In 2012, a then 23-year-old Raffael Kably shifted base to Varkala. Tired of the never-ending pressures and pace his life as a film producer in Mumbai, he turned his life on its head seemingly on a whim. “I was surfing at the time and wanted to carry on surfing so at first it was just a way to kind of continue doing that. But gradually it became a lifestyle that I fell in love with,” Kably offers in way of explanation. He started ground up as a general manager for Soul & Surf, a wonderful surf-and-yoga retreat that’s become synonymous with the rise of surf culture in the small Kerala town, and has now assumed the position of the director. Suffice to say, he’s never looked back. And in the last six years of putting down roots, few people have had the good fortune to uncover local spots, treasures and cuisine the way he has.
A temple town tucked away safely in the rural outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, Varkala was hardly a travel-guide regular feature by a long shot. But in the past few years, its experienced a real renaissance, slowly but surely rising in the ranks of people’s Indian bucket lists. Small enough to explore over a long weekend, and leisurely enough to fall into its salty-sweet pace for longer too —especially if you’re interested in surfing — it’s got all the makings of a particularly versatile holiday.
With cliff-lined beaches, pristine waters, warm locals, surfing fishermen and so much more, it’s a place that doesn’t try too hard to replace. Its contentment in being exactly what it is — a place for sun, sand, surf, wellness and mouth-watering south Indian delicacies — dictates the kind of travellers you’ll likely find there too. So if it all sounds perfectly appealing, look no further. With Kably’s expert advice, we’ve curated for you a four-day long itinerary — complete with things to do, spots to visit, local eateries (some secret, some not), places to stay and all the in-between juicy bits that glue the best holidays together.
Start your day with a sunrise surf lesson at Soul & Surf. Hitting the waves at least once a day is a must when you’re in Varkala. It’s also a great way of getting a workout in while having crazy amounts of fun. Follow this up with some breakfast at the Soul Food Cafe. “We tend to eat breakfast together, as a group, with some of the Soul & Surf team at the table too because these social times, spinning yarns and setting the world to rights, are the cornerstone of most guests’ holidays, where plans are hatched and friendships made,” reads the cafe’s website.
If you’re not completely knocked out from all the physical activity (most people end up napping afternoons away here) head to the 2,000-year-old Janardhana Swamy Temple later in the day. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple houses a tree (that will send chills down your spine at first glance) lined with dolls. The dolls are offerings by women wanting to conceive. It makes for an interesting sight, with plenty of cultural history to boot.
Once you watch the sunrise while surfing, there’s no turning back. So, yes, your day will in all likelihood start with another surf lesson. The surf lesson will help you build an appetite for a scrumptious breakfast at Suprabhatham, which according to Kably serves the “top (most) masala dosa and chai in the world.”
If you’re lucky and the weather decides to cooperate, your adrenaline rush for the day could be facilitated by paragliding with Aurelian, who has been paragliding for 15 years and has been teaching in Varkala for over than 10 summers now.
Keep your evening relatively relaxed. Maybe pull your camera out and stroll around the tiny temple town, rent a bicycle or scooter and curl up on the beach with your favourite book or go for a dip in the ocean and watch the sunset. For dinner, drop by the Soul & Surf cafe for their barbeque or pizza night and end your day with a stroll on the beach under the stars.
No points for guessing how Kably thinks you should start your day. Yes, surf lessons it is!
Your third day in Varkala could be a combination of stand-up paddle boarding on the backwaters, getting a relaxing massage and swimming in the sea.
The flexibility and laid back afternoon will be met with an exciting evening — a scavenger hunt for Varkala’s best-kept secret. A local lady in Varkala is known to cook up a storm and invite tourists into her home for the most authentic sadhya spread you can come across. The whereabouts of this establishment can’t be disclosed as it is not a registered restaurant, but the mystery only adds to excitement which is met with beautiful food that is more than worth the effort.
The last day in Varkala is for you to revisit everything you loved doing and to dwell a little in your “the vacation is almost over” blues. However, according to Kably, what you need to have to include in your last minute checklist is — number one, visiting a Todi shop; number two, eating fish curry rice, duck curry rice and beef fry at Chimney; number three, that does not come as a surprise is go hit the waves one last time.
The Finer Details
How to get there:
By Air: The fastest way to get to Varkala is to fly down to Thiruvananthapuram and then hop onto a taxi, bus or train to Varkala, which is 36 kms away from the airport.
By Rail: Varkala also has a train station of its own that is two kilometres away from the city. The station might not have the best network of trains but does have connections to major cities in Kerala such as Thiruvananthapuram, Coimbatore, Kollam, Kochi, Bangalore and Mangalore. The most popular and convenient destinations for taking a train to Varkala are Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. Taxis and buses are easily available at the station to take you to your final destination.
By Road: Hopping onto a KSRTC bus to Varkala from Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram is another way to get to the town. There are multiple buses that leave for Varkala throughout the day from all major bus stops in both cities. There is however one downside — the buses can tend to get extremely crowded.
Where to stay:
Despite being a small town, Varkala has quite a few options when it comes to accommodation. Here is a list of Kably’s recommendations for places you can crash at depending on your budget.
I. Soul & Surf
“If you want to practice yoga, to meditate, to relax, to recharge or just to hang out with a load of like-minded folk from around the world and, of course, if you want to surf the beautiful coastlines and warm water waves of Kerala, India then that’s why we’re here,” reads Soul & Surf’s website. The Soul Food Cafe takes locally grown produce and turns it into delicious dishes you can devour. Living at Soul & Surf is an all-encompassing experience where your needs from adventure sports to therapeutic massages and open-air movie nights are more than taken care of. With services such as therapeutic massages and surf lessons, Soul & Surf is the perfect getaway for all those looking to have a relaxing long weekend.
Cost for one night: INR 4,000 per person
II. Taj Gateway
Nestled in greenery and looking over the Arabian Sea. Taj Gateway is your chance to experience luxury amidst the quiet and calm of this temple town. The hotel houses three restaurants serving various cuisines including authentic regional home-style food and offers spa facilities for all in need of some pampering.
Cost for one night: Approximately INR 6,500 + taxes (inclusive of breakfast) for a standard room.
III. Villa Jacaranda
This boutique guest house’s quaint facade and eclectic decor make for a comfortable stay that is easy on the eyes. Located on the south cliff, Villa Jacaranda is five minutes away from the main beach. The individual verandas attached to the rooms are perfect for you to lounge and catch up on some reading.
Cost for one night: Starting at INR 6,500 + taxes (inclusive of breakfast) for a standard room.
This homestay certified by the Kerala Government, Department of Tourism is two minutes from Papanasam Beach and the natural springs. “Your hosts are Rosemary and Radhakrishnan. Rosemary is an Australian living in Varkala for more than 10 years with her husband Radhakrishnan who was born and has grown up right here in Varkala,” reads the website. Also, the beach house is located right next to the Janardhana Swamy Temple. Gumnut Beach House is ideal for travellers on a budget.
Cost for one night: Starting at INR 1,000 (inclusive of taxes) for a standard room.
If you liked this article we suggest you read: