Goa Travel Guide Introduction Goa has a bit of a reputation for being a party location with ample beaches everywhere and no peace in sight. This is actually not the case at all and is a little unjust to be fair. Whilst some of the beaches can get overrun by the foreign travellers looking for their hippie beach experience or bohemian party, Goa itself is a substantial enough location to be able to find secluded beaches and isolated spots that don't have this kind of foreign influence or young Indians wanting to let loose. Therefore, with any trip to Goa it is a question of choosing the kind of holiday that you wish to have rather than letting the destination choose you. The North Goa area is quite different from the South Goa area. This is an important distinction to appreciate. For anyone who is a beach lover looking to relax on the sand, play some watersports, and party the night away at a nightclub, then the North Goa area is likely to be the best idea for them. However, travellers looking to unwind and relax who don't necessarily even require a sandy beach to do so may well find that the South Goa area is much more to their liking or indeed going into the interior of Goa to the village locations away from the beaches completely. Because of this clear distinction, it is a good idea for travellers to have a good hard think about the type of holiday that they are looking for in Goa before selecting where they wish to stay in this small state. This one decision can have a huge difference on just how enjoyable their Goa travel experience ultimately will be. Goa is a State, Not City Whilst often being mistaken for an island (there are some isolated locations within Goa that cannot be accessed from the mainland other than by water), Goa is actually a state rather than just a city. As such, it is not just one place but really a series of small towns dotted around the state with a considerable distance between each one. Because of this, if wishing to spend time in several towns, then transport will need to be arranged between them when desiring a more varied Goan experience while in the state of Goa. For people who wish to drive themselves they'll find that sign posts are not plentiful which can make finding their way around somewhat challenging. Locals are friendly enough but asking for directions can provide results that are less than precise so picking up a road map when in Goa is probably a good idea as well as allowing extra time for many wrong turns on the journey. Goa Looks Different to the Rest of India The Portuguese rule over this part of India which lasted for 451 years before control was official seeded back to the country changed the landscape of Goa completely. The architecture within Goa belies the Portuguese influence over the centuries, so the views, architecture and monuments are quite different than elsewhere in India which makes Goa a key attraction for both Indians and foreign travellers alike. The local Goan population are a mix of Roman Catholics and Hindus. Currently two thirds are Hindu with over a quarter being Christian. Many of the Catholic population have gradually moved away from Goa over the last few decades settling in Indian cities and elsewhere around the globe. There is also a small but significant Muslim settlement within Goa. Despite the mix of religions and cultures, the state hasn't been marked with any noticeable unrest with the mixed cultures seemingly blending well and living in harmony with each other. Certainly a good example for outsiders on how this can be achieved. Many Indians from other states have also travelled and settled within Goa in recent years either for work within the tourism industry or because they liked the state so much that they decided to stay on. This has added to the blend of cultures which has further altered the cultural experience when visiting. Goa Is Village Life The state of Goa is mainly one of local villages that exist normally day to day. Most Goans live in the villages and where necessary travel into cities for work before returning to their village life in the evening. As such, village life in Goa is not to be overlooked by visitors to the state who may only think of Goa as either a collection of beaches or a collection of smaller cities. This is not the case at all. Fewer visitors, cleaner surroundings and a friendly attitude is often to be found in the villages within Goa. Some villages like Assolna, Britona, Cortalim, Goa Velha, Mollem, Usgao, Reis Magos, and Shiroda are definitely worth a look. How to get to Goa Even though Goa is the smallest state within India and has a much smaller local population than other larger states, this has never discouraged tourists (both Indian and foreigner) to visit this little piece of paradise. The flow of tourists into Goa are attracted by its reputation for fun and relaxation which is bringing in a mix of younger Indians looking to throw caution to the wind and foreigners who are attracted to the bohemian beach life. Goa has its own airport (Dabolim). It can also be reached by train, and a number of different buses connecting from various cities within India. For people who live or who are travelling through Pune or Mumbia, car travel is another option which takes in the delightful scenery in the Konkan area which is passed through along the journey to Goa. Goa By plane The Dabolim airport located in Vasco da Gama is the only airport near Goa. There are a few airlines that will fly directly to Dabolim airport, but most fly internationally to Mumbai several times a day where domestic connections can be selected. There are number of domestic airlines such as JetKonnect, Jet Airways, Air India, SpiceJet and IndiGo that offer daily flights to Goa from Ahmedabad, Chennai, Jaipur, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore