How to book a houseboat in Alleppey?

How to book a houseboat in Alleppey?

The backwaters of Kerala are a network of inter connected canals, rivers and lakes with a number villages.

One of the highlights for travellers in India is to rent a house boat in Kerala and drift along the backwaters for a day or two and watching the world go by around you.

Relaxing on our houseboat

Stefan relaxing on our houseboat as we drift through the backwaters of Kerala

Naturally this was high up on our Wish List of things to do in India.  It is however quite pricey, around 6,000-8,000 Indian rupees (around £60-80 / $95-125) a night.

But, it’s a splurge that is well worth the experience.

Where to find the house boats

There are several places in Kerala you can use as a base to start your house boat cruise, but Alleppey is the most well known and popular.  It has a large number of boats (around 1,000), which far outstrips demand for them.

The house boat base in Alleppey is called “Finishing Point” on Google Maps and is around 20 minutes walk from the centre of Alleppey (or 5-10 minutes on a tuk tuk):

The house boats usually depart around midday and return the following day at 8am.

If you go to the Finishing Point area after midday, you will only see the boats which have not been rented out.  Most of the good ones will most likely be out on a cruise returning the next morning.

Therefore, if you want to see the house boat before you commit to it (and we strongly advise you do this!) you should go on the morning you intend to leave at around 8am.

The house boat Finishing Point area in Alleppey

The house boat Finishing Point area in Alleppey where there are around 1000 boats stationed

 

Our tips for picking a good house boat in Kerala

Captain Stefan steering our house boat

Captain Stefan steering our house boat, “Why Not”

1. Do not book anything in advance!

If you do, you will be paying an agent’s commission on top of the cost, making it even more expensive then it should be.

Perhaps the only exception to this rule maybe during peak periods like on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or Diwali when the better boats will most likely be booked up in advance.

Captain Seb steering 'Why Not'

Captain Seb steering our house boat called ‘Why Not’

2. Inspect the boat before you commit to anything

Another reason not to book in advance is because you won’t be able to see the boat beforehand.

The quality of the boats varies quite a bit even between boats of the same price range.  A good or bad quality boat really can make or break your entire experience.

We went to Alleppey the day before and stayed at the excellent Venice Castle Homestead as a base to go the following morning to inspect the boats.

The decoration in our house boat bedroom

The decoration in our house boat’s bedroom

3. Speak to others disembarking

When you arrive at the ‘Finishing Point’ area at 8am, try to catch the passengers who are disembarking from their cruise and ask them how they found it.  Did they like their boat?  If not, why not?  How much did they pay?  Which boat was it?  etc

This will give you a good idea of which are the best boats at that point in time, the ones to avoid and the likely costs of each.

Captain Seb at the helm of 'Why Not'

Captain Seb at the helm of ‘Why Not’ steering us through the backwaters of Kerala

4. Try to inspect as many boats as you can…

…until you’re satisfied.

We found the best boats to be located right in the central point of the boat ‘Finishing Point’ area. The further away we went from here, the quality of the boats got noticeably worse.

5. Get a boat with an upstairs deck

Try to get a boat with an upstairs deck as well as a downstairs eating area.  You will have your own personal space upstairs to relax in and view the world going by, separated from the staff downstairs.

The top deck of our house boat

Always try to get a boat with a top deck for extra viewing and relaxation pleasure

6. Other things to look out for when inspecting the boats:

  • Mattress:  test the quality of the mattress as we saw some really bad ones and some really nice ones.
  • Bathroom:  check the bathroom in each boat you inspect as some are hideous and stink, others far better (NB: none of the boats we saw had hot water).
The bathroom of our house boat

The bathroom of our house boat decorated with a purple theme

  • 1 bed or 2 bed:  if it’s a 2 bed boat and you want it all to yourself, make sure you clarify this with the boat owner (unless you’re happy to share with another couple).
  • Mosquito nets:  check the beds have a good mosquito net.
Our 4 poster bed with mosquito net

Our 4 poster bed with mosquito net on our house boat

  • Air conditioning or fan:  check if it has working AC (if you want it) or if it only has a fan, test it out to ensure.
  • Clarify your meals:  clarify which meals are included, ensure your preferences are noted and some also give you bottled water, tea and coffee throughout the cruise and fruit snacks in between meals.
We were offered this lovely fruit basket on board

We were offered this lovely fruit basket on board our house boat on top of all our meals

  • Electrical sockets:  check there are working electrical sockets to charge your phone and camera and actually test them if possible.
  • Toiletries / towels / bedsheets:  check these are provided or whether you’ll have to bring your own.

