The Goa Rundown
It figures that Goa is a fixture tourist destination in India. The popularity of the compact coastal state is still built on desirable elements of the good life: a rustic beach, mellow tropical breeze, palm tree shade and the hypnotic din of the sea.
That all of it bubbles above a persistent underswell of hippy-era nostalgia is fine for some. Goa was indeed one of the paragon stops on the turn on, tune in, drop out psychedelic trail and by the looks of it, some Haight-Ashbury hints (and people) never left the beach. Ravi Shankar may have made way for electronic music in the late 1980s but it all still looks like one big love-in.
Still, Goa is far from a cognate cluster of far-out, groovy cornball kitsch. Look beyond the bongos and fluoro body paint, past the glow sticks, the beach jugglers, dreadlocks, amateur shamans and desginer drugs and see the state for what it is. Goa has party scene cred, without question, but the inimitable beauty of the place resides in UNESCO World Heritage colonial architecture, genuine coastal village charm, a singular mosaic of cultures and a backdrop that includes the summits of the Western Ghats and a web of languid monsoon-fed rivers. A network of handsome towns provide a solid trampoline to the best of Goa too, from state capital Panaji to Vasco, Margao to Mapusa. Whatever aspect of Goa you choose to focus on, from the proverbial to the extraordinary, this gem of South West India will leave you in a trance.
Goa's Top 10
10. Goa State Museum is a welcome reprieve from the beach scene.
5. Bom Jesus Basilica is a linchpin in Goa’s UNESCO World Heritage ensemble of monuments.
9. Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is small but has enough resident sambar deer and gaurs to impress.
4. Mangueshi Temple is a wonder of daily puja ceremony and worship in Goa.
8. Savoi Spice Plantation is a lovely haven with wafts of cardamom and star anise.
3. Panaji Bairro das Fontainhas is a foremost quarter of colonial heritage architecture.
7. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary lives up to the wildlife sanctuary label, with ample exotic fauna on hand.
2. Sé Cathedral is the standout landmark of Old Goa and the largest church in India.
6. Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park protects a considerable and exquisite swath of the Western Ghats.
1. Cabo Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of Goa and dates back to the mid-17th century.
- Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception – This historical church in Panaji is the prime attraction.
- Basilica of Bom Jesus – This World Heritage Site reveals the Portuguese Catholic influence on Goa.
- Fort Aguada – This popular historical fort can be reached by a hired scooter and offers beautiful views.
- Se Cathedral – This World Heritage Site is the biggest cathedral in this part of Asia.
- Tomb of St Francis Xavier – This old church houses the body of St Francis Xavier.
Goa Art and Culture
- The Big Foot Art Gallery – A magnificent place that supports local artists and hosts free exhibitions.
- Archaeological Museum – Established in 1964, this museum in Old Goa contains objects from prehistoric to late-medieval periods.
- Houses of Goa Museum – Resembling a ship, this museum showcases houses, the prime expression of Goan identity.
- Intruz (Carnival) – This February celebration livens up the streets with parades, dances and bands.
- Christmas – This holiday sees Goa colourfully decorated and in the most festive mood.
- Government Emporia – Sells authentic handcrafts, souvenirs and carved furniture.
- Anjuna – Goa’s Wednesday market has hundreds of stalls selling almost anything.
- Mapusa – This Friday market in Mapusa has everything from dried fish and spices to curios and old coins.
- Ingo’s Saturday Nite Bazaar – Locals and tourists throng here on weekends to dine and wine.
- Casa Goa – This stylish boutique showcases a variety of Goan designer wear.
Gay & Lesbian Goa
- Mardi Gras – This festival in Goa follows a very old tradition with a gay tilt in recent years.
- Hysons Beach – This friendly beach attracts tourists of diverse orientations and offers opportunities for cruising.
- Chattai Palolem – Designed by architect George John, this is a gay-friendly beach with a bar and a restaurant.
- Paradise Village – This gay-friendly bar offers karaoke on Tuesday and Saturday nights.
- Tito’s Lane – This lively strip in Calangute offers nightclubs, discos and restaurants that are gay friendly.
