About this Blog: Traveling to Goa during monsoon? Or planning for a year end vacation in Goa? Wish to take along your family and the kids? or is it a College friends’ backpacking trip to Goa? Is it your first solo trip to Goa? Wondering where to stay and things to do in Goa except for the beaches? Here is your comprehensive guide on offbeat & fun things in Goa with cultural & responsible experiences.
Read all my posts on things to do in Goa!
Don’t worry… I will also tell you about the secret beaches I have discovered in Goa! A visit to Goa is incomplete without visiting her ethereal coastline. However, Goa easily scores high with a handful of interesting things to do!
Please know Goa is beautiful beyond her beaches.
My objective is to highlight those lesser known treasures of Goa, where nature prevails in abundance, locals value ancient cultural practices and tourist trails merges with indigenous tree of life. The vice of over-tourism is yet to reach these parts of Goa, hence you are in for a more authentic experience.
In pictures: Cyclone Kyarr and its aftermath!
Why Explore the Interiors of Goa?
“Let’s go to Goa!” How many times we made a “Goa Travel plan” with friends in college? Mostly failed, but that is okay!
Goa is freedom! Goa is love.
I often wonder, did Amir Khan know? His friends and he would prance around “Dil Chahta Hain” (loosely translated, This is what my heart longs for) on the long sandy stretches of ethereal Goa beaches, and the nation’s youth would follow!
Also read: First timer’s guide to visiting Goa!
The Russians and others of counterculture enthusiasts will be pushed away to the distant coasts of North Goa. Trance parties making a man trip to his past and future will become utopic. The flea markets will replace soviet made radios and camera for silver trinkets and what not! Arabian Sea will bury deep all the secrets of Goa!
I visited Goa on the August holidays in 2017. It felt like the rest of India came to spend an extended vacation in Goa. Monsoon was on full swing with waves hissing like a mythical creature. It’s valor and wrath scared most of the tourists. We stayed put on the beach most of the time!
Crowd in Baga beach reminded me of a usual Ashtami Durgapuja night from Kolkata! But only in a more distressing manner. Sea waves made it to my sight once in a while, playing peekaboo with millions of human heads.
Those hairlines revolted me and eventually inspired to explore the unspoiled gems of Goa hinterlands, where very few usually ventures.
Like every other state in India, Goa’s history has witnessed the rise and fall of many kingdoms. From ancient epitaph for Parashuram in Mahabharat to Portuguese colonists of century bygone, hymn for then Gomantak, now Goa never stopped. For an enthusiast in cultural travel, exploring these little known layers of Goa is an immensely rewarding experience.
Quirks of local traditions find a way on the checks of Kunbi saree, festivals, hand painted flower graffiti adorning the walls of the balcony, colorful neighborhoods studded with ceramic pottery for a nameplate, elaborate Konkani meals and more!
GITM and the ‘other’ Goa unveiled!
On October 2019, I attended the Goa International Travel Mart. For me, GITM 2019 is the first Indian Travel Mart, promoting a hotbed of an Indian tourist destination. Within a couple of days, we were introduced to a plethora of new travel trade practices being implemented in Goa.
Considering Goa as one of the most popular tourist destinations among the global youth, it is crucial to implement eco-friendly measures and responsible tourism approaches. Experts in panel discussions agreed unequivocally on implementing responsible and sustainable travel practices, increasing safety and other things.
Once the talks were over, I reached the Northern end of Goa’s pristine beaches. I stayed along the coast of Ashwem, at Yab Yum Resort, for a while while Cyclone Kyarr swept over the beach-line.
Following is a list of unusual and fun things to do in Goa beyond the realm of mass touristy routes. As much as it sounds difficult to bid adieu to Goa beaches, let me ensure that the other offbeat experiences in Goa promises to make up for it!
Set Sail on a Cruise to Goa
The maritime path from Mumbai to Goa is now dominated by luxury cruise liners by Angriya.
From the finance capital of India to the party capital on the western coast, the cruise line takes close to seventeen hours and passes through coastline dotted with ancient lighthouses, remains of forts, Vengurla rocks, sandbanks turned hatcheries for migrating birds and seagulls. The cruise liner has replaced single use plastic bottles with traditional copper jugs in guest rooms, shies away from using plastic on most of the operational needs and strives to conserve power as part of responsible travel practices.
Once in Goa, you may also choose to opt for one of the numerous river cruises on Mandovi river. Generally the Mandovi river cruise sails everyday of the week, barring an exceptionally rainy day. The river cruise on Mandovi also comes combined with an elaborate lunch buffet and cocktails.
