Varkala Tourism

A serene, calm and quiet hamlet and of course, a Coastal town of Varkala situated just over 50 Km north of Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram is a retreat for the beach lovers who enjoy spending time at the beachfront but are not really comfortable with the holiday crowds. Replete with facilities for boat rides, parasailing and sunbathingresorts and ayurvedic spas lining the waterfront, Varkala beach is a popular hub to unwind and relax undisturbed.

A unique geographical feature – a 15-meter tall sedimentary cliff formed during the early times of the current Cenozoic Era is located right adjacent to the beach. Natural springs with waters having healing properties dot the sides of the cliff. Varkala is also a pilgrim centre that draws devotees to the samadhi of saint Sri Narayana Guru and the ancient Janardhana Swamy Temple here. Historical Anjengo Fort, Sivagiri Mutt and the Kappi Lake are but a few other attractions that draw visitors here.

History

Ancient records reveal that Varkala was on the foreign trade route. The erstwhile Travancore King Udaya Marthanda Varma in 1762 contributed to developing the coastal region, and hence Varkala was named Udayamarthandapuram to honour his efforts.

There are different mythological stories related to this place.  The Janardhana Swamy temple is believed to have been constructed by a Pandyan king to be absolved of his sins, after being directed by a divine prophecy.

Varkala was also the site chosen by Sage Narada when few pilgrims sought redemption from their sins.  Narada is said to have thrown his valkalam (bark garment), which landed here, giving the place its name. He instructed them to visit Papa(sin), nasam(redemption) and atone for their misdeeds.

Culture

A penchant for traditional art and music of Kerala rules the cultural scene in Varkala where locals follow a simple and humble lifestyle, which has hardly seen any change despite the city had foreign invasion and gradually the increasing numbers of foreign tourists.

Festivals are celebrated with pomp and splendour, with cultural events adding a tad of colour, the rituals are carried out with belief and austerity.  A quite evident from the fact that while some parts of Varkala beach is considered to be the hangout places for tourist, on the other hand, there is a “Papanasam Beach”, the name of this beach gives you the slight hint, its a site for Hindu cremation rituals and rites where people disperse ashes of the departed and offer oblations.

Best Time to Visit

A penchant for traditional art and music of Kerala rules the cultural scene in Varkala where locals follow a simple and humble lifestyle, which has hardly seen any change despite the city had foreign invasion and gradually the increasing numbers of foreign tourists.

Festivals are celebrated with pomp and splendour, with cultural events adding a tad of colour, the rituals are carried out with belief and austerity.  A quite evident from the fact that while some parts of Varkala beach is considered to be the hangout places for tourist, on the other hand, there is a “Papanasam Beach”, the name of this beach gives you the slight hint, its a site for Hindu cremation rituals and rites where people disperse ashes of the departed and offer oblations.

How to Reach

By Air- Nearest airport to Varkala is  Thiruvananthapuram which is located around 40- 45 km away from the beach town Flights connect Thiruvananthapuram to many major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi (Cochin), Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. One can easily hire Pre-paid taxis from the airport to Varkala.

By Train- Thiruvananthapuram is the major railhead close to Varkala. Thiruvananthapuram is connected by rail to several Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru. Taxis/ cabs can be hired from the railway station to Varkala.

By Road- State government tourist buses are available for tourist to avail and travel to Varkala. One can get down at Attingal to catch a connecting bus, or if you are travelling from Kochi, then you can board a bus to Thiruvananthapuram, it is easily accessible to reach till Varkala then.

What you will like

  • Private/secluded beach areas
  • Fresh seafood at the beach
  • Natural Medicinal Springs/Cliff
  • Ayurvedic Spas
  • Water sporting options

What you might not like

  • Pushy sales pitch at the local shops
  • Warm/humid summers
  • Not easily accessible

Ideal For

  • Beach Lovers, Pilgrims
  • Backpackers, couples, group travel

Shopping

The shopping scene in Varkala is lively as it is the street markets that serve as a treasure trove when it comes souvenir shopping. Comfortable Indian clothes, hippie outfits, artefacts from bamboo, shells, fragrant oils, perfumes, incense, soaps and a multitude of trinkets are available at the different stores that line the Cliff.

