Unlike many other ‘travel guides’ you see on web, this Varkala travel guide is based on true experiences. This Varkala Travel Blog post is a result of my own research and my own travel to this beautiful town.
Varakala is a small town in Kerala popular for its crescent shaped beaches and a laid-back culture together with its reputation in international backpacking circuit. Inevitably, it has somewhat shunned its off-the-beaten-track tag and has become a top getaway destination for the young crowd from Bangalore.
The clean beaches provide a perfect opportunity to unwind yourself, and the two giant cliffs in north and south overlooking the beach adds to the charm. Varkala is located quite close (~55 kilometers) to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, and can be easily reached by both train and bus.
The city of Varkala boasts an excellent train connection to locations both in Kerala as well as outside. The city of Varkala lies on the main line between Kochi and Trivandrum. Varkala has a direct train connection to Bangalore as well. The trains coming from Bangalore to Trivandrum also make a stop in Varkala. Though, I’d advise take the train only if you have plenty of time in hand, and not to mention the fact that train in this part often run late as well.
Trivandrum to Varkala by Train: Yes
Kochi to Varkala by Train: Yes
Bangalore to Varkala by Train: Yes, but not direct connection.
To get to Varkala from Trivandrum by bus, you can jump right in into one of the local buses or any bus going towards Kochi. Unfortunately, from Bangalore there are only a few direct buses available to reach Varkala. The bus takes around 12 hours for the whole Bangalore Varkala bus trip.
The best way to get to Varkala from Bangalore is by taking a evening bus from Bangalore which will drop you Trivandrum in the morning. It takes about 12 hours to reach Trivandrum. And from Trivandrum you need to hop on to one of the several trains going north. Express train (ticket price 30/- INR) takes about 40 minutes to reach Varkala while the Passenger train (stops at my many small stations in between) takes over an hour.
Trivandrum to Varkala by Bus: Yes
Kochi to Varkala by Bus: Yes
Bangalore to Varkala by Bus: Yes, but not direct connection.
The ways to navigate the little town of Varkala is by a gear-less scooter (aka Activa and alike). You can hire a gear-less scooter for one day for 300/- INR. Check out the Coco Travel Agency near the cliff (It’s not on Google Map as of now but it’s pretty close to the Mango House).
Things to do in Varkala
There isn’t much to see in Varkala per se, except to sooth your jittery nerves and listen to the sound of crashing waves. If you feel bored and don’t want to get stumped when your friends ask – what did you do in Varkala, then there are few sights you can check out. I’d suggest you slow down from the fast pace of city life, enjoy the slow travel and soak yourself in some of the below Varkala things to do.
Perhaps, one of the top things to do in Varkala is the beach. With shoes in your hand, enjoy the tranquil evening walking on the cool sand. The beach is super clean and the water is clear. There are countless restaurants (all targeted to the tourists) on the Varkala Cliff (over looking the beach) and a couple near the Papnasham beach.
How to reach Varkala beach?
It is quite easy to reach Varkala beach. From Varkala railway station take an auto (around 100 INR) to Varkala helipad which is located on Varkala cliff. The Varkala helipad overlooks the Varkala beach. From the Varkala cliff top you can take the stairs down to the beach. Best time to visit Varkala beach is evening, you can enjoy the sunset from the Varkala cliff and then watch the sky turn dark as you walk on the cool sand.
FAQ on Varkala beach:
Are there any water sport in Varkala? No, there are no water sports in Varkala. Is there any parasailing in Varkala? No, there is no parasailing in Varkala. In fact, there isn’t any adventure sports in Varkala. The reason is that the waves in Varkala beach are very turbulent and dangerous.
Janardhana Swami Temple
A visit to this temple is a perfect opportunity to find inner calmness. Janardhana swami temple is surely one of my top things to do in Varkala. A calm, serene ancient temple located well within the town of Varkala. Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity of Janardhana swami temple and the temple is built in an old Kerala architectural style.
The temple is situated near the Papanasam beach and can be easily reached by an auto-rickshaw. A series of about 200 steps will take you to the top where the temple is built.
A visit is warranted specially during the time of Aarti. Foreign nationals can enter the temple but are not allowed inside the inner sanctum. To enter inside one needs to be dressed traditionally in a dhoti and no shirt (for men). Note, photography is not allowed inside the temple, so please respect the rule.
You can also light lamps placed on the wall. There is an ancient tree in the compound which adds to the aura. The temple is actively used by devotees and it’s wonderful to watch people performing various worship ceremonies.
Regardless of whether you are spiritual or not, you should pay a visit to the temple to experience the amazing spiritual energy from the environment.
