Varkala – A travel guide to the laid back trippy hippie heaven in Kerala

We all know how “Goa is always a good idea”
And how we all go gaga over a visit to Goa.
I love Goa, no doubt about that but there’s something to this little trippy hippie beach heaven that’s unlike Goa. South Goa has its own chilled laid back vibe and hippies throng the Arambol side of Goa. Now combine both of these places, wave a magic wand, throw in some dreadlock hippie vibes and voila, you have Varkala.
Situated in the southernmost state of India, Kerala – yes known for it’s lush green Munnar hills and Allepey backwaters, this I may say, is the most laid back place in Kerala or even India.
I feel that Varkala is a mix of Gokarna and Goa, a place where hippies throng the beach area with huge dreadlocks unperturbed by the crowd that you find elsewhere in India, where everyone walks chilled and stoned and nobody really cares, where good and laid back vibes are accompanied by the beautiful views of red sandstone cliffs backing onto the beach. The reason I say this is because I’ve been to both Goa and Gokarna and totally love them both.
Haven’t been to Varkala yet? Please do so and tell me if I’m wrong.

I wouldn’t be so wrong if I told you that this place probably offers the best spots for watching the sun go down in the sea.
Add to that , countless shops, restaurants, cafes, yoga centres, massage and tattoo parlours and places to stay ranging from luxurious hotels and cottages to a backpacker’s hostel/hotel overlooking the cliff.

If you’re unsure of where to head to for a cheap holiday place with the perfect spot to enjoy sunset coupled with laid back vibes, a little or a lot of sun, sand and sea with delicious finger-licking food, Varkala is your answer.
GETTING THERE :
Varkala is about 1 hour 20 mins by taxi from Trivandrum Airport, or 3 hours from Kochi. I went by boarding an overnight train to Varkala from Chennai that took me almost 16-17 hours to reach there.
You can also get to Varkala by a 25 – minutes train journey (the fast service train) from Trivandrum train station.
The train station is around 4km from the North Helipad Cliff and will cost you anywhere between 60-100 INR to get there.
I shared a cab with a girl from England the second time I travelled alone and we both paid 40 INR each.

WHAT TO DO IN VARKALA :

The list of things you can do here is endless. But let me start with a few good ones.

1. Surfing Heaven : The waves here are dangerously big. I would advise only people who know how to swim well to venture out far into the sea, which makes it the perfect place for surfers. Surf boards are out on rent for as high as 2000 INR. Bargain as much as you can and you can bring that down to maybe 1200 INR. I asked a few people around on my second visit even though I wasn’t a tad bit close to surfing or getting into the water 😛

2. Sailing in the air over the sea : For the adventurous souls Paragliding is another thing you can do here. Imagine taking off from one of the edges of the high cliffs towards the sea and sailing high in the air over the Arabian Sea. I think it’s seasonal and according to the weather since there was no paragliding activity when I was there.

3. Mouthwatering delights – Perfect place for the foodie in you : If you are someone like me – a total foodie, look no further and feed those hunger pangs with some of the most delicious finger-licking goods that the country can offer. They are pretty cheap too.

  •  Best places to eat :  For breakfast, make sure you head to Coffee Temples straight away. It’s just next to the north helipad cliff. I promise you, you’ll have your best breakfast there. They have free Wifi too yay!! For lunch, try out a few of these places Trattorias, Clafouti, Cafe Del Mar, Tibetan Kitchen (The last one here has plug points in the front tables with a sea view in front. Grab the front rows) – they’re all good and may I ask you to try this one for dinner – Darjeeling Cafe? Why this one for dinner? Because out of all the places that I ate at, I loved this the most. A little walk from the north helipad, maybe a 10-15 minutes walk along the cliff passing shops and cafes. The vibe there at night is pretty cool
  • What to eat or drink : Try the fish curry and lemon rice served in banana leaf at Darjeeling Cafe. I absolutely loved it. Also try the cheese momos and the common non veg ones at Tibetan Kitchen or eat anything really! The food here is heavenly. Alcohol is not allowed in these restaurants but don’t worry, they serve you in stone high mugs that resemble some sort of goblet in some places or wrapped in newspapers in others. I guess they bribe the Police there since alcohol is banned in Kerala.

4. Tattoo and massage parlours galore You can also get tattooed here for a cheaper price than elsewhere in India. Getting a massage here is also very cheap.

