Home » Countries » Asia » Kumarakom Houseboats on the Kerala Backwaters

Kumarakom Houseboats on the Kerala Backwaters

Kerala, the state in South-west India, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Blessed with gorgeous landscapes, beaches and hill stations, it also has a rich cultural heritage and an amazing food scene, and it is easy to understand why the local people have named it ‘God’s Own Country’. One of the most pleasurable ways to explore the area is on Kumarakom Houseboats, known locally as a kettuvallam on Kerala’s backwaters. These enormous boats, some of which can be multi-storey, were originally used to transport rice and spices to the port of Cochin, the regional capital.

The backwaters of Kerala are a network of channels, rivers and lagoons that are located just inland from and running parallel to the Arabian Sea. Some of the lakes are connected naturally by rivers or by canals that have been constructed for that purpose. The water is brackish – freshwater meets the salty brine of the sea – and this gives the backwaters a very particular ecosystem.

Kumarakom Houseboats

The boats have wooden hulls and a thatched roof. ‘Kettu’ means ‘tied’ and ‘vallam’ is a boat. These boats are constructed from long planks of wood tied with knots of coir and then coated in a resin derived from cashew nut kernels. No nails are used at any stage.

Hiring One Of The Kumarakom Houseboats

Although they were originally designed to be cargo ships they have been adapted for tourism and converted to proper houseboats complete with a living area, kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. The boats are available for hire for tourists to reside on, or they can be hired for a few hours at a time. It’s worth noting that boat hire isn’t cheap, especially compared with other prices in the region, but if you can afford it, it is definitely an experience worth undertaking.

Many houseboats are booked months in advance during the busy season and will follow a tour through the backwaters. If you aren’t visiting in the high season you might get lucky and find a boat that’s available to hire. We had been travelling down from Thekkady, arriving at Kumarakom at around 1pm. We managed to find a houseboat that was willing to take us on a four hour boat trip on the local lake and this price included lunch. The prices are for the hire of the boat and crew (normally a couple of people) so if you have a larger party the cost per person naturally reduces. You may find that if the boat is still available and hasn’t already found customers, it may be possible to negotiate a price.

A Tour Of The Houseboat

The thing that is most striking about the houseboats is how spacious they are.

Kerala Houseboat

The living/dining area at the front has room for a dining table and plenty of seating space

The houseboat is steered from the front.

Kerala Houseboat

Then there is a long corridor from which there are large double bedrooms. Each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom.

Kerala Houseboat

As with all areas in South India where food is served, there is a hand-washing area in the corridor.

Finally, the kitchen is located at the rear of the boat. Again, it is very spacious and has plenty of cooking facilities and storage space. Gas is provided by portable cannisters.

Kerala Houseboat

Lunch was already in the process of being prepared…

A Laidback Cruise on the Lake

The journey on the Kerala houseboat took us from the boat’s mooring along the river and onto the wide Vembanad lake. The boats are motor driven but move at a slow pace which makes for a leisurely experience. It very much reflects the way of life in Kerala.

Kerala Houseboat

Kumarakom Houseboats

All along the shoreline it is possible to see fishing contraptions. They are formally known as shore operated lift nets, which doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as they look. These are used at night to catch prawns and other small fish. They are designed on a cantilever which ensures that the net descends into the sea when someone walks along the main beam. The catch is then raised by the use of ropes. Some have lights which are used to attract the fish.

Dining on the Houseboat

Lunch on the Kumarakom houseboat comprised typical dishes from the region – a spicy fish curry with fish fry accompanied by vegetable side dishes and rice. We were asked how spicy we liked our food and we asked for it to be spiced as local people liked it. Like many dishes in Kerala we found that the spices were used for flavour rather than heat.  And, of course, it was utterly delicious.

Munnar tea and a banana fritter were served for dessert.

We were visiting at the end of the Monsoon season so some rain was probably inevitable. But even a downpour couldn’t dampen spirits.

Kerala Houseboat

A lazy afternoon cruising the beautiful backwaters on a Kerala houseboat, with the addition of a delicious lunch, was a most refined way of spending an afternoon.

Kerala Houseboat
Places to visit in Munnar, Kerala
Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India
Visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar
Mekong Delta River trip
A river journey on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam
Mekong Kratie Cambodia
On the river in Kratie, Cambodia
Visit the Faroe Islands
Visit the Faroe Islands
A link to all posts about India
If you liked this post, please share it:


    • Thank you! Unfortunately the boat had to be back at its dock by dusk so we never got to see the fishing contraptions being used but they were really interesting and a very clever design. And yes, the catch was scrumptious!

