Our 1,000 kms west-coast India travel plan continued from Kovalam in the South, slowly working our way back up north – using buses and trains – as far as Goa.
Our next destination travelling north up the coast from Kovalam was Varkala. The cliffs of Varkala are famed for their dramatic, windswept appearance and precarious shopfronts perching over the cliff edge.
Reaching the Cliffs of Varkala
The journey from Kovalam to Varkala takes almost 2 hours by taxi and cost us 1,800 rupees (€25). There is just one bus that goes there direct, leaving Kovalam at 6-15 am. Otherwise you have to change buses in Trivandrum. They say the direct bus takes 2 hours, but in practice its more likely 3 to 4 hours.
Once in Varkala, you’ ll need to travel another 7-8 km to reach the beach resorts. This will cost around 100 rupees in a rickshaw. Whilst in Varkala town make sure you visit an ATM to get cash, because there are no ATMs in the beach resorts. There are a couple of ATM machines in town, but the most reliable is the one next to the train station.
There are several fruit vendors in Varkala that are worth visiting, as well as hawkers selling watermelons on the roadside. Apart from stocking up on fruit and getting cash from the ATM, there’s little other reason to visit Varkala town. It’s just another unremarkable Indian town with little to offer foreigners.
Satta Beach Residence – Varkala
The grandly-named Satta (Lion) Beach Residence is a small gardened group of buildings towards the end of the main Varkala beach strip. There are 3 adjoined chalets and 4 wooden beach cabins, deployed in a pleasant garden setting.
We originally booked into one of their chalets, at 2,000 rupees per night including breakfast (€19). However, when a beach cabin became available on our 2nd day, we upgraded to that for an extra 200 rupees per day. All the rooms are basic, clean and tidy, with adjoining private bathrooms.
Breakfast is served either on your bungalow porch, or at one of the tables in the beautifully-maintained gardens. The Satta Beach Residence is owned and run by a pleasant young couple, and the place is very peaceful and relaxed.
Access to the nearest beach is 5 minutes via an adjoining field. These are sand beaches protected at the sides by rocks: Great for swimming and sun bathing, though you might need to improvise some kind of shade (under the local fishing boats, for example).
There are a number of places to eat close by, but they’re a little expensive You need to head further south along the beach towards the North Cliff before you find places with more reasonable prices.
North Cliffs of Varkala
The Varkala beach resorts are spread out along the coastline, gradually rising up to the heights of the North Cliff. The North Cliff is where most of the tourist restaurants, bars and shops are located.
This is perhaps an 800-meter strip, perched literally (and precariously) on one side of a rough narrow path traversing the cliff edge. There are many areas with no safety barriers, so you do need to watch your step.
It can get really windy up here.
Most of the nightlife is concentrated in the ramshackle buildings and huts perched on the top of the North cliff. Here you can find plenty of restaurants offering fresh fish of the day at reasonable prices.
Butter fish, red snapper, swordfish, barracuda, tuna, etc can be ordered for anything between 700-1,200 rupees each, depending on the size (€10-16).
Meals for 2 including curries, fresh fish, lassies and beer came to around 1,200-1,400 rupees (€16 to €20). The food quality, cooking and presentation is good – we tried several different places and didn’t have one bad meal. We’d recommend Sky Lounge and the Darjeeling Cafe.
There are a couple of shops on North Cliff where you can very handily buy and send your post cards.
Beyond the North Cliff
From the southern end of North Cliff, you can climb downs flights of stone steps to reach the white beaches below. The beach areas close to the cliff are busy with tourists. However, you can take a very pleasant walk south for several kilometers to reach large and secluded stretches of beach.
The further you walk, the further from civilization you get. There are no bars or guesthouses. After around 3 kms you reach a wide river flowing into the sea. From here, you can hire a boat to get across, and continue on the other side.
By this time it was very hot with no shade, so we decided to head back. We’d brought fruit, nuts and water with us for lunch.
On our return journey along the scorching beach, we found a half-cave in the nearby rock-face. We quickly rigged up some extra shade using our beach towels, and hunkered down inside to enjoy our makeshift meal.
In all, we had just 3 days to enjoy Varkala, and we weren’t disappointed. Good food and weather (if a little windy), safe swimming and unspoilt beaches.
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