5. Places to see around : 

The beach in Varkala is divided into sections –   

  • Sections of Varkala beach (Papanasam Beach) are used by Indians to scatter the ashes of their cremated dead relatives into the sea. This is the one you find closest to the helipad. (Picture above) After walking for about 20 minutes or so, you’ll come across a black colored sandy stretch of beachEdit
  • This is called the Black Beach. And a few kilometers ahead of this, as you keep walking along the cliff path from helipad, you’ll come across this beach called Edava pass the big resorts and high roads with palm trees that look like some scenery out of a beach heaven. Locals can be found fishing here and kids playing football. Take a stroll along the cliff path passing the shops and restaurants early in the morning with a friend to accompany you if you are a girl. I did this all alone when I was there but I would advise you not to if you are a girl traveling alone. I did this ritual thrice during my four days stay there and on one occassion during my return from Kappil beach, I was followed by a local man and had to speed up and almost run out of fear. Thankfully a bunch of foreigners appeared in sight and the man gave up following me.
  •  Kappil beach : If you keep walking pass Edava Beach along the coastline for about 13-15 kms in total from the helipad, you’ll come across a rocky stretch of beach that resembles somewhat like a promenade. This beach is also a popular tourist spot but it’s not as crowded. Take a friend to accompany you if you walk there like I did. Or else take an auto one way (I paid 180 INR as there was a strike that day ) and walk back to Varkala on your return if you are someone who doesn’t get tired out easily or if you love walking and taking long strolls. But take care of your safety too. It’s not like Varkala beach. I’m sure some foreign tourists do this but they do it in a bunch. Or keep some pepper spray with you. Who knows it might just come in handy. If you make it to Varkala, I see no reason why you shouldn’t see this beach. It’s beautiful. What’s more beautiful? Read below.
  • Edava-Nadayara Lake in Paravur 
    This is where the sands, the sea and the lands meet. There is a scenic stretch of road between the lake, the Arabian sea and the backwaters and this view is such an amazing one, filled with fog and mist from the sea, something you just should not miss while in Varkala. You could take a boat ride in the lake too. I saw a few people doing that. This stretch of road is such a wonderful treat to the eyes. A must see when you visit Varkala.
  • Ponnumthuruthu Island also known as Golden Island : This island is situated about 12 kms south of Varkala. You can board a country boat from Nedunganda and take a tour through the backwaters for about 30 minutes to reach Ponnumthuruthu. Tell any auto driver to take you at the boating place or better hire a two wheeler for as cheap as 300 INR per day during your stay in Varkala and drive there for an island tour in traditional looking canoes. I intended to visit this island but had a better plan so headed to Munroe Island instead.
  • Munroe Island : 
    Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
    Munroe Island

    Munroe is a tiny island/village in the middle of the sprawling area of backwaters found around the Kollam area of Kerala. It is located at the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River, in Kollam district. It could be a day trip from Varkala if you are bound by time. But if you have time in hand and if you are wondering if it’s worth to go there or rather stay there, please do away with the doubts. I assure you that you’ll have the best time of your life, amidst nature and it’s wilderness. Believe it or not, I chanced upon this island on google maps on my train journey to Varkala from Chennai and that’s how I decided to head there and stay for a night and that was one of the best travel decisions I made in my life. You know what I loved most about this place? The peace and serenity and the friendly encounters with the people in the island. It’s a quiet little island away from any city chaos.

  • Read about how I chanced upon that island here Chancing upon Munroe Island and all you need to know to plan for a stay there A traveler’s guide to God’s own hidden gem of an island- Munroe Island (Things to do) 

6. Shopping heaven :

For all avid shoppers, you will just about love all the hippie clothes – skirts, bikinis, pants, tailor made clothes (yes and they will pretty much sew you anything and in any way you want from those silks), sandals, rajasthani leather bags and shoes to name a few that you will find in shops overlooking the beach. If you are stationed there for quite some time, you could pretty much get a whole wardrobe makeover done. I ended up buying quite a few stuffs from the shops along the cliff overlooking the beach – bags and sandals to comfortable skirts and wrap-around are a few of my favorites. They may charge you more but you need to learn the art of bargaining at such places and I’m sure you’ll get stuffs for as cheap as you wish. As you walk pass all these shops, these women and men will try to sell stuffs to you and invite you to their shops doing all they can to make you buy but please don’t get annoyed. Just walk away if you aren’t interested as you know they are just trying so hard to make a living since they pay so much for the rent for their shops. I had a hard time saying no to a woman even after buying a few scarfs from her as she wanted me to buy more. All I understood was they were very poor people just trying to make a living so please be kind to them no matter how much they try to con you.

7. Make friends with a bunch of them goats and dogs : 

You’ll find friendly dogs almost everywhere on the cliff and the beach and goats further down if you walk towards Edava Beach. I made quite a few friends there in Varkala. And they were all so sweet. The dogs were so adorable. Try making friends with them.
8. Go on a grafitti or wall art painting hunt :

I saw quite a few paintings or art slapped across walls as I walked along the beach. Mind you that it could take a little bit more than just walking or strolling along the beach to find these. Also, do this if there’s a bunch of you travelling or if you are a guy. A few of them were quite interesting. I managed to take pictures of some that i saw along during my walk.

WHERE TO STAY IN VARKALA (ACCOMODATION AND PRICES) : 

Prices here are extremely cheap. Varkala is an amazing place to enjoy a vacation without burning a hole in your pocket. Accomodation is cheap throughout. I stayed at the backpacker’s hostel Vedanta Wake Up – North Helipad since I travelled solo and had booked in advance. But I believe you don’t need any pre bookings. It’s just as easy to get any single room for a price as cheap as 400-500 INR. I stayed for two nights in a double bedded ac room as an upgrade as the hostel was under maintenance when i was there and I couldn’t have been happier. The bunk beds are clean and okay for the price of 400 INR. The only problem, however, could be that the plug points or charging points were all cluttered in one corner of the room and not separately attached in each bed as in most hostels in Goa. For some other options you could go through this link here

So when are you heading to this trippy hippie heaven? I hope you can plan a trip to one of my best beach places in India soon? Hopefully, I covered most parts. Let me know if you found this post helpful or know of any other interesting things to do in this beach haven. Still need reasons to not head here? I hope not! The pictures will speak for themselves 😉
All pictures were captured on my camera.


2 thoughts on “Varkala – A travel guide to the laid back trippy hippie heaven in Kerala

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