Goa is a living example that all good things come in small packages! And India’s smallest state is just that, and a little more! To start off, it is arguably, the prettiest. The sun, the sand, the sparkling blue waters and the perennial celebratory atmosphere of the Sunshine State have wooed countless weary travellers from across the world over the decades. But, the sandy beaches and the beach shacks, the sunny days and the loud nights have eclipsed a phenomenally diverse range of experiences that Goa offers. So, without much ado, here’s a primer on all that is good about one of India’s, and world’s favourite coastal getaway.
Anjuna Flea Market: Anjuna, one of the best loved beaches in Goa, is home to the most fantastic Flea Market every Wednesday. The flea market/fair/celebration of life has a long rich history behind it, believed to be the original haunt for the hippy culture of the late 60s and early 70s that put Goa on the map. It is now a fascinating mélange of junk jewellery, artefacts, food, small electronics and more. Locals, Indian and international tourists converge to ply their wares or get their hands on something interesting.
Beaches: Ranging from pristine to adventurous, from busy to secluded, Goa’s beaches are a world in themselves. Head to Anjuna, Baga or Calangute if water-sport is what you’re after. A majority of tourists also flock to Agonda, Arambol, Candolim, Palolem and/or Vagator for their action-packed, raging vitality. To get away from all the busyness and find some quietude, head to lesser-known beaches likes Ashwem, Bogmalo, Mandrem or Querim.
Churches: Goa boasts of a rich Portuguese past, which is reflected in breath-taking fashion in Old Goa’s several churches. The Basilica of Bom Jesus, housing the remains of St. Francis Xavier, is the most popular of those. But it’s safe to say that the other churches are the real windows to a colourful past. The Se Cathedral is a gigantic, magnificent piece of late Portuguese gothic architecture built exactly 400 years ago. Then there are others like the St. Francis of Assissi Church, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, the oldest of the lot, the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine. The Basilica and the other churches and convents are separately labelled UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Dona Paula: Dona Paula, supposedly named for a benevolent lady from centuries, is socially and commercially, given it houses the National Institute of Oceanography and Goa University. But locals and tourists love it for entirely different reasons. The quiet stretch offers amazing views of the sea, and opportunities for good food and stay abound.
Enter a world of spices: Goan Spice plantations, overlooked for a long time, have recently emerged on the travellers’ itineraries. Plantations like Savoi Plantation, Tropical Spice Plantation, Pascoal Spice Village etc., all 30-40 km from Panaji, offer plantation tours where you can see an overwhelming variety of spices, from peppers to vanilla, from cinnamon to coffee, grow. Some of them also let you purchase some of their fresh produce and offer a post-tour meal which absolutely shouldn’t be missed.
Forts & Feni: We cheated a bit here. We had to. There was no way we could’ve left out either of these, both essential to the entity and identity of Goa. Fort Aguada, with a lighthouse at the top, and the Chapora Fort are the most popular destinations of the forts, thanks in part to mainstream media exposure. But the other, like the Mormugao fort, the Reis Magos fort and the Terekhol fort, are interesting structures built by the Portuguese that offer great views and interesting insights into history.
Feni, the crowd favourite amongst drinks, is a kind of country liquor locally made from either cashew apples or coconuts. The cashew variety, made from rotting cashew apples both grown locally and brought from elsewhere, is more popular of the two but the slightly-displeasing aroma could put you off. The coconut one is found more in South Goa and has a more agreeable aroma.
Gambling: Whether you’re an expert gambler, an enthusiast, or just curious about casinos, Goa has got you covered. There are several inland and on-ship casinos of all shapes, sizes and buy-in prices where you could try your luck. Just remember, when it comes to gambling, winning small is better than losing big.
Hitchhiking to the Dudhsagar Falls: Located deep into the Bhagvan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, the Dudhsagar falls are named so for the milky white cascades. After traveling to the falls in a vehicle, you can take the pleasant trek to the top to enjoy breath-taking views of the woods. Or, if you feel lucky, you could choose to walk the whole distance from the park’s entrance to the fall, a 4 hour hike.
Incredible Wildlife: Drive half an hour from the coast and you drive into multiple wildlife sanctuaries, in Goa. Don’t expect to spot tigers or Komodo dragons, but the alarming variety of birds and mammals and reptiles and botanical species will keep you curious.
Jungle Book: We’re not talking about the namesake book here. Jungle Book is a little-known forest retreat that’s almost hard to believe is in Goa. The food is good and the stay is comfortable but the real clinchers are the elephants that you can interact with and the adventure activities on the humongous campus.
