2 Days in Varkala – The Cliff Beach of South India
According to the details shared by locals, Varkala beach got famous around the 70s when many European travelers visited the then unexplored Kovalam beach. These travelers continued to move north of Kovalam and reached Varkala. The city's sea-facing cliff is what impressed the travelers, and since then, Varkala became a world-famous tourist spot. Although not as many international tourists visit this city now as in the 70s/80s, Varkala has started getting famous among Indian travelers lately!
I visited Varkala after spending 3 days in the backwater town of Alleppey as part of my South India tour. I had heard a lot about Varkala from my friends that had already visited the city and was very eager to explore its beaches.
I spent a little more than 2 days in Varkala and was able to explore most parts of the city. So here's a quick travel guide to help you tour the Cliff Beach of South India as well.
How to reach Varkala?
The nearest airport to Varkala is Trivandrum International airport, which is around 40 km from the city. You can then take a train or bus from Trivandrum to Varkala. You can also hire a taxi or rent a car or any two-wheeler to reach Varkala from Trivandrum.
I took a KSRTC bus from Alleppey to Kallambalam, from where I took another state bus to reach the Varkala bus stand. You can then take a tuk-tuk(auto-rickshaw) to reach the helipad (Varkala cliff area) from the bus stand or railway station.
Where to stay in Varkala?
Varkala cliff and its nearby area are full of backpacker hostels, both budget and luxury hotels, guesthouses, resorts, and retreat centers. You will easily find the right accommodation for yourself.
During the peak tourist season, I would suggest you pre-book your accommodation since most of these places are full at that time. Many hotels provide a complete retreat package inclusive of accommodation throughout the tourist season.
However, there are no such packages between May - September when there are little to no tourists in the city.
I was in Varkala during the monsoon season(the less touristy season), which is why most of the accommodations were unoccupied and under-maintained. I stayed at a backpacker hostel, The Lost Hostel, on my first day. Due to poor maintenance and hygiene of the hostel, I shifted my accommodation the next day to an eco-resort, Puccini Lala. Although this resort was under-occupied, it was maintained better.
There's no doubt though that accommodations in Varkala are more fun and comfortable during the tourist season.
What to do in Varkala?
Watch Sunset from Varkala Cliff Beach
Sunrise and sunset views from any beach are unbeatable, so if you are staying on or near Varkala Cliff, you cannot miss the sunset from here. Many people gather at the cliff at sunset, and it is a little challenging to find that perfect spot to watch the sunset from. So, either reach early or walk down to Varkala beach to witness a beautiful sunset.
Relax in one of the cozy cafes located on the cliff after the sun sets while listening to the waves as they crash against the rocks.
Witness the Largest Bird Sculpture in the World
Jatayu Earth's Center is situated at a distance of around 30 km from Varkala Cliff. It is home to the world's biggest bird sculpture, Jatayu(a divine bird). According to Hindu mythology, Jatayu fell on these rocks while trying to save Sita when Ravana was abducting her. This is why this rock sculpture is also dedicated to the safety of women.
As of July 2019, there is only one way to reach the top of the rock, and that is through a cable car ride from Earth's Center. It costs around 450 INR/person.
Funny Incident: I wanted to try other means of climbing up the Jatayu, so I followed the Google Maps' directions, which led to a private property instead. Nonetheless, the view of endless greens of Varkala below, and the bird sculpture above made up for the wrong roads that I took.
Spend Time at the Historic Anchuthengu(Anjengo) Fort and Lighthouse
Anchunthengu Fort and Lighthouse are important historic buildings depicting the colonial past of the country. Established by British East India Company in the 17th century, the fort served as a center for trade and point of entry to India. The Britishers also built a lighthouse to keep track of trade ships, and enemy nearing the coast.
While the fort is not extremely remarkable, you can visit the place if you have extra time in hand - relax in its well-maintained gardens with a view of the beach in front.
After the fort, you can walk to the Anjengo lighthouse, where you will need to climb 189 steps to reach the top and be mesmerized by crazy views of the beach and backwaters down below.
Visit the Rich and Beautiful Golden Island
Golden Island (or Ponnumthuruthu Island) is located around 10km from Varkala city. To reach the island, you will need a jetty ride from the mainland. You can either drive yourself to the jetty pick-up point or take a tut-tuk(autorickshaw) from the city that will drop you there. Once you reach the pick-up point, you'll see many island tour options, so opt for the best offer.
The island is home to the beautiful temple of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, lying in the middle of rich vegetation and a variety of birds flying around.
The jetty-ride becomes a little expensive for a single traveler, especially during the off-season. So, instead of going to the island, I walked to one of the jetty pick-up points and spent time enjoying the views from there.
Watch the Sun Go Down at Kappil Beach
I spent my last evening at Kappil beach, which is around 7 km from Varkala cliff. You can either walk to the beach from the cliff if you have sufficient time or if you have your own vehicle, you can drive there as well.
The beach, however, is crowded with locals and tourists alike during the evening hours. You can also spend time walking by the backwaters that are on the other side of the road that runs by the beach.
Varkala has its own advantages during the off-season and during the tourist season. Choose your time of visit as per your preference, and this cliff beach will not disappoint you.