Goa Travel Guide
Goa, a state on India's West coast, is a former Portuguese colony with a rich history. Spread over 3,700 square kilometers with a population of approximately 1.4 million, Goa is small by Indian standards. It has a unique mix of Indian and Portuguese cultures and architecture that attracts an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year (including about 400,000 foreign tourists).
Since the 1960s, Goa has been attracting a steady flow of visitors -- first the hippies and returning expat Goans, then the charter tourists (starting with the Germans in 1987), pilgrims visiting Catholic and Hindu shrines, those opting to settle in Goa as their home, people going for medical treatment, and a growing number of those who attend seminars and conferences in Goa.
For a state which has a lot of people passing through, Goa has nearly two weeks of holidays each year. Government offices have a five-day week (closed Saturday-Sunday). Panjim closes early (around 8PM) each evening, and shops here could have a fairly longish siesta break (from around 1.30PM till up to 3.30PM). Goan shop owners take this siesta break seriously, and no business is conducted during this time. Bars, restaurants and other shopping centers are more buyer-friendly.
Major public or special holidays are around Christmas, Republic Day, Id-ul-zuha, GudiPadva, Good Friday, Independence Day, Ganesh Chaturthi (both days), Gandhi Jayanthi, Dussehra, Diwali, Id-ul-fitr, Feast of St Francis Xavier, Goa Liberation Day, Mahashivratri, Holi and Id-e-milad. Banks may remain open during local religious celebrations.
Expect a huge influx of tourists and locals residing in other states during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and the Carnival, which is celebrated at the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. It is advised to make bookings for trains, buses and flights well in advance if you intend on visiting the state during these times.
Regions of Goa
- North Goa (Bardez, Bicholim, Pernem, Ponda, Sattari, Tiswadi)
- South Goa (Canacona, Mormugao, Quepem, Salcette, Sanguem)
Panaji (Panjim, also referred to a Ponn'je in Konkani, and earlier called Pangim and Nova Goa during Portuguese rule) – the state capital
- Vasco Da Gama
- Old Goa, home of famed sixteenth century churches, convents and monuments
Goa also has a number of other smaller, charming and sometimes crowded towns such as those along the beach belt (Calangute, Candolim), and in the interior (Chaudi in Canacona, Sanvordem-Quepem, Bicholim, Pernem town, etc). Some of these are gateways to the nearby touristic areas. In addition, Goa has some nearly 350 villages, often scenic and each having a character of its own.
- Agonda — also known as Turtle Beach
- Anjuna and Vagator
- Dona Paula - a popular beach.
- Bogomolo- A beutiful and serene beach near Vasco
Wild life sanctuaries and others
- Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary has sambar, gaur (Indian bison) and wild boar, amongst other animals. Elephants have also been spotted here at times.
- Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
- Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
- Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary
- DudhSagar Waterfall
Distance from Goa to various cities:
- Mangalore (360 km)
- Pune (485 km)
- Bangalore (592 km)
- Mumbai (608 km)
First thing to bear in mind is that when you are visiting Goa, you are visiting a whole state, not a city. So there are several towns spread out with considerable distance between them and so it is essential to prepare, or at least have an idea of, what kind of local transportation you will be using while there.
High resolution maps are not available for Goa. For example, some popular isles are not shown in many maps.
When driving, expect surprises like domestic animals and little children darting across the road and unmarked speed breakers / speed bumps.
Choice of geared and un-geared motorbikes and scooters can be rented. Those planning to stay long may consider buying one instead. Rentals are around ₹300 - ₹ 500a day for normal scooter and a little more if one is looking for a geared motorcycle (you buy the gasoline as needed). Many small roadside shops sell gas.
For the motorbikes, always ask for a discount if renting long-term (one month or more). Ensure that you have all the ownership documents of the bike. Also, avoid taking motorbikes with yellow plates out of Goa, as it is a punishable offense. Hiring a bike with white plates is ok for local travel in the immediate vicinity but if you want to travel further afield then always rent a bike with yellow plates. Wearing a crash helmet is compulsory when you go on any major roads (there is ₹100 fine for not wearing one). Foreigners will need an International Driving Permit (Convention 1949); this is the first thing police will ask you for if stopped. You should also carry your normal driving licence with you.
