Beyond Sun & Sand Beaches: Offbeat, Fun Things to do in Goa

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 beyond the beaches? The heritage face of Goa, beyond Sun and Sea is expansive.

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 and offbeat things to do!


Offbeat beaches in Goa: Baga Beach in Goa, The crowded beach is left empty during monsoon.

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 Beyond Beaches?


“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! 




Dr Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister Goa is inaugurating GITM 2019
Dr Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister Goa is inaugurating GITM 2019


GITM and the Offbeat 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!


Government ferry at Divar Raibandar. This is the way to reach Divar Island. Offbeat Goa.
A government ferry runs between Divar Raibandar to Divar Island

Set Sail on a Cruise to Goa



The maritime path from Mumbai to Goa is now dominated by luxury cruise liners by Angriya.
On a Cruise, you can tip toe around the sunny beaches in Goa and experience an exclusive and offbeat journey on the Arabian Sea!

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. 



Interiors of Laid Back Water Houseboat

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. 

Expect for the tidal waves, salty water from the Goa beach hardly reaches the foot of Houseboat. Away from the crowd, it is an immensely local experience in Goa.


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: Best things to do in Goa
Hot Air Ballooning in Goa is a real possibility

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 Assolda, near 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 Goa: offbeat things to do in Goa
Let you soul fly away in a free fall jump. beyond the beaches, Goa is quickly scoring a top place among adventure loving travel peers.


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.

Mayem Lake in North Goa also lets you paddle boat on a freshwater lake, surrounded by dense jungle. It is one place to experience adventure and offbeat activities in Goa.



How to rent a bike or scooty in Goa
In picture: S & friends stand by a garage and try to fix the scooty


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. Needless to say, this is one of my most favourite things to do in Goa! 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.



Public transport system in Goa


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.


Ghosts of Goa: Trace the Offbeat Route

Goa’s history is smeared with unfortunate blood of multiple power mongers, ,catastrophic plague outbreak and heartbreaks. There is no way denying the abandoned forts, ships wrecks, alleys , resting places tell a few tales, which very few can comprehend.

It is not different than rest of the India. You will find local legends associated with a burial ground, churches, which are part of oral history of the land. Causalim in South Goa houses Three Kings Church, where multiple paranormal activities have been reported. The Ghost hotel at Agonda beach has drawn similar gaze.

I have not been to any haunted place in Goa, nope, nada. Too chicken for that. However, I did listen to the bonfire ghost-stories. They were enough for goosebumps.

I recall this one incident in particular though. There was an abandoned building at the turn of Fort Aguada. You can see the beach from a distance. The road leads t a closed door and a building stands on the right hand, looking like an unfinished hotel or hospital project. Somehow, I did not like that place.

Okay, I am too scared now. I will write about the next offbeat attraction in Goa!



Konkani Thali in Goa. A Goa Fish Thali.  what to eat in Goa
A Konkani Thali with rawa fried Kingfish as worthy side! I love love love!

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. 

Indulge in a Cooking Class: Goa beyond the Beaches

You have fallen in love with Goan curries. I undertstand. I totally love and dig those elaborate Konkan thalis, slightly bearing a tang taste from the skin of dried kokum fruits. Now, you can even learn the tricks of cooking from an authentic Goa kitchen. You also get to explore the local farmer’s market. Heavy influence of Portuguese cuisine in a traditional Goan meal reflects through Vindaloo, Xacutti (coconut-based curry), cafreal (marinated and fried/grilled), sorpotel (stew), recheado (stuffed), and ambot tik (sour and spicy) etc, all lip-smacking traditional dishes of Goa. Beef roast served with Sanna (rice cakes) is another local delicacy.

Rita’s Gourmet cooking classes is one of the more famous ones among tourists. Maria Fernandes is another choice which can be booked throigh Airbnb.

Check out the bakeries from the rural parts of Goa. Every morning in the Goan hinterlands ruminates an otherworldly aroma of freshly baked hot breads – poi (wheat bread), pao (white bread), kakon (bangle bread), katro (butterfly bread). Like rest of the India, oven is made of earthen pot and pretty huge in shape. The food trail is totally worth leaving behind the sun and sand beaches in Goa!



Fontainghas: Portuguese Houses in Goa. At Mercure Devaaya resort
Not shot at Fontainhas but close!

