Varkala – a cliff-side bohemian beach town

Notes from our trip – March 2018

Our favourite kinds of holidays are beach holidays. Nothing better for us than a few days of sitting next to the sea eating good food with a view. So when it came to planning a long weekend getaway for our fourth Marriage Anniversary, Sohil in his mind was already in Goa. But the exploratory bug in Iti declared ‘Yes for a beach holiday; but not Goa. Let’s go someplace new’.

With some reading, and a lot of contemplating, we decided to land in Trivandrum and explore the beaches in south-western India – starting at Varkala followed by Kovalam, both in Kerala, and ending in Indian peninsula’s lowest point, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

Walking along Varkala beach!

We loved the entire getaway, but the bohemian town of Varkala left a special mark in our hearts. Even now we sometimes find ourselves daydreaming about sitting in a cliff-side café overlooking the glistening sea and spending time eating, drinking, talking, or just sitting still.

Getting there

There is no better excitement on a weekday than a flight planned after working hours, and the rush to get to the airport to go on a trip. We started around 8 PM from Bangalore and landed in Trivandrum around 10 in the night. The good thing was that we got a rental car (thank you Zoomcar) very quickly near the airport and off we went to Varkala.

The NH-66 highway out was really smooth and (with a small snack break in between for Soh) we sailed through for the first hour and a half. The last half hour, nearing the town, turned tricky as the roads kept getting narrower and narrower. With each dicey turn, the skeptic in Iti started questioning if it was worth it. We finally found our stay, parked the car (some more dicey turning for Soh), and quickly went out to grab a very late meal, in the only restaurant that was still serving after midnight.

By then, we had not even had a view of the sea. But straight after dinner, we went for a walk, and with each step, could hear the crashing sound of waves come closer. We finally peeked out from the narrow walking lane and onto the Varkala cliff, overlooking the still beach and dancing sea shining under the moonlight.

The Weather

Considering we went in mid-March, we were prepared, or so we thought, for hot afternoons. Sigh! The sun was still bearable but the humidity was out of whack.

We tweaked our day plans and decided to step out either early morning or early evening, which also meant we had an extended period for an afternoon siesta, which both of us were happy about!

The Stay

One of our accommodation funda which we have identified through the years is – stay reasonable and spend on experiences. There are times when the stay itself is an experience like cruising in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, but we mostly optimize our room tariff without losing out on comfort and space. Iti decides on the uniqueness and location, Soh decides on the price and accessibility.

The air-conditioned room (thankfully!), was in a quaint property which was walking distance from the cliff edge, accessible for our car (just about), and close as well as to the center of the town. 

North cliff entry, Varkala

The Food (or rather The Cafés, as Iti fondly dreams about)

Apart from the view of the sea and the unlimited sunsets (which Soh loves), the place gives a bohemian vibe – an ambling mix of a crowd to spur one’s conversation spirit, and hearty food portions with a laid-back service to spark one’s day plans.

Since the prime of Varkala is based on a cliff overlooking the beach, that is where most of the eating joints are based mixed in with the market and places to stay. We wanted to explore a variety of places – for their food, for their ambience, or for their uniqueness – and every search threw up an endless list. The cliff stretch is one for wandering around and exploring, and a lot of times we did just that.

We did find that TripAdvisor reviews were pretty close to our own experiences, but the places that really stood out for us were – Darjeeling Café, a simple yet elegant spot to spend an evening, Coffee Temple, a leafy terrace restaurant at the southern end of the North Cliff trail for breakfast, and Café Italiano, one of the best sunset spots (on a deck) with mouth-watering food.

The Activities 

Our Surfing experience

Apart from the off-beat boho feel of the town, Varkala also has a soaring scene of Surfing.

When we read about the possibility to learn (experience?) surfing in Varkala, we decided to take the plunge. We explored around in the town and spoke to a couple of agencies before finally booking with Drifters Surf Club.

We were picked up in a tuk-tuk at 7 in the morning went on a half-hour journey to a nearby beach (Kappil). The beach itself was secluded apart from a few fishing boats and the water was shimmering and inviting at the same time.

Our lessons began with the board on the sand – a combination of basic handling and balancing. After learning simple yet effective techniques for 20 minutes, we went into the sea.

That’s when it hit us (in Soh’s case literally with the board)! Surfing is hard! 

We had obviously not assumed that it would be as straightforward as standing on the board, but the sheer energy and balance it takes even for the basic waves was tough. Both of us are reasonably fit and have an active lifestyle, and yet we struggled with exhaustion very soon.

We gave it our best shot and kept dragging back our board towards the water for multiple attempts. There were short wins but realized that being a good swimmer had nothing to do with it. And the required strength and stability on the board would have to be built. It would take us more than one lesson or one day to even become beginners. Hopefully, someday.

An adventure activity aside, Varkala is a laid back place, and some of the other things we definitely recommend are –

Watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Just pick a spot on the cliff; a café, a stay, or just on the trail, and watch (clouds permitting) the orange ball go into the endless blue. (included on Soh’s persistence)

Take a long walk on the beach. Start from North Cliff (there are downward stairs to the beach every few meters) and go southward as far as you want to. Since most of the establishments are based on the cliff, the beach is really clean. We watched a beautiful sunset, came across a temple, waved to new people, and just kept walking (left to Iti, it would have been ‘very long’).

Explore the Cliff trail. With its mix of places to eat, to shop, and to relax it has a lot to offer. We went into small alleys to find hidden cafés and a tempered aura. And the view from the vantage is spectacular.

There are a few drop-in yoga classes spread across the town with varying schedules, and we have heard good things, though we didn’t end up taking any.

And finally, just eat, eat and eat, and enjoy this bohemian beach place, cut off from the world.

———–

We spent three days in Varkala and loved it completely; the setting, the vibe, the food, the activities.

The town is a welcoming hamlet – an interweave of greenery and town structure on a cliff, giving way to a dazzling mingle of the beach and the sea beyond.

It is a place where you can take a pause and sprinkle a few experiences. We did so too before continuing our journey towards Kovalam & Kanyakumari.

Off from Varkala!

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