Varkala: A Cliffside Haven


God's own country has a plethora of places to woo every kind of traveler. Lush green valleys, pristine beaches, serene backwaters, culturally rich temple towns, and misty hill stations, Kerala essentially packs everything in store to delight every kind of traveler. Varkala is one of such gateways and Kerala's own hotspot for backpackers, a sleepy bohemian town perched perilously along the edge of laterite cliffs with a picturesque golden beach at the bottom.

Varkala is a chilled-out laid-back holy temple town close to the commercial beach city of Kollam & even the capital Trivandrum. It has everything to catch your interest such as clear beaches, palm trees, elongated cliffs, fancy eateries, groovy shops, beach shacks, and yoga & surfing centers. It is a perfect place to unwind yourself and watch the days slowly turn into weeks. A paved footpath that runs along the cliff is the best way to explore the town and has steps at a few intersections leading down to the beach. It is also known for wellness activities such as yoga, meditation, ayurvedic therapies like reiki, spiritual healing, body massages, and even surfing as well.

According to mythology, Varkala got its name from Sage Narada's valkalam -- a garment that he threw to mark the spot where a group of followers had to pay penance for their misdeeds.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Where is it, the best time to visit, how to reach and where to stay?

Varkala is located near the southern end of the state of Kerala or in fact, the Indian Peninsula itself & is between the two major cities of Kollam and Trivandrum.

It has no airport but is well-connected with roads & railways with every other town & city of the state. The best option would be to take a train as it would be fast and convenient. State & even private buses are also good options.

The best time to visit it is during winter when the weather is pleasant and the sun is bearable when going out. Since it is a coastal town located in southern India expect higher than moderate summer & monsoon due tropical & humid climate. November to March should be the best time to visit here.

It has all kinds of stays like boutique resorts, wellness retreats, hotels, hostels, Airbnb, and budget guesthouses ranging from 300 to 15k per day. Here are a few recommendations for every kind & budget:

-Airbnb: Tripislife, Cliff stories, Mad about coco, Villa Akasa

-Hotels/Resorts: Sunview, B'Canti, Akhil, Majestic, Claflouti resorts

-Hostels: Cliff & coral, Pointbreak, Zostel, Molly's hostel

-Homestays: Kaiya House, Rita's homestay

Things to do & see around:

Janardhanaswamy temple

The first in the list should always be the primary attraction and is also one of the main reasons which add a religious & cultural influence on the town. The 2000-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu will infuse a great sense of inner peace & serenity with its calmness, historical paintings, and ancient architecture. The water here is said to have medicinal properties & the temple also acts as an ayurvedic treatment center. Ponnumthuruthu Island temple and Shivagiri Mutt can also be clubbed in this temple tour.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Papanasam Beach

Take a dip at the most famous beach of Varkala to wash away all your sins. The natural springs which flow from the cliffs at the southern end are believed to have medicinal properties and locals believe that taking a dip in the holy water can purify your body and soul. It also offers boat riding, horse riding, parasailing, and jetting at a cost-effective price which is enough to leave anyone with a memorable experience for a lifetime.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Kappil, Black Sand & Odayam beach

You can dedicate an entire day to beach hopping and explore all the beaches of Varkala before sunset. I would recommend renting a vehicle and starting from Kappil beach which is located farthest at the north end of Varkala. A bridge built across the lake faces the seductive scenery of the lake stepping towards the blue horizon, surrounded by backwaters, tall palm trees, and a golden sand beach. You can also do watersport activities at backwaters such as jet skiing, kayaking, motorboat riding, etc, and then chill at the beach.

Post this you can directly head towards Odayam Beach which is a short narrow stretch of beach covered mostly with blackish sand. A little oasis of splendor, this is on the off-the-beaten part of beaches in Varkala. It is a peaceful alternative and perfect for those seeking solitude away from the mainstream crowd.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

End the day by watching a tranquil sunset on the Black sand beach filled with black sand & coral. The water is quite clean here and the beach looks quite picturesque as well.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Anjengo Fort & Lighthouse

Drive around 30 minutes down the coast from Varkala or roughly 15 km from the cliff and you will reach Anjengo fort & lighthouse. It is of historical importance as it was built by Britishers for their entry point into the Malabar coast. Back in the day, the fort was used as a signaling station for ships arriving from England, and as a depot for the pepper and coir trade. You can also visit the lighthouse to get some aerial views and the beach nearby.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Jayatu Earth's Center

