Goa, India

Goa is a beautiful area of long sandy
beaches and warm
tropical weather in India .  It’s a great place to relax and
do nothing, or party with the many visitors in the north.  There is plenty
to do away from the sun-drenched beaches as Goa is home to whitewashed churches,
paddy fields, coconut-palm groves and crumbling forts from the Portuguese influence.

Update: Due to changes in Indian visas,
which are now more difficult to get, fewer people visited Goa in the 2007
season.  This meant rooms were easier to find, but some business felt the pinch.

Goa splits into three regions:  North Goa is
home to the party scene, the capital of Panaji, the former capital of old Goa,
the market town of Mapusa and many undeveloped beaches.  South Goa is less
developed and more laid back than the north.  Central Goa has several
inland towns, water falls, wildlife sanctuaries and spice plantations.

Highlights of Goa

  • Beaches – lots
    of them, with varying development, some with a party crowd, some with nothing at
    all.

  • Old Goa – the
    former capital with magnificent cathedrals, a city that once rivalled Lisbon.

  • Anjuna market
    the colorful Wednesday flea market, follow with the sunset at Anjuna beach.

  • Palolem beach
    picture perfect, Goa’s most idyllic beach.

  • Hire a moped or motorbike and explore all of the pockets of Goa at your own pace.
  • Goan food – fresh fish and
    speciality dishes including the fiery vindaloo.

The beaches of Goa

Goa’s biggest attraction is its beaches.  The
beaches themselves, and the villages and resorts that have grown
up around them, and the people who are drawn to them are all
quite different in character.  Some have changed beyond recognition in the past 10
years, others are just being discovered and a few pockets remain unspoiled.

Goa’s beaches are spread out across the state.  The northern beaches are generally more developed and home
to the party crowd. The southern beaches are more quiet. Most beaches have
towns with the services you will need, but some don’t have ATMs yet. 
Here’s a brief rundown of Goa’s main beaches from north to south:

  • Arambol (Harmal) -The most northerly
    of Goa’s developed beaches, Arambol has an attractive rocky headland and a
    chilled-out, but increasingly busy, scene with music bars and some good
    restaurants. It attracts backpackers, and some of the old Anjuna crowd looking
    for a quieter time.  Because it’s a cheaper place to stay the season
    starts a little earlier that in Anjuna.

  • Mandrem – The next beach south is
    clean but uninspiring, with a small knot of bamboo huts between the road and
    the beach, and good midrange accommodation among the coconut groves near
    Mandrem Creek.

  • Morjim & Asvem -Stretching down
    to the Chapora River, the beaches here are nothing special in themselves, but
    travellers have drifted here to escape the scene further south.  There
    are bamboo and palm-thatched huts, an upmarket tent camp and a few beach
    shacks but essential it’s a quiet place to do nothing.

  • Vagator – There are three small
    picturesque beaches at Vagator backed by a rocky headland.  it’s the
    center of the night time scene, popular with European and Israeli ravers.

  • Anjuna – There’s a good stretch of
    beach near the flea market, and plenty of accommodation strung out over a wide
    area.  Anjuna retains its popularity with the party crown but its days as
    the place to be seen are virtually over.  Market day (Wednesday) should
    not be missed.

  • Calangute & Baga – The long
    stretch of very crowded beach here is overlooked with beach shacks and sun
    beds, backed by midrange concrete-block hotels.  This is package tourism
    central, though many travellers still prefer the upbeat atmosphere here to that
    further north.  It’s also possible to find quiet accommodation in local
    houses set back from the beach.

  • Candolim & Sinquerim – A
    continuation of Calangute, Candolim is a mix of upmarket resorts, package
    hotels, beach shacks and some good restaurants, culminating in the sprawling
    Taj complex at Sinquerim.

  • Miramar – Miramar, Panaj’s town
    beach, is no place for swimming but it’s a popular spot from which to watch
    the sunset.

  • Bogmalo– A small, sheltered beach
    just 4km south of Dabolim Airport, Bogmalo has a feeling of exclusivity and
    can be used as a base for diving.

  • Majorda & Velsao – Blighted by a
    petrochemical plant in the distance, these beaches north of Colva have a few
    upmarket resort hotels but little tourist activity.

  • Colva and Benaulim
    The beach here is similar to Calangute, but it’s much quieter and still has a
    noticeable fishing industry. There’s a mix of package tourists, India tourists
    and backpackers, but no party scene.  Benaulim village is quieter still
    and a good place to stay long-term.

