Your Guide to Travel Varkala: Kerala’s Bohemian Beach Town

Aromas of therapeutic incenses and scallops seared in olive oil take over its main boulevard. The beaches entertain enthusiastic surfers and paragliders, even a rabble of water babies and hippies who have found a home in the shores. A walk in one of the unpaved alleys here will greet you with butterflies and jazz music oozing from a random cafe, towering coconuts and palms, and a jarring view of the sea when you least expect it. This is Varkala, Kerala’s lesser-known beach destination that’s popular so far only amongst surfers and bohos, but really worth your time. From the vast expanses of beaches of Varkala to the only cliff beach in Kerala, the Varkala Cliff, this beachy estate is one of those places to visit in Kerala where you just want to go and chill, maybe party a little, and spend a majority of your day by the waters.

The sun sets over the Varkala Cliff at Varkala Beach, Varkala, Kerala, India
The sun sets at the Varkala Cliff. Picture by Ankit Gupta

As we introduce our hostel number 37 and with it the town of Varkala to you, here’s a collection of things to do in Varkala, places to see around Varkala and in Kerala, weather info, best ways to reach, and all else you’ll need on the place.

How to reach Varkala

Closing in on the country’s Southern tip, Varkala is easily accessible through Kochi, Trivandrum, and Bangalore. Keeping in account Kerala’s exotic backwaters, palm-studded beaches, and dark green canopies, it is safe to say that a road trip from point A to point B in God’s own country is the best way of exploring the state, but not the only one.

Here are all the ways you can opt for making it to the beach town.

Kochi to Varkala

As many as 15 trains run daily, costing as little as INR 10 from Kochi to Varkala. The distance is just 180 km, so you can also go for a taxi, costing 3000-5000 INR.

Trivandrum to Varkala

Trivandrum or Thiruvananthpuram is the closest popular town to Varkala (41 km) and also a well-connected one. If you’re looking for a cheap ride, take a train for INR 10—it’s a 1.5-hr journey. If you’re landing in Trivandrum, the closest airport to Varkala, you can directly hire a taxi to Varkala for INR 900.

Bangalore to Varkala

Most trains from Bangalore do not make a stop at Varkala, so you can board one that’s going from Bangalore to Kollam for 400-500 INR. From there, Varkala is just another 30 km which can be covered in a local bus or an auto. The only direct train is the Kanyakumari Express, which drops you at the Varkala Sivagiri Railway Station.

If you’re travelling by bus, you can take one from Bengaluru to Thiruvananthpuram and then follow the instructions we’ve mentioned above.

Commuting in Varkala

Two-wheelers are readily available for rent across the town and auto-rickshaws are abundant as well. It’s also possible to hire a bicycle for as little as INR 70 per day. Other than that, dedicated sidewalks constructed by Kerala Tourism are a great way to explore the picturesque beauty of Varkala on foot, especially if you like devouring the views slowly.

Things to do in Varkala

Things to do in Varkala, places to see in Kerala
Things to do in Varkala, as Zostel recommends

Surfing in Varkala

Surfers sooner or later find their way back to the beaches of Varkala, thanks to its not-so-touristy beaches and perfectly surfable waters. If you want to learn a gimmick or two, or better yet, get professional training in surfing, that’s possible too! 3 to 6-day courses are a good way of getting the hang of the basics. You can even combine these lessons with yoga, which is another prominent practice in the town. The Black Sand Beach is popular among surfers in the morning, practically a blink away from Zostel Varkala. 

The popular surfing clubs of Varkala are Soul & Surf India, Drifters Surf Club, Moon Waves Surf School, and Moana Surf School. You can contact them online or from Zostel Varkala for more information.

Varkala Beach and Varkala Cliff

The only cliff beach in Kerala, Varkala Beach is easily one of the most unique places to visit in Kerala. As the cool breeze slightly touches your face and the waves gracefully wash away the sands from your feet, the orange hues of the sun shimmer on the waters of the Arabian Sea, making the vibe unbelievably relaxing.

