Goa, the smallest state in India, is undoubtedly one of the most popular holiday destinations for travelers across the globe. Situated on the western coast of India, Goa is peppered with miles of glorious sun-kissed beaches, fringed by lush green plantations and dense tropical woodlands. The white sand beaches of South Goa are ideal to reconnect with nature while the beaches of north Goa pulsate with vibrancy and invite you to let your hair down.
A former Portuguese colony, Goa’s weaves in its fabric an interesting mix of Portuguese and Indian influences aptly reflected in its architecture, cuisine, traditions, customs, lifestyle, local dialect, and festivals. Various basilicas and churches in Old Goa also stand testimony to Portuguese sway over Goa.
The state capital Panaji reflects the charm of an Old Portuguese quarter. Situated along Mandovi River, Panaji is a riot of color with buildings bathed in soft pastels, soothing whites and blues, bright reds and earthy browns. Stroll through the eastern neighborhood of Panaji to admire the cobbled streets lined with heritage buildings and churches dating back to 1700. The old world charm of the city is perfectly complemented by an exciting range of restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, and malls.
Goa is one of the most tourist-friendly states in India and has a well deserved reputation of being an easy place to travel around. Goa was part of the hippy trail in the 1960’s and the easy going, laid back lifestyle still finds resonance in its modern day lifestyle.
Goa has also emerged as a hub of art and culture. National and international film festivals and prominent art and cultural events feature regularly in Goa’s event calendar and no matter what time of the year you visit the state, there will be an event or festival vying for your attention.
Things To See
Goa’s primary claim to fame are its exquisite golden sand beaches. However there is more to Goa than its sandy shores. This tiny state has its share of lush green woods, majestic waterfalls, and quaint coves. Wander beyond the coastline fronting the Arabian Sea and you will find the hinterland blessed with spectacular buildings, warm friendly people and a culture which is both Indian and Mediterranean.
Fort Aquada: Situated atop a hill, this fort offers unparalleled views across the Arabian Sea and Aquada Bay. Built in 1612, the Fort got its name from a freshwater spring that supplied water to the ships passing by. Watch the waves splash against the solid stone structure and feel refreshed as you are caught in the spray.
Dudhsagar Waterfalls: Dudhsagar, literally meaning ‘sea of milk’, is a magnificent waterfall that cascades almost 2,000 feet down a cliff to a rugged valley. Trek around this region and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the surroundings. You can spend an entire day enjoying a refreshing dip in the water or exploring the virginal surroundings. The Goa Tourism Development Corporation conducts regular tours to Dudhsagar from Panaji and Calangute.
Basilica of Bom Jesus: Situated in Old Goa, Basilica of Bom Jesus is dedicated to the reverence of the infant Jesus. This basilica is also known as the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. The saint’s body, which lies in a silver casket, has survived almost 500 years without ever being embalmed. Once every 10 years, it is put on display and attracts thousands of devotees from all over the world. Built from red stone by the famous Florentine sculptor Giovanni Batista, the basilica is also known for its beautiful architecture and is and definitely worth a visit.
St. Catherine’s Cathedral: Built between 1562 and 1652, this impressive white cathedral is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. The interiors of the cathedral have impressive carvings that depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. You will also find a couple of beautifully decorated chapels dedicated to St. Joseph, St. George, St. Anthony, St. Bernard, and the Holy Cross.
Fontainhas: This residential neighborhood is reminiscent of a Portuguese city. Wander through the narrow cobbled streets and you will see old mansions and houses with little colonnaded porches. The Chapel of St. Sebastian, established in late 19th century, is well worth a visit.
Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary: While Goa’s coast is dotted with miles of sandy beaches, the interiors are covered with dramatic and picturesque green foothills of the Western Ghats. Ensconced amid the lush green woodlands is the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to Sambar, Gaur and wild boar, and a host of other animals. If you are lucky, you can even spot an elephant, otherwise you can admire the pretty rose garden or discover rare species of plants at the botanical garden within the sanctuary.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary: Named after India’s renowned ornithologist, Salim Ali, this bird sanctuary is situated on the Island of Chorao near the Mandovi River. The sanctuary is known for its dense mangrove vegetation and is home to around 400 species of birds, both local and migratory. It is also inhabited by wild animals such as crocodiles, foxes and jackals. The sanctuary is open through out the year; however, it is advisable to avoid the monsoon and summer season as the weather gets really hot and humid.