and Kozhikode. These offer good value and depending on the date of travel, sometimes offer attractively priced deals when either booking ahead or at the last minute. Dabolim Airport offer pre-paid taxis which make things simpler when leaving the airport. There is a yellow pre-paid taxi kiosk that can be found on the left-hand side when exiting the airport building. For international travellers, there is also a pre-paid taxi kiosk in the international arrivals area too. It is also possible to look for a bargain by flagging down a taxi that is outside the gates of the airport possibly looking to pick up a final passenger before heading home for the day. However, it is safer to book an officially registered taxi rather than trying to save a few extra rupees. For people who have opted to stay in a local Goa resort, often the resorts offer to collect guests for free from the airport arrivals area. It is a good idea to check this out before travelling and make suitable arrangements with the resort beforehand to avoid disappointment or confusion when arriving at Dabolim Airport. Goa By bus There are a number of possible bus routes which travel to Goa from major Indian cities. Mumbai and Pune are the most common bus routes to Goa, however, Southern bus routes from Bangalore and other southern cities are collectively picking up more travellers each year. There are convenient overnight buses from Mumbai to Goa which are a good alternative to either flying or taking the train. It is necessary to book well in advance during busy holiday seasons if travelling by bus. State-run bus services tend to be operated on older buses. Often the prices are lower but are more prone to breakdowns on the side of the road. State-run buses from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are more recommended than those originating from Goa via the Kadamba Transport Corporation. Newer buses like ones using modern Volvo bus transportation are usually an improvement to look for to get a better experience on the journey and arrive closer to the official arrival time. Booking in Panjim near the Kadamba inter-state terminal is ideal. Tickets on the Konkan Railway can also be picked up here. There are often long queues during the holiday season, so bring a book to read. Goa By train The Indian Railways hooks up with Goa via train services from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kochi, Mangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Thiruvanantapuram. The train destination on many lines is often Madgaon which is positioned in South Goa nowhere near the beach locations. However, there is also the option to travel to Thivim in North Goa which is a better option. Goa also has a connection to Pune which is accessible using the Belgaum Miraj line. To access the Northern part of Goa and the popular beaches, look for a train line that accesses the Thivim railway station as this is quite local. However, if coming by train and having booked a hotel already, check with the staff to confirm which is the closest railway station to their hotel as it may not be the Thivim railway station. Trains can be the most economical way to travel especially for longer journeys. For travellers with a higher budget then there are air conditioned coaches with sleeper options. These are far more comfy for long journeys and tend to be quieter too. Each sleeper comes with a bunk for each traveller, some laundered sheets, a blanket for cold nights and a pillow to rest their weary head. Hand towels are also usually available when requested. Security for possessions while sleeping is likely to be a little better as well. Goa by ferry There used to be a ferry service from Mumbai to Goa but this was discontinued. Goa by road To travel to Goa, domestic tourists have the following National Highway road Numbers which is linked to the state: 66, 566, 4A, 366 and 768. Moreover, Goa covers 232KM of state highway, 815KM of district highway and 224KM of national highway. Goa Distance guide As a distance guide, here are some journey distances from four popular locations to Goa: Goa to Bangalore 592 km Goa to Mangalore 360 km Goa to Mumbai 608 km Goa to Pune 485 km Things to do in Goa What you want to do within Goa largely depends on your appetite for travel. The state may be small but there are many towns scattered within North Goa and South Goa, plus numerous little villages that could be visited to richen the experience of a trip to this state. However, travel within Goa itself is a bumpy, slow experience in the heat. For this reason, some research and planning is a good idea before setting off travelling in order to have created a useful travel itinerary for the Goan adventure! Goa Beach Life Goa is famed for its beaches despite being them being mostly located only in the north of the state. There are over 70 kilometres of beaches along the coastline with plenty of interesting choices. From the Arambol beach in the northern tip of Goa which has a bohemian feel to it which attracts a mix of foreign and Indian tourists to the Dona Paula beach near Panaji where two Goan rivers meet the Arabian sea, the traveller is spoilt for choice. Visit a beach you do not like? No problem. Just try another one instead. Arambol beach is a beautiful spot that has a substantial beach market for shopping, and beach-based sports like parasailing and paragliding to keep the more energetic, not scared of heights tourists busy in the air. There are over 100 places to eat and the area has become more tourist-oriented of late but is still worth a visit to see. The Anjuna beach, which is situated close to the Chapora Fort which makes it a good location to visit both attractions, is a hippie hangout for many travellers. The Albuquerque Mansion with its octagonal architecture