A Houseboat stay at the Backwaters in Goa
In Goa, the world revolves around water. The two main rivers, Mandovi and Zuari open to Arabian sea at the west. The plainland plays along tidal waves.
Houseboats generally sail on Chapora river, closer to the northern countryside of Goa. Life unfolds slowly. Fishermen get busy with day’s yields. School going children board the government ferry. Locals at the marketplace. Old churches and temples stand witness to beautiful dawns. Local bakers slide in a generous amount of homemade butter in the oven. The air is filled with peace and joy.
Laid back Water is one such Houseboat service provider in Vagator, North Goa!
The houseboat maneuvers through these simple joys of life. Built in a similar style of houseboats at Alappuzha backwaters in Kerala, the ones at Goa sails like a swan through the dense coconut groves. You may choose to ride for a few hours and shoot the sunset. You may also spend the night at an open deck. The latter is recommended on a clear sky day.
Hot Air Balloon Ride in Goa
If you thought these Hot Air Balloons lets you take a bird’s eye view of the dilapidated temples at Bagan, Myanmar and the vast arid landscapes of Masai Mara in Kenya, think again! You can fly over the quaint little Goan villages, dotted with Portuguese church, hidden away in the dense foliage of Western Ghats.
Located at Chandor in South Goa, the Balloon ride takes place in the early hours of the day. Alternatively, you can choose to fly during sunset. Sunset paints the sky canvas on Arabian Sea in myriad hues of red.
The balloon flies over wildlife corridor, meaning you may spot much coveted wildlife on a lucky day! The ride lasts close to 90 minutes.
Bungee Jumping at Mayem Lake, Goa
Roughly an hour’s drive from Baga Beach at the heart of Goa, you can take a leap of faith from 50/70 Meter height (you choose the height that suits you basically) and experience a free fall jump! Bungee jumping has now reached Goa.
It is operated by the company who also runs India’s tallest Bungee jumping facility at Rishikesh. Instilling a sense of confidence to the tourist and safety precautions are utmost importance to them.
E Bikes in Goa to explore old Panjim!
A company named Blive has now introduced a new way to explore Goa by pedalling Ebikes and following a curated trail. There are set tours conducted by a tour guide at different parts of Goa.
I liked specially curated Spooky trail, where bikers will hop around the most haunted locales in Goa! I recall visiting Aguada fort and stopping by an abandoned hospital once. Amid numerous Peepal tree reclaiming its concrete structure, the house looks inviting.
With an E Bike and a local guide to accompany you, you can pedal through the nook and corners of Saligao and other old neighbourhoods of Goa, where ancient legends live in obscurity.
If you are averse of meeting departed souls, you may choose to explore the Goan Food Trail. Easiest way to explore a culture is through its plate, by tasting locally grown delicacies. Through the ages, Goa has developed a curious creole cuisine where Rawa fried fish proudly claims a space by Pork Xacutti.
I prefer to explore local Goan food by my own. I read numerous blog posts and often resort to social media to eat like a local. Do expect a self guided food train in Calangute on my blog soon. However, if you are at Panaji, especially at the much acclaimed Fontainhas, you may choose to go with the E bikers for sound company!
Shrinidhi Hande has elaborated more on his blog about his experience with the E Bike Company. I met him at GITM as a part of the bloggers’ group.
Eat your Heart away in Goa
After Kolkata’s food culture, if I have loved a place for its intense culinary offering, it is Goa. No questions asked. Kerala comes a close second. So does Thailand and Egypt. But let’s just stick to India at the moment. You see, I get swayed easily with food!
The first thing you need to eat in Goa is an elaborate Konkani Thali. If you are close to the beach, chances are the Thali has been diluted to suit a tourist’s taste bud. Stick to the small places on the other side of the road that opens to Goa beach side. They operate on the style of Kolkata’s pice hotels. They have a board with day’s fresh catch listed with a chalk. The price varies depending on the day’s rate as well.
Usage of coconut milk, Kokum, Racheiado spices and tamarind renders a distinct taste to Goan curries. Rice is a staple here.
Post Konkani Thali, you must try the Xacutis and Cafreals of a Goan restaurant. More often, these dishes find their origin in a Portuguese kitchen and got transported to India’s west coast with a stop over in Africa! The taste speaks volumes!
The makeshift shacks on the Goa beaches sure cooks great fish fries and serves crisp beer yet they lack in preparing necessary skills to cook that typical curry!
