Practical Info about Houseboats in Kerala
Trip Start Jul 05, 2010
186Trip End May 15, 2011
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Where I stayed
When to Go: We went at the end of October—October 29th-30th to be specific. Now, this is the low season, no matter what they tell you when they try to pressure you for paying more for a hotel, houseboat, or gift item in Kerala. September and October and even maybe part of November are the low season. The high season is in December and January. The benefits of traveling in October is that you can get good deals on just about anything, including the houseboats—I think prices may even double in the high season. The downside is that the weather is super unpredictable because it is so close to the monsoon season
Where to get a houseboat: You can get a houseboat in several locations, including Fort Cochin. Getting one from Fort Cochin might be convenient because you don't have to travel down to Allepey, but you won’t have a great choice of boats or much bargaining power. Plus you’ll need a large boat to make that distance and that takes away from the charm. Most of the houseboats are in Alleppey and that is where we went.
How to get to Alleppey: From the Kochi airport, we went to Fort Cochin, where we spent one night. The bus from the airport cost 70 rupees and took almost two hours. We took a ferry to Ernakulaum from Fort Cochin (5 rupees) and a bus from Ernakulaum (part of Kochi) to Alleppey (37 rupees). The ferry was quick and the bus took about 1.5 hours. You can go from the airport to Ernakulaum with the same airport bus we took, and bypass Fort Cochin altogether. The bus is not particularly comfortable but it is cheap. A taxi would have cost us about 750 rupees.
Where to stay in Alleppey: We can tell you about the place where we stayed, the Palmy Residency
Getting a Houseboat at the DTPC: We went to the DTPC government tourist office and tried to book a boat from there. They quoted us a very competitive price, 3,000 rupees without an upper deck, 3,500 rupees with the upper deck. Both are without AC. AC would have been another 500 rupees . If we would have gone for two days, the price would have dropped 500 rupees per night. We asked if we could see that boat, but he only showed us some general pictures of what a houseboat looks like. We wanted to see the exact one we would be traveling with. We asked if they had accreditation for being environmentally friendly and he didn’t really answer. We didn’t want to book a boat without seeing it first so we left. The DTPC might be a good idea to visit at least in season to figure out what the current rates are.
The Houseboat Jetty: Somehow get a map (caution: they can be completely wrong and misguiding) or directions and head to the houseboat jetty
Directions to Houseboat Jetty from Main Bus Station (walking): Start at the main bus station. Walk to the canal and turn right. Follow the canal until you reach the first bridge (white and has some cables on it). Cross the canal via the bridge and continue down the canal in the direction you were headed on the other side of the canal. In a minute or so the road will bend to the left, keep with it. Take the first legitimate road to the right (legitimate = not tiny jungle footpath, cars can use it). The houseboat jetty is at the end of this road and should be visible as soon as you turn onto it. Total time to walk should be roughly 15min.
How to Get a Boat: My husband and I walked up and down looking at the boats on the morning (about 8:30AM) that we wanted to go on our trip
Bargaining was not so difficult at the houseboat jetty. I think it helped that we didn’t have our luggage with us, because then we would have looked more desperate and we would have not wanted to walk around that much. Tell them the price you want, look at the boat, and then move on to another boat. You need to walk away—you can come back later, but you need to walk away. Telling them that you’ll look around and maybe come back later once you’ve stepped off the boat and are leaving will usually result in them dropping the price by another 500 rupees. Luckily we didn’t have anyone attach to us and follow us around, offering to "help". If someone does this, that sucks. Try to shake them off. We usually don’t speak to them in English and they leave us alone. Otherwise that person could be adding 1000 rupees or more in commission to what you would normally be charged.
AC or No AC: AC costs more, and so we opted not to get it. This was a mistake. At the end of October, the temperature in the room was unbelievably hot, stuffy, and sticky, even with the fan in the room. That is not romantic. In these conditions, you will not even want to touch your significant other. On a luxury cruise, it’s probably worth the extra 500 rupees to get the AC. If you have mosquito net you can open the window, but expect every living thing in the universe (bugs, bats, lizards, etc.) to enter the room (not the net of course).
Deck or No Deck: Some boats have an upper deck, some don’t. You definitely should get the upper deck. It allows you to have a place of your own, away from the boat staff. It is awesome looking out ahead from the boat as you are making your journey, leisurely sipping away at your beverage of choice. You can sunbathe on the deck. Ours was really nice, because the deck was half covered and half exposed so you could sit in the shade and enjoy the view or you could lie out in the sun. The deck IS WORTH IT!
Tiger Prawns—Tiger prawns are these giant shrimp lobster things. What you need to know is that they are NOT included in the price. If you want them fine, but they are not included. For us, the captain asked if we wanted to see tiger prawns. We said yes. They stopped a boat and took us to a vendor. He put two tiger prawns on the scale, the boat captain took the prawns away, leaving us there to pay. They charged us 500 rupees for a ½ kg. That is a rip off and an asshole thing for our crew to have done. We would have said no or tried to bargain if he hadn’t walked away with the prawns and taken them on the boat. If you want prawns and don’t mind paying that much, then don’t worry about it. Otherwise, try to maintain control of the situation. Tell the crew member that you only want to look or you only have 200 rupees to spend or something. At Fort Kochi 1kg. costs 350 rupees. Here we got half for 500 rupees. Try to be in a position where you can bargain, we weren’t.
How Long Should the Trip Be: We went for one night and it was enough for us—it was an Alleppey-Allepey trip. Longer trips might take you to nicer locations. The boat is very expensive, so make sure you have a really good one and you like the staff, before committing to two nights.
Itinerary and rough schedule: We only know about a one night trip, but this is basically what happens. At 11:30am, we got on the boat and they served us some lemonade and fresh pineapples. We sat there for about one hour. At 12:30pm the boat left. At around 2:00pm, we had lunch. A big lunch that was delicious and more than enough for the two of us. Along the way, the boat stopped once, because a crew member had an errand to run. This happens often, but for us it only took about 15 minutes. At around 4:00pm, we got tea or coffee and tea biscuits. At about 5:00pm, the boat is done traveling for the day. It will stop at a small village, where you can look around. Children will ask you for pens and you will most likely not need more than 45 minutes to explore the village. We got dinner at about 8:30pm. At 9:15pm,after we finished eating, a crew member turned the lights off on us. At 9:30pm, he told us to leave because they were going to sleep on the main deck. That is always where the crew sleeps, even though our boat had an extra room. You will probably not be able to sit out on the main deck or upper deck and gaze up at the stars, because the crew is sleeping AND they cover the boat with a blue tarp in case it rains. This is a big deal and we found it out only on the boat. We definitely didn’t want to go into our stuffy room at 9:30pm. Maybe you can negotiate with your crew ahead of time. Definitely check.