My family of 4 spent a night on a private houseboat in India for $300 — it was a unique, luxurious way to see such a beautiful place

Staying on a houseboat in India was incredible and fairly affordable. Asia London Palomba

  • My family paid $300 for a night on a private two-bedroom houseboat in southern India.

  • We spent the day sailing the backwaters of the river city of Alleppey, and were served three meals.

  • The meals, boat staff, and views made the experience the highlight of our two-week trip.

My family and I don’t exchange birthday or Christmas gifts. Instead, we travel together to Asia or Africa for two weeks in December.

We’ve spent the holidays hiking volcanoes in Indonesia, traveling by train through Vietnam, and swimming in the Indian Ocean in Madagascar.

This past Christmas, my family and I spent two weeks traveling through the southern Indian region of Kerala.

The highlight of our trip was spending Christmas on a private houseboat for 25,000 rupees, or about $300.

We boarded our private, two-bedroom houseboat in an Alleppey canal.

Me and my family spent the night on a private, two-bedroom houseboat.Asia London Palomba

Our houseboat was docked in Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha.

It’s a river city framed by sprawling rice fields and narrow canals lined with palms and pastel-colored houses.

We boarded our two-bedroom houseboat in what’s popularly known as the backwaters, a network of lagoons, lakes, and canals throughout the Kerala region.

Our houseboat had a living and dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows, two bedrooms with private bathrooms, and a kitchen where a private chef cooked us lunch, dinner, and breakfast.

The main part of the boat was filled with natural light.

A dining table for six sat in the space. Asia London Palomba

We entered the boat through the light-filled living and dining area — each side had three huge windows. It also had two ceiling fans to help stave off the Indian heat.

After boarding, we met our two-person staff (not including the houseboat’s driver), who welcomed us with freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

Long benches snaked along the houseboat’s two sides, and wooden lounge chairs were positioned by the windows for optimal views.

After boarding, we checked out our living quarters for the night.

One of the two bedrooms aboard the houseboat.Asia London Palomba

Both bedrooms were off a long hallway that led to the kitchen.

Each had a king-sized bed, two nightstands, a mirror, a small closet, a window, and a private bathroom with a shower.

In December, India is dry and sunny, so I was also glad to have air conditioners in each bedroom and the living room.

Soon, we began cruising along the backwaters.

There were impressive views from most parts of the boat. Asia London Palomba

During the day, all the living and dining-room windows were flung open to let in a much-needed cooling breeze.

As the houseboat’s engine came onto a rumbling start, I sat in a lounge chair behind the driver for a 180-degree view of the scenery.

Cruising down the backwaters felt like sailing through liquid glass.

Locals driving long, low wooden boats waved as we passed each other. Asia London Palomba

The canal’s water was so still that the palm trees and houses were reflected almost perfectly onto its surface.

I enjoyed sailing by the many temples, schools, and houses shaded by lush vegetation and bushes of hibiscus flowers. Each waterfront house had small steps leading into the canal.

I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.

An hour into sailing, we were served an authentic local lunch.

Lunch aboard the houseboat was filling.Asia London Palomba

The lunch prepared for us was a full-on feast.

We were given a large pot of basmati rice, vegetables and cabbage tossed with grated coconut, and cubed potatoes drenched in a lightly spicy sauce.

We also had plenty of poori, a deep-fried bread, and we each got a local river fish grilled with turmeric and masala.

Everything was delicious, but the star of the meal was the fish. Its meat was incredibly tender, flaky, and flavorful.

After lunch, the boat stopped and we went on a walk.

The local stall sold crabs, king prawns, and an assortment of fish.Asia London Palomba

Before heading on our walk, the staff told us of a local fish stall where we could pick out our meal for the night.

The pop-up store had river crabs, river king prawns with long cobalt-blue legs, and other local fish.

We bought four king prawns and a red snapper for 1,180 rupees, about $14, and returned to our houseboat.

At around 5 p.m., we were served tea and a light snack.

I drank a lot of masala chai during my time in India. Asia London Palomba

Throughout my two-week trip to India, I drank my weight in masala chai, a tea spiced with cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, star anise, and ginger. It’s often served with milk and sugar.

It’s common to drink chai during breakfast and in the late afternoon and have a sweet or savory snack with it — I happily took part in this ritual every day.

The masala chai on board was perfectly spiced and served alongside sweet, deep-fried bananas that were surprisingly light.

As the sun set, we docked for the night in the same spot we boarded from earlier in the day.

We closed the windows to keep out the many mosquitos that arrived at dusk, drew our shades for privacy, and turned on all the AC units on the boat.

We were served dinner an hour after sunset.

The meat of the red snapper was dark and flaky, and the king prawns were juicy and tender.Asia London Palomba

The king prawns and red snapper we purchased earlier were cooked with garlic paste, turmeric, masala, and lime.

We were also served chapati (flatbread), basmati rice, spicy cubed potatoes, and a bowl of yellow dal (a rich and creamy lentil soup). We washed our dinner down with a cold bottle of Indian Grover sauvignon blanc.

Everything was bursting with flavor, and it was easily one of the best meals we had during our trip. After dinner, we drank hot ginger tea to digest, played cards, and returned to our rooms for an early night.

The next day, I woke up early to enjoy the quiet moments of the morning.

The morning light made the houseboat shine.Asia London Palomba

I woke up around 7 a.m. to experience the backwaters in the early moments of the day. When I walked out of my bedroom, I saw that the living and dining ares were bathed in golden sunlight.

For the next hour, I packed up my things and sat by the windows to take in the views.

At around 8 a.m. we were served a hearty Indian breakfast.

Our breakfast on the houseboat tasted fresh. Asia London Palomba

The dining table was set with a large pot filled with rolled Indian pancakes stuffed with grated coconut, sugar, and cumin seeds.

There were also glasses of freshly squeezed pineapple juice, butter-soft omelets, and sliced toast slathered with local pineapple jam.

It was easily the best breakfast I had during my trip.

As we ate, the houseboat went on one final sail.

The views from the houseboat were incredible.Asia London Palomba

We passed by locals welcoming the cloudless day by washing their clothes in the canal and hanging them across trees to dry.

I saw turquoise dragonflies and yellow butterflies flicker past the windows and white egrets standing on large patches of floating water lettuce.

The experience was the highlight of our two-week trip.

I’d definitely stay on a houseboat again. Asia London Palomba

Although I was sad about leaving the houseboat and Alleppey, I felt incredibly grateful for the experience.

The local meals, friendly staff, and views of the city’s backwaters made the night aboard the houseboat the highlight of our two-week trip.

Next time, I’d like to stay two nights to maximize the experience and see new areas of Alleppey’s backwaters.

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