Explore Fontainhas: Colorful Neighborhood of Old Goa


Once a sprawling land dense with coconut grove atop the Altinho hill, Fontainhas was owned by Antonio Joao de Sequeira, a Portuguese man from the days of yore. Instagram was created to impress Fontainhas’s narcisstic self. Once you step into the neighborhood, 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. Windows at Fontainhas neighbourhood is adorned with mother of pearl. 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.

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.

One should visit Fontainhas during afternoon, when colors blend in well with daily life. For a more immersive cultural experience, consider taking up a guided tour to explore Fontainhas, often termed as Goa’s Latin quarters. While walking on the alleys of Fontainhas, you come across a spring at the end, named Fonteinhas. On a guided tour, you may listen to Fado music in century old heritage Bungalows, originating in Goa.


Where to eat at Fontainhas, Goa:

  • Viva Panjim (vibrant interiors)
  • Cafe Bodega
  • Hotel Venite (Quircky decor)
  • Try one of the oldest Bakeries of Goa: Confiteria 31 De Janeiro
  • Quattro Fromagii Pizza served at Cafe Alfresco
  • Bombay Coffee Roasters
  • Joseph Bar for quintessential vintage vibes (Try Feni cocktail and King’s Beer)

Also read: Self Guided Walking Tour of Old Phuket Town, Thailand


Basilica of Bom Jesus: UNESCO heritage site of Old Goa
Grandeur finds a new name at Velha Goa!

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

Se Cathedral

Convent of St. Cajetan, Church of Our Lady of Divine Providence and the Arch of Adil Shah’s Palace

Viceroy Arch


Old goa is best explored on foot or cycle. It is also a famous place for Wedding Photography shoots in Goa.




Mangueshi Temple Goa
Mangueshi Temple, Goa. I have heard the family is related to Lata Mangeshkar, the music maestro of India.

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.




Old Goa Portuguese houses

Divar Island, an Island stay in Goa

Divar means small in Konkani.

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.

Divar is the perfect place to sow down with a glass of Urak (milder version of Feni) and some rawa fried king fish, freshly caught from the backwaters. A local or two would join you for company and tell the legends of the island. How the 16th century Church called Our Lady of Compassion Church came to be at the hilltop of the Piedade village? Where can you cycle to find the ruins of ancient Kadamba dynasty? How people from the old Portuguese capital fled at the break of Plague and came to settle in the interior of Divar, eventually by restructuring the Hindu-Christian population. Divar has multiple layers of history, sometimes violent but largely that of peaceful cohabitation, like the rest of the country.


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 neighbor. It also houses Wild Otters, a research institute for otters.

 

You may also choose to go fishing with locals. 400 years old Sao Matihas Church stands pretty at one part of the island. This church had immense role in converting the local population into catholic religion. On the last Saturday of August, Bonderam festival (the harvest festival with flags ) starts from here. Divar island is best enjoyed on a bike. A couple of bus runs from the ferry to the central market.

 


Yoga on the Goa beach

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.

  1. Museum of Christian Art
  2. Museum of Goa (MOG, Mog also means love in Konkani)
  3. Kerkar Art
  4. Kala Academy
  5. Gallery Attic

 

Goa Carnival: festivals of Goa: best things to do in Goa!


The Carnival and other lesser known Festivals of Goa (offbeat experiences beyond the beach)

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 is often termed as India’s answer to Mardi Grass in West. History says Carnival started back in 18th Century during the conquest of Goa. Timeteo Fernandes revived the festivity in modern days.

The four day festival is inaugurated by the King Momo and followed by floats and parades and masks and food and drink, colorful bullok cards. Good time flows! I eagerly wait to experience one next year! Four big cities in Goa hosts the festival on four days: Panaji, Vasco, Margao & Mapusa.

A local man wears the crown of King Momo and he lets the good time flow by saying, “Kha, piye aani majja kar” (Eat, drink and make merry).
Usually Carnival starts on the day of Sabada Gordo (Fat Saturday) and ends on Shrove Tuesday (a day before the first day of Lent).

For Carnival in Goa, entry is free for all!
Time: February

Attending these festivals are extremely enriching cultural things (and free) to do in Goa! There are a list of other festivals in Goa.

