The official authority responsible for dishing out information to visitors is the District Tourism Promotion Council, which has various offices in the different backwaters towns. The main office is in Alappuzha, near the Boat Jetty (tel. 0477/225-3308; www.dtpcalappuzha.com; daily 9am-5:30pm).
By Road -- Taxis are easily available in all major towns and cities. From Kochi a taxi should cost at most Rs 1,200 and get you to Kottayam in about 1 1/2 hours; farther south, Alappuzha is better connected (better road) and should take around 1 hour. It is a 5-hour journey from Idukki/Periyar, the same from Munnar. Trivandrum lies 4 hours away.
By Air -- For the northern backwater towns, the nearest airport is at Kochi; around 76km (47 miles) by road by car to Kottayam/Kumarakom, or 85km (53 miles) to Alappuzha.
By Train -- Though there are railheads in Kottayam (15 min. from the Kumarakom resorts), Alappuzha, and Kollam, your best bet is to get to Trivandrum or Kochi and then head out by road; all resorts offer transfers.
By Water-Taxi & Ferry -- Kottayam, Alappuzha, and Kollam are all connected by ferries that ply the route, with six departures to Kottayam daily. State Water Transport Department ferries between Alappuzha and Kottayam (a 3-hr. round-trip) depart from the tourist boat jetty near the bus station. Ferries between Alappuzha and Kollam take 8 hours, departing from both the Alleppey and Kollam boat jetties at 10:30am and arriving in Kollam/Alappuzha around 6:30pm (cost is Rs 300); after this you can catch a road taxi back. Be warned, though, that although you'll spot Chinese fishing nets and typical Kerala houses along the way (not to mention all kinds of non-routine activity, you need real stamina and patience to "enjoy" the entire day-long trip. If you're in a hurry you can ask about speedboats (Rs 700 per hour; maximum four passengers), which more than halve the journey time (but are more injurious to the environment).
Guided Tours, Cruises & Packaged Trips
Alappuzha's well-meaning District Tourism Promotion Council (near Boat Jetty, Alappuzha; tel. 0477/225-3308) organizes tickets for the daily backwater ferry between Kollam, Kottayam, and Alappuzha . DTPC also offers private cruises costing upwards of Rs 200 per hour on a motorboat, and around Rs 150 per hour on a "country boat"; an overnight trip (22 hr.) on a kettuvallam houseboat will run you Rs 3,500. Alternatively, any of the accommodations we've listed can organize backwaters cruises -- for many it's part of the package, though this is definitely not the same as having a houseboat to call your own. Finally, if you don't feel like planning any of this, but don't mind entrusting yourself to a classy, top-notch organization, take one of the all-inclusive deals offered by Malabar Escapes (the owners of The Malabar House in Kochi; www.malabarescapes.com); not only do they have one of the best backwater properties in Kerala, Privacy, and a super houseboat, but they can line all these options up to give you a truly upmarket sojourn, taking in the best southern Kerala has to offer.