Kerala Backwaters River Cruise Review

On board the RV Vaikundam

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Kerala Backwaters River Cruise Review

I’m on board the RV Vaikundam, a newly refurbished river boat operated by Far Horizon Tours, that sails on 7-night cruises discovering the back waters of Kerala, India, an area labelled the ‘Green Venice of the East’ by National Geographic. The small boat is some 118 feet long and can accommodate 18 guests in 9 cabins, all on the lower deck. All cabins are fixed twins with private ensuite facilities and three generous floor-to-ceiling windows, with the exception of the forward cabin, which is double bedded and spans the width of the forward part of the boat. The rooms were comfy; each with its own air conditioning unit and traditional Keralan panelled walls and motifs and were perfectly adequate for a river boat of this size.

RV Vaikundam on the Kerala Backwaters

The RV Vaikundam on the backwaters in Kerala

On the upper deck there is the forward open sun deck area with comfy seating, the lounge and bar and finally the dining room and small galley. The cruise includes all meals, served buffet style and I have to say the food was exceptional and freshly prepared using local organic ingredients. We ate a variety of southern and northern Indian dishes, mostly vegetarian with a few meat or fish dishes served too. The beauty of the small boat experience is that the chef can accommodate all tastes, so if you prefer non-Indian dishes or have a specific diet then that’s not a problem. Masala omelettes severed with masala tea became a breakfast staple, along with dosas and toast and jam! The cuisine on board was one of the unexpected highlights of this trip, and my expanded waistline is testament to just how good it was!

RV Vaikundum Sun Deck, Kerala Backwater river cruise

The comfy sundeck on RV Vaikundam

Homemade cookies, banana chips and snacks, along with tea or coffee appeared in the afternoon in the lounge area or out on the sundeck, and the bar staff kept us topped up with Kingfisher beers and juices and cool towels when we returned from our adventures ashore.

The Kerala backwaters

The Kerala backwaters

The RV Vaikundam sails from Allepy, near Cochin on 7-night itineraries departing Saturdays, breaking the traditions of the usual house-boats that typically only sail for 2 or 3 nights. Due to its strengthened hull and enhanced superstructure, this house boat can sail across Lake Vembanad, expanding the route and allowing it’s guests a longer, more meandering and relaxing river cruise experience.

Cochin Fishing Nets

Cochin Fishing Nets

Days are spent gently cruising along the back waters, walking through the local villages, or taking short bus journeys to visit temples and churches. We started our cruise tour in Fort Cochin, with two nights stay at the Taj Malabar Hotel, including guided tours around this storied city, giving us a gentle introduction into the Indian way of life. A short transfer saw us to Allepy, to embark the RV Vaikundam, and a chilled towel and glass of juice welcomed us on board.

Brahminy kites seen on the Kerala backwaters cruise

Brahminy kites seen on the Kerala backwaters cruise

Most of the time on board the RV Vaikundam is spent in the lounge or the forward open air sun deck – spotting the myriad of birdlife in this area. Before embarking I hadn’t appreciated just how much birdlife there would be, and so abundantly too, including Brahminy kites, kingfishers, flycatchers, bee-eaters, cormorants, terns, teals, herons, Indian Shags, moorhens, egrets and more. We also saw large fruit bats flying during the day which were a wonderful site to see. The sighting of a water snake was the icing on the wildlife cake for me!

The RV Vaikundam is designed to navigate the smaller, narrower tributaries, where the other house boats cannot venture, and at times we didn’t see other tourist boats for days, which made for a very relaxing trip. It’s also designed to fit under the bridges and cables that span the waterways, and as we were sailing at high-water, there were only a few inches to spare in some cases, with overhanging branches brushing the roof of the ship. It all made for an adventurous journey and a real exploration experience.

