This laid back coastal jewel is India’s smallest state and a former Portuguese colony, which in 2004 had more than 2 million tourists flocking to its shores.
This west coast region has long held cult status with hippies and backpackers alike and it isn’t that difficult to see why. The palm-fringed shoreline is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world including Palolem (about 2km long) and you’ll find resorts and villages with accommodation to suit even the most shoe-string of budgets.
If you enjoy the odd night out, you can dance on the beach until daybreak and Goa’s cities provide plenty of sightseeing opportunities for the more culturally minded. Fans of Indian cuisine and seafood will be in heaven and it won’t cost you the earth – far from it in fact.
Getting there/getting around Goa
Goa’s airport, Dabolim, is around 30km away from the capital Panaji. You can fly direct from the UK, with cheap return fares coming in at under £500.
Back packers travelling throughout India will be pleased to know that the Konkan Railway passes through Goa with connections to cities including Delhi and Mumbai.
The Maruti van taxis and motorcycle taxis are ideal ifor travelling between resorts but barter for a good price ahead of your journey. Alternatively take advantage of the buses which run frequently.
Beaches in Goa
If you enjoy your big resorts then Calangute, Baga, Candolim and Colva are for you. You’ll find lovely stretches of sand fully equipped with sun loungers, umbrellas and watersports. If you like things a little more low-key and rustic, then the beaches at Anjuna, Vagator, Chapor and Benaulim are still popular with backpackers.
The most peaceful resorts however are Arambol to the north and Palolem in the south. Palolem beach is backed by makeshift restaurants and ‘hotels’ (everything’s packed up in the winter). Stay in a straw hut or tree-house, indulge in some yoga and enjoy a delicious curry on the sand.
Sightseeing in Goa
The Anjuna Flea Market draws visitors from all around the state and it’s a great place to spend an evening.It’s the place to pick up holiday souvenirs – jewellery, paintings and clothes – and enjoy the live music and food stalls.
State capital Panaji is home to some beautiful buildings, including many lovely churches, such as the 16th century Church of the Immaculate Conception. The former capital, Old Goa, was virtually abandoned when the government moved to Panaji, but it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site full of winding streets, stunning facades and impressive buildings.
Family attractions in Goa
If you’re not a family who enjoy messing about in the waves and the odd bat and ball game on the beach, there’s not a whole lot on offer. Some of the bigger hotels will have kids clubs but otherwise India’s colourful enough to keep your kids entertained. A trip to any one of the local markets will definitely leave them wide-eyed.
Day trips from Goa
It’s more of a two-day trip, about 10 hours travel east of Goa but Hampi is well worth the effort. A vast area of dilapidated temples and palaces more than 500 years old, the remains of this former capital are one of the must-sees in the whole of India. The World Heritage Vittala Temple Complex with its famous stone chariot, elegant temples and winding, picturesque river are worth exploring.
Alternatively visit one of Goa’s four wildlife sanctuaries, particularly Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in the peaceful Western Ghats, home to the Dudhsagar waterfalls
Eating in Goa
Rice with fish curry, pork dishes and Khatkhate, a vegetable stew, are among the mouth watering specialities out here. Also worth a mention is xacuti (a meat dish), bangra (mackerel), sanna (rice cakes soaked in palm booze) and moira kela (plantains).
But if you fancy something a bit more western head to the big resort hotels and check out their international menus. Fast food restaurants are a little harder to find but there is a Dominos Pizza and Baskin Robbins.
Nightlife in Goa
In many places in Goa, hippies have these days been replaced by ravers, and this is particularly true of Anjuna. Full Moon and other beach parties are organized last minute and venues are often not revealed until a couple of days before the event, so keep your ear to the ground. Otherwise Shore Bar, Guru Bar, Sonic and the Paraiso are great to chill out. Tito’s bar, on the road into Anjuna is one of the most famous nightclubs in Goa.
If you’re the more cultured sort, the Kerkar Art Complex in Calangute hosts evenings of Indian music and dance. Many of the big hotels will also have their own traditional evening entertainment performances.
Shopping in Goa
The best bargains are to be found in the markets. The Anjuna Flea Market attracts vendors from all over the country with regional dress, handicrafts, beach wear, art works, sculptures, food, spices and woodwork. In many resorts you’ll find government-subsidised shops selling brassware, terracotta goods, and hand-carved furniture. Goa’s famous for its cashew nuts too.