10 Best places to Visit in Goa for the First Time Traveler!
The long stretched roads of Goa blends with the horizon blurred with lush greens of Western Ghats bio reserve. The allure of the azure blue Arabian sea on the west of the state brings the world home all the way from the horn of Africa and the Mediterranean! Long stretched beautiful sandy beaches of Goa thrive with lively beats at the heart of tourist epicenter, Baga and Calangute. At the sundown, the bars dotting the Goa coastline come alive with peppy numbers trending the world of WWW.
I have been there, done that! I joined a group of friends, who were elated beyond words after the long cherished plan to travel to Goa was truly coming alive! We saved for months, researched for nights, made a list of all the great eateries and party places in Goa, asked around where to rent the scooty. As our plane alighted at the Dabolim airport, we peeped out to get that first glance of dense green forest, outlined with an endless sea reflecting the powder blue sky!
We fell in love in Goa instantaneously. We knew no other way!
The rest of the days in the state were a perpetual state of elation, romance and intoxication! We woke up at leisure, walked to a beach close by, smeared our soul with sand and salt, frolicked around the beached, shopped at the night markets, ate fresh catch of the day at the beach shacks, followed by a shot of kokum juice, laughed till the chins hurt and screamed out in amazement standing on the top of the forlorn beaches.
At night, we would dig out the scary ghosts long buried under the Portuguese colony’s soil, evoke another obscure world hidden under the over touristy Earth looming large at the heart of Goa and sometimes go out for a hedonist beach drive, only to be stuck at the wee end of a never ending traffic jam. Thus, a long weekend in Goa that we sneaked out of busy schedule was well spent!
For the first few times I traveled to the Sunshine state, Goa ushered in with the ubiquitous “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara Life”. Or was it “Dil Chahta Hain?”
It was only while we were reading back to Karnataka by a night train, I was introduced to the overwhelming wealth of nature reserves in Goa! The train skidded through a misty forest, greener that the world portrayed in the movie Avatar. A world where the green lived and breathed in sync with the Universe!
The next time I went back to Goa, the coastline scared me away with an impending cyclone. I secured a safe place in the inland of Goa and explored the offbeat Goa, often overshadowed by the pristine beaches of the state.
10 Best Places to visit in Goa for the Cultural Traveler as well as a Beach Lover!
In this blog post, I would highlight some of the best destinations in Goa. It would be a medley of the best beaches of Goa as well as cultural experiences with some truly offbeat gems!
Fontainhas: the Latin Quarter of Goa
Imagine a neighbourhood dotted with small two storied bungalows tucked away on both the sides of the road. Hues picked from the rainbow reflect on the walls on both the sides of the roads. The dainty bungalows date back to the Portuguese colonial past of Goa. Fontainhas is also known as the Latin quarter of Goa!
For a street photo enthusiast and a culture traveler, Fontainhas is a prized find in Goa. Fontainhas is also the most beautiful backdrop for a photo-shoot in Goa (as well as instagrammers).
With raging popularity among the niche traveler group who visit Goa for a longer period, many bungalows in Fontainhas have opened homestays. Some of my favourite cafes from Fontainhas are Viva Panjim Anita Tea House, Soul chef Goa etc.
Divar Island: The backwaters of Mandovi River
At the advent of Portuguese reign, thousands of erstwhile inhabitants of old Goa/Velha Goa had to flee their home in order to safeguard their culture and faith. The new regime demanded conversion of those who stayed back.
Divar island was a large riverine island on the river Mandovi where nearly 5000 people fled, and started a new life. Portuguese influence sipped through eventually. Today, you will find the island dotted with beautiful ramshackle bungalows tucked inside graceful gardens and blooming wildflowers. Backwaters paves way for mangroves to share space with paddy fields.
Divar island today stands as a quaint sleepy island, with the famous Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary located at one end. Early morning ferries can take you around the island and introduce you to some of the rare and precious avian species. A government ferry runs through the Main road and Divar island every half an hour till 10 pm. After 10 pm, the ferry can be called based on emergency. The ferry was free.