- Calangute Beach – This tremendously popular beach in Goa offers sunbathing and dining
- Palolem Beach – This picturesque beach offers boat trips down the little estuary.
- Sahakari Spice Farm – The tour will show you a variety of spice plants.
- Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary – This wildlife zoo is well worth visiting for a large variety of exotic species.
- Dudhsagar Falls – This breathtaking waterfall is the second highest in India.
- Scuba dive around Grande Island.
- Learn to kitesurf with instructors on Morjim Beach.
- Jet ski or paraglide at Bgha Beach.
- Watch the Sporting Clube de Goa professional football team play at Fatorda Stadium.
- Sail on a dinghy in Goa from October to May.
Goa is the smallest state in India by far and has the fourth smallest population in the country. Thus, at 3,700 km<sup>2</sup> and with 1.5 million people, it represents manageable ground for tourists to digest. The five main towns in the state - Mapusa, Margao, Mormugao, Panaji and Vasco - form one de facto metropolitan area.
North Goa is one of two districts in the state and home to the small state capital of Panaji. North Goa contains six talukas, or administrative divisions.
Bardez is notable as one of the first flower children, “peace and love” settlements in the state. That tradition endures at points of interest like Vagator Beach, Anjuna Beach and Candolim Beach. Other attractive coastal haunts include Sinquerim, Calangute and Baga.
Bicholim is home to Arvalem Caves and Mayem Lake.
Pernem has lush agricultural areas and hosts a big harvest festival every year.
Ponda is affectionately known as the “Cultural Capital of Goa” and is home to many venerable temples. The taluka and small city is a gateway to the state’s best nature reserves.
Sattari is too inland to be of interest to most mainstream tourists but, with dense primary forests and the Western Ghats as a natural border, is sublime.
Tiswadi unfurls the crown jewel of the “Churches and Convents of Goa” UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription: the Church of Bom Jesus.
South Goa is the other district in the state and home to five talukas.
Canacona’s Palolem Beach is where Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne took temporary refuge in The Bourne Supremacy.
Mormugao, both taluka and city, is a major gateway to the rest of Goa and home to 100,000 people.
Quepem is a small district with two quiet towns in Sanvordem and Curchorem.
Salcette district borders the Arabian Sea and unfolds some remarkably pristine scenery.
Sanguem’s indubitable claim to fame is Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
Goa Eat & Drink
Goan cuisine, like many a regional repast in India, is a furious stylistic blend. The edible emphasis in the coastal state, naturally, is on the ocean’s bounty and fundamental items like coconut and spices. The culinary impact left by the Portuguese is still pervasive, more than 500 years after Vasco da Gama made his epic turn at the Cape of Good Hope.
Tato (Apna Bazaar Complex, Margao) serves delectable vegetarian dishes near Margao’s Municipal Gardens.
New Café Hema (General Bernado Guedes Road, Panaji) proves that backdoor purveyors of fish curry rule the roost in Goa.
Home (Pantem Beach Palolem) feels like home away from home, what with generous breakfasts and killer comfort food.
Gujurat Sweet Mart (18th June Road, Panaji) is a capable pusher of just about every sugary confection from the Indian culinary roster.
Sher-E-Punjab (18th June Road, Panaji) is a fancy lunch spot with fragrant and pungent fare.
Vihar Restaurant (MG Road, Panaji) is a veg curry and fresh fruit juice mecca.
Martha’s Breakfast Home
(66 Residency Road, Anjuna) serves a generous variety of hearty breakfast staples throughout the day.
Coconut Creek (Bimut Ward Bogmalo) is a serene escape for diners who want more than a beach fish fry.
Munches (De Mello Vaddo, Anjuna) is the snack happy answer to incessant stomach grumbles.
A Reverie (Holiday Street, Gaura Vaddo, Calangute) is possibly the most extravagant and upscale restaurant in the state.
Goa’s strong suit in the festival department is venerable arts and culture, which the state celebrates with verve on a regular basis. A number of Christian feast days punctuate the calendar as well.
