Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These Cenozoic sedimentary formation cliffs are a unique geological feature on the otherwise flat Kerala coast, and is known among geologists as Varkala Formation and a geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India. There are numerous water spouts and spas on the sides of these cliffs. In 2015, Ministry of Mines, Government of India and Geological Survey of India (GSI) have declared Varkala Cliff beach as a geo-heritage site.
Varkala is also famous for the 2,000-year-old Janardana Swami Temple which is an important Vaishnavaite shrine in India and is often referred to as Dakshin Kashi (Benares of the South). The temple is located close to the Papanasam beach, which is considered to have holy waters which wash away sins, and is also an important Ayurveda treatment centre. The temple has an ancient bell removed from a shipwreck, donated by the captain of the Dutch vessel which sank near Varkala without causing any casualties.
A small strand of beach nuzzles Varkala’s cliff edge, where restaurants play innocuous world music and stalls sell T-shirts, baggy trousers and silver jewellery. It’s touristy and the sales pitch can be tiring, but Varkala is still a great place to watch the days slowly turn into weeks, and it’s not hard to escape the crowds further north or south where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.