, living so close to the waters edge and using it in all aspects of life. As a first introduction to the the backwaters, it was mesmerizing and exactly what I had hoped it would be.
Fast forward more than 10 years later when I returned with my 3 year old son. I had heard mixed reports about the overnight houseboats through the years, but I knew that cruising the backwaters on a small boat would not be a long lived excursion for a rambunctious 3 year old. Instead we opted for one night on the beautifully crafted rice barges with an hour long small boat excursion added on, a perfect combination of the two.
Cruising the backwaters on an overnight tour starts around 11 a.m. ending the following morning. The one day tour provides ample opportunities for exploring the boat, relaxing while watching rural life go by as well as time for excursions down the tiny streams jutting off the main thoroughfare. You may wonder how to keep kids entertained in closed quarters, but trust me when I say that they will find entertainment in searching for animals, watching the gaggles of school kids running along the shores waving at passing boats and examining the many different types of boats on the water. For adults without kids looking for serene relaxation, longer cruises are also available venturing further out.
And now, a time lapse view of rush hour on the backwaters!
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21 thoughts on “Cruising the Backwaters of Kerala (with kids)”
What a cool area! Our itinerary for India grows every day. I love the idea of the over-night on a boat. Really different.
There is SO much to see in India! Even after living there for almost 10 years I could easily go back and spend months exploring!!
I would probably opt for the short trip too, but the waterways look really fascinating. There’s a lot to see along the way?
He is SO cute and I love your photos! I hope to see India soon.
Wow! I love the video of the boat traffic! Looks like fun. How fast do those boats really go?
Great insight here! I wouldn’t have guessed that a ride on a kettuvallom was so luxurious. I am glad you mentioned to get off the beaten path and explore the less-trafficked waterways. Sounds like that’s where the most authenticity is!
It’s all pretty authentic but you definitely see more of the intricate day to day life on the smaller water ways. The backwaters is actually pretty interesting that the only touristy part is the actua boat ride- everything is as real as it gets!!
What a unique experience for a child (as well as the adults!), he must have learnt so much, especially seeing the other local children waving from the bank. Great tip about making sure you don’t miss out on the smaller backwaters if you’re on a big boat, I’d definitely want to explore all the little creeks. Sounds like one of the most relaxing trips ever, what memories!
This sounds like a really fun way to experience India. I grew up around canals and have always been fascinated by them and like slow water travel.
I love reading about parents taking their kids along with them on adventures! What an experience for them. Happy I stumbled upon your blog!
And were there any animals to be found?! What a lovely trip, I like the slow paced sound of it, very relaxing. I also like the sound of a chef!
This is a great option for toddlers and younger children. My daughter might not last too long on the smaller waterways either. I’d love the overnight part on the larger boat. Adding an hour long small boat excursion would be the best fit for us. I haven’t been to India yet so I’m taking notes and following along closely.
That looks great I haven’t heard of the waterways in Kerala before. I love the fact that you can spend a night aboard while watching life at the banks of the river! very interesting!
Your son is an adorable adventurer! He so lucky you’re able to give him such amazing experiences at such a young age. I wish my parents had done stuff like this with me. Now I’m having to make up for lost time 😉
Hah I know! I worry that he will see so much of the world and not want to go travel when he grows up!!
Cool thanks a lot – Kerala and the backwaters have been on my list for long so thanks for the tips
What a cool spot! The traditional kettuvallom would be so fun to stay in, but I would definitely like to take the smaller boats out to explore, as well. Kerala looks like an great spot to visit–awesome photos!
I’ve never heard of kettuvalloms before, but they look very cool! My husband and I both love river tours so this sounds like an experience we would really enjoy.
I loved the time lapse video! At one point it looked like one boat got really close, but I would imagine the captains are so experienced that there are hardly any accidents. What kinds of animals did you get to see? I saw a lot of birds in the video.
I loved all the little byways of Kerala’s backwater. The boat ride was so relaxing, and watching life go on was fascinating.