If you have read my post on my experience with VP Bali, you would know, I love to add more to just plain traveling. Initially, I wanted to join a summer school in Malaysia, but it did not work out because of timelines. So, I…
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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.
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Just a walking distance from the stop was the main city center, adorned with colorful buildings and flags. The city center was a little touristy, but as you walked through the narrow alleys across the main street, you'll see many local people just sitting and chilling in tiny cafes.
After having my coffee, I decided to explore a little bit since I still had time. And that's when I found those hidden streets and pathways that I mentioned above - quiet and undisturbed.
And just like that, it was time for my bus, but I was so glad that I had this mini stop in between.
I was just so refreshed and full of life now.
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Prague is a beautiful-budget city with colorful historic buildings, narrow alleys, intricate architecture, and a river that divides the city.
I was in Prague for two weeks in mid-August and the weather during this time was just perfect, with no rain on most of the days.
I had enrolled in a 10-day European Summer school, so it helped me experience Prague both as a local as well as a tourist. In this post, I will share the top things that you should do while your stay in Prague and some tips to keep in mind as you explore the city.
First things first - Where to get your money exchanged?
The best solution to get local currency is by using your international debit or credit card to withdraw money from the ATM, given that bank charges are not too high.
If that doesn't work for you or you have carried enough cash from home, you can exchange your Euros/Dollars that you have from trusted exchange offices. One of the biggest scams in the city is money exchange, so you need to be wary of where you get your money exchanged. There are so many exchange offices that will claim to offer you the best conversion rate but do not fall for them. Most of these places will take a commission that will leave you with much less amount after exchange than what you'd normally get.
Most accepted currency in Prague is Czech Crowns (CZK). We exchanged our money at Praha Exchange located right in the city center on Jindřišská street. It offers one of the best rates and zero commission.
PS: Many places don't accept credit/debit card for payment, so do ask before you purchase anything.
Buy a SIM card?
I decided to not buy a SIM card during my stay in Europe and it worked perfectly fine for me. You can read more details on how I managed to survive without a SIM card for 30 days here.
Buy a Public Transport Ticket
Prague is well connected by public transport, that includes trams and buses throughout the city. You can get the tickets from the vending machines or ticket offices at the metro stations, newsstands, or tourist information offices. If you are in the city for more than one day, I would suggest that you buy a pass instead. There are several options for the passes, ranging from one day to annual. Check their official site for the latest ticket prices.
If you are a budget traveler who likes to buy and cook their own food, I am sure grocery shopping must top your list of ToDos on reaching a new city. There were many small supermarkets near my hostel, Botič Student House
on the main Vršovická Street where you could get all kinds of basic items. But a few things to be careful of are, one, if you are tight on cash and need to use the card, make sure to ask before you start selecting items. Second, I bought some food without checking and it was expired. So make sure you check the dates before you buy anything - you don't want to waste all that you bought.
Also, you can buy the same item at different prices in different places. Although, I don't exactly remember the rate difference.
If you want to go to a proper supermarket, I would suggest Tesco Express or Lidl for more trustworthy purchases
Visit Pubs and Party in the Best Dance Clubs
Prague is famous for its beer and is often referred beer capital of the world. With frequent hopping to different pubs and clubs in Prague, I'll list down a few of my favorites.
The Pub - It had a fun concept of pouring your own beer at the table and also monitor the amount of beer you have had and the price for the same. You can also compete with other tables, with score directly proportional to the amount of beer consumed at a table. With average food and rude staff, this place is best only if you want to have good beer and hang out with friends 🙂
Hangar Bar - My personal favorite because of good music and ample space to dance. With a non-stop music, we were dancing pretty much the whole time we were in the club.
Golden Tree - Crowded yet fun, mainly because of a good choice of songs they were playing. Despite the creeps that were trying to enter our group and broken glass and beer on the floor, we didn't get bored here 🙂
Karaoke Night in Jampa Dampa - We visited Jampa Dampa on a Karaoke night on Thursday. Hidden between streets in the basement, is this small fun club. We were a group of multiple nationalities and the person on the computer was kind enough to find our countries' songs and play for us. Check out the video:
Eat Drink Repeat!
Prague is full of cafes and restaurants that offer a variety of cuisines. From coffee to pizza to Indian food, the city will not disappoint you. Check out this link for tried and tested food options in Prague.
Have a Barbecue in Stromovka Park
Take some time out of visiting the touristy spots and spend an evening with your friends barbecuing in the park. There are some parks in Prague where grilling is illegal, therefore find a park that allows it and if the weather permits, then you are all set for your picnic time 🙂
We had BBQ near the Vltava Canal in Stromovka Park. In maps, you can see it as Stromovka - Grill Bod 5. Enjoy your grilled cheese and burgers with chilled beer. Go for a swim or paddleboarding in the small stream that flows nearby.
Just a few steps from our BBQ spot was a small stream flowing. After having lunch, some of us went for paddleboarding there. You can find rental shops in the park where you can rent a paddle board from.
It was my first ever experience standing on a paddle board and river waters were quite calm for the first-time paddleboarders 😊.
Other Points of Interest
Petrin Hill & Prague Castle
Surrounded by nature, Petrin Hill is one of the best places to see the sunset and the city from. You can reach the top either by a tram or walk up the stairs. But the best way was to climb up the hidden paths through the gardens. Once there, you can also go to Lookout Tower to get even better city views. I did not do that because the views from the hill were pretty good as well.
You can also visit Prague Castle since it is just around the corner a few minutes walk from the hill.
Charles Bridge & Lennon Wall
Flooded with tourists throughout the day, visit Charles Bridge for its history, statues, and live music. But the best way to get a good view of Charles Bridge is from Alšovo nábřeží. It is a walkway between Charles Bridge and Mánes Bridge right by the river.
PS: Alšovo nábřeží was suggested by a friend and we happened to see a beautiful sunset from this place and it wasn't as crowded as well 😁
As you cross the Charles Bridge, get down a few stairs on the left and make a stop at Lennon Wall. With tons of artwork done on it, it's a must visit to reminisce about the history behind the wall, when people used this wall to express their emotions.
Museum Of Communism
I wouldn't say it was the best museum, but it worked quite well for me since I did not have a lot of information about European History. It was like a physical Wikipedia and the reading walls made it a bit boring.
Get past the gardens after getting down at Výtoň station to St. Peter and St. Paul Church and then to amazing views of Vltava river and the city from Vyšehrad Hill.
Wenceslas Square and Old Town
Stroll around Wenceslas Square, Old Town, and Jewish quarters admiring the beautiful European architecture and get a hint of the city culture and history.
Day trip to Cesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is a beautiful city just 3-hour drive from Prague. It is famous for it's State Castle, that is surrounded by Vltava river in the south and Polecnice stream in the north. After touring the castle, you can sit in a river-side bar and enjoy your beer.
End your trip with a rafting in the surrounding river.
PS: Thanks to European Summer School Organisers for all the trips and excursions we had together