Varkala Cliff bird eye view, drone shote beach
A busy Varkala Cliff with surfers, beach shacks, and visitors

The popular Varkala Cliff standing on this beach is a famous hub for eateries, shopping stores, and paragliding. If you wish to satisfy the hippie in you, shop for local items at Karma, a colourful little shop right at the cliff. Apart from that, an assortment of cafes welcome you to cuisines ranging from authentic Keralan to Himalayan. The little Tibetan Market here is a great place for souvenirs and beaded jewellery, and one striking feature consistent to every place here is that they all smell amazing, thanks to the generous use of incense sticks and diffused oils everywhere.

Kappil Beach and Kappil Lake

A casual stroll away from Varkala Beach, the Kappil beach is alluring in its serenity. It generously includes a white-sand strip dominated by coconut trees, cushioning the calm waters of the Arabian Sea under clear blue skies. Separated only by a kilometre-long road from the beach is the Kappil Lake, where you can go for boating and even more soothing views of the waters and the palms.

Kappil beach canoe ride
Travellers enjoying a ride in the canoe at the Kappil Beach of Varkala

Ponnumthuru Island

Just 10 km from Varkala, better known as the Golden Island, thanks to ancient myths, Ponnumthuru speaks of seclusiveness with only occasional company. Spot exotic birds as you chill alongside the coast for a relaxing retreat.

The Shiva Parvati Temple at this island hosts a 10-day long festival making it a cultural fiesta for locals and travellers every year in the month of February.

Anjengu Fort

Serving a slice of history with stunning Portuguese and Dutch architecture is the Anjengu Fort of Varkala. Wedged between the Arabian Sea and Kerala backwaters, the fort offers a peek through the curtain of an era gone by. It is no secret that Varkala is blessed with a generous growth of the signature coconut trees, making this quaint town a lot more attractive. And as you can picture, you’ll find lots of them around Anjengu too.

Anjengu Fort, Varkala, Kerala
The Anchujengu Fort, known popularly as Anjengu Fort in Varkala

Personally, we felt that lying down in the lush gardens surrounding the fort under the shade of slender coconut groves is a simple yet invigorating way of devouring the hour. You may also spot a fisherman or two going about their business and locals religiously enjoying century-old customs by the bay.

Odayam Beach

If you’d like to be introduced to the hippie side of this quaint and calm town, this beach is quite an amusing place. A number of beachside shacks and tiny eateries adorn its shores, making for great venues to meet a traveller or read a book at sundown.

Usually less crowded, Odayam Beach is THE place for anybody up for a rejuvenating stretch at the beach minus the tourists. Just one thing though, go heavy on the sunscreen.

Edava Vettakkada Beach

Amidst the fetching towns of Varkala and Paravur, Edava is home to serene backwaters, cliffs, canals, lakes, and ever-graceful beaches. Gleefully embracing the true blue of the Arabian sea and the ridge green of coconut trees and mild meadows, Edava displays a bright palette of colours, especially during sunsets.

Varkala Lighthouse

Offering a splendid bird's eye view of the entire coastal belt of Varkala, the lighthouse is a great place to devour an uninterrupted view of the sea. Nearly 130 m high, it attracts a number of photographers trying to capture the best view of the entire town, especially during sunrise and sunset. Fishermen boats and ferries parked over the shores and lakes give a hint of the local life here, lighting up pretty once the sun bids goodbye.

The Varkala Lighthouse as seen from Anjengu Fort
The Varkala Lighthouse as seen from the Anjengu Fort

Chilakoor Beach

15 km from Varkala, this beach does have a standout point- it is famous for its casuarina groves. You can also go village-hopping in the areas around for a slice of the rural Keralan culture.