There is a lot of cars for hire all over Goa. The best place to start inquiring for the service is with your hotel. In general, you are required to book a daily package of 8 hours or 80km at around ₹1,000 - ₹1,500 depending on the vehicle's model and whether it is a/c or not. Extra charges are usually around ₹100 per extra hour, or ₹10 per extra km. This is usually the most effective option to explore the region, as there is no taxi you can hail off the street.
What to see?
- Goa has a more than its fair share of museums, art galleries and libraries. You will find many government run museums in Panaji, including the Goa State museum, the Kala Academy, the Central Library and the Goa Science Centre. In Vasco Da Gama, you can find the Naval Aviation Museum, a great place to see vintage aircraft.
- Old Goa is a great place to see examples of Christian religious art, and sometimes, secular art. There you can find the Christian Art Museum and also a modern art gallery containing the works of surrealist Dom Martin. In Mormugao, you can find the Religious Museum of the Blessed Joseph Vaz. The Xavier Centre of Historical Research at Bardez also has a gallery on Christian Art.
- Attracted by Goa's bohemian life, many artists, painters and architects have made their home here. They too have proceeded to set up art galleries and museums. An example of this is SubodhKerkar's art gallery in Candolim. Benaulim also has the Goa Chitra Museum, containing the largest collection of ethnographic artifacts ever assembled in one place.
- Other museums of note are Gerard da Cunha's architectural museum Houses of Goa in Benaulim, Big Foot(aka Ancestral Goa) at Loutolim, Salcette, an attempt to illustrate and recreate Goa's traditional past. There's even a vintage-cars collection of sorts -- Ashvek Vintage World, in Nuvem, Salcette.
Goa is famous for its beaches, ancient temples and churches, and the Goan carnival.
Sunset at the Palolem beach
- Anjuna Beach - Close to the Chapora Fort, its key attraction is a magnificent Albuquerque Mansion built in 1920, flanked by octagonal towers and an attractive Mangalore tile-roof. Anjuna was the second home (and main location) of the hippies in Goa in the 1960s and 1970s, after other destinations like Calangute got too "crowded" for them. It is still the venue of a (vastly-changed and more mainstream) flea market held each Wednesday. In the nearby village of Arpora, two colourful Saturday night bazaars are held in the non-monsoon seasons. This is still part of "alternative" Goa, though charter and other tourists also visit in increasing numbers to "get a feel of the hippy years".
- Arambol Beach - a quiet beach in North Goa near Pernem. Not too many facilities in terms of hotels or eateries. The water is shallow and good for swimming.
- Palolem Beach-a scenic beach in extreme south Goa with scenic rocks and islands off its shores. Good eating options. It is becoming pricey (by local standards) and getting a bit crowded, but still less crowded compared to other popular beaches.
- Patnem Beach - a small and quiet beach in CanaconaTaluka.
- Vagator Beach - a beach in Bardez, neighbouringAnjuna.
- Morjim Beach - a beautiful beach, inhabited by Russian tourists. This place is popular among kitesurfers due to the shallow depth of the sea and a very wide beach. Prices are high, with many restaurants offering Russian cuisine. Nightlife is vibrant here.
- Asvem Beach - a quieter beach in extreme north Goa's PernemTaluka.
- Mandrem Beach - another beach in extreme north Goa's Pernemtaluka
- Candolim and Sinquerim Beaches in North Goa's Bardeztaluka. Once humble fishing villages. Now the crowded concretised coast of North Goa. Goa's Benidorm. Or quickly getting to be as crowded.
- Colva Beach - This beach's spectacle of sea, sand and sky blend in a enchanting natural harmony, weaving their magic spell on the visitors. Known for its scenic beauty. This is part of Salcete, Goa's only Catholic majority sub-district. Once a very hospitable area, now relations are getting monetized thanks to tourism. Beware of mountains of trash on the beach and nearby locations, stray dogs and bad odors.
- Calangute Beach - aka Queen of all Beaches in Goa. Once highly rated. Now crowded. Expect traffic jams along the main crowded street. Beach is full of Indian tourists, a lot of noise, a lot of souvenirs and water sports beggar. You won't get peace here. Many famous clubs are located here. Nice eating options.
