My husband and I will be travelling to Kerala next month for a week's holiday in Cochin. We are planning to tour the state's famous backwaters in a houseboat but have no idea how to go about booking one. Can you suggest a couple of tour operators? Cochin is full of local tour operators who will efficiently organise customised stays on a houseboat with a cruise of the lagoons. Most tours start in Alleppey, about a two-hour drive from Cochin. It is home to some of the southern state's most spectacular backwaters. Houseboat cruises are very popular here and are quite inexpensive, especially during the monsoon season (June to September). Each houseboat has its own service staff, navigator and chef. All the meals feature traditional Keralite food so this is a good chance to savour Kerala's mouthwatering cuisine (if you want vegetarian fare, make a request at the time of booking).
The boats always stop for the night at about 6pm and the tour resumes in the morning after breakfast. Remember that breakfast is served rather early, so be prepared for a knock on your door anytime between 6am and 8am. Checkout is usually before 10am but may vary according to place and the tour operator. Requests to be picked up and dropped off at points other than those listed in the itinerary can be arranged for a small fee. Grandeur houseboats (www.keralahouseboat.co.in; 00 91 99 9544 9500) has an office opposite Cochin International Airport. A standard one-night tour (check-in at 11.30am) kicks off with a cruise around Punnamadakayal, Vembanad Lake and Marthandom. After lunch, the boat visits the villages of Kuppapuram and Kuttamangalam in Mutteal Thodu. In the evening, after coffee and snacks, guests will be taken on a canoeing trip followed by a walk through one of the local villages and early dinner by candlelight. After breakfast the next morning, the boat will tour the villages of Erumpamthodu and Kannitta before heading back to Alleppey. The company offers everything from cosy houseboats meant for a couple to luxurious seven-bedroom affairs. A standard air-conditioned houseboat costs from about US$125 (Dh400) per night based on two people sharing and includes all meals (breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner) and taxes. Checkout is at 9.30am. Kerala Houseboat (www.keralahouseboat.org; 00 91 484 326 0738) is based on the banks of the Pamba River and near the famous Kainakary Lagoon. Its fleet consists of one- to four-bedroom houseboats. After check-in (12.30pm), the afternoon is spent touring the surrounding villages, followed by lunch and a stop at a local village (destinations can be picked when booking) where, if you like, you can buy fresh seafood from fishermen and have the boat's chef cook it. The evening is spent on the houseboat, right in the middle of the lake. A tour of the backwaters in a one-bedroom air-conditioned houseboat costs about $140 (Dh515) per night based on two people sharing and includes taxes and all meals. Checkout is at 9am.
Houseboats of Kerala (www.thehouseboatskerala.com; 00 91 9995732100) offers eco cruises that take in remote villages in and around Alleppey, starting at Kumarakom. Guests have the option of stopping at popular tourist spots at no extra cost. Transport from the houseboat dock to Cochin is extra. A one-bedroom houseboat (air-conditioned) costs from $150 (Dh560) per night, and includes taxes and all meals. Check-in is at noon and checkout at 10am.
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