is quite noticeable here and good to see. There are a couple of Saturday night bazaars and a mid-week flea market too which ensure visitors stick around for a few days to take a look at these markets while there. In the southern tip, Palolem beach is a more expensive alternative. It has become busier, especially in peak season, but the higher cost keeps the riff-raff away and it remains less busy than the more affordable beach locations in Goa. Beyond these three popular choices, there are numerous other beaches scattered along the coast. The Panem beach is more suited to beach lovers who like a quieter bit of sun bathing. It is situated near Canacona Taluka. For kite surfing, Morjim beach is the place to be. It is overrun with Russian tourists which might not appeal to other tourists and the local food is often Russian-focused but it is still a good beach location. Colva beach in Salcete, which is a mostly Catholic sub-district, has a completely different feel to it than other locales but is quickly going downhill a bit with less care being taken for the local surroundings. Calangute beach once known as the “Queen of all beaches” is now been too successful for its own good with too many people, over-priced clubs and hawkers selling all sorts of tourist trinkets along the beach each day. However, Calangute remains popular with Indian tourists especially due to the size of the beach, the potential to people watch, and the level of constant activity. Diving in Goa Diving is popular in Goa between October and May when the conditions are most suitable. The monsoon season which runs from June until mid-October prohibits diving during this time for safety reasons. The dive sites near Grande Island off the Vasco de Gama coast are popular. Most locations are 12-16 metres deep. Usually visibility is around 5-6 metres under normal weather conditions. There is abundant marine life with fish common to reefs, different types of coral and a number of interesting shipwrecks to explore for the more intrepid divers with PADI certifications who have the confidence to see them. It is also possible to take a PADI course (or a refresher course) if staying in Goa long enough to complete the course and there are a number of dive centres who accept new students. There are also dive trips to the Netrani Island (also called Pigeon Island) which is situated nearby in Karnataka state which is a popular location for divers who wish to go further afield. Kitesurfing in Goa Kitesurfing is mainly practised on Arambol, Morjim and Aswem beaches in Northern Goa. There are instructors who can teach kite surfing for Rs. 8,000-13,000 for a starter instruction. January and February are the right months for this activity in Goa with other months often lacking sufficient winds to kite surf successfully. Watersports in Goa Paragliding, banana boat rides and jet-ski rentals are available in Goa. Indeed, many types of watersports are available through the Goa state at various beaches. Both Baga and Anjuna beaches offer equipment rentals for different types of watersports. Typically the better deals are found at the smaller, less populated beaches where these water sport operators struggle to find customers and are more willing to bargain especially during low season. Calungunte beach is the place to go for the widest select of water sports including paragliding. There are have smaller harnesses for children to wear and have a go flying into the air behind a speedboat. Whether the parents can stomach the idea of their child being suspended in mid-air is another matter. Goa Tours Goa has plenty of different types of trips and tours on offer from local travel agents, hotels and other commissioned sellers. The prices usually are not inexpensive and as such there is a healthy sized commission which is why many of these types of businesses will push the trips on travellers. One Jungle Adventure which includes both a Jeep Safari in Goa and a visit to the Dudhsagar Falls in Mollem National Park over a two day, one night trip is a good choice. An afternoon is spend swimming near the Dudhsagar waterfalls. The falls are 310 metres high which is the fifth tallest in India. An eco-tour that includes a spice plantation, crocodile watching and an elephant ride is a popular trip to go on. This takes full advantage of the abundant beauty of the local surroundings in Goa. Often a cruise along the Cumbarjua Canal is included with the eco-tour. A spice plantation like Sahakarai Spice Plantation is interesting for anyone who likes to cook Indian food. An elephant ride and watching the majestic elephant bathe is often cited as the highlight of these one-day trips. A night event on one of the main rivers of Goa in Panaji is perhaps the most romantic trip for couples to take. The Mandovi River is usually the river of choice here with a multi-hour private journey on the river with a few invited guests. Catered meal and select drinks included in the price of the journey. Other Experiences in Goa The Butterfly Conservatory Of Goa in Rajnagar, Ponda on the way to the Tropical Spice Plantation is an excellent way to see butterflies close up. Run as a conservation project, see many types of butterflies flying freely. The entrance is only Rs. 100. Open 9AM to 3.30PM. Dudhsagar Plantation in Karmane runs guided spice tours between 9:30AM and 5PM. View the medicinal plants and unusual range of spice plants. Enjoy a Goan lunch and local brew. Due to its close proximity, it is also possible to include a trip to the Dudhsagar Waterfall when going to this plantation. Rs. 600. There are a number of volunteering opportunities for Indians who are tourists in Goa. These include Volunteering Goa, an outfit in Porvorim located on the NH17 Panjim-Mapusa highway. The organisation can include put forward