Goa Carnival is a huge event in the state and a notable holdover from Portuguese colonial rule. The carnival, or Intruz, is held over three festive days in state capital Panaji and features a host of parades, colourful costumes and nocturnal debauchery.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the annual Hindu festival of Ganesha in August or September. The national holiday is met with fervent observance in Goa.
Pop, Beat and Jazz Festival is a foremost music event held every February in Panaji.
Beach Bonanza refers to a spate of food and entertainment festivals held on Sundays throughout the month of May.
Goa Food and Cultural Festival is a five day affair in late November, early December with ample traditional cuisine, music and poetry.
Goa Heritage Festival takes Panaji by storm in November, with two days of cultural events throughout the state capital.
International Film Festival of India is the veritable Cannes of the country and takes place over 10 days in November in Panaji.
When To Go
Charter airline service to Goa is seasonal for a reason. The tropical monsoon climate batters the state with more rain in one month, July, than London gets over the course of 18 months. June and August fare little better. In all, the annual average of 3,000 mm falls between May and October. These, then, would be the months not to go to Goa, despite the fact that for many locals, the monsoon season is the best time to experience the state.
The rest of the year, December, January and February especially, the state teems with tourists. The throngs typically congregate on the coastline in complete beach nirvana to enjoy abundant sunshine and blissful temperatures in the 68°F (20°C) to 90°F (32°C) range. Because Goa’s wet and dry climate runs like clockwork, scant precipitation falls over the peak tourism season.
What To Miss
Goa’s reputation as a banal hovel of grimy, New Age faux-asceticism is not entirely without merit. If you travel without a fabric satchel or backpack, like your hair kempt and fear your rave and recreational drug phase is history, some of the allure may not resonate. Happily, Goa is not all trance music, trippy drum circles and touts on the beach and, indeed, positive facets of the counterculture scene abound. Still, a taciturn hostility between locals and supercillious visitors who want to drop-out and claim a parcel of paradise is palpable.
With that, the usual conventional wisdom with regard to street entrepreneurs, markets, crowds, taxi drivers and obvious opportunists is just as germane in Goa. Keep an eye out for scams and stay on guard. If you forsake sobriety, do so in the company of confidants and bosom mates.
The two primary airline channels into Goa are domestic connections from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai or direct flights to Dabolim Airport outside of Vasco da Gama. Dabolim has seasonal service to London-Gatwick, Manchester, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Moscow-Sheremetyevo, Zürich and more. The hub ranks in the top ten in India in total annual passengers.
The national bus network in India is reliable and a popular mode of transport to Goa. If you can stomach the crowds, nervy drivers and flimsy states of repair, take the public bus. A more expensive fare will get you there faster and in a far more superior class of comfort, however.
If you prefer to ride the rails, as many do in India, direct service to Goa is plentiful from the likes of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Mangalore, Bengaluru, Kochi, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram. First class AC sleepers book fast and are worth every rupee if available en route.
In Goa proper, a lot of regular visitors rely on a mix of river ferry and private car with driver to travel within the small state. Motorcycle and scooter hire is supremely popular with a particular kind of tourist but incessant reports of shoddy mechanics and fatal accidents alarm some.
When Goa became a fixture destination in rave youth culture more than a decade ago, the ethos of India's exotic state took a new turn. While the first scalpel incision may have been the appearance of counterculture hippies a generation prior, Goa's virtual facelift was complete once trance music and glow sticks hit the Arabian Sea coast.
Thankfully, there are still reminders of India everywhere. Once a colony of Portugal, Goa's heritage is a wonderful fusion entirely dissimilar from the rest of the country. You can see it in the architecture and taste in the incredible regional cuisine. From the capital of Panaji to the city of Vasco da Gama, the state is replete with UNESCO World Heritage sites. For nature lovers, a spectacular array of flora and fauna in and around the area of the Western Ghats mountain range has repeatedly earned Goa plaudits as one of the premier biodiversity hotspots on the planet.
Other than certain times within the monsoon season that runs from June to September, Goa's hot tropical climate is suitable for exotic tourism throughout the year. Temperatures seldom dip below 18°C and get up as high as 35°C without the humidex.
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