Chikal Kalo: The Mud festival

At the onset of monson in July, residents of the village Marcel celebrate the iconic Chikal Kalo, a 400 years old festival. On the temple ground of Devaki Krishna, villagers gather and indulge in a mud bath sort of experience. It is a men exclusive game. They chant ‘Hari Vithal, Jai Vithal’. Bol, a sweet made of coconut, is distributed generously!

Shigmotsav

Popularly known as Shigmo, this festival marks the end of winter in Goa. Usually, celebrated in March, Shigmo has Gulal(colors) and floats side by side. Traditional folk dance of Goa is performed on the streets. Floats come out on the road, along with masked dancers. Flags of different colors are hoisted as well.

Dindi Festival

One of the oldest festival in Goa, Dindi is usually celebrated by Hindus during Diwali. A palanquin is decked up in regal stature and taken around the village around Vithal Rakhumai Temple in Salcette. The local deity named Vithoba resides in the “Palki”.

Serendipity Arts Festival

Goa has a thriving Art scene, stemming out of a talent pool of young local artist. During Serendipity Arts Festival, artists from every genre from literature, live arts, fashion and films gather under the same umbrella. Entry is free for all and Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF) takes place in Panaji during December.

Tripurari Purnima

At Sanquelim, locals come to celebrate the festival of light (Dev Deepavali) with miniature boats, lamps at night. Life performances, folk dance, boat race etc take place.

Narkasur: As Diwali comes to an end, huge effigies of the demon is built and paraded before finally being burnt, indicating a triumph over demon.

The fertility feast of Saint John the Baptis or Sao Joao

This is a festival with an ode to the waterborne civilization of Goa. People jump in wells, ponds, streams and retrieve bottles of feni. The air is usually filled with chant, “Viva San Joao!” This festival usually takes place in June before monsoon commences and locals pray for a flourishing monsoon season. There is music, dance, feasts and a quirky boat show at Siolim.

  • Cucumber festival (Touxeachem) where upon accepting a cucumber, woman actually select their spouse.
  • International Film Festival
  • Affordable Art Fest (great for buying art work)
  • Sunburn Goa



Birding at Dandeli

Birding in Goa


Surprising as it may sound, Goa is one of the must sought after destinations in India for ornithologists. Think Malabar Trogon, think Goa!

The ghats and the wetland of Goa tunes to Avians’ romance more often than we can imagine!

Come winter, migratory birds join them too! Watch out for migratory birds in Goa at the Morjim beach. Other birds species found in Goa are: white-bellied woodpecker, velvet-fronted nuthatch, white-eyed eagle, heart-spotted woodpecker, rufous woodpecker etc.

Carambolim, Curtorim and Maina Village, Moira backwaters, Divar island are some of the places where birding is considered to be a rewarding experience. Also check out the following places for birding in Goa:

  • Chorao Island (Most famous and home to Dr. Salim Ali Sanctuary)
  • Bird Festival in Goa at Valpoi
  • Carambolim Lake
  • Soccorro Plateau
  • Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary

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:

  1. Mhadevi Wildlife Sanctuary
  2. Mollem
  3. Bondla
  4. Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (this one is primarily for birding)

 


Dudhsagar Falls: top things to do in goa

Chasing Lesser Known Waterfalls in Goa, beat the crowds


Barring monsoon season, one can trek up to the Dudhsagar Falls. One of India’s largest multi-tier waterfall, Dudhsagar is a stunner during monsoon and makes an appearance on the Konkan railway, enroute Goa from Bengaluru. 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. Ever since Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai express was shot at the foothill of Dudhsagar, this fall is not exactly an offbeat destination in Goa any longer. However, Western Ghat hides plenty of other beautiful falls up her sleeve, making the list of offbeat things in Goa only longer.

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.

Here is a Comprehensive List of Waterfalls in Goa that are off thea beaten track:

  • Kesarval Waterfalls, Verna Plateau
  • Karmalya Waterfalls
  • Arvalem Waterfalls
  • Sada Waterfalls
  • Kuske Waterfalls
  • Hivre Waterfalls at Valpoi
  • Tambdi Surla Waterfalls (Located at Surla, Goa. requires trekking through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary)
  • Charavane Waterfalls (Choraundem Village, requires trekking)
  • Netravali waterfalls (Do not miss out the Budbudyache Taley or Netravali Bubbling Lake when in this offbeat region in Goa. Bud Bud or bubbles in this lake are caused by sulphur dioxide gas. If you clap, they appear more frequently.)