  • Varca & Cavelossim – Five-star
    luxury resorts here front relatively empty, undeveloped beaches.

  • Agonda – North of Palolem, Agonda is
    an average looking beach but a good place to chill out.  It mostly
    attracts laid-back travelers doing as little as possible.

  • Palolem – Palolem is
    still the most idyllic beach in the state, but it’s fast filling up with
    travellers and the businesses set up to service them. Accommodation is mostly a
    string of bamboo huts fronting the beach.

  • Patnem – Patnem, a short
    walk south of Palolem is quieter and has some decent surf.

When to visit Goa

Late October to February is the perfect time to visit;
temperatures are warm and rain occasional.  December to January is peak season and accommodation is
snapped up quickly, despite prices doubling.  Humidity starts to rise in
March.  The monsoon hits Goa between June and September, when many places
close up shop. 

Christmas time in Goa

Roman Catholic is the major religion in Goa so Christmas
is not only celebrated by the locals, but also thousands of visitors who descend
for the holidays.  It’s a great place to spend Christmas, whether you want
to party or relax.  Accommodation prices double around the Christmas
period.  With so many visitors places soon get snapped up, but you can
normally find somewhere to stay.  Arrive before December 15th to make life
easier. If you are staying for more than a few weeks ask around for
long-term discounts.  If you arriving into Goa at Christmas time book well
ahead, especially on the Mumbai-Goa trains.

Accommodation in Goa

You’ll find the following accommodation options in most places:

  • Beach huts
    they vary in quality, but the best have fans, power, private bathrooms and
    restaurants.  Being on the beach is great.  Prices are about INR800 –
    INR1200 around Christmas, and half that at other times.

  • Guesthouses
    normally set a short walk away from the beaches, and family run.  Better
    for long term stays as prices are typically INR350 – INR500, less outside of
    Christmas.  Some are as cheap as INR100, but you’ll need to look around.

  • Hotels – mainly catering for the
    package tours, and hardly the authentic Goan experience.  Prices are INR800+.

Activities in Goa

  • Watersports – parasailing,
    jet-skiing and windsurfing are available on the more developed beaches. 
    Patnem has surfing
    potential.  Scuba-diving is also available, but the water isn’t crystal
    clear in Goa.

  • Boat trips to
    spot dolphins, go fishing or cruise the backwaters are available.  An
    interesting trip is to the spice plantations near Ponda.

  • Yoga, reiki, Ayuervedic massage and reflexology are
    available in most places.

  • Mopeds and
    motorbikes can be rented from INR200, and are the
    best way to explore.

Dangers and hassles in Goa

  • Drugs are easily available in the party areas, but
    take care.  They are illegal, and in the past corrupt police have
    threatened to plant drugs on people unless baksheesh is paid, but this is less common now.  If you
    are hassled by Police and money is demanded inform the local people
    and make a complaint at a Police station.  Corruption is taken very seriously
    in Indian now.

  • On the beaches in Goa a guy will approach saying
    you have soap in your ear.  If you stop and check he will pretend to
    clean your ear and show you the ear wax.  Don’t stop for these guys,
    unless you want your ears cleaned, but I would question the cleanliness of
    their tools, and their training.

Getting to and from Goa

Trains: Most people arrive in
Goa by Train.  There are several train stations in Goa, check your guide
book maps to see which is
the best one for your chosen beach.  Many people catch
the overnight train from Mumbai to Goa, so book several days in advance at Christmas. 
Margoa station has a pre-paid taxi booth outside
the station.  If you have small luggage the motorbike taxis are much
cheaper.
Planes: There is an international airport in Dabolim
with cheap flights from many cities around India.
Bus: There
are long distance interstate buses from various locations.  Trains are better though.

Getting around Goa

Taxis and autorickshaws are quite cheap for getting
around with your luggage.  Motorbike taxis are even cheaper, if you luggage
isn’t too heavy.  Renting
a motorbike or moped in Goa

is the best way to
explore.  Bicycles are easily rented too.

Note: Many taxi drivers have a
deal with gift shops whereby they get vouchers for ever potential customer they
bring.  You only need to browse in the shop for 5 minutes and they get the
vouchers.  The shops often have good genuine Indian goods.  If
you  drive a hard bargain with the taxi drivers, especially for long trips, they
might mention the vouchers.  It can be a good way of getting
a cheap taxi ride.  I got a ride from Colva to Palolem for
INR600, which would normally be INR800+.

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