Must try food in Goa: King fish rawa fried. Baked lobster. Xacuti. Balchao. Prawn cocktail.
The Old Neighbourhoods in Goa
Instagram was created to impress Fontainhas’s narcisstic self. Once you step into the neighbourhood, you will know I am not exaggerating!
Panjim’s Fontainhas is Goa’s answer to Old Phuket Town in Thailand. Pretty colorful buildings dot the streets. Elaborate and ornate Portuguese style curved windows and bright magenta juxtaposed with cannery green please your eyes. Many a cafe has come up to welcome guests. Sit with a cup of coffee and enjoy the quintessential charm of Susegad, a lifestyle indigenous to Goa where pace ceases to exist.
Being close to Panjim, Fontainhas found it rather easy to attract tourists however I discovered similar neighbourhoods in the deep of Old Goa and Divar island.
I found them at Divar island and spotted a few more on the drive back through Old Goa riverfront area.
Walking amid these colourful palatial bungalows of yesteryear brought back memories of opening a watercolor box. Each turn you take, you anticipate a new surprise. Memories and melancholy paint a few houses despite these bright colors. Tulsi tree planted in front of Mother Mary silently embodies eternal India.
UNESCO Heritage Sites at Old Goa
Once touted as the Rome of East, Old Goa was a city made of dreams!
Portuguese splendors filled Velha Goa (as old Goa is known in Portuguese) to the brim.
Baroque architecture rendered her imposing religious buildings an impressive style. Originally built by the Bijapur Sultanate, Old Goa had stood witness to many kingdoms beckon until a deadly plague drove out all the inhabitants.
However, Roman Catholic institutes of Goa who tremendously contributed in evangelion efforts of time bygone still stand strong. They have been conferred as UNESCO Heritage sites of Goa. A day trip to Old Goa generally features in touristy things to do list. However, it can take repeat visits to immerse completely to soak in the essence of a bygone era.
Significant Chapels and Churches in Old Goa
Walking tour of Old Goa: One of the best things to do in Goa!
Basilica of Bom Jesus or Borea Jezuchi Bajilika and Professed House of the Jesuits
Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount
Church of the Cross of Miracles
Gate of St. Paul’s College and the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier
Museum of Christian Art
Church of Our Lady of Rosary
Chapel of St. Catherine
The Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi
Convent of St. Cajetan, Church of Our Lady of Divine Providence and the Arch of Adil Shah’s Palace
Old goa is best explored on foot or cycle. It is also a famous place for Wedding Photography shoots in Goa.
Temples in Goa
Though a number of ancient temples in Goa often succumbed to repeated invasions or fell prey to lack of nonadministrative patronage, a handful of them survived turbulent times. They continue to attract devotees from around the country. Strange as it may sound, Goa is one of the prominent pilgrimage spots in India.
Built in eighteenth century, Shantadurga temple is the most remarkable temples in Goa. With a tall Deepa Stambha, an elongated installation where oil lamps are lit, adorning the temple entrance, the Goan temples are distinct in form. The temple floor is made of stones from Kashmir. Few windows have Roman influence in the make. There is a golden palanquin installed inside.
As of 2019, this temple is not open to foreigners.
Tambdi Surla is a thousand years old Shiva temple where Dravidian influence is more prominent. Mangueshi temple is a five century old Shiva temple which attracts massive number of footfalls of Hindu festivals.
Divar Island, an Island stay in Goa
Located by the banks of Mandovi river, Divar island remains unspoilt from the surge in tourist numbers. The sleepy island has close to 7000 local residents. A couple of ferry service connects Divar island to the outer world.
I had the good fortune of staying at a wellness resort at Divar island. Housed at one corner of the island, Mercure Devaaya resort in Goa brings ancient Ayurvedic practice to help detox a wry urban soul. Read my review of Mercure Devaaya here.
The island also has a few home stays available. Check here for booking with Moradia dos Quadros.
Plenty of birds are sighted at Divar island. The famous Salim Ali bird sanctuary in Goa is Divar’s neighbour.
You may also choose to go fishing with locals. 400 years old Sao Matihas Church stands pretty at one part of the island. On the last saturday of AUgust, Bonderam festival (the festival of flags) starts from here. Divar island is best enjoyed on a bike. A couple of bus runs from the ferry to the central market.
Wellness Tourism and Ayurvedic Treatment in Goa
I had no clue what a wellness resort can do to one’s self until I had spent a few days at the Taj Madikeri Resort and Spa. It was a shy property hidden away from the tourist trails of Coorg.