Please note, these waterfalls come to their prowess during monsoon season in goa, alongside multiple nameless streams. More often than not, these waterfalls originate along the fold of Western Ghat mountain range. Sometimes they require trekking through dense forest.



Anjuna Flae Market: The hippie trail in Goa

Anjuna and other lesser known flea markets in Goa


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. A few stalls sell food items in Thailand night market style as well.

Anjuna remains one of the oldest and largest flea market in Goa however many other places have emerged as weekend flea market in Goa. Anjuna night market usually takes place on wednesday.

Arpora night market at Aguada is one closer to Baga and Candolim area, more centralized. Nowadays, Calangute has a night market has well.

These nightmarkets in Goa usually take place on tourist season and cater to tourist groups with similar vending products, hence it may turn out repetitive.

For a more local offbeat experience in Goa, try the Friday Market at Mapusa. Fresh products like Goan Chorizo sausage and souvenir collection share stall here. Mapusa market is known for decent prices. The Panaji Municipality market and fish markets of South Goa deserve mention too. Try Bibinca, Goa’s traditional cake from Simonia Store at Mapusa.

Suggested buy from local markets of Goa:

Cashews of different sizes, port wine, Chorizo sausages, Bibique
Dried fish and prawns, pottery, cutlery, Patali Gur (hardened jaggery) , Tamarind balls, Kokum, dried chilies, and spices etc. The Goans love this simple side dish of Dry prawns fried with desiccated coconuts. It is one of the best food in India, provided you can stand the aroma of dried fish!


Also listen to my Travel Podcast on Goa!


Experience a Tiatr

A traditional Konkani play, most often a political satire, is known as Tiatr. It is a power packed live performance with music, dance, comedy and wit.Coupled with a tourist guide, you can decode the dialogues. However, I can assure you will enjoy this niche art form of ancient India.

A few stages where Tiatr is played regularly: Hanuman Theatre in Mapuca, Kala Academy in Panjim (Also arranges for an annual competition), Ravindra Bhavan in Margao.

Casino in Goa: Things to do 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. You see, it is difficult to stay in Goa for long beyond her sun and sea!

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. Arambol beach is a good place to start surfing as well. A few surf schools are located by the beach. Surfing in Goa is not very popular among the domestic tourist groups, so you can expect serenity and peaceful experience. Best time for surfing in Goa is from November to March, the Goan winter.



Ashwem Beach, North Goa: Chasing sunsets in Goa: one of th ebest things to do when in goa!

Kite-surfing is also another preferred sport in Goa, with a chance to get certified in kite-surfing courses. You can learn about basic training, safety procedures, kite anatomy, how to control the kite and other important information. From April and May when the currents are favourable. Wind route paves a safe wave swell along the coastline between Arambol and Calangute. Boats are available on rent at Calangute.


Quiet Beaches in Goa


Beach hopping under the Sun and Sea is a 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.



Things to do in Goa

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! The mangrove kayak experience in Goa is a good experience beyond the beaches. You can find local tours at Morjim backwaters.



Paragliding Goa: Watersports in Goa

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


Dolphin watching in Goa

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.

You can also experience the iconic luxury of Indian railway through the the Deccan Odyssey, an all inclusive train ride that takes you to the gems of Konkan region.



Spice plantation in Goa: things to do in Goa

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, located on the off the beaten track in this coastal state. 

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 forest, 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!

Also check out the following Plantations:

  • Dudhsagar Plantation: This is where you can experience the slow life of a farm stay. This place only has a couple of rooms and can host only a handful of guests, who really want to experience Goa beyond the Sun and the Sea!
  • Pascoal Spice Village
  • Sahakari Spice Farm (6 km from Ponda village, do not forget to indulge in a traditional Goan meal served on banana leaves)
  • Tropical Spice Plantations
  • Savoi Plantation
  • strawberry farms at Verlim, Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Cashew apple harvesting at Valpoi (March, April, May)

Often times, these plantations arrange for folk-dance of Goa, namely Dhalo and Fugdi. If you want, you can also try your luck in climbing palm trees and coconut trees, beyond the beaches in Goa.

