Varkala is a coastal town and municipality in Thiruvananthapuram district situated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is located 50 kilometres (approx. 32 miles) north-west of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and 37 km south-west of Kollam city. Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These tertiary 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.
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. 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.
Varkala is an important place as far as Kerala Geology is concerned as it exposes sedimentary rocks belonging to the Tertiary age, popularly known in the Geological literature as the Warkalli formation. Warkalli formation along with Quilon formation represents sediments laid down in the Kerala basin that existed during the Mio-pliocene times. Quilon formation of Miocene age is made up of limestones and the type area is Padappakara near Kollam (Same as Quilon) and the Warkalli formation of Mio-pliocene age (type are is Varkala) is made up of alternating beds of sands and shales exposed along the Varkala cliffs. Thin seams of lignite in the shales of the Warkalli formation suggests good vegetation at the time of deposition of the clayey sediments.
Varkala is a well-known tourist destination. The town has excellent telecommunication facilities, an average-rated water supply system, fire station, several post offices and a police station. The town boasts of government-run modern medicine, ayurveda, and nature cure hospital in addition to over 10 private hospitals, clinics and some dental clinics. The government-run nature cure hospital is also functioning near the Papanasam cliff. The District Ayurvedic Hospital is also located in Varkala. Varkala is an important hub for neighbouring places like Attingal, Kadakkavur, Chirayinkeezhu, Kallambalam, Paravur and Kilimanoor.
- Varkala Beach: Varkala Beach or Papanasam beach is a haven for sun-bathing and swimming. It is one of the most popular tourism destination in Kerala. The evening views of the sunset are worth lingering over. The cliff and the beach houses a lot of resorts, restaurants and other shops. The cliff has a long stretch of small shops which goes on for over a kilometer. The black part of the sand on the Varkala Beach contains Thorium-oxide which is a radioactive substance. Thorium and Thorium-oxide and its isotopes are found all over Kerala and can be identified by its black colour.
- Cremations: Sections of Varkala Beach (Papanasam Beach) are used by Indians to scatter the ashes of their cremated dead relatives into the sea. Devotees believe that the strong religious properties of the water will extend to the souls of their most recently departed. Despite this burial activity, the sea is popular with swimmers both locals and foreign tourists.
- Kappil Lake: Kappil Lake is about 4 kilometers (2.5 mt) north of Varkala Town. 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. Boating is another great way to browse this tranquil waterway.
- Varkala Tunnel: Varkala Tunnel is a popular tourist highlight. It was a 924 ft long tunnel built in 1867 by Sir T.Madhava Rao the dewan of Travancore, and took 14 years to complete. Varkala Lighthouse is another tourist highlight in the vicinity.
- Ponnumthurut Island: Ponnumthurut Island is a beautiful spot you can reach by cruise boat. There is a sivaparvathy Temple on this island.
- Janardana Swami Temple
- Sarkara Devi Temple
- Kaduvayil Juma Masjid
- Kasi Yoga Anushtana Kendram
Varkala has a moderate climate, with heavy rains during June-August due to the southwest monsoon. Winter starts from December and continues till February. In summer, the temperature rises to a maximum of 35°C and 25°C in the winters. Annual average rainfall is 310 cm.