Accommodation in Goa is primarily concentrated along the various beach resorts. You can take your pick from bamboo huts, secluded eco-camps, tents, low budget hotels, guesthouses, luxurious resorts and boutique hotels.
If you have a penchant for adventure then book yourself a bamboo hut at Palolem Beach or camp out at Coco Beach or Anjuna Beach. You can find a range of hotels in the popular beaches of Anjuna, Baga, Bogmalo, Calangute, Vagatore and Colva. For more high-end options, you can choose from Taj Exotica, Leela, The Lalit, and Sita in South Goa. In northern part of Goa there is Taj Fort Aquada, Taj Hermitage and Citade Goa.
The tariffs during peak season are high. Approximately 1.3 million tourists visit Goa each year; accommodations are usually booked out and so advance reservation is recommended.
Goa’s food culture is vastly distinct and unique in comparison to the other parts of the country. The Portuguese influence has played a major role in defining the Goan culinary flavors. Coconut along with garlic is extensively used in most of the Goan dishes. The staple Goan diet consists primarily of rice and fish and so it comes as no surprise that rice and fish curry is the most popular and widely available dish in this state.
Other important Goan dishes include Vindaloo, a thick curry made with meat and fish and some famous pork dishes such as Chourico red sausages, sorpotel and leitao. Balchao seafood that includes clams, lobster, mussels, crab and prawns is quite a delicacy and a favorite with most.
Besides, the traditional Goan and Indian fare, you have the option to choose from a range of popular intercontinental cuisines such as Chinese, Mexican, and Continental.
You don’t have to travel far to find your favorite cuisine or restaurant. However, we have listed some places that are really popular with both locals and tourists.
Anjuna: This popular beach, which attracts a large number of visitors, is flooded with a number of eateries and restaurants. Most of the restaurants offer good music, a cool ambience and an array of delicious delights including traditional Goan delights and intercontinental dishes. Some famous restaurants in Anjuna Beach include Martha’s Breakfast Home, Tin Tin Tibet, Jam Xconnection and Bean Me Up.
Calangute: Souza Lobo, After Eight, Gabriel’s, A Reverie and Plantation Leaf on Calangute Beach are known for tempting visitors with quite an enticing range of delicacies.
Candolim: Enjoy a variety of sumptuous delicacies at some of the most popular cafes in Candolim Beach. Stone House, Casa Sea Shell, Oriental, Amigo, Mico’s and Cuckoo Zen Garden are some of the well-known restaurants in this area, which offer a variety of international and traditional Goan delicacies.
Dona Paula: This scenic stretch has quite a few restaurants that cater to all taste buds. Sea Pebble is one such multi-cuisine restaurant that serves mouthwatering seafood and a host of other delicacies. White House Bar and Restaurant is known for Goan and seafood with the prawn curry being the specialty.
Panaji: There are plenty of restaurants serving a plethora of cuisines ranging from traditional Goan dishes to intercontinental and Indian delights. Savor a platter of delicacies that you can watch being prepared right in front of you at the restaurant After Seven. To savour North Indian cuisine, you can head to either Moti Mahal Restaurant & Bar or Delhi Darbar Restaurant & Bar.
Vagator and Baga: Both these beaches are home to some really fine dining outlets. China Town, Le Blueburd and Jolly Jolly Lester in Vagator and Fiesta, Citrus, Indian Café, Lila Café and Le Restaurant in Baga serve a host of delicacies. The Banyan Tree is specially known for offering sumptuous Goan and Portuguese dishes.
No visit to Goa can be complete without indulging in a shopping spree and buying goods at great bargains to take back to your family and friends. Goods range from wines and cashew nuts to enchanting local music and handicrafts. The charm of shopping in Goa lies in the flea markets and beach shacks that sell all kinds of products.