Visit a Feni Workshop: Offbeat things to do in Goa

Goa is a land of feni and harmony

Mario Miranda

Madame Rosa Distillery’s farm in Valpoi is a 90 years old family owned cashew farm at Valpoi, Goa. Cashew apples are picked, stomped brewed in clay pot underground to transform from Neeru to Feni.

During the cashew harvesting season, March to May, do take part in the Annual Cashew Trail spread. Learn about various versions of Feni, from mildly alcoholic Urak to more complex in flavor, Feni produced and labelled as Valpoi Estate Exclusive Edition. the latter is aged for half a decade in port oak casks. Goa’s local moonshine can kick well if you are not being cautious.


Butterfly Conservatory: Offbeat things to do in Goa

Close to the Tropical Spice Plantation in Ponda, you can pay a visit to the Butterfly conservatory. It is one of the things to do with family in Goa.
Close to 130 categories of butterfly species are documented here, yet you can probably spot close to 5 or 6 species of butterfly.


Aguada Fort, best Offbeat things to do in Goa

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. 

Fort Terakol: Built in seventeenth century by the Bhonsle kings, this was a military establishment which later came into the grip of British. At present, Fort Terakol houses a pristine luxury hotel (check out here) which overlooks stunning views of Arabian sea. By taking a ferry from Querim, you can reach Fort Terakol which borders Goa and Maharashtra.

Reis Magos fort: Goa’s oldest fort, Reis Magos was built by the Portuguese viceroy in mid sixteenth century. It stood erect as a defense wall against the British and the Marathas till it came a jail and a hospital. It was abandoned in early 90s. Now, you can climb the rooftop of the fort Reis Magos and watch over the horizon where Mandovi river and the Arabian Sea meet. This is the best view during sunset in Goa. Mandovi river stands witness to the decaying Portuguese turrets. Of late, famed cartoonist Mario Miranda’s work is on display at the gallery housed within the fort premises. This fort is housed at a distance of 7 km from Panaji central bus stand.

Cabo De rama fort: offbeat things to do in Goa beyond beaches

Cabo De Rama: Goa’s Oldest Fort (and Stunning View)

On the way to to Palolem in South Goa, stop by at Cabo De Rama. One of the oldest Portuguese fort, and now in dilapidated state, Cabo De Rama is best enjoyed during sunset. The fort also has history with the Mughals of the land. The Portuguese chapel and the barracks testify to a time bygone.

It does not feature often on the tourist trail of Goa. It is a rather offbeat location and a hidden escapade for the lovers. However, the fort features outstanding view of sea from all directions. From the top, your eyes will catch a lasting impression of Kakolem beach (tiger beach)with golden stretch of fine sands. The beach is a steep climb down or can be accessed by a boat ride. Kakolem is one of the most pristine and offbeat beaches in Goa.

Corjuem Fort in Aldona

Aldona houses this 500 years old inland fort overlooking verdant vistas. It is not maintained very well and be weary of snakes if visiting during dark hours. It was dedicated to Ursula e Lancastre, a Latino who visited India 300 years back, led a daring life exploring the world, fought for the Portuguese army and finally wed the ruler of the land. She died in India. Hardly any tourist can be found in the vicinity, except for occasional shooting crew.

Rewarding Riding routes in Goa

If you are a rider, Goa opens a few new avenues for you. Dense rain forest, verdant valley, coconut grove or an azure beach side sojourn, whatever you fancy, Goa has an answer.

Ride through Chorla Ghat, Goa’s best kept secret

Chorla ghat is Western Ghat at its best, located far away from the beaches of Goa at Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra border. It is beyond beautiful, especially during monsoon when clouds come rushing in to engulf lifeless roads. Tiny steams gather volume and take appearance of cascading waterfalls, ready to disrupt life balance. Adjacent rain forest here protects rich biodiversity. Chorla Ghat is revered among seasoned birders. Two things you should do when at Chorla Ghta:

  1. Trek at night to spot Mycena (bioluminescent mushrooms). These magic Mushrooms luminate the Goan forests at night and hardly a tourist knows about it.
  2. Chorla Ghat’s Swapnagandha Valley and reach the foothill of cascading Vazra Sakla waterfall. It is dry in summer and gathers volume only in monsoon.

Ride towards Kadwal, through a forest land. Valpoi is your end destination and it houses a few pristine spice plantation.
Panjim to Pombura is another rewarding route, that stretches by the backwaters, enlivening local life of rural Goa.

