Your Complete Guide To Varkala, The Southern Varanasi

From its history to major attractions and a few must-visit spots, find out all you need to know before visiting Varkala
A view of the Odayam Beach, Varkala, Kerala
A view of the Odayam Beach, Varkala, KeralaShutterstock

Situated on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram along the breathtaking coastline of Kerala, Varkala is an enchanting hamlet and a destination that effortlessly conflates history, spirituality and natural beauty. From its pristine beaches to its ancient cliffs and lively local culture, Varkala offers visitors a distinct and unforgettable experience. Be it the 2000-year-old Vishnu Temple and the Ahsramam, Sivagiri Mutt or the Papanasam Beach or the 2000-year-old shrine at the Janardhanaswamy Temple, Varkala is dotted with ancient charms and natural beauty attracting explorers from around the world. Let's delve into this delightful town in detail, exploring its history, geography, attractions, activities, and much more.

History And Geography

A view of the Varkala Beach
A view of the Varkala BeachShutterstock

Varkala has a rich historical legacy dating back to ancient times. According to Hindu mythology, the great sage Narada revealed the sanctity of Varkala to his disciples. He advised pilgrims to pray for redemption at Papanasam, which means "redemption from sins." Another legend tells of a Pandyan King whom Lord Brahma told to build a temple at this place to redeem himself of his sins. The town is renowned for its Janardanaswamy Temple, which is said to be over 2,000 years old and holds significant religious importance.

The coastal city is located about 50 kilometres northwest of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. It is situated atop beautiful red cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea, offering breathtaking panoramic views. Varkala is also known for sedimentary rocks from the Cenozoic age, which are popular in literature as the Warkalli formation.

Places To Visit

Varkala Beach

The Papanasam Beach shoreline
The Papanasam Beach shorelineShutterstock

Papanasam Beach, also known as Varkala Beach, is ten kilometres from Varkala. It is famous for its natural spring with medicinal and curative properties. A dip in the holy waters at this beach is believed to cleanse the body of impurities and the soul of sins, hence the name 'Papanasam Beach'. The beach is a major attraction with its golden sands and crystal-clear waters. Additionally, the cliff-top walkway offers stunning vistas of the coastline, making it a perfect spot to catch a mesmerising sunset.

Janardanaswamy Temple

God Vishnu or Janardana Swami with his consorts Sri Devi and Bhu Devi at the temple
God Vishnu or Janardana Swami with his consorts Sri Devi and Bhu Devi at the templeShutterstock

The Janardhanaswamy Temple is an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It features Kerala’s traditional architectural style and is an important pilgrimage site. The temple, over two thousand years old, is situated on cliffs overlooking the beach, and a peaceful pond is nearby. The Sivagiri Mutt, founded by the religious reformer and philosopher Sree Narayana Guru (1856–1928), is also close by. The main shrine of Lord Janardhana (Vishnu) has four arms in which are placed shanghu (the holy conch shell), chakra (wheel), gada (mace), and kumbham (pot). The temple has many attractive features, including a circular sanctum sanctorum surmounted by a conical dome of copper sheets.

Address: PPJ5+QX6, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Timings: 5 am to 12 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm

Sivagiri Mutt

A view of the Sivagiri Mutt
A view of the Sivagiri MuttShutterstock

Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala is an ashram and pilgrimage centre founded by Sree Narayana Guru. It serves as the headquarters of the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham and is known for its tranquil atmosphere, making it suitable for meditation. The Mutt is wheelchair accessible and hosts celebrations for Guru's birthday and Samadhi day in August and September, including colourful processions, cultural shows, and community feasts.

Address: Sivagiri Rd, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Timings: 5 am to 12 pm and 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Anjengo Fort

An aerial view of the Anjengo Fort
An aerial view of the Anjengo FortShutterstock

The Anjengo Fort was constructed by the British East India Company (EIC) in 1695 in Varkala. It served as the EIC's first permanent post on the Malabar Coast and its initial trade settlement in Kerala. Permission to build the fort was granted by the Queen of Attingal in 1690, and construction commenced in January 1696. The fort, made of concrete and laterite, is surrounded by vibrant fishermen's houses. Anjengo Fort is situated 12 kilometres southeast of Varkala and can be visited in conjunction with a trip to Ponnumthuruthu Island, located 6 kilometres northwest.

Address: MQ77+3QF, Anchuthengu, Kerala 695309

Timings: 9 am to 5 pm

Things to Do

Explore Ayurvedic Treatments: Pamper yourself with rejuvenating Ayurvedic massages and therapies available at various wellness centres and spas in Varkala.

Engage in Water Sports: Experience surfing, parasailing, or jet skiing at Varkala Beach. The clear waters and consistent waves make it an ideal location for water sports enthusiasts.

Stroll Along the Cliff: Take a leisurely walk along the cliff-top pathway, which is lined with cafes and shops and provides breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea.

Enjoy a Boat Ride in Kappil Lake: Embark on a scenic boat ride in the nearby Kappil Lake, surrounded by lush greenery and backwaters.

Places to Eat

Abba Restaurant: Renowned for its seafood dishes and breathtaking cliff-side location.

Address: Cliff Top Varkala Cliff, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Timings: 8 am to 11 pm

Cost: INR 600 for two

Darjeeling Café: Offers delectable European and Indian cuisine in a relaxed setting.

Address: N Cliff Rd, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Timings: 7 am to 11 pm

Cost: INR 1500 for two

Oottupura: Renowned for serving authentic Kerala meals on banana leaves, providing a unique dining experience.

Address: North Cliff, Varkala Helipad Road, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Timings: 7:30 am to 10 pm

Cost: INR 400 for two

Places To Stay

The Gateway Hotel Varkala is a luxury beachside resort that offers comfortable rooms and excellent amenities.

Address: Janardhanapuram, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Tariff: Starts from INR 9,558 per night

Clafouti Beach Resort is located near the beach and offers cosy cottages and a serene atmosphere.

Address: North Middle Cliff Near Cultural Center, opposite Kerala Bamboo House, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Tariff: Starts from INR 3,739 per night

The Boho County Varkala Cliff is a budget-friendly option with clean rooms and a friendly staff, perfect for backpackers.

Address: Varkala Cliff, Varkala, Kerala 695141

Tariff: Starts from INR 2,239 per nigh

Getting There

Air: The nearest airport to Varkala is the Trivandrum International Airport, about 57 km away.

Rail: Varkala has the Varkala-Sivagiri Railway Station which is well connected to the major cities nearby.

Road: Varkala is easily accessible by road from various parts of Kerala as well as neighbouring states. National Highway 66 passes through Varkala, connecting it to cities like Trivandrum, Kochi, and Kollam.

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