Flea Markets: Goa is famous for its flea markets with the Wednesday Flea Market at Anjuna Beach being the most popular. The hippies started the tradition of this particular flea market in the 1980’s and today you can find both hippies and locals jostling for space to sell their products. You can shop for jewelry, Balinese batik, electronic goods, handicrafts, paintings and much more. The Saturday Night Bazaar at Anjuna Beach and Ingo’s Saturday Night Market at Arpora are also quite famous and both locals and visitors gather here to have a good time. The ambience is quite electrifying as there is a riot of colors accompanied by good music, food and drinks. You can pick up knickknacks and souvenirs such as jewelry, handmade shoes, T-shirts, lampshades, miniature statues etc.
City Bazaars: In Panaji’s main shopping area, you can pick up handicrafts and traditional Goan items. On the other hand, markets in Margao and Vasco are ideal for buying spices and condiments. The Friday Bazaar at Mapusa is also quite popular. Here you can shop for fresh ground spices, leather goods, handicrafts, ceramics, linen and bamboo products.
Things To Do
Goa is synonymous with almost 70 km of pristine sandy beaches, with each beach having its own unique flavor. The beaches are excellent for enjoying the day soaking up the sun. If you have something more active in mind, you can indulge in various water activities such as sailing, windsurfing and jet skiing.
Anjuna Beach: If you are looking to party and socialize, then this is the beach where you’ll find the action. Hip, trendy and popular, Anjuna beach attracts a large number of youngsters and partygoers. Besides being a party hub, it also hosts a number of water sport activities such as sailing, windsurfing, and jet skiing.
Arambol: Located in the far north of the state, Arambol is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa. A short walk will lead you to a freshwater pond from where the view is absolutely divine. However, the sea here is rougher than the other beaches and only those with a spirit of adventure should try conquering the waves.
Baga Beach: Situated north of Calangute, this sandy stretch gets its name from the Baga River. This beach is much loved by the anglers and fishing is a favorite activity here.
Benaulim: This is definitely one of the most beautiful, untouched, and secluded beaches of South Goa and is ideal for seeking nature’s solitude in privacy and comfort.
Bogmalo Beach: Situated between a little lush hill on one end and the Bogmallo Beach Resort on the other, this tiny beach is ideal for water sport activities such as diving, jet skiing, windsurfing, and swimming.
Calangute Beach: Situated between Sinquerim and Baga beaches, this particular beach is quite a busy stretch and bustles with activities all day long. Good food, affordable drinks and an eclectic ambience make it a popular hangout during the peak season. Those with a penchant for water sports can try out windsurfing, sailing and water skiing in the tranquil waters. The beach is considered quite safe for swimming; however, it is advisable to swim in the designated areas where lifeguards are available.
Candolim Beach: Situated in the northern part of Goa, this mile long stretch of Candolim Beach is part of a shimmering coastline, which starts at Fort Aquada and ends at Chapora Beach. Unlike its busy and popular neighboring beaches such as Anjuna and Calangute, this particular stretch offers you a few moments of serene bliss and tranquility. Alternately, if you are tempted by the gushing waves, then do dabble with a host of water sport activities such as windsurfing, parasailing and water-skiing. As dusk approaches, opt for a boating excursion for an unobstructed view of the spectacular sunset.
Colva: Colva, in the Salcete district in South Goa, is one of the most popular beaches of South Goa. You can choose a quiet spot under the shade of a palm grove and watch the world go by or simply snooze off for a while. When hungry, grab a bite at one of the food shacks and then head off into the waters for a refreshing swim. Wind surfing and waterskiing are popular recreational activities on this beach.
Dona Paula: Regarded as one of the most popular spots in Goa. Dona Paula Beach is ideal not only for admiring the spectacular views and sunbathing but also for its varied water sport activities. The clear waters will tempt you to try any one of the adventure sports such as windsurfing, parasailing, jet skiing or a water scooter ride. Dona Paula Beach is perfect for being initiated to windsurfing as the conditions here are almost lake-like from both the wind and sea point of view.
