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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!