When it comes to beach breaks in India, Goa seems to get all the attention, but down the coast, the state of Kerala has some stunning coastline. Kerala’s beach highlight is the clifftop idyll of Varkala. If you have a few days around the area and are wondering what to do in Varkala then this blog post is for you. Try out these 16 things to do in Varkala and we are sure you’ll have a great time.
Why Visit Varkala?
India is an amazing place to travel to. In fact, it is very possibly our favourite place in the world… but it can be seriously hard work. Staying constantly alert, forgoing animal proteins and wearing long trousers at 32°C can be exhausting.
Visiting Varkala gives you a little breathing room. All the sights are within easy walking distance, along pedestrian paths so there is no traffic to dodge. The sea breeze atop the towering red cliffs keeps the temperature at a pleasant warm rather than a scorching hot. Food is forgiving on the tummy and there are even a couple of fun bars to party at if you fancy a “drink drink”. Finally, if you want to get your pins out around the beach, you can.
16 Best Things to Do in Varkala
Places to Visit in Varkala
Janardhana Swami Temple
The Janardhana Swami Temple is the 2000-year-old, brightly coloured house of worship dedicated to Lord Visnu in the village of Varkala. (In Kerala, Vishnu is referred to by the name of Janardhara). Although you won’t be allowed into the temple itself unless you are Hindu, you can have a nosy by walking the path around the edge. An especially good time to visit is when devotees bathe in the Janardanaswamy temple pond after prayers which happen four times a day. It is closed between 12:00 – 17:00. To reach the temple, you can walk up the stairs from the crossroads in the village or take the steep path from the beach.
Feel the Sand Between Your Toes
Walk north along Varkala Cliff and the path leads to a rough and ready beach called Odayam Beach. It may look a little dirty but it is just black sand that has washed down from Kappil beach some 7km up the coast. The vibe here is even more laid back than Varkala Beach so lay down your blanket, make sure you have a bottle of water and relax.
Guesthouses and travel agent throughout town offer tours to this lush stretch of coastal backwaters. After a short drive, guests transfer into a small boat before being taken on an adventure past fishermen and through local houses. As you travel, keep an eye out for the beautiful birdlife. If Varkala is your only stop in Kerala, this is a great way to see the backwaters in a hurry.
Varkala Cultural Center
Kathakali is a form of dance theatre found in Kerala and South India. It exists in the universe of classical Indian dance, but is unique in its use of costume and makeup. It can take the performers hours to get ready, including two whole hours to do their make up! Mind you, it is important to highlight their features because the performers can do a whole dance section just with their EYES! Every gesture has meaning and helps tell the story…if you know the language. In high season, shows are performed every night at 18:30.
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Fun Activities in Varkala
Join Khan’s Cooking Class
Running for years now, these casual cooking classes are a wonderful way to while away an afternoon, ending it with some very delicious food. Depending on your lesson, you may accompany the teacher to the market to pick up fresh ingredients, ready for later. During Khan’s Cooking Class, you will make some traditional Keralan dishes, probably including a pleasing amount of coconut oil.
We took this Khan’s Cooking Class back in 2013 but if you want to see how things have changed, check out their Instagram.
Try Surfing With Soul & Surf
Soul & Surf have branches across several countries and Varkala is a natural home for one of them. Every morning, instructors take their classes out to find the best waves. Every night ends with a yoga session at sunset. They run courses for beginners to gain confidence, learn the waves and all-important safety tips. After a few days, you’ll be riding the waves like a pro!
Get Extreme with CanFly Adventures
Whether you want to explore by sea or by air, CanFly Adventures has a crazy idea for you. They began with paragliding flights from the cliff of Varkala, and they’ve offered these flights between December and March for over 12 years. Since then they have also added stand up paddle boarding and kayaking in the backwaters to their repertoire. They are all really fun guys and they take safety very seriously so you will be in good hands.
Play in the Waves
The waves of Varkala’s main beach are such fun. Towards Varkala village they lap the sand gently, making them perfect for families and non-swimmers. Closer to the northern end of the cliff, there’s a sandbar some way out to see creating a shallow area.
Swimmers wait here for the crashing waves it creates. It is such fun to dive through, be tossed around by or just float over these waves. So much fun that you might not realise how long you have been in the water. Don’t make the same mistake we did and end up pink as prawns!