Coconut tree road in Goa: offbeat Goa
I discovered my own Para in Goa! A road with Coconut tree in Goa, which is not Parra!

The coconut tree grove (Famed Instagram Spot in Goa): After Alia Bhat cycled through this village road at Parra (Google St. Anne’s Church in Parra), everyone and their grandma wanted to reach this place. however, the truth is, you may come across roads equally beautiful, or more, once you leave the highway and enter a rural stretch.

A Walk to Remember: Explore Offbeat Goa in the villages

Take a walk amid the quaint little villages of Goa. Assagao, the village of flowers, is known as “fulacho gav” in local dialect. Watch out for the Goan Portuguese Heritage Bungalows tucked in the folds of these village ways. Moira village is known for local artists preserving traditional art-forms of Goa and banana harvest. The Aldona village takes pride in picturesque set up, and is known as the most beautiful village in the world.

Kayaking in Goa

Near the Bambolim beach, a few trained professionals have started a venture of night kayaking on the sea. The activity usually takes place on during moonlit nights, 8 days a month, from 7pm. Goa Kayaking, Adventure Nation, and Adventure Breaks are some of the companies you need to get in touch with.

Alternatively, you may choose to kayak at the backwaters on Mandovi river and explore the mangrove, join in crabbing with the locals or just get soaked in the wilderness of Goa’s gorgeous nature trails.

White water-rafting in Goa: an offbeat experience for adventure lovers!

During monsoon, hinterlands of Goa is ushered with multiple stream, voluminous and speedy. A few venues have opened up with trained guides who conduct white water rafting in Goa. Taleri river has class four rapids, making rafting a dangerous game, befitting only the pros! Mhadevi river at Sattari also allows rafting activity. If you are heading towards Dandeli from Goa, you can enjoy a day of rafting at Kali river. However, Dandeli is far away from Goa. Mhadevi or Taleri rivers are located at an hour’s distance from North Goa.

Grande Island tour and Shipwreck Diving

Grande island (Ilha Grande) or Bat island is a tiny island off the coast of mainland Goa. Usually a half day trip to the island that starts from North Goa beaches. The island does not compete well with the tropical Phi Phi or Thai islands however you can dive in this trip, or snorkel.

Diving in Goa can be exciting. Sea bed of Arabian sea is rumored to have at least 600 shipwrecks from ancient times. there is lure of exploring hidden treasure. there is a call of unlocking hidden history. Suzy’s Wreck or the SS Rita (capsized in the mid-1900s) are major draw among the divers. In the process you can explore rich marine flora and fauna of the sea. Diving in the sea is not allowed during turbulent season of monsoon.


Other offbeat yet cultural things to do in Goa!

  1. Football is an integral part of local life in Goa. Do watch a match between FC Salgaoncar and Dempo FC and sway with the emotion that connects the world!
  2. Attend midnight mass at Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Immaculate Conception Church during Christmas.
  3. Seek out the iconic Cazulo Feni celler at the foothills of Cansaulim. One of a kind in the world, you can get a guided Feni tasting session for INR 2000 each.
  4. Join a workshop for ‘Azulejos’ making, the beautiful azure tiles of Goa tell various tales from Portuguese ruling of Goa.
  5. Trace the Olive Ridley turtles hatching on a hidden beach in Galgibag. however it is a seasonal activity.
  6. Join the local fishermen at the backwaters during low tide to catch crab with traditional ‘Kobblem’ , handmade nets. Crabbing in Goa is usually followed by a dinner feast with the fresh catch.

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?

First time in Goa? Read these FAQs:

How many days are good for Goa?

Usually regarded as a recluse for long weekend trip with relaxing by the beach, Goa can be a quick escape for 3 days. However, if you can extend your trip for upto 7 days in Goa, you will have the best experience of both north and south, with bits and pieces of offbeat experiences.

Which location is the best to stay in Goa?

If you love touristy things, secure a stay by the Baga beach (or Calangute or Candolim). If you love tranquility, head towards Ashwem in North or Palolem beach in South Goa. For a more local experience, I would suggest stay at the inland of Divar Island. It is stunning!

What is the best time to visit in Goa?