King’s Beer: Often overshadowed by its more famous peer, Feni, the King’s Premium Pilsner Beer is a much-loved beer manufactured here and retailed in small, fat bottles. Its millions of patrons love the mild high and the smoky taste, which many believe comes from the Goan water used to make it, but in all fairness nobody seems to care or mind as long as it tastes good, at an incredible price of Rs 40!
Liquor: Probably the single biggest reason why the young love Goa. Goa has an open, tolerant, ‘everything goes’ way of life, which makes its way to its alcohol consumption culture. Unbelievably affordable, ubiquitously available beer, all alcohol for that matter, is part of the Goan experience now. So, if you do enjoy the occasional drink, now is as good a time as any.
Margao: Before Panaji, Margao was central to the Portuguese operations, and it has been an important economic and cultural centre ever since. People use it to travel from or to South Goa. Then there are the old churches, the enthralling Goa Chitra Museum, great shopping opportunities and more. Even if you do none of these, it’s great to observe a bustling big city vibe in a scenic small town setting.
Nightlife: Goa is one of those places that never sleep. Buzzing beach shacks, casinos on land and ships, more bars and discos than could count during your stay, and the generally revelrous people all amount to an action-packed night culture that is second to none. Some pioneering gents are also bringing in novel concepts like noiseless parties with headphones and breath-taking live music venues to heighten the whole experience.
Old Goa: Vehla Goa, its traditionally name, or Old Goa, as it translates to and is popularly called, is a pleasant breeze of lush greenery dotted by remnants of its rich Portuguese past. Churches, convents, archways, old localities and mansion blocks like Fontainhas all come together to set this apart from the rest of Goa.
Portuguese Tradition: The Portuguese came to Goa in the 16th century and left a piece of themselves here for perpetuity. The Portuguese influence is evident in the people, their food, their languages, their way of life, the architecture and almost everything else. And thankfully, Goa is left all the richer for it.
Quiet Islands: The Goan region is bestowed with astounding natural gifts. River islands, estuarine islands, islands out at sea of immense beauty are some of the foremost of that. Divar Island and Chorao Island, the best-known among the river islands, exude a charming idyllic countryside life coupled with stunning natural beauty. Islands out on the Arabian Sea like the Pequeno and the Conco Islands offer a quiet retreat and interesting activities like snorkelling, nature walks.
Rivers of Goa: Four major rivers snake their way through Goa, the Mandovi, Zuari, Neral and Sal rivers, gifting this land with sights of unreal beauty, including beautiful waterfalls, backwaters, estuaries, some serene river islands, and a lot more. Of course, with these rivers also arise the possibilities of water-sports like kayaking, etc.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary: The Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, named after the trailblazing Indian ornithologist and naturalist, is majorly a mangrove forest located in one corner of the immense Chorao Island on the Mandovi River. Visit here to spend some quiet time amongst a great variety of birds, in the lap of nature away from the usual noise.
Tito’s: While Club Tito’s deserves a mention just for being one of the oldest, most vibrant party hotspots here, it has sprouted a range of great establishments in its vicinity. The lane, now called Club Tito’s for obvious reasons, has seen many great establishments mushroom. So, if you’re looking for great nightclubs to party the night away, the Tito’s lane is where you should be.
Unwind at Beach Shacks: Casually unwinding at a beach shack is an integral, if not primary, component of the Goan experience. Every major beach has several of them, and with cheap booze and food, they’re an irresistible draw. Some have diversified over the years to cater to specific tastes, so asking around would be a great idea.
Vindaloo: There can be no legitimate discussion of Goa without a mention of the lip-smacking Goan cuisine. Vindaloo is a fiery curry, generally of pork or mutton, made with red chilies, vinegar, many spices and marinated meat. The livid taste is not for everyone, but you know you can’t resist trying.
Water Sports: With the Arabian Sea on one-side and more than a few rivers winding through, it’s no surprise that Goa has no dearth of adrenaline-pumping water sports to try. The beaches of Baga, Calangute and Anjuna offer activities like jet skiing, parasailing, banana boat rides, and wind surfing, among many others. Some operators also offer kayaking opportunities in the Zuari and Mandovi rivers.
Xavier: Considered one of the foremost Christian missionaries, St. Francis Xavier is especially revered for his work in India and South East Asia. His legacy is immortalized in a glass and silver casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, containing his incorrupt body and several artefacts of his.
Yachts: Many operators provide interesting river cruise experiences in Goa, like dinner cruises with traditional dances, casino cruises, catamaran and houseboat cruises.
Zacuti: Zacuti or Xacuti, as it also variably spelled, is a typical Konkan preparation of chicken in a flavourful curry of grated coconut and a myriad spices. It’s a signature Goan dish that leaves an indelible mark on your palate.