St Marys Basilica, Kerala, India

St Mary's Basilica, Champakulam, Kerala, India

Tying up to palm trees, we debarked to explore ancient churches, temples and shrines, meandered through villages and markets, all escorted with a guide that stayed on board with us – always on hand to answer questions and to name the birds and wildlife we saw. It was great to have him with us, as we wouldn’t venture down dusty tracks on our own, but he knew the villages and the tracks and so guided us with ease. The local people were so welcoming and friendly especially when we tried the local greeting of ‘namaskaram’ – it always elicited a smile and a wave.

Kathakali Dance, Kerala, India

Kathakali Dance, Kerala, India

Trips included visiting local handicrafts, including weaving, mirror making, bell castings, local painters and rubber tree tapping. We also witnessed local dance performances, with a highlight being an exclusive performance of the Kathakali, which included a behind the scenes visit to watch the performers apply their intricate make up and elaborate costumes.


We took a trip to the beach to watch the sunset over the Arabian Sea at Kuttanad, and to see the huge spillway that separates the fresh and saline water from flooding the paddy fields. Some of the fields are below sea level and on one trip on a smaller motarised boat we were actually sailing on an elevated canal, looking down at the houses.

The wetlands and lagoons of Kumarakom, Kerala

The wetlands and lagoons of Kumarakom, Kerala

On Lake Vembanad we took a smaller boat to explore the wetlands and lagoons of Kumarakom, sailing around the edge of the protected bird sanctuary, before setting foot on the land and taking a walk through the jungle. We spotted many species of birdlife, and being on the smaller boat allowed us to get up close to them; all against a backdrop of vivid magenta pink water lilies.

Bee-Eater, Kerala

Bee-Eater, Kerala

Kalaripayattu, Cochin, Kerala

Kalaripayattu martial art display, Cochin, Kerala

Our final day saw us witness an exhilarating display of Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala which is said to have given birth to all martial arts including Karate. The speed at which the performers swung various weapons like clubs and swords was exhilarating!

RV Vaikundam tied up at Philipkutty's Farm

RV Vaikundam tied up at Philipkutty's Farm

Culinary highlights, in addition to the delicious food served on board, were visits to Malakkarethu House in Aranmula for a traditional lunch served on a banana leaf, and a trip to Philipkutty's Farm for an incredible homemade dinner. Where else can you dine in someone’s home and try authentic home cooked food?

Local wedding celebration at Vaikom, Kerala, India

Local wedding celebration at Vaikom, Kerala, India

Unscheduled trips included a visit to snake temple where a lively festival was taking place, witnessing a local wedding celebration and even an elephant festival – it pays to be flexible on these type of holidays as the itinerary isn’t always fixed, and can adapt to local happenings.

Kerala Backwaters river cruise, India

Kerala Backwaters river cruise, India

One of my lasting memories will be when I was standing on the bow of the river boat, with chattering parakeets creating flashes of emerald green overheard, chasing each other through the towering palm trees, whilst the boat gently parted the pink water hyacinths floating on the water surface –so relaxing!

Kerala River Cruise Summary

The longer houseboat trip allows you to really get off the beaten track to discover a myriad of birdlife and other wildlife. We ventured down waterways no other houseboat can, visited places where overseas tourists are a rarity and spent time walking around villages, temples and workshops witnessing life on the backwaters like no other trip would be able to, all on-board a comfortable floating hotel.

It made me fall in love with India all over again.

Kerala Backwaters River Cruise Video

View some of the highlights of my Kerala backwaters river cruise on RV Vaikundam.

Kerala Backwaters River Cruise Itineraries

We found 14 cruises

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Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

2 December 2019 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

14 February 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

27 March 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

10 April 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

24 April 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

10 October 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

24 October 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

21 November 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

5 December 2020 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
Far Horizon Tours offer Special Fares

Kerala has an extensive network of water-ways that lace the interior coastline, almost along the entire stretch of around 600kms. This labyrinthine network of rivers, canals, streams and lagoons formed by the inimitable craftsmanship of nature is the Backwaters.

16 January 2021 for 10 days
from £2,395 pp incl. flights

Highlights include
Cochin • Vaikom • Veliyanad Village • Changankary • Vattakayal

Read more about Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters Enquire into Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters now
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