volunteers to nature centres, orphanages, animal rescue and charity shops. For charities focusing more in street life, the Karaswada Mapusa Goa organisation can put tourists in touch with local charities that help in the rural slums of Goa. (It is important to note that for foreign tourists, they require different permissions to visit India if they wish to be a volunteer while in the country; entering as a tourist is not sufficient regardless whether the volunteering is paid or unpaid.) The Great Live Music Festival takes place every year usually at the end of January from 5PM until late. This 2-day music event includes both Indian bands and Russian ones. Mostly Jazz and Rock music is played there. Places to see in Goa Goa has plenty of churches and cathedrals belying its Catholic roots. The Portuguese influence is significantly felt here with the remaining prominent religious landmarks. There are also several notable temples which are worth a visit too. Churches and Cathedrals in Goa Church building was popular during the Portuguese rule of Goa because the rulers wanted the local people to accept Christianity and spread the word of God as far and as wide as possible. The churches that still stand have retained much of their charm despite their age. Bom Jesus Basilica built in 1605 holds the remains of St. Francis Xavier, a patron Saint of Goa. The baroque architecture on display here is a big draw. Se Cathedral built in 1619 took over 80 years to complete construction. It is one of the most substantial churches throughout Asia. The church commemorates the Portuguese overrun of the Muslim rulers in Goa. The Golden bell is rung in Se Cathedral daily which can be heard across Goa. The Church of St Francis of Assisi built in 1661 is a study in exemplary workmanship. The seminary connected to the church is now an art museum. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception has stood since 1541 and is the oldest in Panaji. The Mother Mary is displayed on the church towers. Devout Catholics often make tribute to this church during a visit to Goa. The Church bell is the second biggest on Earth. The Church of St. Catejan finished in 1700 is similar in appearance to the St. Peters Basilica from Rome. The church was created by a collection of Italian and Greek priests to draw a comparison between their church and the other ones typical of the time when it was constructed. It still remains well preserved after 300 years. Temples in Goa Shree Manguesh Shantadurgai Prasanna Temple was created for the deity of Lord Shiva. Located in Mangeshi which is 26 km from Margao and 22 km from Panaji, the capital of Goa. The little village situated on the Panaji-Ponda Road is a place of serious worship for many visitors, both Indian and foreigner. The Mangeshi area where the temple is located is still home to over 1,000 families. There is a strong cultural influence here and the area is known to have developed a high regard throughout India for the singers coming from this part of Goa. Places to eat and drink in Goa Eating Tourists to Goa will soon discover that the staple diet is one of fish curry and rice. As an alternative, fried fish with an assortment of pickles is commonly served too. Many shacks along the numerous beaches will serve one of these two staples of Goan cuisine. The flavour of Goan food is a mix of local Indian and Portuguese in an interesting blend that you do not find in other parts of the country. Being right on the sea, there is a strong seafood and fish influence to many dishes on the local menus. Kingfish (known as Visvan or Vison locally) is often found, but mackerel, tuna, pomfret and even shark is served in some local restaurants. Mussels, squid, lobster, crab, prawns and tiger prawns are commonly seen in the seafood dishes there. Dishes that will be familiar to Indians but which originate from Goa include Vindaloo, Sorpotel and Xacuti. For people with a sweet tooth then Bebinca is not to be missed. This is a Goan pudding made from coconut milk, flour and egg yolk. The standard of freshly cooked meals on the beach is surprisingly good in Goa. The seafood is highly recommended. Servers often come back to check how the meal was. By contrast with the often excellent beach shack eating experience, meals offered in high-end hotels often lack inspiration. Similarly, not all high-end restaurants are the best options either. A local place is commonly a much better choice in Goa but persuading the rickshaw driver on commission to not take the passenger to the expensive, but poor option, is not always easy to accomplish. But, it pays to be persistent! A few of the better restaurants are: Souza Lobo Bar and Restaurant, near Calangute O Coqueiro in Porvorim Bob's Inn in Candolim Viva Panjim in Panjim Drinking One of the bargains in Goa is the drink. Whereas Goa can be more costly than other states in India when visiting as a tourist, the alcohol is usually less expensive than elsewhere in the country. The prices of domestic liquor by the bottle tends to be between Rs. 50 to 370. There are plenty of foreign liquors which includes rum, vodka, whisky and brandy. Local liquors are mostly based on cashew or coconut feni. It is said that a visit to Goa is not complete without sampling both the cashew and coconut feni drinks. Be careful with feni though.. it can have up to a 40 percent alcoholic content so taking a taxi back to the hotel is best. The cashew apple is the basis for the first type of drink common to Goa and the coconut feni comes from the sap of the coconut tree. The art and skill of Feni brewing originates with the Portuguese who brought over the cashew apples from Portugal. The coconut version is more common in the south or eastern part of the state. For people who prefer a spot of wine, this can be purchased