Few months apart, I chanced a hosted stay at the Mercure Devaaya at the Divar Island. Devaaya sealed the deal! I think everyone should take at least one annual holiday at one of the wellness resorts!
Goa has a handful number of resorts where slow travel is given importance, coupled with Ayurvedic treatments and Yogic practices. Given the insurmountable amount of stress that engulfs many of us as a byproduct of modern lifestyle, a couple of nights at a wellness resort literally strips away wryness from life. I can vouch for it since I have felt in my soul!
Even if you are not too keen on spending a holiday (or may be you don’t have the luxury called time) at the Ayurvedic resorts, I would highly recommend booking at least one session for consultation and therapy. Last time I was in Goa, cyclone Kyarr was ripping her coasts apart. The meditation sessions helped keep me calm and grit in front of an imminent natural calamity.
Chasing Art: One of the best things to do in Goa
For the longest time, Goans have shown prowess in performing art and cultural sphere on a national level. The latest addition to this is newly emerging art centers in Goa. There are a number of contemporary art galleries in Goa.
Goa for the art lovers: ensure you visit the following galleries and museums.
- Museum of Christian Art
- Museum of Goa (MOG, Mog also means love in Konkani)
- Kerkar Art
- Kala Academy
- Gallery Attic
Carnival in Goa
If there is art, how far can be the carnivals?
Okay, here is the trickiest part of Goa!
As a Bengali and a Kolkatan, I had lived my life knowing Durgapuja in Kolkata is India’s answer to Mardi Grass. Until, I found out Goa has her own traditional Catholic celebration: the Carnival, which may not scale up to the Mardi Grass in Portugal as of today but is no less in grandeur in appeal and history!
The four day festival is inaugurated by the King Momo and followed by floats and parades and masks and food and drink. Good time flows! I eagerly wait to experience one next year!
Attending these festivals are extremely enriching cultural things to do in Goa! So is Narakasur, a festival post Diwali.
Birding in Goa
Surprising as it may sound, Goa is one of the must sought after destinations in India for ornithologists.
The ghats and the wetland of Goa tunes to Avians’ romance more often than we can imagine!
Come winter, migratory birds join them too!
Carambolim, Curtorim and Maina Village, Moira backwaters, Divar island are some of the places where birding is considered to be a rewarding experience.
Also read: Birding at Dandeli (Also located near Goa)
Exploring the Nature Reserves in Goa
Believe me or not, Goa has Royal Bengal Tigers in her natural reserves. Mahadevi Wildlife Sanctuary as 3 tigers in her wilderness. Besides, rare birds like Great Indian Horn bill, vipers, Cobra, Python, Asian elephants and Indian mugger crocodile live here. You can find wildlife in the following national parks in Goa:
- Mhadevi Wildlife Sanctuary
- Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (this one is primarily for birding)
Chasing Waterfalls in Goa
Barring monsoon season, one can trek up to the Dudhsagar Falls. Only local vehicles have the permit to go to a certain point after which there await a small trek. The journey is breathtaking as the views are very rewarding.
Harvalem and Netravali are among the other handful of waterfalls in Goa, which often escape tourist attention, hence safe to be branded as offbeat tourist attractions in goa.
Flea markets in Goa: Anjuna and others
I would go back to Goa for shopping. Okay, I do not shop as much any more. But I do not mind taking a stroll in the Goa flea markets. In fact, shopping at Anjuna is one of the best cultural things to do in Goa!
The shops are beautiful. There are plenty of quirky covers, wall hangers, silver trinkets and other stuff on sail.
Anjuna remains one of the oldest and largest flea market in Goa however many other places have emerged as weekend flea market in Goa.
Casino Hopping in Goa: Beyond Regular Party
Law of the land in India does not allow gambling. Hence the casino ships are anchored deep in the sea where some of the “fun” take place. Deltin Royale Casino is one such place in Panjim, Goa.
It was my first ever experience in a cruise ship. Deltin was a luxury ship. A small ferry took us close. There were rain and storm but we did not feel a thing inside!
I did not play at the casino. There was a huge buffet but food lacked finesse, except for the live chaat counter. I also loved the sparkling wine they served on board!
Surfing in Goa: Romancing the Sea
The Arabian Sea in generally mild, especially in the winter.
The swells are mellow, at max two meters at height and comfortable to start with surfing lessons. At the north of Goa, Ashwem beach is a surfing zone.