Find Some Souvenirs with a Spot of Shopping
Walking along the path that runs along the top of Varkala cliff there’s plenty of shops to get lost in. From handmade necklaces to gorgeous fabrics and pottery souvenirs, there is plenty to spend a little cash on. Arriving in Varkala, I saw people in shorts and having packed long skirts and trousers for India, I was jealous. Thankfully, a shop full of bright and beautiful clothes provided me with a beautiful mirrored knee-length skirt and a pair of adorable paisley hot pink shorts.
Remember to do a little haggling but when to comes down to the last few rupees, bear in mind that they mean a lot more to the vendor than to you!
Well-being in Varkala
Rebalance with Some Yoga
If yoga is your thing, you will love the scene in Varkala. Rocking a vinyasa flow in the birthplace of Yoga, in time to the waves, while the sun sets over the glittering sea is the stuff of yogini dreams.
Yogahaus Shiranagati is the oldest residential yoga retreat in Varkala and has its own outdoor yoga studios set in verdant green gardens. Prices start at 3900INR but thy allow an extra guest sharing the same room for just 1300INR extra, so split the cost and its rather good value.
If you are after something a little more casual, Pranam Yoga Joseph offers drop-in classes every morning and afternoon so you can pop by and try it out. Classes can be taken by practitioners at any level so even if you can’t touch your toes, it is still possible to enjoy the time.
Relax with an Ayurvedic Massage
Ayurveda is a health practise developed in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda means knowledge of life in Sanskrit and it focuses on maintaining balance in the body through diet, herbal remedies and mental wellbeing. To live an ayurvedic lifestyle may be tricky on a holiday, especially if you have already had a few cocktails, but luckily for those just visiting Varkala for a few days, we can experience a taste of it with a gorgeous massage.
Unlike Swedish massage that focuses on muscle tension, ayurvedic massage takes care of your skin through the use of oils or honey and focuses on energy points. Actually, the Sanskrit word for this kind of massage is “Sneha” which means “Love” so don’t expect the kind of neck-cracking, muscle pummeling dealt out in some other parts of Asia
Ayurvedic treatments are big business in Kerala. Many of the restaurants in Varkala offer ayurvedic specific menu options.
Things to Eat & Drink Varkala
Look no further than this traveller favourite for a great cup of caffeine to start your morning. Along with foamy cappuccino and frothy flat whites, fresh fruit juices and smoothies are available. Breakfasts start at the simple end with cornflakes or toast and end in avocado toasts or their mega muesli bowl topped with fresh fruit, oats, dried fruit, nuts, banana, honey and cream.
Try Tibetan Treats
Varkala has a population of Tibetans that have settled here in the South of India and giving the Varkalan food scene an interesting twist. Tibetan Kitchen and Little Tibet serve heavier northern style dishes with plenty of meat and flavours quite unlike those of traditional Keralan fare. Try a plate of momos, the steamed dumplings full of chicken and gently spiced.
Indulge in Some Icy Drinks
Outside of five-star hotels in India, skipping the ice and tap water is rule number one for avoiding Delhi Belly. However, Varkala leads the way by using filtered water for all of its ice. This means you can enjoy iced coffees, truly refreshing mixed drinks and ice cubes in your pop. It is crazy that this seems like a luxury…but it really does.
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Many restaurants in Varkala have a table full of fresh seafood ready to be turned into delicious dinners. The earlier you go for dinner, the fresher it’ll be so don’t choose this as a last-minute option.
Choose your fish of choice and they will pop some dry rub on it and grill It to perfection, serving it with a side dish of rice or chips. One of the best meals we have was a red fish (maybe a snapper) and a few prawns demolished by hand as we watched the sun go down. It was an hour of eating and only cost us 1000INR.
Chill Out at Cafe Del Mar
Everybody that passes through Varkala will end up at Cafe del Mar. Commanding a long strip of the clifftop, the low chairs and tables create a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself to long dinners as the sun sets. The menu is a mix of Indian, seafood and Italian with a few Chinese dishes thrown in for good measure. We ate here twice during our trip and the seafood pizza was so good, I had it twice!
Final Thoughts on These 16 Things to do in Varkala
Varkala really is the unsung hero of India’s Western coast. We were kept here for five days by a petrol strike. At first, we were sad to cancel other plans in the area but quickly fell in love with Varkala’s charms. After exploring the myriad of activities (and a day of serious relaxation at the beach) we haven’t stopped singing its praises ever since. We hope you enjoy your stay!