My verdict on Varkala
I am a beach lover who happened to live in Mumbai, just an overnight train journey away from Goa. So naturally I keep heading to one of the many beautiful beaches of Goa every year. But even if you have found your perfect vacation spot, your heart keeps wondering what else is out there. So I jump at the mention of any new beaches nearby and if I hear good reviews about the place I am already packing my bag already.
Varkala was one of such names that I started hearing about since a few years back. I heard people ditching Kovalam and Goa for Varkala, I heard it being compared to Gokarna, I heard about its beauty and charm. And to top it all, I had this sudden realization that this could be a place which is mix of Goa and Kerala – how great would the food be there! Or how the hospitality of Kerala would find harmony with the swag of Goa. Interesting, right? That’s what I thought when I planned my Varkala trip in March this year.
So how did I find it? Honestly, underwhelming. But one can say, any place would be underwhelming when your expectation is so high. This could be so. I am not denying it. So I will let you decide for yourself. Here’s a full description of Varkala through my eyes:
Trivandrum is the nearest big city and the closest airport. Varkala is only 46 km from Trivandrum. But given the low connectivity and high flight fare to Trivandrum, we had chosen to go via Kochi. Flying to Kochi is much easier and there are taxis available for every tourist destinations from Kochi airport. We had hired a car in advance over phone and were received at the airport by the driver as soon as we arrived.
|En route to Varkala|
It was a good long five and a half hours drive from Kochi airport. We passed through the whole city first, then headed towards Alleppey, afterwards passed by a few other towns. This was not a very scenic drive given that the route goes through villages and towns. But one can still enjoy the countryside of Kerala on their way. At around 1 pm we left highway and came into small internal roads. It took another half an hour for us to finally reach the beach and the resort where we were statying.
|Cottages in our Resort (Blue Water Resort)|
|Shops & Restaurants lining the cliff|
Varkala Beach is about 4 km from the main town/village. The major charm for this beach is the cliff running by the side. The cliff would be about 200 meter high and runs for 1.5 km parallel to the white sands beach. You can stand on the cliff and see miles and miles of bright blue water ahead and the kites circling above looking for prey. It’s a great view and hence the whole cliff by now has been lined with resorts and restaurants promising this view with food or while sitting on your room balcony. The narrow path runs by the edge of the cliff and most of the resorts come on your left hand side. At some places the cliff goes wider keeping enough space on the right side of this path for a café or restaurant to stand on.
The beach itself is beautiful with white sands, mostly straight with very little curvature, surrounded on three sides by the hill and one side with water. While the beach runs for more than 3 km from south end to north end, only a part in the middle is wide enough to have proper access to water. Rest of the beach is rocky, not suitable for swimming and frequently used by fishermen boats. Varkala is still not a popular destination. And it’s not easy to reach the beach from most of the resorts (you need to climb down the cliff to get to water). Hence the beach is never overcrowded with people even during weekends.
|Varkala Beach viewed from Cliff|
Have you ever stayed in beach huts of Goa? If you haven’t, let me try to describe it for you. It’s pretty close to what you imagine when you think of a hut – small cottages made of bamboo and hay and wood, provide basic furniture, have minimal security etc. These are makeshift cottages which are easily constructed and broken down when the season gets over. However the advantage of these cottages are that they are built on the beach, just a stone’s throw away from where water hits the sand. There are of course different quality of built amongst them. The best ones are made fully of wood, which gives it a nicer look and makes for a more comfortable stay.
|A typical resort on the cliff viewed from the walkway|
The accommodation at Varkala are mostly of this standard – wooden cottages built right next to the beach with basic amenities. There are few concrete houses here and there, and luxury Taj Gateway hotel. But most of the popular hotels are basically beach huts of better quality. On the cliff, the resorts are placed by the right side of pathway congested against each other. They don’t have a proper boundary as such since they want to keep the front open for sea view. Hence the hotels, although nicely built, seems to lack any kind of privacy. And also the cliff is crowded with people most of the time. So staying in one of those resorts might not be as peaceful as you would desire. However the view is great from these places and hence most people take up stay in this area.
|Pretty but inefficient roofing of our cottage|
There are other resorts on north or south side of cliff. They are still next to the beach, but at a lower level and the beach close to these resorts are mostly rocky. We stayed at Bluewater resort towards north end. It was a beautiful property, surrounding area was quieter than the cliff and yet at a walkable distance. The wooden cottages were equipped with all required amenities. But due to the build material of the roof, the room got very hot during the day. And even putting AC or two fans could not make it pleasant enough to stay in. This could be a problem among other resorts as well since the material used for building most of these cottages look very similar. But I could be wrong.
