The Goa Guide – A cold hard fact about Goa before you travel
From beautiful beaches to quaint, historical hamlets, Goa has lots to offer to different kinds of travelers.
The truth about India’s sweetheart (considering it’s pretty much the unanimous choice for all kinds of holidayers) is that it has, over time, turned jaded and torn. Infested with all the possible tourist cliches, crowded and filthy beaches, overpriced accommodation and activities, and other associated evils, it makes one wonder, whatever happened to this once beautiful endpoint to the hippie trail from Istanbul?
Where have all the flowers gone? Sandy beaches, a gorgeous coastline, lush green hills, a sweet smelling breeze, coconut water and feni, sumptious Goan cuisine, hammocks to sway on, secret raves, eclectic bohemian shopping, friendly smiling locals, old world Portuguese villas and luxurious modern properties can still be found in Goa. If only you know where to look.
When to go?
That’s a question we find ourselves asking each other through the year. For while Goa has very defined peak and off seasons, it offers an equal number of attractions (even if they’re extremely varied), through the year.
- Party time: Around Christmas and New Year’s in Goa, everyone seems to have the same idea on their minds – party! This time of the year, there’s no place to park your car, your behind or even just stand and dance on the streets, on the beach, in the clubs or anywhere. While the parties are most happening, all prices skyrocket at this time.
- Carnival time: The week before the Catholic period of Lent (usually in March), is when Goa gets into carnival mode. All of Goa parties non-stop during this time for 3 days, with the entire party entourage hitting the streets. It isn’t anything like the grand carnivals of South America but it’s a great time of the year to party in Goa before everybody get’s off celebration mode for the next 40 days until Easter. The Goa Carnival is a free open event and you don’t have to worry about tickets. But do get your stay and travel bookings sorted in advance.
- Summer break: Summer is another popular time when you’ll find more families on the beach, the resorts and the shacks. This is when you can bask in the sun and work on your tan, letting your craving for all that delicious food fight with your desire to frolick in the water. The only downside is that the heat and humidity can really hit you in April and May. And it does get really, really hot!
- Monsoon Magic: The rains beckon some to Goa between June and September, when everything is green and gorgeous, cool and calm. Very Calm. Most properties and establishments as well as beaches in Goa are shut at this time, and some areas may well feel like a ghost town. But that’s what’s beautiful about this season. You finally get beautiful Goa, all to yourself, at bargain prices! But if sitting on a beach where the sun is blotted out by heavy dark clouds isn’t your thing, then avoid Goa at this time of the year. A good time to go though, is just after the rains (October and November), where things are just picking up, the weather is fine and you have fewer tourists to deal with. Be warned that more and more people are increasingly picking this time of the year to visit.
1. The summers can get really hot, sunny and humid.
2. The rains can wash out your entire trip and beaches are a write-off at this time.
3. Christmas and New Year can be expensive and crowded.
4. Usually, October-March is a good time climatically.
Where in Goa
Goa is broadly divided as North and South Goa for travelers. North Goa is the hipper and more crowded part of Goa catering to younger crowds and is friendlier to travelers (since this has long been a haven for backpackers). South Goa is slow and relatively quieter, thereby attracting more families, most of whom are Indian (although travelers from around the world looking to avoid touristy crowds also move down south). They’re both different sides of Goa and they both have their share of reasons to visit.
- Keri/Arambol – The new age hippie haven, with lots of meditation, yoga, tai chi, reiki and other alternative therapies.
- Ashwem/ Mandrem/ Morjim – Another favourite of ours, these pretty beaches are quite isolated, with few establishments, (but great boutique hotels and homestays), a protected turtle population, and a large localised Russian population.
- Siolim – A village dotted with ancient Portuguese villas. Stay at one that’s been fitted with luxuries by boutique outfits.
- Chapora & Vagator – This cliff is home to the psychedelic rave scene, Disco Valley, Spaghetti Beach, Nine Bar and an unbelievably large Israeli and Italian population.
- Anjuna – The original hippie haven that pumps psychedelic music, is home to our favourite joint – Curlies. It has lots of parties, the infamous flea market and a rocky beach.
- Mapusa – The town known for it’s colourful Friday market offering functional wares (Only exciting to those who haven’t had their fill of authentic Indian markets).
- Baga / Calangute – What we’d call tourist traps. Over-crowded with sunbathing tourists, gaping Indians, filthy beaches, watersports, food, shopping and nightlife. While these destinations are extremely commercial, they house a few must eat at places like Souza Lobo’s, Infantaria and Britto’s.
- Candolim – Surprisingly cleaner and more peaceful, lined with lively shacks and offers a great view from Fort Aguada.
- Sinquerim – This clean but lively beach is home to several 5 star resorts, and lots of family holidayers.
- Old Goa – What was once a Portuguese hub, still houses some great architecture, and the famous Church of St. Xavier.
- Miramar – An escape from the bustle of the rest of Goa into the lap of nature, with exotic birds and palm trees. This destination is another cleaner and relatively quieter beach with more locals.
- Panjim – Or Panaji, the capital of Goa, is full of Portuguese history, and a great place to get a glimpse of local Goan life.
- Dona Paula – Named after Dona (the daughter of a viceroy) and Paula (a fisherman). Several versions of their tragic romance attract lovers, the spurned and the widowed, to partake of this aura. It has been commercialized and you can find quite a few resorts here that dot the beach.
- Vainguinim – Is a cleaner beach, with nice accommodation and food options.
- Siridao – A shell collector’s dream with it’s abundance of oyster and pearl shells, and rocky terrain that gives way to caves.
- Bogmalo/Hollant/Velsao – Tiny, quiet and offer the best sunrise and sunset views.
