Alappuzha: A Night In A Houseboat

The calm waters along the canals that open to a lake, the lovely birds flying over us, the picturesque coconut trees and other greens that fill the landscape, and the smiles and waves from the people at the river banks as we sailed through. These are the scenes we saw in Alappuzha, often called Alleppey by the locals, as we traversed the length of the canals on boat. Alappuzha is Kerala’s “Venetian capital” because of its backwaters.

We have just come from Kochi (READ: First-time in Kochi: My Intro To India) and it was only Day 2 of our 15-day Kerala Blog Express adventure, yet we already got to experience the backwaters that this Indian state is known for. To make this even more exciting, we would be spending a night in a houseboat.

A houseboat? There was nothing to worry because we did it in style, thanks to Rainbow Cruises. In fact, it was my first-time to spend a night in a houseboat… I mean, THIS kind of houseboat. (I told you, this trip has brought a lot of first-time experiences to me.) But before I tell you about our accommodation, let me share with you a bit of history on how these houseboats started and how they became a sought-after travel experience in Kerala, India.

Alappuzha houseboats
The houseboats vary in sizes but they are comfy and luxurious to stay in.

Kettuvallam – The Traditional Boat

Kettuvallam is a boat with knots. Taken from the Malayalam (the language used in Kerala, India) words “kettu” and “vallam”, which mean “to tie” and “boat”, respectively, the boat is made of wooden planks that are tied together by coir ropes. It used to transport cargo along the canals, carrying mostly rice and spices. These rice boats were as long as 70 to 100 feet and as wide as 13 to 20 feet.

Alappuzha kettuvallam
Look at how the boats are made of.

But as roads and faster routes emerged along the way, these kettuvallams were no longer the primary option as traders shifted to land transport. Instead of phasing out these rice boats, a group thought of converting them into houseboats for tourism, allowing travelers to have a laid back view of Alappuzha while cruising smoothly along its backwaters.

Now, they are popular throughout the state, particularly in this part of Kerala. There are about 120 of them in Alappuzha, and even counting, run by various houseboat operators. Some of them are fitted as luxurious boats, fully furnished like a floating hotel room.

Alappuzha houseboats
There are plenty of houseboats in Alappuzha.

The Accommodations of Rainbow Cruises

Since there were 29 of us bloggers, plus the organizers and the documentation crew, we were divided in smaller groups and were assigned different houseboat operators. There were 12 of us, along with those from the Kerala Tourism office and the agency handling them, who went to the Rainbow Cruises jetty where rows of houseboats were docked at the river bank.

Eyeing the houseboat with a terrace at the upper floor, we excitedly made our way inside it.  We split up at varying numbers into three boats. Some boats had two bloggers, others four, while ours had six. We were asked if one of us would transfer to the other boats, but the six of us opted to stick together. So there we were – me, my roommate Claudia Rodriguez from Spain, Diana Bancale from Italy, Giana Spiteri from Gibraltar, Indra Pradya from Indonesia, and Dipanshu Goyal  from India.

Rainbow Cruises boasts of having a Gold Star Rating with state-of-the-art luxuries. It has a fleet of 25 houseboats, which ranges from one-bedroom to four-bedroom accommodation and varying into Luxury, Premium and Deluxe houseboats.

Our houseboat has three bedrooms, a common area where we could lounge behind the captain’s seat, an air-conditioned dining area, a kitchen, and an upper deck with a portion fit for sun-bathing. Each room is furnished with a comfortable bed, side tables, air-conditioning unit, fan, and a private toilet and bath. No worries about electricity because there are plugs where you can charge your gadgets and electronic devices.

Alappuzha, Kerala
Our dining area is in a glass-enclosed air-conditioned room that has the view of the common area behind the captain’s seat.
Alappuzha, Kerala
The hallway that leads to the three rooms and the kitchen at the end.
Alappuzha, Kerala
The kitchen, where the chef and the crew busy themselves preparing our meals.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Some of the food that were prepared for us aboard Rainbow Cruises. Yum!

Alappuzha, Kerala
This is our bedroom and our king-size bed.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Our rooms have window that looks out to the backwater.
Alappuzha, Kerala
This is the lower deck, with the captain’s chair and a common area where we can lounge during the trip.
Alappuzha, Kerala
At the upper deck, we have this comfy place to sit on, where one can lie and enjoy the view and the sun.
Alappuzha, Kerala
There are also reclining chairs and soft benches on the side of the upper deck.

The Route

From the Rainbow Cruises jetty in Alleppey, we traversed narrow canals and wide rivers, passing through schools, temples, churches, mosques, houses, and other day-to-day scenes. We have seen women doing their laundry by the side of the riverbanks, men huddled together, children biking, and students walking to and from their schools. And every time we waved at them, they would wave back and smile at us.

We had our meals on deck – lunch, dinner and breakfast – plus some afternoon tea and coffee with snacks, not to mention our coconuts as our welcome drinks at the beginning of our journey.

Late in the afternoon, our boats docked in one of the banks of Vembanad Lake, overlooking the rice paddies. It was not a quiet afternoon for us though as we bid adieu to the sun during its setting with singing and dancing. It was also a chill night filled with great conversations and laughter.

We woke up early in the morning with fog covering portions of the backwaters. The sun was rising and we excitedly headed to the upper deck, surrounded by the birds as the glow of the sun peaked through the coconut trees. Snake boat athletes were busy training in the lake and some fishermen were heading back to the banks to bring their catch. It was a nice new day to continue with our sojourn through the backwaters of Alappuzha.

Alappuzha, Kerala
Students walking along the riverbank, on their way home from school.
Alappuzha, Kerala
There are plenty of rice paddies near Vembanad Lake, particularly in Kuttanad. Alappuzha is also the rice basket of Kerala, India.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Stacked hay at the rice paddy field and coconut trees dotted our view.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Many birds are found in Alappuzha. Look at this tree which seemed to be their favorite resting place.
Alappuzha, Kerala
A bird flying low seemed to be racing against a boat.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Sunset at Vembanad Lake.
Alappuzha, Kerala
The beautiful sunrise the day after.
Alappuzha, Kerala
Fishermen are found collecting shells early in the morning.

Getting there

Those getting from outside of Kerala can reach Alappuzha through the Cochin Airport, about 85 km away. Or, they can take the train and get down to Alappuzha train station. From both ports, they can take a cab that can bring them to the Mamood junction along the Alappuzha-Madurai Road.

Another option is to visit the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) office of Alappuzha at the Boat Jet Road near the KSRTC Bus Station.

For further information, contact:

Rainbow Cruises
Unni’s Building
Mamood Junction, Avalookunnu P.O.
Alleppey, Kerala – 688006
Mobile: +91 9447444077, 9447444066
Tel: +91-477-2231110/ 22311111
E – Mail : [email protected]
Social media channels: Facebook, Instagram

This article is part of the over-arching post First-time in Kerala: God’s Own Country where you will find the list of my blog posts related to this trip. Get updates on the Kerala Blog Express at the and check #keralablogexpress #tripofalifetime and #liveinspired in social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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