BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Scouting Report: Varkala, India
Eleven people lucky enough to travel for a living reveal their favorite recent discoveries—places they happened upon and still can't stop thinking about. Here are their stories.
THE TRAVELER Beth Whitman, founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick, which includes a guidebook series for female travelers, a website, and tours.
THE PLACE A self-proclaimed travel addict who's visited over 30 countries, Beth Whitman spends about a quarter of the year on the road leading tours or scouting out new destinations. In 2008, while researching her second book, Wanderlust and Lipstick: For Women Traveling to India, Whitman happened upon the seaside town of Varkala, located at India's southwestern tip in the state of Kerala.
"I discovered Varkala the way any traveler should discover a new place," says Whitman. Upon landing late at a nearby airport, she overheard some backpackers talking about Varkala and followed her instincts. "The five of us piled into a taxi for the hour drive," she recalls. "When I got there it was dark, so it wasn't until the next day that I saw the magic of this place."
After a night at the Preeth Beach Resort, Whitman awoke to a breathtaking scene: palm trees, restaurants, and cafés perched on cinnamon-red laterite cliffs overlooking the turquoise-colored Arabian Sea. "It was so peaceful, laid-back, and beautiful—just the kind of place I was looking for after weeks traveling the country."
The sheer cliffs provide a backdrop to Papanasam beach, a long stretch of golden sand named for the local belief that its holy waters wash away sins. In the early mornings, the beach is a spiritual haven, with yoga sessions taking place on the sand. "You can bring your mat right down and join a class for about $5," Whitman says. (Massage therapists at Olympia House offer hot oil ayurvedic treatments.) During the day, the shoreline teems with fishermen mending their nets, Hindu priests from nearby 2,000-year-old Janardana Swami Temple, and schoolchildren eager to practice their English.
At dusk, Varkala's riotous red-and-orange sunsets are best savored along the Cliff Walk, lined with crafts shops and hippie hangouts. At the cliff-side Café del Mar, you'll find fresh-off-the-boat squid, shrimp, and fish waiting to be cooked to order.
THE DETAILS It's an hour-long taxi ride from the Trivandrum airport, $22; Preeth Beach Resort, near Papanasam Cliff, preethbeachresort.com, doubles from $18, doubles with air-conditioning from $50; Olympia House, 011-91/470-329-1783, massages from $11; Café del Mar, near North Cliff, 011-91/470-260-7221, seafood dinner for two from $10.
Your turn! Have you discovered a place like these while traveling? Share your stories by posting a comment at the bottom of page 1: Binn, Switzerland.