The beaches near Kovalam are southern Kerala's main attraction—in fact, they're what brought Western tourists to the state in the first place, as the hippie scene from Goa moved down the coast. Parts of Kovalam are now overdeveloped and remain full of touts selling cheap tie-dyed clothes. There are, however, still some pleasant spots to relax within a few miles of the main beach.
Kovalam’s hippie vibe sets it apart from other more solemn beach places in Kerala —the main drag on Lighthouse Beach is fairly lively, if a bit seedy. Just a half hour from Kovalam is Kerala's capital city of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the former home of the rajas of Travancore and now home to Kerala's primary international airport. Varkala, slightly to the north of Thiruvananthapuram, has also gained tremendous popularity as a beach town. The place has a slow charm that grows on you. It’s not as action-packed as Kovalam, but its numerous thatched food stalls, an ever-increasing number of low-budget hotels, and the pilgrims the town pulls in to see the Janardhana Swamy Temple all add to a festive feeling.