Places to visit in Varkala, South Kerala - A Travel Guide
Kerala, a strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, is blessed with an abundant coastline, Varkala being one of the towns on the shore. While the beach facing areas in Kovalam are gasping for air with tenacious souvenir-sellers and bumper-to-bumper hotels, the cliffs of Varkala prove to be a saving grace for this precipice town. We were ecstatic about being greeted by a ragged line of red cliffs in Varkala. Before visiting Varkala, we had seen beaches by a cliff (in Gokarna and Goa), but neither have a cliff line as long and vibrant as Varkala.
Once a tiny virgin town, Varkala is a top-rated backpack beach destination today. With countless cafes, restaurants, homestays, and hotels, it is no longer a lesser-known paradise. Popular amongst surfers, bohemians and now digital nomads, Varkala will greet you with an incredible view of the infinite and unblemished sea, soaring coconut and palm trees that silhouette the deep blue sky, and music exuding every sea-facing café and restaurant.
What we really felt is, more than a tourist spot, Varkala is a feeling. You go there to chill, relax and have fun, just like Goa! You visit Goa with a list of places to see, and you end up doing nothing but beach hopping and participating in water sports. Similarly, Varkala is a destination for lazy holidays and long weekends filled with sun, sand and festivity. With laid-back vibes and rocksteady music-loving backpackers, it is a place to while away days, even weeks. In this article, you will find places to visit in and around Varkala, things to do, the best way to reach, places to eat and stay, and the best time to visit Varkala.
Location of Varkala:
Varkala is located in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) district, atop a 3-kilometre-long laterite cliff that looks down upon South Kerala’s most picturesque beaches. It is situated about 46 kilometres north of Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala state. For a tourist, Varkala’s charm lies entirely along the seashore.
Best time to visit Varkala:
As with all the seaside town, Varkala enjoys tropical weather. The best time to visit Varkala highly depends on what you want to do. October to February are the best months for those who want to relax and see the places of interest. The temperature remains pleasant during these months for sightseeing. However, if you are interested in surfing, the months before and after the monsoon (March, April, May, October, November) are ideal. It’s rainy between June to September, and these are the best months to enjoy the monsoon glory.
How to reach Varkala:
The nearest airport to Varkala is the Trivandrum airport, from where you can hire private taxis to reach Varkala. The nearest railway station is Varkala itself, which lies on the South-Western Railway Line. From the railway station, you can hire an autorickshaw to get to your accommodation in Varkala. In season, the cliffside shops and restaurants rent out scooters or motorbikes to tourists for ease of transportation.
Places to visit in Varkala:
On your trip to Varkala, you could choose to visit 4 beaches each unique in its own way, a happening street with amazing views on the cliff and an age old temple if you are interested. Read on to know more about these must visit places in Varkala.
1. Janardhana Swamy Temple
The Janardhana Swamy Temple is believed to be 2000 years old, which is two millennia – can you believe it! Just this fact was enough for us to go check out the temple. The temple sits above the beach road. The perennial spring that feeds the temple tank can be seen right from the road. It is surprisingly and controversially closed to Non-Hindus, but they can still enter the temple grounds, where there’s a banyan tree and shrines of Hindu deities. Janardhana Swamy Temple holds extreme importance amongst devotees and is referred to as ‘Dakshin Kashi’.
Varkala town got its name from the shrine in the Janardhana Swamy Temple. The story goes that Sage Narada was once on his way to visit Lord Brahma, his father. Lord Vishnu was allured by Narada’s singing and followed him. When they reached, Vishnu disappeared but not before Brahma spotted him and bowed down to him. Unaware, the almsmen nearby mistook the gesture and laughed at Brahma to bow down to Narada, his own son. In a fit of rage, Lord Brahma banished them to Earth. Narada threw his Valkalam (a garment) at a place and asked the almsmen to perform their penance. The area soon started to be called Valkala and later, Varkala. Lord Vishnu blessed the spot with a pond that stands beside the Janardhana Swamy Temple today. Hence, the deity of the temple is Vishnu. The holy water that the almsmen drank became purifier of sins (papanashini), and therefore the adjacent beach is named Papanasham beach.
You will have to climb 50+ stairs to reach the Janardhana Swamy Temple. The shrine sits between perfectly handcrafted stone pillars. To enter the main sanctum sanctorum, the men must wear a dhoti and be bare-chested, while the women have to be dressed fully covered and appropriately. Dhotis are available in nearby shops if you aren’t carrying one.
Janardhana Swamy Temple timings: The temple is open from 6 AM in the morning till 12 in the noon. It reopens at 4 PM and closes by 6:30 PM again.
