When one thinks of a memorable holiday in Kerala, it brings to mind the backwaters of Alleppey, the fishing nets of Cochin, the sands of Kovalam, the tea gardens of Munnar, the grasslands of Wayanad, the hills of Thekkady, and the elephants of Periyar. But there is also a solitary station, which one often passes on many train journeys through Kerala, without often being aware of its significance. It is the beach town of Varkala. Located just an hour away by road, from the more famous Kovalam, Varkala is slightly off the tourist circuit, and yet always an integral part of it. It joins locations like Gokarna in Karnataka to draw travellers in search of offbeat destinations by the sea.
Varkala’s beauty is drawn from its unique location. It is quite literally a beach off a cliff. In fact, the town gives its name to this unique cliff structure, which is known as the Varkala formation. It has been d a geo-heritage site by the Geological Survey of India GSI. It is Kerala’s only town with cliffs off the Arabian Sea and unique to India too.
Unlike other tourist destinations in India, Varkala does not set you a long list of things to do. It is where travellers go to unwind. Its secluded location only adds to its charm and the spirit of restfulness that envelopes this beach town.
WHAT TO SEE
The Varkala Beach: The primary draw to this town remains the beach, accompanied by a string of restaurants and coffee shops off the cliffs. It is the perfect place to spend hours looking down at the magnificent Arabian Ocean or simply reading a book.
Our tip: While much is said of the Varkala beach experience, this is also in fact just a small fishing town off coastal Kerala. So, if you get to the beach early, it’s the perfect place to experience the smells, sights, and shouts of a typical fishing village.
Janardana Swami Temple: While much has been said of the Varkala Beach, not many know that Varkala is also home to this ancient 2000-year-old temple. It is in fact this that gives it the reputation of being the Benares of the South.
Anchuthengu: Just 9 km away from Varkala is the town of Anchuthengu, once known as Anjengo or Anjenga. It was here that the British established their first trade settlement in Kerala. What they have left behind long after they left are memories. Many of these are scattered in the Anjengo Fort, a lighthouse, a church built in the Portuguese style and a 100-year-old convent school. A visit to Anjengo adds a different twist to your visit to this beach town.
WHAT TO DO
Like most beach towns in India, Varkala offers you a great chance to go paragliding. Add to that Kerala’s famed reputation for Ayurveda, and you understand why Varkala combines a reputation for both adventure and rejuvenation.
What to eat: Like in other beach towns of Kerala, the specialty of this beach town is its fish. Varkala offers you both traditional Malayalee and continental options.
What to buy: Scores of little shacks line the cliffs with souvenirs representing both Kerala and India. While there is not much to find specific to Varkala, you could buy a memento from Kerala instead.
Getting around: Unlike other beach towns like Goa, it’s harder to find bikes or bicycles on hire in Varkala. So, you might need to hire an autorickshaw instead but be prepared for some hard bargaining.
Where to stay: It’s best to stay just off Varkala Beach. You will find a whole lot of affordable options on your way there, usually lined up one after the other. As all travel plans are centred around the beach, it is a good idea to live close by.
Best time to visit: While like in most beach destinations of the west coast, the best time to visit is between the winter months of October to February, visiting offseason can be a unique experience too, especially during the monsoons.
How to get there: The best way to travel to Varkala is by train. While it possible to reach it by road, there is no air route connecting you directly to the town.