Thiruvambadi Beach

The light black sand beach of Thiruvambadi sets it apart from all the other beaches of Varkala. As the sun sets, the orange hues coupled with the black-beige sand on the beach is a sight worth cherishing. And our hostel is situated right at its shores, so you can only imagine how pretty the views must be!

Our Favourite Places to Eat in Varkala

Coffee Temple- Situated at the Varkala cliff right next to the helipad, Coffee Temple serves a number of Italian, Mexican, and European delicacies. They also have vegan and gluten-free options on the menu.

Trattorias- Noshing on homely Indian and Pan-Asian dishes as you look at the shores of the ocean—that is what Trattorias on the Black Sand Beach is all about.

Abba- Known for dishes cooked in a wood-fired oven, Abba is an open-air garden-eatery on the Varkala cliff. We’ve heard a lot of praise about the seafood here.

Darjeeling Cafe- Only a few metres from Abba, the Darjeeling Cafe serves ample breakfast options and dishes of the Tibetan cuisine.

Cafe Del Mar- Yet another popular place to eat out on the Varkala Cliff, Cafe Del Mar is known for its prawn and fish dishes cooked in the local style.

Inda Cafe- Ever heard of Buddha Bowls? Well, they’re a famous delicacy and served right here at Inda Cafe. Apart from that, the scrumptious desserts here mark for a perfect ending to a meal.

Marina Bay- This is what a traditional eatery in Kerala looks like! Serving presentation on point, Marina Bay is popular for its variety of traditional food.

Caffe Italiano- Pretty evident by its name, if you’re looking for pizzas and mocktails, you’ve found your place. Adjacent to the helipad, this cafe is a great place to chill and munch in peace.

Places to See Around Varkala

Jatayu Earth’s Center, Chadayamangalam

Housing the world's largest bird statue, Jatayu Earth’s Center is a dedication to celebrating and supporting women’s safety. Not to our surprise, it is slowly becoming one of the must-visit tourist places in Kerala. Imagine walking through 65 acres of forest, completely unaffected by the tourists it hosts every day. Siked yet? It also has over 15 adventure activities you can indulge in such as ziplining, log walk, rappelling and more. Just an hour’s drive from Zostel Varkala, it is easily accessible through a rented two-wheeler or even local buses.

Jatayu Earth's Center in Kerala
Jatayu Earth's Center, a spectacle near Varkala in Kerala

Munroe Island

Of serene backwaters with a right blend of adventure water sports, Munroe Island falls nothing short of little piece of paradise. The narrow waterways/canals are the new roads for locals and also separate the cluster of 8 islands that it is composed of. Just an hour and a half’s drive from Zostel Varkala, Munroe Island also hosts the Kallada Boat Race, which is more of a celebration than just a sport. And we can’t help but mention, the sunsets here really make it one of the most beautiful places to visit in Kerala.

The sunset at Munroe Island
The sunset at Munro Island, a short drive away from Varkala

Adoor

The little town of Adoor serves as a seat of cultural arts and festivities and is 57 km from Varkala. The Kerala Institute of Folklore and Folk Arts is rooted here and hosts a number of local festivals and cultural programmes. Local bus agencies run regular buses from Varkala and the 2-hour journey costs around 110 INR.

Ponmudi

Located 80 km south-east of Varkala and nestled amongst hills, Ponmudi is a refreshing shift from the beaches of Varkala. All you have to do is hop on a local bus which can be frequently spotted running freely. Subsumed in the Western Ghats that run parallel to the Arabian sea, this hilly wonder is better known as the Kashmir of Kerala. Extensive biodiversity, forestlands, and plantations dominate this town including species endemic to this region. State buses run daily between Varkala and Ponmudi and take approximately 4 hrs to reach.

Adding to the adventure bucket list, Ponmudi is gifted with 4 beautiful treks as well. Varying in degree of difficulty but all serving riveting views of the Nilgiri ranges, Varayadumotta, Seethatheertham, Manachala and Maruthwamala deserve our sincere attention when it comes to enjoying a good hike out in nature.