2. Papanasham Beach or Varkala Beach
While a few beaches in Varkala are calm and churn out great surfing waves, a few others have powerful currents; Papanasham beach being one of them. The beach is also called Varkala Beach. It is believed that a holy dip in the sea at this beach will wash away all your sins. Do remember to swim between the flags set up by the lifeguards. Body surfing boards can be rented from shops/ shacks lining the beach, but again, be wary of powerful currents. On new moon days, the beach gets crowded with pilgrims, and that’s the best time to stay away.
The panorama of the crescent-shaped Papanasham beach is heightened by the long stretch of red laterite cliff rocks, which stand there as soldiers guarding the sea. These are extensive unique geological formations with winding lane atop lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops. A natural spring originates from one of the cliffs and is believed to have curative properties. Hence, no harm in taking a dip here.
3. Black Sand Beach
At the northern end of the North Cliff, the laterite rocks plunge down into the Black Sand Beach. The beach stretch is short, but hardly anyone visits it. Black Sand Beach is ideal for people seeking silence, solitude and serenity by the sea. Locally, the beach goes by the name ‘Thiruvambady’ beach. It can be reached by descending the North Cliff or by taking the Thiruvambady road. The unique feature of the beach is, as the name suggests, the black coloured sand. Here, you can opt for a boat ride with the local fishermen if you wish to.
4. Edava Beach
Edava Beach is a fishermen beach situated north of Black Sand Beach. Its location is lovely with one kilometre of a straight road, where there’s backwaters on one side and the sea on the other. An estuary connects the sea with the backwaters. The sea waves at Edava Beach are highly conducive to surfing and are often sought after by beginners and experienced surfers. We learnt to surf here and at the Kappil beach.
5. Kappil Beach
Kappil Beach is the northernmost beach of Varkala and kind of on the outskirts. This is the point where the lake backwaters meet the sea. A long stretch of land separates the sea and the backwaters at Kappil Beach. There are no shops, no shacks, no vendors, no traffic at the beach. This makes Kappil Beach a closely guarded secret as usual tourists do not flock here. Kappil Beach generates waves for all levels of surfers in different seasons. The waves are pristine and win the hearts of numerous soul-searching surfers.
6. The North Cliff
The North Cliff is the most happening place in Varkala, and hence the most popular also. The Papanasham Beach is best viewed from above the North Cliff. Whether you choose to visit the beach or not, climb the North cliff and do not miss out on watching the beautiful sunset from atop. The orange-pink colours in the sky after sunset will surely make you bow before nature. Tonnes of shops and restaurants line up the narrow lane that runs through the cliff's edge (From Helipad to the Black Sand beach). No vehicles are allowed in the cliff edge's lane and you will have to park your vehicle at the Helipad area (free of cost). From here, you can walk the entire lane and take in the beautiful views of the Arabian sea on the left. On the right, you can shop for little trinkets, souvenirs as well as eat local to global cuisines that the restaurants have to offer. The North Cliff is best visited during the evening time.
Places to visit around Varkala:
While you may enjoy spending your leisurely time in Varkala sipping coffee and relaxing by the beach, if you are visiting Varkala for a longer duration, you may want to hop around to check out some other interesting places to visit around Varkala. You can choose from a variety of places around Varkala ranging from backwaters canals and lakes to world's largest bird statue perched over a hill. Read on to know more.
1. Anjengo Fort and Lighthouse
Anjengo Fort and Lighthouse are located 15 kilometres south of Varkala. Situated right on the shore, the fort is also called Anchuthengu, which means five coconut palms. Anjengo used to be one of the most important bastions of the British East India Company in the 1690s. Hence, the Rani (Queen) allowed the Britishers to build a fort here. The Anjengo fort was established in the year 1699 and served as an important landmark during the Anglo-Mysore War. The fort is surrounded by a beautiful garden that is great to spend some relaxing time. The Lighthouse is located very close to the Anjengo fort. It is 130-feet tall and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding village and the Arabian Sea from the top.
Kollam town is located in the district of the same name about 25 kilometres north of Varkala. The town is referred to as the ‘Gateway to backwaters of Kerala’ as it is surrounded by several water bodies, including lakes, rivers, sea, lagoons, and inlets. Ashtamudi Lake, Kollam beach, and Thangassery lighthouse are the nice to visit tourist places in Kollam.
3. Jatayu Earth’s Centre
Jatayu Earth’s Centre is world's biggest bird statue located about 30 kilometres northeast of Varkala. It is the latest attraction that houses a giant sculpture of the mythological bird, Jatayu, sitting on top of a hill in the Chadayamangalam area. From the base, you can either climb the hill or take a cable car to get to the top. The bird sculpture at the Jatayu’s Earth Centre is dedicated to Women’s honour and safety. Due to the lack of stay options at the Jatayu Earth’s Centre, Varkala makes a perfect base to explore the magnificent sculpture.
