The backwaters were formed by the action of shore currents and waves creating low blockade islands across the mouths of the several rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats range. Kerala has more than 900 kilometres of interrelated waterways, rivers, lakes and inlets - all of which make up the Kerala backwaters.
Amidst this spectacular landscape, there are a number of towns and cities, which are the starting and end points or the terminal points of backwater cruises. National Waterway No. 3 from Kollam to Kottapuram encompasses a distance of about 205 km and runs almost equivalent to the coastline of Southern Kerala. Both cargo movement and backwater tourism is facilitated in this region.
The backwaters have an exceptional ecosystem. Freshwater from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea. In certain areas, including the Vembanad Kayal, features a barrage that has been built near Kumarakom. Salt water from the sea cannot enter deep inside and thus keeps the fresh water intact. Such fresh water is widely used for irrigation purposes in the state.
Many unique species of aquatic life, such as crabs, frogs and mudskippers, water birds such as kingfishers, terns, darters and cormorants, and animals such as otters and turtles live in and alongside the backwaters. Some plants, namely the Palm trees, pandanus(Monocots) and various other Indian shrubs and bushes grow alongside the backwaters, thus providing a green carpet to the surrounding landscape.
The local people for the purpose of transportation, fishing and agriculture have used Kerala backwaters for centuries. It has sustained the efforts of the local people to maintain a proper livelihood. For the past years, agricultural efforts have been made stronger with retrieval of some backwater lands for rice growing, especially in the Kuttanad area. Boat making has been a traditional craft in the Kerala backwaters, so has been the coir industry.
The Kerala backwater destinations are as follows:
Kasargod: In the northern part of Kerala, Kasargod is a town whose special attraction is the Valiyaparamba tract of backwaters. It has beautiful lush green passage along the coast of Kerala. Going to this place on Kerala backwater cruises is a treat for the tourists. Kollam: Kollam is the name of a primitive seaport on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake. It has its location more than seventy kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. The Backwater cruises of Kerala start from Kollam and reaches its destination of Alappuzha. This long eight hours of journey enables one to enjoy nature's bounty alongside Kerala's backwaters. Kollam is called the "Gateway to Kerala's Backwaters."
Kottayam: Kottayam also has earned the reputation of being one of Kerala Backwaters Destinations. The scenic backwaters along the seacoast fascinate a tourist. In the Kottayam district, crops like rubber are produced in the plantations. While touring Kerala a tourist also can see the scenery of backwaters and green plantations.
Kozhikode: Kozhikode of North Kerala is a significant port. In the earlier times people used to call it Calicut. Interestingly a special type of checked clothes made up of cotton is called Cacilo. It got its name from Calicut. Experts say that it is one of the important Kerala Backwaters Destinations. A story is popular about this region. It is said that the famous explorer Vasco da Gama had landed at Kappad beach of Kerala in the year 1498. The beach lies at a distance of sixteen kilometres from Kozhikode.
Kumarakom: Lying in the wonderful locale of Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom is bliss on Earth. The offerings like the bird sanctuary, the scenic beauty and the tourist resorts along the backwaters mesmerize one. Kumarakom is one of the Kerala Backwater destinations.
Kuttanad: Kuttanad is thronged with luxuriant paddy fields. It is called "Rice bowl of Kerala". Another special attribute of Kuttanad is that the fields are found under the sea level. Also the earthen 'bunds' blocked off Kuttanad from the backwaters in the surrounding areas.
Thiruvallam: Located 6 Km from Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruvallam is one of the scenic Kerala backwater destinations. Placed almost six kms from Thiruvananthapuram it has its location at conflux of two rivers, namely the Karamana and the Killi. Veli Lagoon also lies in proximity.
Thiruvananthapuram: Touring Kerala destinations begins from Thiruvananthapuram. It is the capital city of Kerala and was earlier called Trivandrum. Places of interests are the exquisite museums, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The spectacular Kovalam Beach also enhances the tourist quotient.