November to march is the best time to visit Goa with the last week of December being particularly pressed with tourist arrival. Summer in Goa can be humid. Monsoon in Goa is beautiful in the hinterlands. However, a lot of beaches in Goa are usually closed during monsoon. Beach huts are not open for tourists either.

What are the best things to eat in Goa?

You must drink Feni when in Goa, the local moonshine made from cashew apple. You may also try Poi (Goa bread), Xacutti, Cafreal, Dodol, Bibinka. The best cafe and restaurants in Goa are: Viva Panjim, Venite, Thallasa, La Plague.



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35 thoughts on “Beyond Sun & Sand Beaches: Offbeat, Fun Things to do in Goa”

  1. That houseboat looks amazing! 😀

    India has quite recently becom a place that I am intrested in going to, but I cant really decide where to first, there are so many georgeous destinations 🙂

    Reply
  2. Goa is a great place where you can enjoy your trip with anyone like your family or friends loved your blog. Goa being the most attractive place where all love to visit to have a peaceful vacation.

    Reply
  3. When we visited India, we had to choose between Goa and a trip inland to see the Taj Mahal. It was a pretty easy choice. But we were sad to miss Goa. The beached were the bid draw for us. But good to know there was so much else to see as well. Definitely will want to add Goa to our list if we go back to India.

    Reply
  4. It is actually quite nice to see Goa in a different ray of light for once and not just see photos and read stuff about the hippy-laid back lifestyle of the town, the markets and the beaches. I still want to go to Goa but its nice to see that there are more things to do than chillout. However I am a fitness freak so I would love to do a bit of yoga and go for a run on the beach. Wouldnt mind doing another hot air balloon experience again and would love to do this in India 🙂

    Reply
  5. the interiors of Laid Back Water Houseboat looks so exotic! it would be fun to stay a night there. The other thing I like is the hot balloon since I could make really nice instagrammable pictures from the sky.

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  6. Goa is a land of different dimensions. The range of attractions and activities of Goa seem limitless. Goa unveils different avatars during different seasons and has something for everyone. There is the Goa of the churches and Goa of the beaches, again Goa of heritage bungalows and Goa of thrills and spill, Goa of music and cuisine, the list is endless. Your post is a comprehensive guide for anything Goa.

    Reply
    • True true! Offbeat attractions in Goa are breathtaking and beautiful. Very few actually head out to explore the unknown ,to see the other Goa beyond the beaches. When they do, Goa ushers in with surprising experiences!

      Reply
  7. Goa has so many things to do and I would love to see some offbeat things to do other than famous things. The shot near Fontainhas looks very colorful.

    Reply
  8. I feel like I’ve been searching for this blog post!! I’ve been dreaming of visiting India and didn’t want to miss Goa but everyone I have spoken to has told me its just beaches, not worth it. But this was so helpful!!!!

    Reply
  9. Goa has been in my wishlist for a very long time now! I do have a list of places that I want to see in & around Goa that’s not just beaches. Netravali is definitely in my list. I didn’t know about houseboats in Goa! That would be a perfect place to stay! I also didn’t know about Hot Air Balooning in Goa! My list keeps growing. I might need more than a week in Goa itself!

    Reply
  10. My first trip to India was limited to the north of the country, but I’ve promised myself to return and visit Goa one day. And wow, how many interesting things to do there! The Dudhsagar Falls look so beautiful and I would certainly stay in a houseboat, it must be fascinating!

    Reply
  11. Goa has so much to offer I wouldn’t know quite where to start if not for your blog post with great suggestions off the tourist trail. I’d go there for the bird watching, and definitely sample the local cuisine that sounds amazing and unlike other parts of the country. While everyone’s heard of the beaches, some of the other natural attractions like the waterfalls are not so well known. But the houseboat has the most appeal – your photo of the interior is stunning 😀

    Reply
    • Houseboats are more famous at Dal Lake Kashmir and Kerala but Goa is a stunner when it comes to birding. More than 450 species of birds live here and migrate too. Divar island and Chorao are particularly famous for birding in Goa!

      Reply
  12. I was recently thinking of joining a cruise because I’d never done one so what perfect timing that I’m discovering Angriya’s cruise liners now! The room looks so comfy and luxurious and an elaborate lunch buffet with cocktails sounds amazing too. Didn’t know you could ride hot air balloons in Goa and that’s definitely something I’ll need to check out in the future!

    Reply

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