Golden sands, glorious sunshine, green pastures and a grand history, Goa has all this and much more. No wonder tourists flock to this state from all over the world; Goa is particularly unique because plenty of tourists visit just this state exclusively without touching other parts of India. Goa is known for its Sun and fun, but that isn’t all there is to the coastal state. The culture, cuisine and traditions of this place are fascinating to experience especially because of the mix of Indian and Portuguese influences.
Size-wise, Goa is India’s smallest state; yet, it’s also one of the richest states in the country, thanks to its tourist inflow. Once a hippie paradise, Goa has moved on to become a destination for travelers for different expectations. Whether you want a fun-filled party resort, a secluded honeymoon spot, a wedding by the beach or a family destination, you’ll find that Goa fits the bill.
If you’re planning to go to Goa, here is a destination guide on the Pearl of the Orient.
Where is Goa?
Though most visitors may be forgiven for being under the impression that Goa is a separate country in Asia judging by the way people book their tickets just to Dabolim and back, the sunshine state is definitely a part of India and you could reach Goa by booking your tickets to Mumbai and traveling from there by road. The state lies in India’s west coast and has for its neighbors, Maharashtra in the North and Karnataka in the East and South. Of course, to its West lies the splendid Arabian Sea that gives Goa its grand coastline.
How to reach?
Though there are few direct flights to Goa’s Dabolim airport, there are plenty connecting flights that make a stop at Mumbai, Delhi or other major cities. Goa is also connected by train to major cities in India and by bus to Mumbai and Pune.
When to go?
Travel guides claim that November to February would be the best time to visit Goa since June to September marks the rainy season here and April to June will be very hot as it is summer season here. But, there’s a certain charm to bask by the coast when the skies pour with rain; the state looks washed out and fresh and there’s not much water-logging that can hamper your holidays. This is also when you can get the best offers from resorts and hotels here as well as excellent personalized service as you enjoy the place to yourself without the maddening crowds and parties that take place in the year-end.
Yet, if you want to enjoy Goa to the fullest and experience its party-crazy lifestyle, it’s best to follow the guide books and be here for Christmas or New Year’s Eve when it will be at its costliest and silliest high.
With tourism as one of its main industries, there’s no dearth of places to stay in Goa; from furnished mud-shacks, low-rent inns and B&B’s to luxury villas and high-end hotels that offer panoramic views on gold platter, every kind of accommodation is available in Goa.
Selecting your location depends on what kind of holiday you are looking for. If you want to be in the middle of everything with parties every night, opt for resorts around Calangute. However, hotels here may be quite expensive because of the location; the entire stretch of almost uninterrupted beaches in this line with Baga, Candolim and Fort Aguada has plenty of accommodation options, some right on the beach and these are more affordable than the touristy ones at Calangute.
Among the luxury resorts, Taj Exotica, The Leela, the Taj at Fort Aguada and Marriot Resort are very popular with travelers. For a complete, in-depth experience, opt for a homestay like Maggie’s Haven or Capella. A little away from the hustle-bustle of the main tourist area, you can find small gems like The Village Gueshouse in Canacona and Jasminn in Betalbatim that fit the budget of even the most cost-conscious travelers.
A premium is charged in most places during peak season (end of December till first week of January) and though the fun atmosphere at this time is unbeatable, it’s also overhyped and overpriced.
What to eat?
The confluence of its coastal location with Portuguese occupation has resulted in a unique cuisine that is not replicated anywhere else. Rice, coconuts and fish are staples and can be found everywhere; typical Goan dishes have a strong Portuguese influence laced by Indian flavoring. The result of this is distinctive dishes like the Vindaloo, sorpotel, mutton xacuti, ambot-tik, baboti and balchao.
Restaurants are exceptionally hospitable in Goa; you can expect to place special requests on how you want your food and be served with a smile. However, if you’re in a hurry, dining out at Goa can be especially trying because people here are proud of their laidback attitude and don’t recognize speed as a needed quality.
Goa is famous for its feni, a fermented drink made with the cashew fruit; this can be quite fiery unless it’s double distilled. While drinking is seen as something close to crime in the rest of India, Goa is much more tolerant towards alcohol and doesn’t treat it as a stigma.
While every kind of cuisine can be found in the up-market hotels here, beach shacks that offer simple coastal food come most recommended. Tiger prawns, tuna salads, fish tikka and of course, fish curry are just a few dishes on the menu. Candolim is the place to head to for this beach shack experience; places like Alex, Bayview and Stringfellows are known for their cleanliness and excellent taste.
What to Do and See?
Yes, Goa’s got miles and miles of busy as well as undiscovered beaches and this is why most people visit the state. But beaches aren’t all there is to Goa; there are forests, wildlife sanctuaries, waterfalls, museums, quaint villages and plenty of historic churches and monuments. Let’s explore the sights of the state first before wading into the beaches.