Opened in 2017 this new tourist park is roughly one hour drive from Varkala and features the world's largest bird sculpture atop a hill. If you have time and a vehicle rented then I would surely recommend visiting this place as well.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Roam around the local markets

Being a tourist place Varkala has many small & colorful bazaars which offer a wide variety of things for shoppers such as clothes, footwear, traditional handicrafts, artifacts, Coir-made products, horn-carved items, tea, coffee, and aromatic spices. There is also a Tibetan market where you can buy prayer flags, singing bowls, silver jewelry, and crystals.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Indulge in relaxing & rejuvenate activities

Varkala is a haven for relaxation and rejuvenating activities. Unwind your soul and body by indulging in one of the many activities such as ayurvedic spa & massage, cooking lessons, yoga, meditation, reiki, etc.

Pump up your adrenaline rush with adventure activities

Don't get misinterpreted that Varkala seems like a place to just chill & relax after hearing about its spiritual significance and therapies. Varkala is equally a good place for adventure lovers as well because it has tons of watersports activities at Kappil, Odayam & Anjengo beaches. One can also do parasailing and paragliding at the helipad area. Apart from all these activities, Varkala is especially known for surfing as it is a popular water sport here. There are many surfing schools as well where they give surfing lessons, Surf & Soul Kerala being the most famous one.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Where to eat

Now comes the most important part which I deliberately put in the end so that you remember it well. If you are a gastronome person like me then you are in for delight because being a tourist and more importantly backpacker friendly place Varkala has a lot to satisfy our culinary needs.

Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama
Photo of Varkala: A Cliffside Haven by Yashrajsinh Chudasama

Overlooking the Arabian sea Varkala is lined up with aesthetic & beautiful eateries. Almost every cafe or restaurant is unique and all offer lip-smacking food but if I start appraising them all then it would be as long as the rest of this blog and non-interested people would get bored. So I am going to save you guys some time and mention it in the highlights. Irrespective of my recommendations you should try whatever place to wish to there as non shall disappoint I assure you.

Coffee Temple - For caffeine lovers

Cafe Del Mar - Must-visit place for continental delicacies

God's own country kitchen, Bait & Hook - For sea-food lovers

The Juice Shack - Detoxify your body with tropical juices

Darjeeling & Caffe Italiano, Rock n Roll - Trendy upbeat eateries

Babu farm restaurant - Dine under the stars

ABBA Restaurant & German Bakery - Open-air garden vibes

Jayaram's & Suprabhatam - For local cuisine & thali's

Puccini Lala, White Rabbit - For vegan conscious

Things to note:

-Plan a visit here in winter only and do not underestimate the summer and monsoon of Kerala.

-If you are there are more than 3 days then rent a bike for one or two days only and cover the distant places on that day. Other places near the cliff area are within walking distance.

-If you want a quiet stay then choose Odayam beach else would prefer to stay near the north cliff.

-If you are traveling solo then choose hostels instead of hotels to add to the experience.

-Being a holy town alcohol is not openly available here but still few shops and restaurants sell it undercover. So check around before if it is your priority.

-Cost & expenses range according to your budget and needs. Stay in a hostel ranges from 200-700, 1k-5k in hotels, and up to 15k in luxury resorts. Food expenses depend on your desires, a two-time decent meal at a cafe & restaurant will set you back by 1-1.5k while alcohol is even more expensive.

-Vehicle rent is around 250-500 for mopeds, and adventure sports activities are also decently priced or even cheaper compared to Goa.

-Currents & tides are not for everyone at Varkala as they are quite strong so be careful around the sea

-Kappil, Edava & Eanikka are the best spots for surfing while Edava & beach near Elixir resort are quite great for usual swimming and even for the sunset

- Pointbreak, Moana, Moon waves & cliff & coral, and soul & surf are some of the reputed surfing schools. CanFly & Fly Varkala for paragliding.

-Overall Varkala is a bit expensive with food & stay being more costly than the value they offer. However, there is a good mix of both expensive and budget-friendly places and it would not be hard for one to choose accordingly.

Hope you have found useful information on planning your vacation to Varkala, also please do drop your suggestions or feedback as well, would appreciate it.

Happy traveling! :)