Varkala, Kerala. The Small Indian Beach Town with a Big Heart.
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
How we ended 2018 and began 2019.
It was 4 am in the morning after a night of New Yeara festivities, and we were getting ready to jump into the ocean with Indian friends we met that morning. We had danced for hours in a club packed far beyond capacity, soaked in sweat and infected with Indians’ love for celebration. And now we were somehow still energized, despite all odds, partly pushed by our new friends’ enthusiasm and joie de vivre. This perfectly encapsulates our experience of Varkala: a city excited about life and sharing this excitement with others. It has all spectrums one would want in a beach town: surfing and seaside restaurants, yoga retreats and late-night bars, long beaches for walking and ayurvedic healing centers.
The location of the town, perched on cliffs above the ocean, gives it a floating feeling. On the North Cliff, which is the tourist-ized part of Varkala, neon lights pepper the handicraft shops, seafood restaurants, and fancy resorts. Even walking around the North Cliff is a fun activity, as the hustle and bustle on one side contrasts with the soothing ocean sounds on the other.
Its simple to descend from the North Cliff to the shore, and then take a swim in the warm ocean and enjoy the trash-free beach ( very rare in India). Walking southward, the next stop is Holi Beach, home to droves of locals and a famous temple. We recommend avoiding any swimming here, unless you’d like to do it in the local fashion wearing jeans or a sari. After HolI Beach is South Cliff, where we spent most of our time in Varkala. More isolated from the hustle and bustle of North Cliff, there are big waves, quiet beaches, and loopy rock formations. There is still some movement of people around, so its not an isolated paradise, but it is an ideal spot for peaceful reflection and lounging. There are plenty of surfers jumping on the waves here, with shops up on the cliff renting out boards.
Some of our favorite places in Varkala were:
Soul & Surf. We got turned on to Varkala by our friend Tara, who works at this boutique hotel. Although we didn’t stay here, we spent a couple of hours every afternoon at their cozy cafe on the cliffs, full of hammocks, lounge chairs, and stunning ocean views. It is a perfect place to jump into a book and drink a large pot of masala chai with soy milk.
Blue House Homestay. Run by local legend Monish, this friendly homestay is down the road from Soul & Surf. He can hook guests up with anything they need: dinner delivered from a local restaurant, scooter and surf board rentals, or a tuk-tuk DJ for an evening bonfire party.
Mama Chambos. A short walk from HolI Beach, this Tibetan / Indian restaurant is in a secluded garden patio area. In addition to tasty traditional Indian fare, we loved the vegan momos (Tibetan dumplings). They also have beer (although not on the menu).
Chillout Lounge. An enormous bar / dance floor / restaurant in the North Cliff area. There are cushions for sitting Indian style, and it seems like they have a different function going on every night.
Although Varkala is pretty inundated with tourists, it still doesn’t seem to have lost its friendly and down-tempo spirit. Locals here will help find whatever you’re looking for, whether it be conversations over a beer, ayurvedic healing sessions, yoga classes, or surf lessons. We met many great friends in this town, and found it a fitting and symbolic place to kick off the adventure that is 2019.