    • It was a really lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon. We loved the food in Kerala. We visited a spice plantation in Munnar and it was fascinating to see the spices growing. We also brought loads back to cook with at home!

    • We were really surprised at how large they were. We did see some two storey houseboats out on the lake which were enormous!

  1. A trip around Kerala and the lakes has always been one of my plans for my extended trip to India. Thanks for the useful info and advice here.

    • Really glad that this was useful. We hope that you enjoy your visit to Kerala – we absolutely loved it!

  2. Next time I visit India, I will definitely explore the Kerala region. The area around the sides must be spectacular, both for its natural beauty and biodiversity.
    The option of staying on houseboats seems to be the best way to experience it in a genuine way. Definitely a point to put on my list, one day when I go to the region.

    • We definitely recommend visiting South India – both Kerala and Tamil Nadu are wonderful. The backwaters of Kerala are so beautiful and the houseboat is a really lovely way to explore them. Hope you get to visit one day.

  3. What a fun experience! I think I would really enjoy a Kerala houseboat. It looks comfortable and spacious plus what a fabulous way to get another perspective of the community.

    The fishing technique is really interesting. I think I would enjoy watching the fishermen operating the nets.

    I’m thinking I may need to put India on my bucket list.

    Lyn | http://www.ramblynjazz.com

    • Thank you! It really was a fun experience, very relaxing and, as you say, a great way to gain a very different perspective of the area. We wish we could have seen the fishermen with the nets – it would have been really interesting. And possibly delicious if we had been able to eat some of their catch!

  4. This screams the ultimate experience for travellers. I’m not surprised the house boats are booked way in advance and completely booked for the season. Even though these boats are massive, they seem to be agile and easily to manoeuvre across the lake if they take them out regularly for tours. Never heard of the Kerala region nor the houseboat community and will look it up to get to know more about this region. Thanks for sharing and introducing me to a new corner of the world.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Thank you! Kerala (and Tamil Nadu) in South India are both amazing places to visit. You’re right, the boats are really massive but the drivers very skilled at manoeuvring them even in the narrower canals. It’s such a delightful way to travel and, as you say, it’s easy to understand how they get booked up.

  5. Wow, Kerarla looks like a cool place to go! Renting a houseboat sounds like an interesting way to travel and one I haven’t considered until now. I have heard nothing but good things about Kerala so this was nice to see an exciting thing to try when I get there! I would like to go with a larger group and as a couple to see which I enjoyed more! Well done.

    • Kerala is a delightful place to visit and the houseboats are so much fun. You’re right about going with a larger group as it is a lot more cost-effective. The boats are large enough for everyone to have a great time!

  6. Many friends I have come across with when I was still based in Malaysia recommended that I should see Kerala and Goa. It’s India without the chaos, the crowd and the endless loop of crazy city quotidien. If India is made of fairytale, then a visit to Kerala will certainly clue a visitor. I regretted not to have gone and still pine to make it there one day. You both look like Majara and Maharani in vacation, sailing along Kerala’s languid and glistening backwaters that pour out to the Arabian sea 😉 #flyingbaguette

    Jan – https://flyingbaguette.com/

    • You’re so right about Southern India being very much a contrast to the bustling cities. We adored Kerala and thoroughly enjoyed the houseboat. Perhaps we could have dressed more appropriately! Do hope you get to visit this wonderful region.

  7. What a cool experience! Definitely an interesting way to see a new area and get a deeper understanding of the locals lifestyle. It’s important to book early and I can understand why. It’s a shame you didn’t see the fishing stuff in use, but still pretty cool to see it!

    • Thank you. Yes, it was lovely to get a very different perspective of the backwaters on the houseboats. It would have been lovely to see some of the night-fishing – maybe next time!

  8. What a good-looking boat! As you said, it’s so spacious, and that kitchen is much bigger than the one in my apartment. It’s very cool that no nails are used in its construction. And what beautiful landscapes you got to see on the tour. This is a great idea for exploring Kerala 🙂

    • The boats really are a brilliant construction – so clever! And they are a truly lovely and relaxing way of exploring Kerala’s backwaters.

  9. I was really surprised to see how these boats look on the inside. From the outside they don’t look too fancy and I wasn’t really expecting how much went into the interior. Love the huge open spaces, the full kitchen and the decoration. It’s also impressive to understand how the boats are built. What a great experience

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up To Our Very Tasty Newsletter