Miramar Beach: Situated near River Mandovi, this beach is just few minutes from Panaji and Dona Paula. Miramar in Portuguese means ‘viewing the sea’ and this stretch of golden sandy shores definitely provides a spectacular view of the Arabian.
Palolem: Located in Canacona district, this serene and beautiful beach in the southernmost part of Goa is simply divine. Dotted with natural arches and towering palm groves, it is famous for its breathtaking beauty. You can also indulge in water activities such as sailing, parasailing, and jet skiing.
Sinquerim: Sinquerim Beach, northwest near the Mandovi River, is home to quite a few luxurious resorts such as Taj Holiday Village, Fort Aguada Resort, and Aguada Hermitage. This lovely beach is perfect for water sport enthusiasts as it offers a gamut of recreational activities such as windsurfing, jet skiing, bodysurfing, and parasailing.
Vagator: The exquisiteness of this beach lies in the dramatic red cliffs, lava rocks, derelict farmhouses and the swaying palm trees that lend an almost surreal beauty to this majestic shoreline. Also known as ‘Little Vagator’, it is much quieter in comparison to some of the action packed neighboring beaches. If you wish to seek a blissful moment, drop down under the canopy of a palm tree; if you crave for something more spirited, try parasailing or windsurfing.
Goa is known for its eclectic nightlife and is one of the most magnificent places in the world once the sun sets. From bars and pubs that pulsate with loud music and a cool crowd to casinos where everything seems to be at stake, Goa has it all.
Nightclubs: Anjuna Beach is famous for its various nightclubs and a rocking night scene. Some popular nightclubs include Paraiso de Anjuna, Shores Bar, Sea Breeze Bar and Franci’s Bar. Raves parties are a major attraction and at night Anjuna Beach come alive with funky music and a throbbing and pulsating ambience. Calangute Beach thrives with innumerable nightlife options such as Peter’s Bar, Sportsman Bar and Cool Cat. Tito’s at Baga needs no introduction as this place blooms with action all night long. Club Cabana in Arpora is a popular club that draws huge crowd over the weekends. Besides offering magnificent views, it features an open setting, a Jacuzzi and a pool and is an ideal place to spend an evening in the company of good music, good drinks, and good food.
Casinos: Goa is one of the few states in India that dares you to take a chance at a casino. In fact Goa is home to India’s only floating casino – the Caravela. The casinos are open till wee hours of the night and you can play a variety of games including blackjack, baccarat, roulette and craps. Other popular casinos include Treasures Casino at Majorda beach resort and Las Vegas – the Gaming Club at Leela Palace Hotel.
Goa is blessed with a temperate climate and stays pleasant and sunny for most months, that is except for the monsoon season. The monsoon season usually starts in June and lasts until the end of September. Goa gets quite hot and humid during this period and it is best to avoid visiting during this time. October to March are preferably the best months to visit Goa when it witnesses a warm and sunny climate.
By air: Situated 2.5 miles from Vasco da Gama, Goa International Airport caters to both domestic and international flights. The airport serves most of the domestic airlines as also the chartered flights from UK and other European countries. The airport offers a host of facilities including a duty free shop, snack bar, international money exchange, prepaid taxi service, free baggage trolleys etc.
By rail: The Madgaon Railway Station in South Goa connects the state with direct train services to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmadabad, Mangalore, Kochi, Kolkata, Thiruvanantapram, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. If you travel by train you will see some really beautiful scenes as it meanders in and out through innumerable tunnels.
By Road: Several private and state buses run from the nearby cities especially from Mumbai and Pune.
The best way to commute within Goa is on a motorcycle or scooter. You can hire these at reasonable prices from various travel agents. They are the best mode of transport for short distances. However rental prices vary according to season and usually the rent increases during the peak season.
In terms of public transport, there are the state run buses that ply frequently or the express buses that run between Panaji and Mapusa and Panaji and Margao. Depending on the distance, you can even hire a taxi for a full day’s sightseeing.