- Arossim – Big on parties and water sports, here’s where you can try some windsurfing and sailing.
- Utorda/Majorda – Unremarkable beaches, with a looming chemical plant, quiet and missable.
- Betalbatim – A quiet beach, where you can really get a sense of the Portuguese architecture, go on dolphin spotting trips, or just relax.
- Colva – Where locals, Indian tourists and pilgrims throng by the busload. Lots of establishments, zero nightlife.
- Benaulim – Known for fishing, water sports and dolphin spotting, can get crowded at times.
- Varca/Fatrade/Mobor-Cavelossim – Home to Goa’s luxury resorts, the beaches are clean and the nightlife restricted to the resorts/casinos.
- Betul/Canaguinim – Great sunsets, red and black stones, and a cut off beach that can only be accessed from a stony plateau.
- Cola – No relation to the drink, this is a tree-lined beach, with only one property comprising tents right on what’s pretty much a private beach.
- Agonda – Long, quiet and perfect for relaxing in a hut by the beach. Go now before it gets too touristy.
- Palolem/Colomb – These twin picturesque backpacker havens have only huts on the beach, hotels are still a short distance away.
- Patnem – Beautiful hut accomodation, for those who want a quiet place, yet close enough to Palolem’s nightlife.
- Rajbaga – Pretty private, with access through only one four star property.
- Galjibaga – Accessed via a wooden canoe, it’s empty, isolated, and desolate. Makes sense only for couples looking for privacy.
The Goa Guide to Eating and Shacking:
Goan food brings only one word to my mind- sussegad, the Portuguese word for relaxed and laid back. While there’s nothing relaxed or laid back about the process of creating a beautiful chilly pork, vindaloo, sorpotel, xacuti, rechad or bebinca, that’s exactly what you’ll need to do soon as you’re done stuffing yourself silly. Eating is what it’s all about in Goa, whether at the million shacks that line every beach, the buffet in your resort or one of the hidden, eclectic and exotic restaurants (the by-prior-appointment-only kinds) Because of the influx of foreign tourists, you’re sure to find European, American, Russian, German and Italian staples around every corner, and you’ll also probably come across menus and specials boards scribbled in Russian. Thankfully, shacks are open to serve lunch/dinner through the day, and the way we like to do it is keep spacing our food out through the day, while we sunbathe, read, sleep all in the same deckchair, just outside the shack, right on the sand.
You’re going to hear the word ‘shack’ a lot while in Goa. And don’t worry about what it actually means, the food is the only thing to worry about.
What’s a shack?
A shack is pretty much an establishment set up on the beach. It can be anything from a rough little enclosure made of palm leaves to a proper structure built on the beach. While food and drink are cheap, always remember to carry cash. Shacks do not accept cards. Most shacks are also flexible on what they serve. If you can’t decipher the menu or prefer something specific, just tell the guys how you’d like your food and they’ll fix up something that comes pretty close to what you asked for. You can also walk up to the kitchen and ask to take a look at their catch and just point at what you want.
1. Almost all shacks only accept cash.
2. Try the local cuisine but ask them to tone down the spice if you can’t handle spicy food.
3. Ask for the catch of the day and see it.
4. It’s acceptable to tell them how you want your food cooked.
Getting around in Goa
Goa has public transport, which primarily comprises buses. Avoid using them. Most of the locals do too! One way to travel is to get a private taxi that your hotel can arrange for you, although it might be a bit expensive. Two wheelers are how most people travel in Goa. It’s not exactly legal but everyone (including the local police) accepts it as the primary mode of travel for travelers in Goa. Ask at your hotel desk if you can hire a two wheeler (usually a non-geared scooter or a geared motorcycle) and they will either let you use one of their own or put you in touch with someone who will lend you one (usually a tiny grocer outside the hotel who has a tiny fleet himself). If either of these don’t work, just walk down to a local store nearby (any store) and ask where you can hire one. You might need to leave a deposit before you take the bike out. Most lenders will let you take a bike as long as they know where you’re staying (so it’s advisable you hire one as close as possible from where you’re staying). Some might ask for a copy of some document or the other (but it’s best you don’t leave copies of important documents like your passport). Some might hand the bike over to you with a full tank of fuel and you’re required to hand it back to them with a full tank of fuel. Or some might just add a litre of fuel and give you the keys. Remember, fuel stations are few and scattered across towns, so depending on how long you’re going to be using the bike, stop at the nearest fuel station and fill up if you’ve taken a bike with just 1 litre of fuel in it. If you can’t find a fuel station, you will find bottles of petrol stacked at shops and on the side of the road. Buy how much you need and get the guy to pour it into your tank.
Most importantly, remember that they drive on the left side of the road in India. And while you find a lot of locals (and Indian tourists) breaking the rules on the road, don’t try and do that yourself! Some roads in Goa are also really narrow, often turning into nothing but a little dirt-track. Take it slow, let vehicles pass you and things should be fine.
1. Avoid public transport.
2. Private taxis can be expensive.
3. Taxis with meters are non-existent.
4. Hire a 2-wheeler close to where you’re staying.
5. If you’re not comfortable with a motorcycle, hire a non-geared scooter.
6. There aren’t many fuel stations.
7. It’s ok to buy petrol sold in bottles on the side of the road.
8. In India, they drive on the left side of the road.
Things to do in Goa:
Whether you’re a beached whale, a beach bum, a dread-locked hippie, a frolicking nymph, a pig-eating pig, thrill-seeker or bargain-hunter, check out our Top Ten Things to do in Goa for must-dos, ideas and inspiration. Hope you enjoyed our Goa Guide and feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below!