Varkala, a magically peaceful beach town, is on a small strip of coastline fringed by the sparkling Papanasam Beach, which stretches out below towering red cliffs.

Over the years, as Kovalam lost some its charm to overdevelopment and a flood of hippie tourists, quiet Varkala grew modestly. It’s now considered one of Kerala’s best beach destinations—one unmarred by the excessive bustle that haunts Kovalam at least some of the year. The relatively small number of hotels and the palm-thatched eateries that have sprung up along the beach and the Cliff (as it’s known) haven’t taken anything away from the rustic delightfulness of the place. There’s a simple, laid-back air about Varkala—you can enjoy sun and sand and not be deprived of the liveliness of a seaside resort. Adding color and a festive feel are the many Hindu pilgrims who come to see Varkala town’s ancient Sree Janardana Swamy temple. And an amble to the Cliff makes an interesting sundown excursion, as much for the people-watching as for finding out what’s cooking at the stalls that are set up there.

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