Review: Soul & Surf Yoga Retreat, Varkala, India

I hopped off a decrepit Air India A320 at Thiruvananthapuram Airport in the south of India. This was quite the contrast to my flight in Lufthansa First to Bangalore.

Within a few minutes, I was airside, where the Soul & Surf driver greeted me. The one hour ride cost around $25. The highlight was the old fashioned Soul & Surf branded car.

When I finally arrived at the retreat, I quickly checked-in and went to have breakfast. I got in around 10am, so the room wasn’t ready for a few hours. Luckily, there were plenty of places to lounge outdoors, either on the cliff…

Or down on the beach.

Varkala beach.

There was a restaurant serving western (and occasionally Indian) food. Most items were reasonably priced and delicious.

Each morning the complimentary breakfast would start with a fresh fruit plate.

This would be followed by a choice of mains – usually eggs, yogurt, or an Indian dish. While the scorching temperatures and high humidity didn’t quite entice me to have coffee or tea, both were supplied in generous amounts.

Yogurt and muesli for breakfast.

For lunch, they offered various small bites, including tacos. YUM! When it was dinner time, they made a few different pizzas. It’s worth noting that they also had great (and cheap) alcohol-free drinks and treats available for purchase throughout the day too.

I was eventually told my room was ready. The retreat has two different buildings with different rooms.

The big building.
The small building.

Some rooms are shared, some are private and some have AC. I was in a private room without AC. Big mistake… While having a powerful ceiling fan is better than nothing, I regret not paying extra for a room with AC. Humidity and heat are not two ingredients that produce good sleep.

Room prices at Soul & Surf, India.

Another concern I had was mosquitos. To my surprise, there were relatively few and I didn’t suffer from more than a couple of bites at a time. Contrast that to my recent trip to Florida and I’m a happy camper. 😉

In any case, my room was in the small single-floor building. I was fortunate to get the only room in the building that faced the outdoor area, so my view was good.

When I opened the door my immediate reaction was “this is really cute”. The room had a cottage vacation vibe, with thoughtfully placed pops of color.

Overall, I loved my room.

The ceiling fan.

The bathroom, on the other hand, was more along the lines of what I’d expected from mildly-rural India. The shower head was installed on the wall above the drain next to the toilet. In other words, when using it, the entire bathroom became the shower.

Given the high humidity, the bathroom was never really dry since the water from the shower couldn’t evaporate.

Soul

So, now for the activities. While most of the day is reserved just for relaxing, the mornings and early evenings offer various yoga and meditation sessions. The prices are as follows:

This is the schedule:

I did yoga once a day, mostly during the evening, and meditation every other day. I didn’t snap any pictures since the setting was quite intimate. Picture this: rolling out a yoga mat on the roof of a four-story building during sunset. Views of endless palm trees and the ocean below as the ocean breeze blows through your hair. During some sessions, there was even incense. It was a heavenly way to ease into the evening. The prices are quite competitive as well, especially if you buy a package.

Surf 

Here again, I didn’t feel great about taking my camera to the beach and leaving for three hours while I learned to surf. The first two days I didn’t surf for some reason, but I finally decided to go for it on the third day. This was definitely the highlight of my visit.

Beaches in Varkala.

As someone who has never surfed in my life, I thought the instructors did a surprisingly impressive job at teaching me and the other beginners. We got up at 7am, went to the beach with our boards, and just had pure fun for three hours until breakfast. Surfing, as I realized, was also the best opportunity to socialize and make friends. It also made me feel great knowing that I was starting the day with a workout!

Varkala

The city of Varkala is quite small as far as Indian cities go. Most tourists stay by “Varkala Cliff,” where most restaurants are located. The town center itself isn’t all that exciting.

The nature in Varkala.
Cute puppies under Varkala Cliff on the beach.

One day I took a rickshaw tour with a group of surfers. This was also a highlight, and we got to see many stunning places around the area.

Our drivers took us to a vibrant market…

And a fishing village, among other places.

Bottom Line

Overall, I had a memorable first visit to India. Varkala is stunning, with plenty of things to do. Soul & Surf did a great job interacting with the local community and giving us suggestions on activities/places to eat. The room was nice and clean, though I’d strongly recommend paying a little extra for AC. The surfing and yoga were incredible and reasonably priced. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Soul & Surf if you’re looking for an affordable yoga retreat in India!

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Comments

  1. You should go to munnar and thekkady in India. There’s lots of tea plantations and wildlife

  2. Maybe they’re affordable by Europe/US standards, but both the rooms and the activities are exorbinant for India. I guess you’re paying to have your hand held, though…

  3. I know you might find it cheap, but we one can do a Varkala vacation in about 75 USD with of course, private rooms (no-AC), decent food, drinks, bike rental etc.

    This used to be a really isolated holiday spot, accessible only by chopper ( hope you noticed the helipad at the entrance) and now its finally picking up. Good for traveler and the economy. Glad you enjoyed!

  4. £116 per night for an air con beach room in India is considered good value?! Isnt India one of the cheapest countries in the world?!