I stayed in Divar island with the Mercure Devaaya Goa for a couple of days. I loved all of the island, the forlorn roads under the canopy of big banyan tress, the juxtaposition of Catholic church and a Tulsi Manch, the dense mangrove system protecting the island from saline water. I dig everything that Divar Island stood for except for the stray dogs. And they are everywhere in Goa! It was impossible to walk down the road after sundown without being in the fear of getting bitten by these dogs (and possibly contacting rabies!).
Divar island is one of the many offbeat destinations in Goa beyond the beaches!
Velha Goa or Old Goa: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Not many remember this today but Goa was known to be the Rome of the oriental world for its lavish courtrooms and religious institutes. Remnants of the Portuguese heydays can be found in the beautiful churches, cathedrals and chapels. Some of the notable institutes are: the Basilica of Bom Jesus, with the remains of St. Francis Xavier, and the domed Church of St. Cajetan, inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome. The Gothic architecture and imposing heritage have rightly earned them a UNESCO World Heritage status.
It is wise to keep a full day to explore the nook and corner of Old Goa. The old narrow dinghy lanes will take you further away from the UNESCO world heritage sites and give you a closer look at the thriving history of a Portuguese past that blended seamlessly with the old Gomantak.
Candolim Beach: Jewel in the crown of North Goa!
While Baga and Calangute are the longest stretch of unhindered and beautiful beaches of Goa, they also attract the highest number of visitors. Countless heads crowd the horizon in Baga and the view is anything but pleasant.
But in case you wanna stay close to north Goa, which also happens to be the focal point of a happening nightlife of the state, choose Candolim beach instead. The relatively smaller beach is strategically located closer to many points of attractions in Goa, yet not as crowded as Baga. It has many shacks, beautiful set ups by the shore, lets you witness a gorgeous sunset, and clean ambiance. Calangute has many airbnbs and high end hotels in close vicinity and serves as a perfect vacation spot for a family traveling to Goa on a flexible budget.
Please note, Candolim may remain closed during monsoon due to surging tidal waves.
Cabo De Rama Fort & View Point
The Western Coast of India had long protected the Indian peninsula from attacks from the Mediterranean world. The coastguards patrolled in boats and the rulers also set up sprawling forts. Goa is no exception.
While the coastline along the Arabian Sea has many such dilapidated forts where olden days whisper myriad tales, Cabo de rama in Goa is particularly interesting. Firstly, it lets you glance upon an ethereal view. Dense jungle on one side and a crescent moon like beach kisses the sea on the other. Secondly, Cabo De rama fort had served as a prison for a while after India gained independence.
Like the palm groves of Parra, Cabo de Rama is slowly gaining popularity among travelers. If you are a fort enthusiast, you may want to check out the sunset view point from Chapora as well.
Palolem Beach: the quintessential best beach of Asia!
Not long ago, Tripadvisor had rated Palolem to be one of the top beaches in Asia. It was surprising how Palolem retained its charm even after coming into limelight of an organization as big as TA! Usually, the hidden gems of the world slowly succumb to a painful death once the words spread and more humans swarm in (like Darjeeling). We are experts in ruining stuff!
Palolem is a rocky beach in the south of Goa. The major attraction of the beach is a small wooden cottage painted in myriad hues which reflect gorgeous vibes at the golden hour! Palolem beach is also one of the best destinations in Goa to witness a beautiful sunset!
Until recently it was easy to get a homestay near Palolem for INR 500 for a night. The closer you go to the beach, the more is the pocket pinch. Palm groves, submerged rocks resembling coral fossils, trekking routes through rustic trails to a more offbeat beach named Patnem, Palolem is a charming abode for a backpacker. I guess its existence in far south of the state and repute of a backpacker’s destination have protected Palolem from the domestic family vacationers in Goa! Good for us, what more can I say?