The local Tibetan Market is a great place to buy prayer flags, flutes, conches, Tibetan jewellery and other handcrafted items. Several merchants from Tibet set shop in Varkala bringing in a new set of merchandise during the winter months to cater to the holiday crowd. It is entirely possible to find excellent gifts and souvenirs at reasonable prices here.

Festivals and Ceremonies

The annual Arattu festivities at the Janardhana Swamy Temple held during the month of March spans across 10 days, drawing a multitude of pilgrims to the temple.  Decked elephants, processions of the deities in decorated palanquins and other rituals are common during temple functions. As access to the inner sanctum of the temple is restricted to Hindus, visitors can glimpse the general celebratory vibe during the occasion.

The yearly festival at the Sivagiri Mutt held during December 30,31st and January 1st is a secular affair that brings together a significant number people who follow his principle of “One Caste, Religion and God”. Dressed in yellow outfits visitors can be observed offering their respects to the Guru.

Local Food and Cuisines at Varkala

There’s no dearth of traditional local cuisine. With several hotels and restaurants serving up an excellent array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies, you will be spoilt for choice.

Being right next to the sea, fresh sea-food catch prepared at the eating joints that line the beach is a local speciality. You often get to choose from the score displayed at these eateries, which is then cooked over a tandoor oven and served piping hot.

Drinks are freely available at the pubs and bars here. Pan-Asian fare, Thai and Italian food and other international cuisine are served at select restaurants and resorts. The local Tibetan market is a great place to try out Momos.

Local Food and Cuisines at Varkala

While the scenic beachfront with water-sporting facilities is the main tourist attraction, historical monuments, placid lakes and backwaters and temples offer a choice of locations to spend time inland.

Day 1- Start your day by catching the sunrise on the beachfront, hop on a boat for a ride into the open sea before heading inland to explore the town.

Offer your respects to the perfect saint Sri Narayana Guru at the Sivagiri Mutt located on Sivagiri hills close to Varkala and take time to stroll through the serene premises which also house an elementary school and worship at the temple of Goddess Sharada/Saraswathy. A simple lunch is served at the Mutt. You are likely to spend about a couple of hours on this visit, or more if the place appeals to you.

Watch the cool waters at the Kappil Lake merge with backwaters that open out to the vast Arabian Sea. Go for a pedal boat ride on the Lake and feast on the scenic beauty of the coconut-palms lining the waterfront.

Time permitting, you can either check out the Varkala Aquarium if marine life interests you or head up to Varkala Cliff to enjoy a great evening at the restaurants/bars and buy souvenirs/trinkets at the shops here.

Day 2- After a good night’s rest, set out on a trip to the scenic and serene Ponnumthuruthu island located amidst the placid backwaters near Varkala, bordering the Akathumuri Lake. Enjoy the boat ride to the island and rustic settings of the uninhabited terrain, visit the century-old temple of Shiva-Parvati in this offbeat locale and take time to sight a few migratory birds and take a few snaps before the ride back to the mainland.

Next on the itinerary is a visit to the historical Anjengo or Anju(five)then go(coconut trees) Fort. This former British stronghold, about 15 minutes drive from Ponnumthuruthu, also served as a lighthouse for merchant ships from England. The fort premises serve as a grim reminder of Colonial rule and battles between foreign powers for control over this promising land.

If you still have some energy in reserve, catch the sunset on the Papanasam/Varkala beaches before dinner or watch a traditional Kathakali performance.

Day 3- Set aside an entire day to admire the seascape, lazing out at the beach or indulging in parasailing and boat rides if you are adventurous, but after starting the day with a visit to the 2000-year old Janardhana Swamy Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consorts Sree Devi and Bhoo(ma) Devi. Located atop a hillock accessible via a flight of steps or through impressive backwater channels flanked by rising terrain on either side, the temple and the surrounding waters have a healing touch. A peaceful darshan of the Lord is possible throughout the day though.