between Rs. 50 to 170 per 750 ml bottle for local varieties. Indeed, wine tasting is becoming more popular here with the Grape Escape, a wine festival, run February and May some years. For wide alcoholic sources, look for Global Spirits and Foods which is based the Pilerne Industrial Estate near to Panjim. They act as importers and wholesalers and have access to a global selection of drinks. A local shop may be able to source what is wanted directly from this company on behalf of the buyer when asked to do so. Locally Madame Rosa has a few liqueur and coffee brands with a variety of flavours like almond, mint and mango. Pedro Vincent Vaz (PVV) also has a growing range of products based around palm and cashew ingredients worth a try. Best time to visit Goa and weather Between November and March the following year is the high season. There are some pros and cons here. A high number of tourists crowding into Goa to the beach shacks, upmarket accommodation, and tourist traps. On the other hand, the temperatures are more reasonable (31°C / 87°F). The peak period to visit Goa is between the middle of December and early into January. This covers the Christmas holiday period for many Western travellers with both Christmas and New Year's Eve parties being common on Goa at this time. For anyone who likes to party down, then peak period will be most expensive but probably well worth it. Outside of peak season, the shoulder season is between October and April the following year. These months are marked with far smaller crowds, the price of accommodation drops noticeably and the weather is good but a little hotter and seasonal. Bargain hunters may find the shoulder season to be ideal for them if they can accept the odd day with some rain here and there. Accommodation in Goa The advantage of Goa is that it attracts a real mix of travellers from the backpacker travelling on a shoestring budget to the sophisticated Indian traveller who is looking for some five star refinement and a spa visit for his wife. Accommodation within Goa ranges from the budget right up to the luxury resort at the top end where virtually every whim is taken care of by the attentive staff. It is all a matter of what you require for your holiday and what your budget is. For the adventurous, there are many beach huts or shacks that can be rented. They will often come complete with a double bed, towels, a bathroom and an exterior lock. The prices are less expensive, but they do lack security at night and are usually only available during high season. See our separate accommodation recommendations for North Goa, South Goa and other parts of this small state. Nearby holiday destinations for extending the holiday Many think of Goa and only have eyes for the many kilometres of sandy beaches. However, the interior of Goa holds its own mysteries and interests. There are over 350 small villages that are dotted around the state. Quite often the smaller villages are better maintained due to the fewer numbers of tourists visiting and usually have a more homely feel to them. For Indians who do not actually live in Mumbai or have not visited the city before, its proximity to Goa makes it a good side trip for a few days. This modern mega-city continues to expand whilst retaining much of its original charm. There are excellent train and bus connections to Mumbai from Goa which usually run overnight with some more comfortable sleeper cabin options when travelling by rail to Mumbai. Visiting Hampi in Karnataka, the nearest state to Goa, is also a solid choice. It was once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire and is still a religious hub for many. There are copious religious temples to visit here, plus the architectural site of Hampi which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is also a wildlife sanctuary in the area too. Head south to Kerala to enjoy a multi-day trip on the Kerala backwaters that will provide a completely different perspective to time spend in Goa. There are also overland sites to see in several cities within Kerala so one doesn't have to stay on the water all the time there. Conclusion Goa is an enjoyable place to visit for many Indians. Sometimes the traveller can arrive believing certain things about this little Indian state and leave with a completely different impression entirely. And this is all for the better in most cases. There is a great deal of culturally interesting things to see in Goa. This is what is most surprising to visitors who seek this out. The belief that Goa is only beaches is a misconception held only by those people who visit North Goa, sit on a beach and never seem to leave it. Whereas for other travellers who see much more of this beautiful, small state, this view of Goa is unrecognisable to the place they've experienced. Goa is more expensive than other parts of India, barring the big city locations that have their own pricing policy. It is unashamedly a tourist beach location for many people who visit. Some of the busiest beaches are also the most overpopulated with tourists from many countries around the world. However, there are so many beaches to choose from that it is easy enough to find one that is quieter and still offers the right amenities. Overall, Goa is most certainly worth a visit. Its history, culture, people and cuisine is unlike any other state in India. This beach and village location has plenty to keep different tourists occupied whatever they like to do. Whilst prices are higher than in other states, there are accommodation, food and transport options to suit all budgets. Therefore, it is possible to create an affordable holiday experience for anyone who wishes to venture out to Goa. Its proximity to Mumbai also makes it an excellent beach and city tourist trip combination as well.