Thenmala

The first planned eco-tourism destination in Kerala, Thenmala is home to freshwater lakes and ample of greenery. The Parappar Dam is the origination of an artificial lake with a substantial sprout of flora and fauna inside. The famous Hanging Bridge in Thenmala is intriguing in its engineering and gives splendid views of the dam. You can also make a stop at the Palaruvi Waterfalls when here. Cutting through dense forest and wilderness, you can reach here by local buses traversing a distance of 70 km.

Kottarakkara

The place where Kathakali, a century-old traditional Indian dance form originated, Kottarakkara is a land of palaces and history. Filled with ancient ruins of withered temples and palaces, the village is still in reminiscence of an era that once prospered with festivities and traditions. It is 38 km from Varkala and is accessible by trains that run daily and take nearly 2 hours to reach.

Kumarakom

Set on Vembanad, the longest lake in India, Kumarakom is about 130 km from Varkala. Popular for its backwaters laced with houseboats, Kumarakom also hosts a series of water activities like angling and strolling. The onset of Onam is grandly celebrated here by hosting the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, where riders can be seen competing for the title on the pristine backwaters of the lake in the world’s biggest team sport. You can take a train from Varkala Sivagiri Station to Kottayam. From there, a short bus ride later, you’ll be in the rustic water town of Kumarakom.

Things to do: Visit the Thazhathangady Mosque, trek to Aruvikkuzhi Waterfall, row through the canals of Kerala backwaters, enjoy water sports.

Athirapally

Located 227 km from Varkala, Athirapally is subjugated by thick rainforests, waterfalls, and an amusing ecosystem. Known to many as the Silent Valley with its population heavily dominated by a variety of flora and fauna, this place also houses the largest waterfall of Kerala, the Athirapally Falls. Make it there around monsoon and we bet you’ll have your eyes wide open in awe of the grandeur. If you’d like to explore the wilderness, you can consider taking up the jungle safari, which includes a drive to multiple waterfalls amongst many places.

The easiest way to get here is by catching a local train to Trichur from Varkala, and then carry on in a bus to Athirapally.

Poovar

Poovar’s remoteness makes it perfect for solace. Just 67 km from the beach town of Varkala, Poovar Island is a hidden spot with pristine backwaters that can be best savoured with a canal cruise. You can also experience living in a houseboat here, floating with a view of verdant coconut palms all around.

Local buses run abundantly from Varkala to Poovar and it hardly takes 2 hours to make the journey.

Kollam

Endorsing a feast of festivals, lip-smacking seafood, and an overflow of beaches and backwaters, Kollam is a cultural hub with spellbinding beauty. Be it the Crafts Festival or the famous boat races, Munroe Island, or the Adventure Park, this small town is known for its larger than life celebrations and visual experiences.

The town of Kollam, Kerala
The town of Kollam, Kerala

You can enjoy a scenic ride by the coastal belt as you travel to Kollam from Varkala, which is only 35 km away.

Best time to visit Varkala

Resting towards the Southern tip of India, Varkala experiences moderate temperatures throughout the year. Although the seasonal changes are very tenuous (yes, it’s always a good time to be here esp. if you’re hailing from a city), the best months to visit Varkala are between October and February, when the cool sea breeze dominates the beachy town. If you’re looking forward to fewer crowds and a cheaper trip, late August, September & March are good months to consider. Monsoons (Jun-Aug) can be pleasant too, if you check the weather in advance and go in the weeks when the town is not sloshing with rains.

Surfers enjoying the day at one of the beaches of Varkala
Surfers enjoying a good day at one of the beaches of Varkala. Picture by Ankit Gupta

Varkala weather is almost the same throughout the year, leaning towards warm humid in summers to pleasant with cool breeze in winters. Heavily influenced by the coastal line, the Indian Ocean plays the deciding role in predicting the weather conditions here.