Old Goa – You wouldn’t believe it when you see the ruins that make the old Goa of today, but this was one of the richest and most prosperous cities in Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Under Portuguese occupation, trade flourished and this city was compared to Amsterdam for its wealth and business. Sadly, a spate of medical epidemics forced people to desert this place on move over to Panaji. Now a UNESCO Heritage site, this place houses some of India’s most revered churches like the St Catherine’s Cathedral and Basilica of Bom Jesus. Don’t miss the Arch of the Viceroys that was built in 1597 to mark Vasco Da Gama’s entry to India.
Panjim, as Panaji was fondly called by its Portuguese settlers is a capital city; yet nowhere will find the hurry or rush that’s attached to other capital cities in the country. With broad roads lined with trees and stately architecture, Panaji is a very pleasant place to visit. Walk through the cobbled alleys, see the colonial style architecture of the place, complete with red roofed houses and taverns and admire the Baroque style design of the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Dudhsagar Waterfalls A short excursion from Goa will take you to the “sea of milk” which is the literal translation of Dudhsagar. The second highest waterfalls in India, it takes a bit of trekking to reach the top to see the falls, but the view will make your hike definitely worth the trouble.
While the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary offers joy to bird watchers from all over the world with its diverse variety of aerial creatures preserved in mangrove forests, wildlife lovers will enjoy the Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary that’s located close to Molem. A guided tour is recommended; else it may be difficult to find your way around the unmarked trails here. With a good guide, this hidden gem in Goa could be the highlight of your travel with its leopards, gaurs, spotted deer and pythons.
Calangute Beach Once considered THE beach in Goa, the once pristine Calangute Beach is now a highly commercialized spot with huge crowds and plenty of touristy gimmicks. Still, this is a good place for souvenir shopping, eating, partying and water-sports; so it’s still worth a visit.
Anjuna Beach Its reputation as a hippie paradise still pulls visitors to Anjuna beach though the hippies who’d made the place famous have now packed up and gone. This rocky beach is great for photographs and scenic views. Visit on a Wednesday when you can get great bargains at the weekly flea market.
Agonda Beach This is the most recently discovered “undiscovered beach” in Goa. It’s quiet, romantic, secluded and scenic; the perfect place for romantic walks with a partner. Access to the sea is difficult because of the rocks; so swimming is not possible. Visit the turtle breeding centre here that protects Olive Ridley eggs.
Close to Anjuna, the Vagator Beach is a picturesque combination of sun, sea and mountain cliffs. Rust-colored cliffs blend delightfully with the turquoise blue sea to offer matchless scenery. This is the spot for year-end parties by long term campers.
Palolem and Patnem Palolem strikes a balance between the completely isolated and insanely crowded beaches of Goa. No longer a secret destination, Palolem in South Goa, is a favorite bay with its coconut tree lined beaches and monkeys. Yet, it also has its spot of calm if you want to learn yoga or get a relaxing massage done.
What To Do?
Basking in the Sun with waves lapping at your feet can never get tiring, but with so much to do in the Sunshine state, don’t be surprised if you never get time for that dreamy sun-basking you’d originally planned.
- If you love the water, there’s plenty to do at the various beaches ranging from snorkeling, diving, catamaran sailing, wakeboarding, jet skiing and parasailing. Windsurfing is yet another popular sport that’s caught the fancy of active tourists. Most resorts in Goa offer all these activities and much more.
- Yoga. The gentle sea breeze and the beautiful natural surroundings can put you in a trance quite easily. Maybe this is why Goa offers a perfect setting for yoga retreats. There are plenty here that are inspirational and affordable.
- Boat cruises. Apart from the sea, there’s the river Mandovi with its charming boat cruises that include an evening of food, drinks and fun. You could also opt for boat cruises from Candolim that take you dolphin watching or crocodile watching tours.
- Milsim, short for Military Simulation is a fun camp for adults, located in Nuvem. Warfare simulation games and paintball make group tours a lot of fun.
- Nightlife. Though the trance parties are no longer common, Goa is one the best places in India for nightlife. Tito’s at Baga Beach, Club Cubana and Nine Bar are among the most haunted by nightowls. The biggest of all parties is on New Year’s Eve at all beaches when the entire city bursts with activity and a fiery spirit.
- Arts, handicrafts, textiles, cashew nuts and semi-precious stones are some of Goa’s most popular buys. The Anjuna flea market is famous as is Mapusa’s Friday Market. There are several galleries and art stores where you can get authentic Goan and Indian works of art. If you do visit a market, make sure you bargain to at least half the price quoted.
- The Goa Carnival that takes place in March is a four-day fest of fun, food, parades, floats and merry-making. Beaches are, of course, the main venues of celebration; but the parades go on endlessly though the main roads and are cheered on by thousands of onlookers who visit Goa especially for this festival. This is India’s version of the Carnaval.
Enjoy the endless vistas of Goa, the enthusiastic spirit of the people and the coastal backdrop that has given the state most of its character. Have fun in India’s party capital.