Palolem is a clean beach with ample opportunity to practice yoga by the coastline. You are likely to find more yoga enthusiast on this beach!
Ashwem Beach: Beautiful beach from Goa’s Far North!
It is quite a task to choose between North and south Goa! To me, Far South and Far North feel almost similar, with less crowd and intensely romantic endless beaches!
Located in the far north of Goa, Ashwem is one of the most beautiful beaches of Goa. On a good day, the white sand and blue water make up for a perfect surfing zone.
Nonetheless, I loved the vibes of Ashwem. It is located close to Morjim beach, which looks similar but is bigger in size. Ashwem is really hidden from the main road with a narrow path meandering through the beach huts. La Plage is a beautiful romantic restaurant located close to Ashwem. Please call up your hotel before visiting because many of the beach resorts in Goa shut down their business during low season.
Sinquerim beach for water sports!
The whole of India heads to Goa to experience beach sports first hand! The Sinquerim beach next to Aguada Fort is the ultimate destination where watersports actually take a form of relentless fair! Please be informed, water sports in Goa is heavily dependent on weather conditions. Do not venture deep into the sea if you sense a bit of turmoil in the stratosphere. The sea could turn into a merciless monster at the drop of an eyelid!
From Sinquerim beach, speedboats, banana boats and parasailing take place. Experienced instructors will join you with life saving jackets. Accidents occur rarely. We flew on a parasailing boat for INR 2000 for half an hour. It was scintillating to fly on top of the sea while the lingering view of a magnificent fort and beautiful beaches flashed over the eyes! They dipped us in the sea water before pulling the string back to the boat! For a moment we thought we were drawing! I remember all the laughter and nervous screams!
Also read: Things to do in Leh in 5 days!
Anjuna Market: the Night markets of Goa and the Hippie Trail!
As a part of the old Hippie Trail, Goa flaunts of colorful night markets fuelled by the eternal concept of thrift marketing. In 70s India, under a socist government, it was nearly impossible for an ordinary Indian to get hold of a radiogram, a binocular or an SLR camera and the likes, you get the drift. But Goa was a different ball game. The thrift market of Anjuna, Mapusa, Arambol saw an incessant flow of fancy imported products, albeit second hand, sold in abundance. They brought luxury a step closer to middle class boomers!
Gone are the days of Hippie trails. Most of the fancy products of our times are made in China, branded by the west. But Anjuna Night Market is a must visit place in Goa nonetheless. Held once in a week, Anjuna Night Market is a sprawling marketplace sprang from nowhere amid a vast field. This is where you get everything, from the dried prawn pickle to bed sheets printed with huge Ganesh statues and ornate silver trinkets and flowing beach gowns used by the Russian models… I can think of an endless number of travel souvenirs from Goa!
Carnival: A festival staging a riot of color!
the Carnival is an annual religious festival in Goa, an answer from India to the Mardi Gras of West. Long processions with people decked up in colorful costumes and make up as well as cars painted with elaborate graffities walk the road amid screaming audience! It is a lot like Durgapuja of Kolkata. Carnival usually takes place by the end of February.
Dudhsagar: a waterfall which would leave you speechless!
One of India’s largest cascading falls, Dudhsagar is a marvel hidden in the folds of western Ghats. Needless to say, Dudhsagar is best experienced from the train line that connects Goa with Bangalore or any train that traverses through the Konkan line.
Reaching Dudhsagar falls through trekking the jungles of South Goa is a beautiful experience in the dry season. the route is closed for trekking during the raving monsoon months. A permit is required to reach Dudhsagar and government issues a limited number of local vehicles to reach the trekking point on a daily basis. So start early! You can swim on the waterbody which is sitting atop Dudhsagar as well.
Where in Goa, you have found your soul story? Is it by the beach or in a bowl full of solkadi (the very Goan drink)? Did you venture into the trekking routes at the foothill of the western Ghats or did you find a new palm grove by the coastline? Let me know in the comment section below, because Goa will forever be on my list of beautiful destinations around the globe!
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