Again, one of the favorite places to visit around Varkala. The Varkala lighthouse is located bit outside the town at a distance of 10 kilometers. The distance can make it a good half-day trip on a hired scooter (300 INR for 24 hours). On the way you will get to see not only the landscape dotted with palm trees and crisscrossed with backwater, but also experience the quaint village life with people going about their daily lives. Note that the light house is open between 3 to 5 pm only. Climb up the light house tower for the excellent views of palm trees, lake, sea and the nearby beach.
Note: I loved the Allepey light house with it’s little garden and a small museum. Varkala light house is nothing like it but still a worthwhile visit. There are very few point of interests in Varkala, so why miss it!
Anchuthengu and Anjengo Fort
High up in the list of Varkala point of interests is the remains of the old Anjengo Fort. This is an old British fort which was constructed by East India Company, the harbinger of India’s colonial tryst. Though popular with the tourists, there is not much to do or see here since what remains is only a wall of the fort overlooking the sea. The fort is located opposite to the lighthouse and the two sights can be easily combined. So, make it a small stopover and get going.
Note that if you have time and the weather is favorable, from Varkala you can also walk along the beach to reach Anjengo. It is surely a worthwhile addition to the Varkala things to do.
Yoga in Varkala
There are several Yoga teachers and institutes around teaching various forms of Yoga. If you are interested you can even enroll in a month long Yoga Teacher Training Program.
Shop till you drop
From tailored fit wears to hippie style clothes, you can run out of options when it comes to shopping clothes. And there are also innumerable souvenirs, silver jewelry and tonnes of other things you (window) shop.
Varkala Beach Nightlife
Well, people usually go to Varkala to hand their shoes and relax, so there isn’t much of a night life. Plus the fact that Booze is quite restricted in Kerala doesn’t help the beach nightlife in Varkala. Sure, there are few resort-cum-restaurants which serve alcohols (limited time) and play thumping music, but that’s how far it goes.
Places to eat in Varkala
Good news for all the food lovers, there are myriad of places to eat in Varkala. Out of hundreds (yeah quite literally!) of restaurants here are some top picks that I personally tried and liked. I ate in several places but these below ones had best budget/ food/ taste combo. Try it out yourself when you are in Varakala and let me know how you liked these Varkala Restaurants.
Located right on the cliff, sells yum masala dosa in budget prices (INR 80/-). The views are fabulous from its first floor location. The owner is a local Keralite (unlike many other restaurants on the cliff run by Nepalese) and a very nice person. Add chai tea to your food, refreshing taste at just INR 15/-
#2 Cafe Hbr
Located near the Papnasham beach and 10 minute easy walk from the Varkala helipad. Very authentic Kerala parota with sabzi sold at only 60/- INR. Other meal options as well as fresh juices at reasonable price available.
#3 Juice Shack
Always crowded and a great place to grab a quick smoothie and enjoy the sea view with the sea breeze blowing in your hair.
Where to stay in Varkala?
There are several hotels in Varkala. On top of that, there are many guesthouses as well as hostels in Varkala. But in my opinion, the best place to stay in Varkala is near the Varkala Cliff and near the Varkala Helipad area. There are several guesthouse, hotels, and hostels available suited for different budget and traveler needs.
Located very close to the Varkala Cliff (5 min. walk) and to the Helipad (8 min. walk Pooja House is just as it is advertised, a big house turned into a guest house. Guests have rated it 9.5 from 38+ reviews. US $8 for a bed in 4 bed mixed dorm. Private room for one person starts at INR 600/-. I personally stayed both in dorm and private room and can vouch for them.
The owners, Babu, a local Keralite and Katie, a French Canadian woman are travelers themselves, so expect them to understand your every need. Very relaxed and friendly vibes with great opportunity to meet other travelers. The guesthouse also does the meal which costs 150/- INR.
Pagan’s Backpackers Hostel
Located very close to the Varkala Cliff (5 min. walk) and to the Helipad (5 min. walk) Pagan Hostel Varkala has good a/c room and the dorms are squeaky cleans as well. It costs US $8 in 6 bed mixed dorm.
Hotel/ Gueshouses in Varkala
Located 2 min. from the Varkala Helipad. Single Room – $7 and Standard Double or Twin Room – US$12
Located right next to the Varkala Helipad. Budget Double Room – $12
Very boutique decor with a great location near to the Varkala Cliff. Budget Double or Twin Room – US$14
Thanks for reading the Varkala Travel Blog post, if you have any questions or suggestions please use the comment section below.