Kudle beach, Gokarna, Karnataka state, India
Where are the best India Beaches?
Goa beaches are the most famous but a bit too much on the beaten track for those seeking solitude. Still…
India’s best beaches line Goa’s coast on the central-west side of the country but there are a few good ones elsewhere.
Goa’s big three are Anjuna Beach in north Goa, hippy central for many years and still raving, albeit with more Russians than Brits these days; Palolem Beach in the south, a more restrained environment than Anjuna, quiet, clean and popular with backpackers; Arambol in the very far north and not unlike Palolem.
South of Gokarna are increasingly popular Kerala beaches, such as unspoilt Marari (near Allepey; 60 kms from Kochi, best December – April, currently one hotel), Beka Fort (no facilities) and busy Kovalam on the tip of India. These beaches are less crowded than most in Goa, but less spacious too, as well as being more difficult to reach.
Mumbai’s Juhu Beach is well known and lively but few foreigners would want to test the bacterially suspect waters, so it’s a place for walking and people watching rather than dancing and swimming.
Over on the east coast in the rough waters of the Bay of Bengal are two famous beach resorts, Orissa’s Gopalpur-on-Sea and Chennai’s Marina Beach – a fine, wide, 12 km stretch of golden sand. The seas of both beaches are reported to be dangerously polluted and swimming is forbidden.
Goa versus Kerala
There’s masses of atmosphere in Kerala, from crude fishermen’s huts in coastal forests to foreign bohemia. Kovalam resorts, like Goa’s, has moved on from backpacker retreat to package-holiday destination and with the change came souvenir touts, crowded sands and erratic accommodation.
Varkala, a Hindu pilgrimage attraction, is sleepy but fast-developing, especially the clifftop guesthouses and palm-thatch cafes.
At Samudra beach, just north of Kovalam, small resorts mix it with fishing villages.
Further north still, at Pulinkudi and Chowara, smaller family resorts offer a low-key alternative. Pozhikkara beach, for example, home to fishermen and coir makers, is a world away from headlong-holiday culture, though not suitable for swimming or stripping off.
Kovalam consists of four very different beaches. Lighthouse, the half kilometre strand at the centre, is the most popular with wide sand and relatively calm seas, though the beach touts become a pain in high season; Hawah beach in the north is the province of local fishermen; Kovalam beach is enjoyed by Indian tourists, many in saris; and little Samundra (not to be confused with the Samudra resort) is largely cut off at high tide.
North of Kovalam, Varkala is a grey-gold beach at the foot of a red-rock cliff wall, lapped by brisk currents. Wake before the yoga fans to stake your claim to a space on the best sand. With a steep drop into boisterous waters, Samudra, while pleasantly less busy, isn’t suitable for swimmers.
Kerala has a better selection of interesting beach resorts at acceptable prices than Goa.
Surya Samudra offers doubles from $110 with breakfast. It’s 12km south of Kovalam, a pristine spa hotel with incredible views and tranquil but exotic feel.
Neeleshwar Hermitage has doubles from $130 with brekky. It’s hidden in a coconut grove north of the coast, with India’s most dramatic infinity pool, and a spa specialising in modern ayurveda.
New in 2011, Vivanta has doubles from $110 with brekky and stretches from the beach across acres of of palm-studded hilltop above Kovalam.
Time your trip with care. Shallows are subject to dramatic undercurrents (rips), especially in monsoon season from April to October; Varkala, in particular, becomes unusable at this time. Visit in February if you’re keen to swim and try the Lighthouse beach at Kovalam, or go for Pulinkudi or Chowara beaches, where lifeguards are on watch.
Overall score: 8/10
Lighthouse Beach, one of several beaches in Kovalam, Kerala, at the southern tip of India.