We may be sounding a little bit picky, but if the above are not included you can use this as leverage to haggle down the price.

8. Haggle, haggle, haggle!

Finally, once you found a few boats you like, haggle the price with the boat owner as much as you can to bring the price down.

The boat owners are after all making a tidy profit from this very touristy enterprise, so with the money you save, you can use it to tip the staff on board at the end.

We rented a house boat for a day called ‘Why Not’ and negotiated it down to 6,000 rupees (around £60/$95) from the 7,000 (around £70/$110) initially quoted to us by its owner.

Our house boat - 'Why Not'

Our house boat was called ‘Why Not’

Life on board the house boat

This experience is basically one big luxurious splurge!  You have an entire boat all to yourself, with your ‘team’ of people working for you to make your journey as pleasant as possible.

We had our very own on board chef, captain and (ahem) boat boy:

Stefan with our house boat staff

Stefan posing with our chef, captain and our, er, house boy (who helped out the chef and captain)

Upon arrival we were greeted with a lovely fresh coconut drink:

A refreshing welcome on boat with a tasty coconut drink

A refreshing welcome on house boat with a very tasty coconut drink

We then spent the majority of our time on the upstairs deck just relaxing and watching the world around you drift on by.

Sebastien relaxing on our houseboat

Sebastien relaxing on our houseboat as we drift through the backwaters of Kerala

As you relax on board, you will watch the local life of the backwaters taking place around you, like children being picked up from school by boat, locals going from one side of the river banks to the other, women doing their laundry…

People of the Kerala backwater villages

People of the Kerala backwater villages as you drift by, this boat was picking up this group of children finishing school

People of the Kerala backwater villages

We saw many people doing their laundry in the waters we drifted by on

People of the backwaters of Kerala

This man was picking his son up from school by boat

And the best part?  The incredible food, which you will be SPOILT ROTTEN with!  Our chef made us a delicious lunch and dinner and then a really tasty breakfast.

Sambar and idli for breakfast

Two very happy greedy boys tucking into a delicious south Indian breakfast of sambar and idli on board the house boat

We found that 1 day was enough for us.  Some people do 2-3 days but this will depend on your preference (and budget!)

We were very pleased with our house boat experience and would highly recommend this experience to all travellers.

Sunset over the backwaters of Kerala

A lovely sunset over the backwaters of Kerala

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12 Comments

  1. Sunpath

    Dear friends

    Your travel looks very nice. Specially on the boat in Kerala . Thank you for information about this boat. We wanna to do this kind of tour. We enjoyed delicious south Indian breakfast, a lovely sunset, Sebastien relaxing on our houseboat, tasty coconut drink, Captain Stefan steering our house boat, “Why Not”. ( I am jealous ) Your travel every where looks fun and nice. Please report about your around world . It is helps many tourists who traveling around world. Have a nice journey!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Doljmaa! Kisses to you and your family in Mongolia. We miss you a lot 🙂

      Reply
  2. Fiona

    Wonderful. So glad you ended up with a such a good experience in Alleppey.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Yes yes Fiona it was awesome 🙂

      Reply
  3. Leox

    Hey,
    Im so happy that you share your lovely boat house experience with us. It seems pretty awesome! sailing down, enjoying the views on boat, sunset and food !! how great it was!!
    and your crew seems very nice too .. lol

    I have been busy these days because of my intern job, but it is really a cheerup to hear your guys’ story 🙂 like an inspiration or something lol

    have a good time. Miss you two, xo.
    🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awww thanks Leox! We miss you too buddy.

      Reply
  4. Amy

    I’ve never heard of this trip before but it sounds great – very swanky getting your own crew too!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Amy – when you guys go to India you WILL hear about this 🙂 It’s one of those must dos that ‘everyone’ (forums/Lonely Planet) go on about. But justifiably so in our opinion.

      So, when are you guys going to India?

      Reply
  5. Cherri Megasko

    That looks like a awesome experience and these tips were great! Booking a houseboat is something Greg and I very much want to do. I’m really loving this blog!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Cherri 🙂

      Reply
  6. merran

    Does anyone know how easy it is to get onto a house boat cruise as a single traveller?

    Reply
  7. Peter

    Hi Stefan and Sebastien! Nice article! Houseboats are really fun. Love em! I recently rented a houseboat in Amsterdam for our stay there and it was really a unique experience. We even opened the window, took out our fishing rods and fished while sitting on the couch in the houseboat, we had a laugh! Maybe a great idea for your next trip 🙂

    Reply

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