  5. Daniel – great report and really enjoyed reading about your activities.

    This is very refreshing to read a travel review that actually involves local activities, interaction with local people, etc. – as opposed to reading a review of a flight, a reserved transportation to a hotel, a meal at the hotel or in the hotel room, and then a reserved transportation back to the airport – all without stepping foot outside the airport or hotel!!

  6. Nice review. Though those prices seem very steep. You can get better for far less…especially in a place like Thiruvananthapuram.

  7. @Ben – not really. Maintaining a standard of living and lifestyle similar to one in the US for a middle class family in the big Indian cities is more difficult. Real-estate, vehicle costs, fuel costs, electricity/water, etc. are more expensive than almost every location where I have lived within the US. The cost of food and produce are increasing exorbitantly daily as well (Costco in the US is cheaper to shop at). This is based on living in New Delhi (Gurgaon) between 2009 and 2012 and having a wife of Indian origin. In addition, sales and income taxes are high.

    Yes – you can seek cheaper versions but it’s not always at your doorstep if you live in a middle-to-upper class society.

    @ Daniel – definitely visit Rajasthan in the winter. It’s my favorite state in India.

  8. wow! I am living in Bangalore. Welcome to India. It’s great to see different thing from this blog. Very exciting.

  9. Southern India is so gorgeous. I tell poeopke it looks like the South Pacific and they can’t believe it. Most tourists stay up north in the Golden Triangle or venture down to Mumbai, but few experience Kerala, which is a real shame.

    This just makes me crave to return again. So glad I opted for the 10 year visa.

  10. Wtf dude you got completely ripped off oh my f*cking god as an Indian i am so shocked to see the prices you mentioned and on top of that to state that they are “affordable” oh my god my blood pressure is rising!

  11. @Donald @Kent – are they still issuing the 10 year visas for all OECD citizens? I am planning spending 6 months in India in 2018, and plan like to return regularly after that. Last time I visited was in 2015 and was not offered the choice of 10 years.

  12. Oh c’mon, Daniel, it’s South India! Coffee and tea in the heat is part of the experience! 🙂

    I should point out that those prices, especially the activities, are actually quite high by Indian standards. You can get an hour long Ayurvedic massage in Kerala for $5-10. Even the Grand Hyatt in Goa is only about $160 a night. If you’re planning on visiting India again, I’d suggest either going through a local Indian travel agent, or just booking direct, rather than through a foreign travel agency. You’ll get a much better price.

    @Kent Miller – New Delhi and Mumbai aren’t particularly representative of the rest of the country, especially South India. I lived in Hyderabad about the same time you lived in Delhi, and enjoyed buying a bag of tomatoes for about 10 cents. A place like Varkala is likely even cheaper.

  13. Haha how funny to be reading this today…I was just in Varkala last weekend!! (I am studying abroad in Kochi)
    And yes, as everyone else has already pointed out, that place is extremely overpriced. I stayed at lovely, lovely little hotel called Keratheeram on the south end of the cliffs and for two of us it was 800 rupees a night. If I am reading that menu correctly – (it is listed in euros? Why?) a room for two people (WITHOUT A/C!!) is around 5000 rupees/night. That’s just crazy. $25 usd for an hour ride is also ridiculous. You could have taken an uber for about 500 rupees (~$8usd) And an Ayurvedic massage is usually around 1000-1500 rupees. Anyway you didn’t feel ripped off and you enjoyed your stay which is all that matters…I absolutely loved varkala, will definitely be going back 🙂

  14. Thought I was on Hippie-in-Heels’ blog, imagine my surprise when I clicked through to onemileatatime!

    More on south India, please!

  15. @MeanMeosh – Completely agree with you. It depends on what the expectations are. Just like any resort-type accommodation, prices will be high, especially when frequented by non-locals. My impression of India was that one can get anything if they can afford it, just like any other destination (i.e. ultra-high luxury properties like Oberois to the wonderful and affordable home-stays with a local family). My only point is that things are not as cheap as one may expect.

    On a different note, glad to see a post here on South India. Kerala is beautiful and easy to navigate through.

  16. The place looks far too expensive based on the photos. But then, when you have a place pricing in pounds you know they are pricing it for the Brit tourist!

  17. Great photos and writeup! India is great. I would love to see more subcontinent content on OMAAT.

    However, as others have said, those prices are very expensive. Especially in low season.

  18. Daniel! I was so excited to see this report. I spent a week at Soul & Surf’s outpost in Sri Lanka and it was certainly the best vacation of my long life. I have to say that, based on your photos, the Sri Lanka S&S is more upscale than the India property.

  19. @Lauren don’t you know the difference between the Euro € and the Pound £ ??????!!! Good grief.

  20. @Lauren – Daniel has got dual citizenship, Swedish and American (after his dad, the US one). Maybe he was using his european passport for this trip. This may explain the menu in Euros 😉

    Anyway. Disregarding the prices, I really enjoyed the review.

    Don’t take me wrong, I still love reading Lucky’s reviews, updates… But also find it refreshing to read other bloggers/contributors travel experiences, with their different travel goals (Travis and his family, Daniel the always young guy, Tiffany-the lady on here, etc.)

  21. Wow, what an awesome review, I am now considering going here. Seems like a nice relaxing retreat & very reasonably priced. Thanks Lucky!!! 🙂

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