Cafes & Restaurants…
|Cafe at Bluewater Resort|
There was no lack of cafes in Varkala. Sometime it felt too many for the amount of tourists that go there. Cafes in Varkala resemble very closely with beach shacks of Goa. Some of them are very plain with tables placed in a roofed or open area facing the sea. Some of them are made into a pretty place despite their thatched build. And once in a while you come across some place which stands out from the rest.
But the sad part is many of these places stay empty almost throughout the day due to lack of tourists. And so, even though built well, they face serious lack of maintenance - finally resembling remains of a place what used to be great once, or maybe they never were. But of course some of the good ones are always full of people and surprisingly a few really mediocre places attract very high number of tourists as well.
Here’s my feedback on the few places that I tried -
- Milky Way Restaurant – this is one of the first restaurant you will come across after reaching the cliff from northern side. We chose to have snacks there on our first evening after seeing many people seating there and also because of the view. But as soon as we sat down we realized how dirty the place was and one side was stinky as well. We had already ordered, so decided to wait for food anyways. The drinks came very soon which tasted like sugar syrup and the food we ordered never came even after waiting for an hour. Finally we paid and left without ever receiving the order.
- In Da Café – A pretty little place tucked inside a residential area a little away from the beach. The café is part of the hotel called In Da Hotel and that’s what you first see entering through the main gate. It’s barely as big as a personal house, but the rough brick wall combined with wooded windows and bamboo made décor makes it look very cute. The café is on the right side of the entrance which also was decorated with various bamboo items. They serve mostly continental food and had very limited breakfast options. But food was alright and the ambience is great.
- Marina Bay – We stopped here for a drink during midday. The place comes beyond the south end of the cliff. It sits next to the pathway facing the sea. The front side of the café is fully open welcoming sea breeze and a decent view. Inside tables were placed on the wooden floor, which itself had different levels in front and back of the cafe. Fans hanging from the high ceiling were essential in the hot weather of Varkala. The drinks were not decent and the host was courteous. But still the place was eerily empty and I couldn’t tell why no tourists were interested in this café.
- God’s Own Country Kitchen – We found this place on internet. One of the very few places in Varkala to serve Kerala style food. We stopped for lunch one day and ordered all the things we were craving. The restaurant had a first floor and you can sit and get at the uninterrupted view of sea from there. We sat there enjoying the beauty. However the food was disappointing. Fish was not fresh and the preparation for all dish seemed to be same.
- Caffe Italiano – It’s probably the prettiest café I spotted in Varkala. Unlike most cafes out there, it is built with concrete and metal and decorated with hanging bulbs, picture frames, vines and plants. There is a bar on ground floor and tables on both ground and first floor. Best part about this place are the open balconies which was the best location to enjoy sea breeze along with a sip of a drink.
|View from Milky Way Restaurant|
|Beautiful exterior of In Da Hotel|
|Inside In Da Cafe|
|Sitting on first floor of Gods Own Country Restaurant|
|Welcome to Caffe Italiano|
|Sitting on the balcony of Caffe Italiano|
Food was probably the most disappointing part about my Varkala trip. I went there expecting best of both Goa & Kerala, but ended up with very average continental style food. You will have to search heard for a place that serves authentic Kerala food and even then they are not so great. Despite being a coastal location, none of the restaurant served very good sea food. And the continental food that is available almost everywhere was also quite mediocre.
So here’s the summary – beautiful location with greenery and deep blue sea, water is not easily accessible for swimming unless you are ready to take long walks, resorts and cafes are high in number but not great in service and amenities, definitely not value for money, food is plain disappointment. So is it worth a visit? Probably yes. But would you ditch Kovalam or Goa for Varkala? Umm… I wouldn’t, would you?
|A brahminy kite flying above us|
|Sunset at the beach|
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