Have a dip at the natural springs at the Varkala cliff to benefit from the curative properties of the water and spend a couple of hours relaxing at one of the Ayurvedic Spa’s here.

Enjoy an exciting boat ride through the narrow, century old, underground Varkala Tunnel constructed under the cliffs of Varkala. Ingeniously designed by the British, the otherwise dark passage receives a dash of sunshine and fresh air from the vent on the roof of the structure.

Settle for beautiful views of the sunset at Varkala Beach or the nearby Thiruvambadi Beach to fully experience the ambience, solitude and beauty of the place as your stay here draws to an end.

Local Food and Cuisines at Varkala

While the scenic beachfront with water-sporting facilities is the main tourist attraction, historical monuments, placid lakes and backwaters and temples offer a choice of locations to spend time inland.

Day 1- Start your day by catching the sunrise on the beachfront, hop on a boat for a ride into the open sea before heading inland to explore the town.

Offer your respects to the perfect saint Sri Narayana Guru at the Sivagiri Mutt located on Sivagiri hills close to Varkala and take time to stroll through the serene premises which also house an elementary school and worship at the temple of Goddess Sharada/Saraswathy. A simple lunch is served at the Mutt. You are likely to spend about a couple of hours on this visit, or more if the place appeals to you.

Watch the cool waters at the Kappil Lake merge with backwaters that open out to the vast Arabian Sea. Go for a pedal boat ride on the Lake and feast on the scenic beauty of the coconut-palms lining the waterfront.

Time permitting, you can either check out the Varkala Aquarium if marine life interests you or head up to Varkala Cliff to enjoy a great evening at the restaurants/bars and buy souvenirs/trinkets at the shops here.

Day 2- After a good night’s rest, set out on a trip to the scenic and serene Ponnumthuruthu island located amidst the placid backwaters near Varkala, bordering the Akathumuri Lake. Enjoy the boat ride to the island and rustic settings of the uninhabited terrain, visit the century-old temple of Shiva-Parvati in this offbeat locale and take time to sight a few migratory birds and take a few snaps before the ride back to the mainland.

Next on the itinerary is a visit to the historical Anjengo or Anju(five)then go(coconut trees) Fort. This former British stronghold, about 15 minutes drive from Ponnumthuruthu, also served as a lighthouse for merchant ships from England. The fort premises serve as a grim reminder of Colonial rule and battles between foreign powers for control over this promising land.

If you still have some energy in reserve, catch the sunset on the Papanasam/Varkala beaches before dinner or watch a traditional Kathakali performance.

Day 3- Set aside an entire day to admire the seascape, lazing out at the beach or indulging in parasailing and boat rides if you are adventurous, but after starting the day with a visit to the 2000-year old Janardhana Swamy Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consorts Sree Devi and Bhoo(ma) Devi. Located atop a hillock accessible via a flight of steps or through impressive backwater channels flanked by rising terrain on either side, the temple and the surrounding waters have a healing touch. A peaceful darshan of the Lord is possible throughout the day though.

Have a dip at the natural springs at the Varkala cliff to benefit from the curative properties of the water and spend a couple of hours relaxing at one of the Ayurvedic Spa’s here.

Enjoy an exciting boat ride through the narrow, century old, underground Varkala Tunnel constructed under the cliffs of Varkala. Ingeniously designed by the British, the otherwise dark passage receives a dash of sunshine and fresh air from the vent on the roof of the structure.

Settle for beautiful views of the sunset at Varkala Beach or the nearby Thiruvambadi Beach to fully experience the ambience, solitude and beauty of the place as your stay here draws to an end.

Watch out for:

  • Insects on the beach
  • Strong currents when in the water
  • Shady crowd/drunkards/beggars/beachside vendors

Watch out for

  • Conversing with strangers
  • Wearing revealing clothes
  • Visiting secluded areas after dark

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