Quiet Beaches in Goa
Beach hopping is mandate when in Goa. There is an inexplicable thrill when you are chasing that perfect sandy stretch of coastline, competing with receding sun and trying to get better with Google map! Finding a quaint little beach is one of the most beautiful thing to do in Goa, just as much as partying hard all night at Baga!
By day, it is becoming hard to find a quiet beach in Goa. General rule of thumb is the further you go from Baga and Calangute, the better your chances are of being close to a calm beach. Ashwem and Morjim in North are generally quiet with decent tourist infrastructure close by. In south Goa, I loved Colva beach. Cola and Patnem are nice beaches too with small beach shacks coming up to accommodate tourists.
Mangrove tours in Goa with Locals
If you are traveling in Goa with children, I strongly recommend taking this tour. A couple of hours boat-ride or kayaking through Goa’s thriving mangrove forest is an immense learning on bio diversity and coastal ecosystem. Local communities generally conduct these tours, meaning this happens to be one of the responsible things to do in Goa as well!
Water sports in Goa for Adventurous Soul
Sinquerim beach in Goa is a long stretch of sandy beach from where all the water activities like parasailing, water scooter, kakaying, banana boat etc take place.
You may want to avoid snorkeling from here. Also note, water sports are best when partaken in calm weather. If it rain, do avoid!
Watersport Activities: Best things to do in Goa: Parasailing, water taxi, banana boat
Spot Dolphins in their Natural Habitat
There are Dolphin watching tours in Goa however I did not take any of them yet I make these beautiful marine animals by serendipity! generally fishermen will alure you with a boattrip to chase the Dolphins.
So, I was water taxi-ing with a guide by my side when a couple of Dolphins jumped in front. They swam along for a while. My excitement knew no bound! And, I feel they sensed it too! The taxi took a turn (or do you call it scooty? I cant recall because I still feel my heart goes fast as I recall that day). They came back. They bid me adieu as the guide maneuvered towads the beach,
I recall this as one of the most beautiful wildlife encounter of my life!
Also read: How to plan a trip to Masai Mara, Kenya
Ride Konkan Railways
If you happen to be in Goa during Monsoon, I strongly recommend taking a train ride through the Ghats. Western Ghats are lush green and misty during monsoon and the engine strives through this wilderness. Here is a novice video from the Western Ghats where Dudhsagar Falls briefly appears.
Spice Plantation Tours in Goa
Nincompoops only think about the beach but Goa in reality carries the wee end of Western Ghats on her eastern border. Residue of rolling hills and lush rainforest harbour Goa’s secret spice plantation trails.
They are not as elaborate and aggressively touristy as the same of Kerala. The farmer actually takes time to make you taste male and female pineapples, who differ is taste and form. His children will take you to the bamboo, will be patient to explain how bamboo, banana and sugarcane are all different forms of grasses. You will see nutmeg, cinnamon and the elusive pepper plantation, which has set sail many a trade vessel since medieval age. The spice route of ancient world were formed based on the yields of the mighty Western Ghats.
Where is Goa you can see a spice plantation? Tropical Spice Plantation at Kerim has a tourist friendly infrastructure. It is a pleasant educational experience especially if you are traveling with a junior or food enthusiast! However, if you have rented a scooty and driving down the coastal line, you are likely to come across many small farms where spice cultivation happens on a smaller scale. Watch out for a Feni making factory to. Drinking Feni when in Goa must feature on top of the list, I reckon now!
Historic Forts in Goa: Serving the Sea Front
There are a countless number of ancient forts on India’s Western coast. They all were built to defend the land from invasions. They were built by different kings at different times.
Chapora and Aguada forts in Goa are rather frequented by tourists as enchanting sunset points. Further up north, Tiracol Fort has been turned into a heritage stay. Many of these forts are in dilapidated states and are in need of quick attention.
These forts can make up for stunning wedding photoshoot spots in Goa.
Important forts in Goa and nearby beaches: Fort Aguada, Chapora Fort near Anjuna beach which is very famous for sunset viewing. They are offbeat yet stunning travel experiences from Goa!
Hinterlands of Goa is beautiful beyond words. During monsoon, there is lush green vegetation around the nameless coconut groves. On a wintry sunny morning, old fishermen’s villages beam with colors. A walk amid this easy life celebration brings in sheer joy and fills up a visitor’s mind! It is just the sense of being there brings in mirth, you do not really need a list of to do things! Yet, I complied this list because I have been to Goa more than 6 times so far. Each time, I was in the state, I found something new and more exciting to do. Let me know what are your favorite things to do in Goa?
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