The tourist attractions include: The Papanasam Beach, The Janardhana Swami Temple, Sivagiri Mutt, Anjengo Fort, Yoga, Ayurveda & Massage centers. If you want a cheap holiday, Varkala is the place to be in. During the off season, the area is mellow and relaxed and hotel rates drop to a couple of hundred rupees. In November, the tourist season picks up and prices soar. The season continues till March-April. Varkala is also considered a pilgrimage center for the Hindus.
The Papanasam beach at Varkala is quiet, clean and secluded unlike the Kovalam international beach. The Beach at Varkala grew into prominence and caught the attention of tourists only recently. A long sandy beach, towering red literate cliffs and soothing mineral springs put Varkala in the not-to-miss category.
Today, many tourists prefer Varkala to Kovalam, the internationally renowned beach. Varkala is less crowded with less number of shops, beach sellers and still lesser amount of commercialization.
The raw and unused stretch of beach is a loner’s delight where one could swim, play cricket or volley ball and even manage to practice yoga. If you are lucky, you also get sight of a naughty dolphin.
Papanasam is a perfect place to watch the sunset or relax gazing at the horizon. The area is covered with coconut palms and small restaurants that mushroom during the season. The 500-metre stretch is right below a cliff.
Papanasam is important for Hindus in another way too. It is in the Papanasom Sea that many Hindus come to drain the mortal remains of their dead relatives. Consigning the mortal remains of the dead relatives in the waters of a pilgrim center is considered a sacred act by the Hindus.
Janardhanaswamy Temple stands on the cliffs overlooking the beach, a short distance away. The Sivagiri Mutt, founded by the great Hindu reformer and Philosopher Sree Narayana Guru (1856 - 1928) is near to Varkala. It has a trace of 2000 yearThe Samadhi (the final resting place) of the Guru here attracts thousands of devotees every year during the Sivagiri Pilgrimage days from 30th December to 1st January.
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 center. 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.
Another major landmark in Varkala is the Sivagiri Mutt, established by the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. The hill-top mausoleum of Sree Narayana Guru is one of the most famous monuments in Kerala. The adjacent hills house the East-West University of Brahmavidya and Sree Narayana Gurukulam.
Sivagiri is the headquarters of the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham Trust.This mutt is situated at an elevation, 3 km. east of the Janardhana temple. The ashram is devoted to Sree Narayana Guru (1855-1928), whose followers are the Ezhavas.
Sree Narayana Guru propagated the ideology: "one caste, one religion and one god", in a society torn by the taboos of caste system.
There are numerous centers for yoga and massage. Most of these centers are seasonal and of varying quality; most of the resorts in Varkala do provide these services. One-week to one-month programs are available at some of the resorts. The swamis of the Sivagiri Mutt do take meditation classes. There is also a nature cure center near the beach.
Near to varkala is the site of the Dutch East India Company’s main garrison, Anjengo Fort. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the fort protected their powerful position in the state.
According to local folk, the name Anjengo owes its genesis to a small area of land with five coconut trees, which was given on lease to the English East India Company by the then Queen of Attingal for trade purposes.
This place is located at a distance of 36 kilometers from the town of Thiruvananthapuram. As of now you can find reminiscent of the old English Fort, which is now under the protection of the National Heritage Monuments.
Kappil is 6kms north of Varkala. The people traveling in trains and buses through the area can enjoy the scenic beauty of the estuary in between Edava and Kappil . It is fascinating. Vettekkada, near Kappil and Varkala is a spectacular beach.
Kappil lake gives way to the enchanting world of Kerala backwaters. This serene estuary meanders through dense coconut groves before merging into the Arabian Sea.
The bridge over the lake is quite a vantage point to view the backwater stretching white and grey to the distant blue horizon.
This beautiful Island can be reached by boat. The cruise to the the island is a memorable one. It is at a distance of 12 kilometers from the South Varkala. It takes a time of about 30 minutes boat ride from Nedunganda to reach here. The name Ponnumthuruthu means ‘Golden Island’.
There is a temple dedicated to Sivan and Parvathy called Thuruthu Kshethram, which is very famous. This temple is more than a 100 years old and the entire island is the temple property.
Varkala Tunnel, situated 41 km from Thiruvananthapuram city is a century old tunnel under one of the cliffs in Varkala. It was once used for passing boats carrying goods and people between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. The tunneling work started in 1869 and was completed in 1870. A big hole at the top of the tunnel provides plenty of light and air. Once a civil engineering marvel, now it is not used for commercial purposes.
The tale of varkala is incomplete without the great tunnel popularly known as ‘Varkala Turuthu’. The construction of the 924 ft long tunnel began in 1867 under the supervision of Divan sir. T Mahadeva Rao of Travancore. It was completed in 1880, at the time of Divan Sheshaya Sasthri. The tunnel was extensively used for ferrying of several kind of goods.
The Varkala Lighthouse is another tourist highlight in the vicinity. This light house, at a height of 130 feet is believed to have guided ships at the time of the Britishers in India. At here you get the feel of the old colonial world. The masonry canal at Anchuthengu built by the Britishers connects this location with Kollam.