Kerala’s Backwaters are almost synonymous with the South Indian state. The network of low-lying shallow lakes and lagoons only a short distance inland from the Arabian Sea, is famous for its tranquility and ambiance. These Backwaters are spread over a wide network and collectively amount to almost 1900 kilometers, of which only a small portion of 900 kilometers is accessible and useable for navigation. These ‘Backwaters’ were formed naturally by the inflowing of seawater at the mouths of rivers along the coast, which is trapped inland in a network of lakes and lagoons. It is an absolute delight and a unique relaxing experience, to explore these tranquil, emerald waters.

The traditional Kettuvallams or Kayals (colloquially called) used for navigating the inland Backwaters of Kerala. Made locally by traditional artisans these boats come in varying sizes and styles, with some as long as 60 ft in major towns like Kottayam, Quilon (or Kollam) and Alappuzha, located over the network. These fully furnished, luxurious houseboats are the best way to cruise along the peaceful lakes and canals with cool, green palm shadows dancing overhead. The Kayals provide a unique opportunity to witness authentic village life of South India with traditional palm groves, lush rice fields and river fishing trailing its banks.

Backwater Regions in Kerala


Formerly known as Quilon, Kollam was a major hub of trade and transport since ancient times that the writings of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta mention in detail. The waterways of Kollam called Ashtamudi Kayal or the ‘gateways to the Backwater’, abounding in water lilies and flocks of waterfowl, connect over 30 percent of the town. The freshwater lake - ‘Sasthamcotta Kayal’ lies about 28 km from Kollam and along with it, takes around eight hours to reach Alappuzha from Kollam, making it perhaps the longest backwater tour in Kerala. The legendary, historic Thangasseri Fort is close to Kollam and is about 71 km north of Thiruvananathapuram.


In Alappuzha the canals of Kuttanad and the Vembanad Kayal meet and invoke a resemblance to the waterways of Venice. The Pathiramanal Island in the Vembanad Kayal (lake) is renowned as one of the venues for snake-boat races in Kerala. A part of the Asthamudi Kayal is the picturesque Kayamkulam Lake that is known for the rising popularity of its boat races. The National Thermal Power Plant in Kerala is located near the town of nearby Kayamkulam on the shores of the lake. The historic and colonial heritage of Alappuzha is evident in its architecture and culture.


Kuttanad is famous for its reclamation of land from the Backwaters and as a result, a beautiful maze of canals has formed, so that the natural flow of the Backwaters remains unobstructed. The waterways of Kuttanad wind through tropical forests, into the quintessential Kerala villages with patchwork of rice fields bordered with swaying coconut palms. The perfect Backwater experience with the rustic rural experience is the bottom-line of Kuttanad.

Kottayam - Kumarakom

About 15 kilometers west to Kottayam, Kumarakom is an archipelago of a few islands located in the part of Vembanad Kayal, which falls in the Kuttanad region. The Ayurvedic resorts and spas on the islands along with the shimmering blue waters contrasting the bright green landscape of Kuttanad, means that Kumarakom is the ideal retreat. The Kottayam-Kumarakom region is unspoiled and untouched by industry and has a bird sanctuary nearby, for centuries, it has captured the imagination of poets and travelers.

Munroe Island

Munroethuruth (Munroe Island) falls in the Kollam district, inside a triangle of the Ashtamudi Lake, Sasthamkotta Lake and the Kallada River. It is a minor archipelago made up of eight islands, closely knit with a dense network of water canals and Backwater channels. These islands are host to foray of migrating birds, and birdwatchers flock to spot the regular and some of the rare birds, for example the Egret King fisher, Woodpecker, Bee-eater, Paddy Birds, and the Crow pheasant. Some of the famous spices of India like pepper and cloves grow wildly in Munroe Island.

Almost the entire community of Munroethuruth is engaged in coir manufacturing and allied activities. The coir making activities are traditional, with almost no industrialization and it is intriguing for city folk to watch the creation of coir rope or the extraction oil from dried coconut or copra. Almost all the households in the Munroe Islands are involved in poultry, duck and prawn farming. With a view of improving the standard of living of the people of Munroethuruth, the Island is to host Kerala’s first community tourism program.


Kasargod is nestled between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in north Kerala and is important waypoint in the Backwaters. The backwater of Kasaragod is replenished by four rivers and is known for its scenic paddy-field banks and cool climate. The historic Chandragiri Fort is just 4 kilometers off Kasargod. These backwaters extend into the Valiyaparamba region, known for its boat cruises.


Thiruvallam situated at the confluence of Karamana and Killi rivers, is only 6 kilometers from the capital of Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram. Interestingly, canoes are popular here instead of the houseboats; it is also close to the Veli lagoon famous for its water sport facilities, water parks and other tourist attractions. The Allukam Lake known for its boat clubs also lies near Thiruvallam. Apart from these the region also hosts many parks and playgrounds for children.


Kozhikode was known as Calicut, since its middle-ages fame as a hub port for international trade and travel. The Kallayi River, the Canoly and Elathur Canals are the favorite tourist focal points and additionally Korapuzha, near Kozhikode, which hosts the Korapuzha Jalotsavam, is gaining popularity as a water sport destination. There are many obscure parts of Backwaters, untouched by the regular tourist crowd.

How to Best See the Kerala Backwaters

The absolutely best way, is to hire a Kettuvallam, which is a traditional houseboat. Most of these come fully furnished, with a pilot, a cook and a supply of chilled beer, and all one has to do is lay back and drift along the serene and quiet Backwaters.  If this seems a tad bit frivolous, many locals run short cruises that last from a few hours to two full days, which are equally enjoyable and go easy on the wallet. The most economical way to explore the Kerala backwaters and other tourist attraction along the way is the public boat system, run by the State Water Department of Kerala. These boats are similar to ferries and connect key townships in the backwater network, for example, a two and half hour shuttle between Kottayam and Alleppey. These boat services are popular among tourists as they are always run on schedule and operate daily.

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