Yes Goa is THE place to chill on a beach and do all that cool stuff that you do when in India. Even though Goa’s not really India… if you know what I mean? Basically, don’t make the mistake of settling down in Goa (as tempting as that WILL be) if you have time to head a bit further south to Varkala in Kerala. A more chilled out version of Goa for sure but there’s still loads of cool things to do in Varkala. This place might just capture your heart. It’s just got that special something, the Varkala vibe that will draw you in and make you want to stay.
Think a 6 km long, 40 meter high red laterite cliff overlooking the ocean, stunning sunsets, cute cafes, yoga on the beach, chilled beats, hippie shops galore… Ok, yeah, this sounds like I’m describing Goa. Did you know that Varkala is known as a temple town and is popular with Hindus who make pilgrimages to Papanasham Beach (a holy place) to make offerings to deceased loved ones. See, not just tourists love Varkala, holy folk do too.
Listen, Varkala is just worth checking out so go and see it and thank me later! Here’s some top things to do in Varkala. Be careful… you might stay a while 😉
Varkala Yoga Studios
Whether you’re a beginner and want some laid back one-on-one classes on Varkala beach or you fancy doing a yoga teacher training course and setting up your own studio… Varkala’s got you covered! Among some of the best things to do in Varkala are the great yoga retreats, studios and drop in yoga classes all along Varkala’s north cliff. You can also choose accommodation that includes free yoga classes to get seriously good value for money (usually an Ashram will offer this sort of thing).
Want to do yoga in Varkala? Read about the best Varkala Yoga Retreats here
Massage and Ayurveda
Kerala is the home of Ayurveda which is a plant based healing technique so while in Varkala make sure you treat yourself to a traditional Ayurveda massage. In fact, considering the price, have one every day you’re here!
Eat, drink & eat some more!
Get ready to chow down like it’s 1999. Or just 2018. Or whatever.
Coffee Temple – Find this chilled out traveler favorite at the beginning of the clifftop strip. Not only is this the place for great coffee but you can also get tea, smoothies, breakfast and lunch here too. Chill out with a book or read a free newspaper while soaking up the ambience.
Luna Azul – Check out the live music and Indian food at Luna Azul located at the far end of the cliff overlooking black beach.
Abba – A Swedish/Indian couple run Abba which is a good place to eat at if you’re missing home and want some western food.
Darjeeling Café – Watch the sunset as you chow down on Thai food. Bliss!
Blue Moon – A popular place for seafood.
It’s the beach overlooked by the famous cliff that’s most popular with Varkala backpackers and travelers. Feel free to do your downward dogs in a bikini here or even go surfing but watch you don’t get whisked away by the currents because they are very strong. So not a great beach for swimming sadly! The currents aren’t quite Hikkaduwa Beach in Sri Lanka strong but do be careful.
Other beaches to visit are Papanasham beach which means ‘redemption beach’ (hello might have to pay another visit). Apparently this beach has healing powers thanks to certain medicinal plants. Go for a dunk if you’re feeling hungover it could be Varkala’s answer to the Ganges. Thiruvambadi beach (also known as black beach) is in Varkala town. This one’s more quite and has calmer water so if you must swim this may be a slightly better beach option.
Shop Shop Shop
Take a leisurely stroll along the cliff top and you’ll find some cute trinket shops where you can buy all the baggy pants, silver jewelry and funky t-shirts that your heart desires. My heart desires… ALOT. Check out the Tibetan Market for crystals and other spiritual knick knacks. You can also pick up cheap Ayurveda health and beauty products here too. Sigh… I miss Varkala… Amazon just ain’t the same 🙂
Kappil and Kappil Lake Backwaters
Kappil beach is where the Arabian Sea meets the backwaters and Kappil Lake. On one side you see Kappil Lake and on the other you can see Kappil beach. If you missed the backwaters of Allepey then Kappil Lake is a serene and very pretty alternative.
More things to do in Varkala
Janardana Swami Temple
This is a 2000 year old sacred temple in the heart of Varkala town also known as the easier to rememeber Varkala Temple. Janardana Swami is a form of Lord Vishnu and the deity can be found in a standing position facing east. His right hand looks like he’s performing Aachamanam and his his right hand is raised towards his mouth. Legend says that if his hand goes nearer to his mouth the world will end.
Surrounded by the palm tree lined Anjengo backwaters this island is reachable only by boat from a jetty at Nedunganda Village. Amongst a grove of coconut trees the 100 year old Shiva-Parvathi Temple can be found here. Re-built a decade ago the Shiva-Parvathi Temple makes Ponnumthuruthu Island a popular pilgrimage place.
Dedicated to Saraswathy, the Goddess of Knowledge, The Sivagiri Sarada Temple is spread over 200 acres and another holy place for Hindu’s. Many tourists visit Sivagiri Mutt every year for the Sivagiri Pilgrimage days (30th December to 1st January).
Other awesome things to do in Varkala
Other things you might want to visit while in Varkala are the Anjengo Forts the Sarkara Devi Temple and Varkala Light House. Why not hire a bike which is actually one of the most fun things to do in Varkala in itself. Scoot around exploring all of the things mentioned above at your own pace. You’ll find that as soon as you travel 5 minutes outside of the main Varkala area all of the touristy stuff goes away. So hire a bike and experience authentic India. Sounds like a win win.
Planning a trip to Varkala Beach and need to book a place to stay? Click here for the best deals on budget and mid-range hostels and hotels around Varkala cliff
There’s quite a few travel agents in Varkala that will be eager to arrange day trips for you. Sign up for a trip to Trivandrum the capital of Kerala, visit Kovalam beach, or float along the backwaters on a boat. Varkala Beach is full of tour operators that will fall over themselves to help you book a tour no matter what your budget.
Lastly, if in doubt… do nothing!
Well not exactly nothing but you really don’t have to see all of the places I’ve listed above to do Varkala well. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t even attempt to do a few. Varkala is more about the vibe than it is the sights (oooh bad traveler). You know, you could always just chill on Varkala Beach, eat and shop during the day and then grab a smoothie and watch the stunning Varkala sunsets before catching some ZZZ’s. It's ok to be lazy sometimes! In fact in #Varkala #India it's freakin fabulous. Click To Tweet
Do you love Varkala too? Feel free to share any of your own tips about the top things to do in Varkala on a beach vacation or as a backpacker or flash-packer!
Read more: Top 5 Things To Do In Kerala
Check out the Jetset Bunny Guide To India including the basics, things to do, eat, stay and plan: India Travel Tips