- Baga Beach A family-beach and charter tourist destination just outside Calangute.
- Chapora Home of the Chapora fort. Close to Vagator and Anjuna beaches. Also site for a fishing jetty where trawlers (introduced into Goa in the 1960s and 1970s, amid protests from traditional fishermen, who were affected by them) bring in their catch. DilChahtaHai Movie's one song was shot at this fort. Although in pretty damaged state, Chapora fort offers mesmerizing views of sea and both beaches. It's a bit difficult to find the way to the fort, but bikers won't mind it. Built on a hill top, fort offers some resistance for climbing up.
- Relax at the beaches. Goa has an almost unbroken 70 km coastline of beaches . Don't forget to carry suntan, towels and chappals along when hitting the beach. Beachbeds can be hired for 100 per hour, bargain for a free beach bed if you are ordering snacks from the shack.
- Chill out at the discos and pubs
- Checkout Anjuna flea market
- Visit libraries: Central Library in Institute Menezes Braganza (Panjim) and Mapusa'sAthaide Library. Other research institutions with good collections include the Xavier Centre of Historical Research at Alto Porvorim, the also-Jesuit run Thomas Stevens Konknni Kendra next door at Porvorim, the Goa University, and a quaint Konkani-focussed library called Amchem Diaz (Our Traditions) that functions out of the first floor of a commercial establishment not far from the Margao bus stand and the local court.
- Diving: The season is between mid October to mid May. Diving is not possible during the monsoons in India (June till mid October) The water temperature is between 27-30⁰ C. The local diving here consists of dive sites around Grande Island, just off the coast near Vasco Da Gama. The dive sites are mostly 12-16 m deep, and the visibility varies through the season, with an average of around 5-6 m. Marine life is abundant, with many species of reef fish, and hard and soft coral,and several shipwrecks to dive. Several dive centers conduct PADI courses, and organise dive trips to Pigeon Island (also known locally as Netrani Island) in the neighbouring state of Karnataka.
- Kitesurfing: is certainly not the best place in the world to try kite surfing, but it still has something to offer. Check Morjim, Arambol and Aswem beaches in North Goa. You can find instructors in Morjim, that take Rs 8,000-12,000 for beginners course. Season starts in January, you can expect 1-2 windy days a week during January and February, and 2-3 days a week during March. Most people use 10-14m² kites. Water is choppy most of the time, don't expect wave riding.
- Paragliding: Check Arambol Beach in North Goa for tandem paragliders.
- Jet-Ski, banana ride and paragliding: Goa has one of the cheapest beach adventure sports rates. Head to Anjuna or Baga beach during daytime and you will find many small group of vendors offering these. If in a small group, with adequate bargaining and luck, you can bargain to around Rs 800-1,000 (off season) for a 10 min jet-ski ride, 15 min banana ride and a 15 min paragliding session, for each person. These activities are also available on less popular beaches and you could get a bargain there as compared to popular beaches where demand exceeds supply.
Food & local culture
- The Goan staple diet consists of rice and fish curry along with pickles and fried fish. This can be found on many of the beach shacks. The Goan cuisine is a blend of Portuguese and local flavours. Many dishes such as prawn balchao and Kingfish in Garlic have distinct Portuguese flavour. The cuisine is mostly seafood based, the staple foods are rice and fish. Kingfish (Vison or Visvan) is the most common delicacy, others include pomfret, shark, tuna and mackerel. Among the shellfish are crabs, prawns, tiger prawns, lobster, squid and mussels.
- Dishes such as Vindaloo and Xacuti (pronounced Cha'cuti), Cafreal will be familiar from Indian restaurant menus, and are originally Goan dishes.
- Most beaches have shacks that serve surprisingly delicious meals, specially sea-food and they'll usually consult you to see how you like your food. Don't miss the shack eating experience. You'll want to go back and do it again. Most fancy hotels and restaurants serve terrible food, it is best to eat at local places, ask a taxi driver where these would be and don't let him take you to any fancy restaurants as they receive commission.
- Some really good restaurants not to be missed are 1. Britto's Bar &Restaurant,OffBaga/Calangute, North Goa 2. Souza Lobo Bar &Restaurant,OffCalangute, North Goa 3. O Coqueiro ,Porvorim, Goa 4. Florentine's