4. Munroe Island
Munroe Island is located 50 kilometres northeast of Varkala on Ashtamudi Lake. It is called the ‘Hidden Venice of India’. Munroe Island is highly popular amongst foreign tourists (and slowly gaining national recognition) for the backwater canoe tours through the narrow winding canals and the mangroves. If you want to get the real feel of living in an authentic Keralan village, Munroe Island is the place for you.
Kovalam is a beach town located 60 kilometres south of Varkala. The town is known for its three spectacular crescent-shaped beaches and Ayurvedic herbal treatments. Apart from the beaches, the Vinzhinjam Lighthouse is the main attraction and amongst the best places to visit in Kovalam. The beaches at Kovalam are pretty calm and hence perfect for swimming and surfing.
Activities / Things to do in Varkala:
Varkala is one of the few surfing destinations in India and a perfect one, to say the least. The beaches here are perfect for beginners to learn surfing. And once the shorter wave time (early morning) is over, the experts can take over the big waves. You will find several surf schools in the town that teach you the ABC’s of surfing. If you are an experienced surfer, you can rent a surfboard from the beach-side shops and ride the waves on your own. We learnt surfing from Soul and Surf – a surf school cum accommodation situated on the South Cliff.
The cliffs of Varkala are perfect spots to take off and land while paragliding. If you are an adventurous soul and wish to see the bird’s eye view of the coastal area, then you must try paragliding in Varkala. The sport highly depends on the wind conditions, and hence an instructor follows you for your safety. You can enquire about the sport at the Helipad on the North Cliff or ask someone at your place of stay.
Places to eat in Varkala:
From a culinary perspective, Varkala is a heaven for those who want to indulge in delicious meals. We were on constant restaurant and café hop during our stay in Varkala and tried out several different cuisines. Seafood lovers will have a gala time here, and so would the diet-conscious people. Here’s a list of some eateries we tried:
Soul Food Café: This is an in-house café at the Soul and Surf – a stay plus surf school on the South Cliff, Varkala. They offer a short but delicious menu with excellent food and homemade juices. The location of the café is to die for.
InDa Café: Located inland, InDa café is a homestyle European café that offers a creative menu. The Green bowls here are delicious, and so is the Banoffee pie. Visit InDa Café at dinner time when the ambience is impressive with fairy lights and hanging lamps.
Darjeeling Café: Located on the North Cliff, Darjeeling Café features giant dreamcatchers and candlelit tables with some sea views. But honestly, we weren’t too impressed with their food, staff or service. It has made a name for itself but based on our experience, we wouldn't recommend it.
Coffee Temple: Another in-land cafe, this place was hard to find trying to follow google maps and easy to find if you just ask someone. Set in a verandah of their home, Coffee temple serves fantastic coffee and a plethora of tummy-filling munchies. Make sure you try their crepes and French toast.
Chimney Restaurant: Chimney serves authentic Keralan thalis, North Indian food and sea food. Give this restaurant a try when you are super hungry and crave Indian food.
The other eateries that we recommend on North Cliff are God’s Own Kitchen if you are into seafood; Café Italiano for pizzas, pastas, lasagna and bakery items; Café Del Mar for coffee and cakes; Little Tibet for vegetarian food. Other in-land restaurant you ought to visit is True Thomas for its ambience and tasty food.
Places to stay in Varkala:
Varkala has plenty of stay options to choose from. Most places to stay in Varkala are along the North Cliff but if you are looking for peace and solitude, head to the quieter areas at the South Cliff; else, go inland. With the ebb and flow of demand, the tariffs fluctuate wildly. We wanted to stay by the cliff but also wanted some seclusion. Our search for such a stay ended at Soul and Surf.
Soul and Surf in Varkala is set on the South Cliff overlooking the endless sea. The hotel has simple and clean rooms with designer touches and splashes of style and attention to detail. It also has an in-house surf school which was a huge plus. The surf instructors at Soul and Surf are ISA qualified, extremely patient with beginners (and experts), and down-to-earth. If you want to learn surfing, think no further. And even if you do not fancy surfing, you will thank us for recommending Soul and Surf. The vibes here are just so chilled and comfortable. They offer commendable hospitality and have a vast veranda up-front with a soulful café where you could spend your entire day (literally) adorning the sea.
If you are thinking beach destination, then give Varkala a try. As you may have realized by reading this article, Varkala is synonymous to good vibes. Hope this travel guide helps you in planning your travel to Varkala. Pin this article for later. Drop your questions and thoughts, if any, in the comment section below.
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