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Perched almost perilously along the edge of majestic 49ft- (15m) high red laterite cliffs, 31 miles (50km) northwest of Trivandrum, Varkala has a naturally beautiful setting that has allowed it to steadily grow into Kerala's most popular backpacker hang-out. A small strand of golden beach nuzzles Varkala's North Cliff area, where restaurants play innocuous music and shops sell elephant-stamped trousers, silver jewellery and cotton yoga-mat bags. While it's certainly on the beaten track and the sales pitch can be tiring, Varkala is still a great place to watch the days slowly turn into weeks, and it's easy to escape the crowds further north or south where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.

And despite its traveler vibe, Varkala remains essentially an important temple town: the main Papanasham Beach is a holy Hindu spot, overlooked by the ancient Janardhana Temple. About a mile east of here is busy Varkala town.

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