About Zostel Varkala

Imagine waking up to serene views of the Arabian Sea, a faint sound of crashing waves, and jolly surfers going about their day. That is pretty much the everyday life at Zostel Varkala. The walls here splash colours through radiant wall arts, a Zostel signature. And to top it all off, the happening rooftop is as alive as it is adequate with hammocks, lounges, and games.

Zostel Varkala, backpacking hostel in Kerala
Zostel Varkala, a happening backpacking hostel in Kerala

Explore Kerala

The land of immaculate backwaters, hefty palms, piquant fish curries, and splendid beaches, Kerala justifies the title of God’s Own Country in all we can imagine. With its misty hill stations, the tranquil Western Ghats, generous amounts of waterfalls, and characteristic Southern Indian culture, you’re exposed to a wide array of experiences in the State. Here’s how you can hop through its destinations the Zostel way! :)

Alleppey / Alappuzha

2 emotions that you’re most likely to feel when you visit Alleppey- ecstasy and peace! Nothing short of a beautiful dream, this town is rightly the backwater capital of Kerala. Roads surrounded by palm trees, water canals flowing calmly on either sides, and the violet & orange hue of the sky is pretty much the picture that Alappuzha paints for you every day.

Travellers enjoying an impromptu jamming session at Zostel Alleppey
Travellers enjoying an impromptu jamming session at Zostel Alleppey. Picture by Ankit Gupta.

Our hostel, Zostel Alleppey is right on the main beach road, a 5-min walk from the Alappuzha Beach. And since this is one of the most popular backpacking destinations of Kerala, you can already guess the kind of experience we have for you here.

Kochi / Cochin

The very versatile city of Cochin gloriously boasts of Chinese Fishing Nets, Portuguese architecture, the colourful old town of Fort Kochi, and what-not. Art installations and graffiti by artists from all over the world cover the rustic areas of Cochin and heavily influence the local culture here, making it one of the most interesting tourist places in Kerala.

The common area at Zostel Kochi, backpacking hostel in Kerala India
The common area at Zostel Kochi, Kerala, India. Picture by Ankit Gupta

Zostel Kochi is a short walk away from the centre of Fort Kochi. Check it out here!

Vagamon

Wearing thick foliage, submerged in adventurous hikes and unexplored trails, Vagamon goes heavy on the greens! Sunset views from one of its many hikeable peaks and exploring the thick jungles make it one of the most backpacking-worthy places to visit in Kerala.

Zostel Vagamon in tea plantations, Vagamon, Kerala India
Zostel Vagamon. Picture by Ankit Gupta

Zostel Vagamon is loved for the DIY hikes, a huge trampoline facing the valley, and just really bringing up the vibe of the town. You can take a look at the top backpacking hostel of Vagamon here.

Wayanad

With tea plantations among cascading mountains that end up running through deep forests and pristine rivers, Wayanad is a popular hill station in Kerala. Known for adventurous treks, the Banasura Sagar Dam, and Meenmutty Falls, Wayanad only gets more popular every month.

Zostel Wayanad humbly overlooks 800 acres of tea plantations, serving breathtaking sunrise and sunset views. Mesmerised yet? Look it up here!

The view from the rooftop of Zostel Varkala, Kerala. Picture by Ankit Gupta

Our humble shelter-abode sits right next to the Black Sand Beach, keeping every popular place just a short walk away. And with a balcony in every room, you will never fall short on the picturesque views either!

About Zostel

We’re Asia’s largest chain of backpacking hostels, present in over 36 locations across India and Nepal. We’re basically here to help travellers like you explore the country without burning a hole in your pocket, for we believe in affordable accommodations and a rich travel experience. And hey, we’re not just about bunk beds! Best travel recommendations, everyday activities, gigs, workshops—we’re pretty social and we love it! And we’re quite sure you’ll love us too. Check us out here.

P.S. if you’re looking for luxurious stays at offbeat locations, you should also check out our 13+ ZostelX homes.

Writer, Kanak Kundlani.


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