A tad overrated, crowded and expensive, Kovalam needed an alternative... devoid of all those paraphernalia. Varkala, about 50km north of Kovalam fit the bill.
From a touristic stand point Varkala now looks like how Kovalam looked like 20 years back, probably.
Varkala is a town with lots of village ambient still refuse to go. The area around the town is unique with its red laterite hills , paddy fields , backwaters and a beautiful coastline at the end of it all.
So, Kovalam or Varkala , which is better? It's difficult to get a quick answer. Varkala as a relatively new entrant to the tourism map compared to Kovalam has certain uniqueness. Then so is Kovalam.
If you look at from the ambient stand point, Varkala seems score better. Varkala is rural. The laid back charm hangs in the air, even during the peak season. Beaches of Kovalam tend to get crowded.
Both Kovalam and Varkala beaches are scenic with natural backdrops. Kovalam has a rocky backdrop while Varkala has the unique reddish laterite cliff overlooking the beach.
There are two major beach stretches in Kovalam separated by a rocky headland projection into the sea. The southern cove, popularly called the Lighthouse Beach is more touristy and crowded compared to the northern arch shaped beach called Hawah Beach.
In Varkala the beach scene is spread between two laterite cliffs. The Papanasham beach in the south beneath the southern cliff and a kilometers walk to the north, the Thiruvambadi Beach with the northern cliff in the backdrop.
Unlike Kovalam, the currents in the Varkala beach seems stronger. For those who venture to swim, Kovalam looks less intimidating than Varkala.
In someway Varkala seems more relaxed than Kovalam. So if you like a rustic touch to the beach vacation, Varkala is the answer.
Kovalam's tourism industry is far more developed than Varkala's. It means more choices, packages and so on. Though Varkala is not far behind, from the options stand point Kovalam is quite ahead.
Varkala has The Gateway Hotel by Taj to fill the upscale slot, Kovalam has far more upscale choices.
With the The Leela Kempinski, Taj Green Cove Resort, Turtle On The Beach, Travancore Heritage, KTDC Samudra and so on...the splurge list seems quite long for Kovalam.
On a budget front Varkala's prices are low compared to Kovalam's for comparable type of services. Those budget conscious with longer stays would quickly find a sweet spot in Varkala easier than in Kovalam. Backpackers and hipsters take note!
From the access stand point Kovalam scores better compared to Varkala. Kovalam is about 15km south of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. So airport,railway station and bus station for long distance connections are all a 30 minutes drive from Kovalam beach.
In contrast Varkala is about 60km way from the Thiruvananthapuram airport, though there is a railway station at Varkala where many express trains stop.
Conclusion : Make your choice by comparing what experience you are looking for.And also comparing the choices, budgets and access.
Kovalam is cliche beach destination. Varkala is vying. Go there before Varkala will!