Goa is one of the smallest states in India and a thriving tourist destination for both domestic and foreign tourist alike. Although it is a small state, it packs around 130 kms of coast line with large stretch of (mostly pristine and clean) beaches. The state of Goa is dived into two districts North Goa and South Goa. Both these regions attract their fare share of tourists. Mostly tourists prefer North Goa as it offers more choices and activities in terms of hotels, restaurants and night life. South Goa attracts tourists who are mostly looking for a relaxed vacation. You will either see a lot of beach huts in Goa for low end tourists or five star properties for high end tourists enjoying a luxury vacation.
I have been visiting Goa repeatedly over the last few years. I have always stayed at North Goa. For me North Goa is an ideal place as it provides me the options of indulging either in the hard festivities or chilling out in a secluded beach. Yes, North Goa features has its fare share of secluded beaches also where you will hardly see any crowd. One can spend a whole day on a beach bed in a secluded beach shack while having a glass of chilled bear in front of the waves. On the other hand if one wants an active holiday then there is plenty to see and do. I will be outlining some of the things ahead that the readers can enjoy whenever they visit Goa.
1.) Geography, Beaches of Goa:
As mentioned earlier, Goa is divided into two districts North Goa and South Goa. There are eleven regions in North Goa that primarily form the bulk of the tourist area. It starts from Keri Beach right at the top (bordering Maharashtra) to Sinquerim Beach at the bottom. Following is the list of beaches/ regions igiven in ascending order:
Calangute and Baga beaches are quite popular amongst Indian tourists. Out of these two beaches, Baga is the most commercial beach and is highly crowded especially near Brittos’ area. You will see a lot of tourists indulging in water sports over there. Calangute beach too can get crowded at certain areas but if one walks towards Candolim beach the crowds start thinning out and you will get stretches where you can be away from noisy tourists. Candolim beach bordering Calangute is again quite popular with both domestic and foreign tourists although it is not as commercialized as Baga and Calangute. Sinquerim beach after Candolim is not really a tourist beach. You will mostly see fishermen hauling their days’ catch or locals indulging in other commercial activities. This place is popular for dolphin spotting in the wee hours of the morning. You can book a dolphin spotting tour with any water sports operator in Goa.
If one feels adventurous, he/ she can walk down the entire stretch from Baga to Candolim beach in about 1.5 to 2 hours. I have walked down from the beginning of Baga till the end of Calangute beach early evening. I wanted to enjoy the sunset (and also shake off the heavy afternoon beer out of my system).
While venturing into the sea, one needs to watch out for the waves in Candolim, Calangute and Baga beaches. They can get surprisingly strong especially during the evening. You also need to watch out for the undercurrents once the waves recede. These are not the beaches to get adventurous especially if you are travelling with kids. There a lot of lifeguards on these beaches. Pay attention to their calls and whistles when they tell you to be careful around certain areas in the sea.
Anjuna and Vagator are both rocky beaches. It isn’t very safe to swim in the sea around these beaches. There are a lot of rocks on the sea bed and chances of getting hurt are high. The waves around Anjuna beach too are very strong.
Morjim, Ashwem and Mandrem are the best beaches to visit in the North. They are not overly crowded and are very clean. A certain area of Morjim beach is also a turtle nesting site. The waves in all the three beaches are gentle and serene and unless you venture very deep into the sea bed, these waves hardly bother you at all. These beaches are the best for kids/ toddlers as they offer an unending playground to them on the sand. There are a fair number of beach shacks over here but none of them are overcrowded.
Arambol Beach is a hipster’s paradise. It’s a good place to explore for the slightly discerning tourist. This place is full of hippies and you will also see them involved in some commercial activities. It’s worthwhile to stay in Arambol for a night to witness a full moon party organized by the hippies. They start at sunset and carry on throughout the full moon night. This place is not really a family destination though.
Keri Beach is the last beach in North Goa as it borders Maharashtra. This is a desolate beach and you won’t find a single shack over there. However, it’s worth visiting once for its scenic beauty, crystal clear sea water and pristine white sand.
2.) Climate and Accommodation:
As Goa is located next to the Arabian Sea it experiences hot weather conditions throughout the year. During summers, the temperature soars to 35°C with extremely high humidity. The monsoon period is between June and September. This is the worst time to visit Goa since the beaches are off limits (due to high waves) and all the shacks are closed. Winter period is between December to February where the day’s temperature hovers around 25°C. The evenings are pleasant and the nights are cooler. This is the best time to visit Goa.
I prefer to visit Goa after the first week of January. By that time the peak tourist season is over and the hotels become affordable. I have always chosen Calangute and Baga as the points to stay. This is the circuit where all the major bars and restaurants are located at a stretch. These places also offer a central base from where all the other areas in North Goa can be explored. Even the choices of hotels are good ranging from budget friendly to luxury accommodations. Given below are lists of hotels/ vacation rentals where I have stayed in throughout the years whenever I have visited Goa. I had a good experience with all these places and can safely recommend them to my fellow travelers.
- Fun Holidays Goa: One bhk vacation rental apartment in Colonia De Braganza Resort Calangute
- 5 AM Somewhere (luxury villa at Calangute)
- 16 Degree North: Boutique hotel at Baga
- Villa 8 (rentalsingoa.in): 3 BHK vacation rental Duplex at Goveia Holiday Homes Anjuna
- Casa De Cajino: Budget hotel at Calangute
3.) Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife:
Over the years that I have been visiting Goa, I have dined in all sorts of places that were recommended to me by my fellow travelers. Generally it’s not always about the food but more about the ambience and service offered at these places.
I am not much of a breakfast eater during holidays but I have repeatedly visited these two places occasionally in Calangute for breakfast. One is Plantain Leaf which is a vegetarian restaurant and their South Indian food is quite good. The other is “Kenny’s the breakfast place”. Kenny’s offers a lovely and sumptuous English breakfast. One needs to be patient here as they take their time to prepare your food. Lila Café at Anjuna is another joint to enjoy an early morning breakfast.
I have visited a whole lot of shacks in all the beaches of Northern Goa. Among them, I will recommend the following shacks for their food and service.
Aggies Café Calangute, Claudina’s shack Candolim, Brittos (not really a beach shack) at Baga, Hippies ocean Café at Anjuna, Albert Shack Morjim, L’Amore Café Ashwem, Vibes at Arambol.
Apart from the above mentioned beach shacks there are other restaurants too that I really liked. Some of them were fine dining restaurants such as Chef Soumyen’s Kitchen Calangute, I-95 Calangute, Le Poisson Rouge Baga, Go With The Flow Baga, Fat Fish Calangute, One Degree Vagator, Thalassa Vagator, Oltremarino Italian Restaurant Vagator and Lazy Dog Mandrem.
One Degree and Thalassa in Vagator offer the best views of sunset in Goa. You will see lot of patrons coming here early evening to especially enjoy the sunset views out here. Lazy Dog in Mandrem is situated right on the Mandrem beach. It has an in—house swimming pool with lovely views of the beach. You have an option of enjoying both the beach and the swimming pool at the same time.
However, while in Goa, one should spend their evenings in those restaurants which offer live music. The buzz and the atmosphere become electric while you are having an evening drink. Often one feels tempted to swing a leg or two along with the music. Most of these live bands consist of young talented guys who play soft rock and 60’s/ 70’s melodious hits. All these restaurants are family friendly and kids of a certain age too will have a great time. Following are the list of places that I have been to. I highly recommend the readers to visit these places too whenever they get a chance.
- Stonehouse in Candolim
- Jambalaya in Candolim
- Jazz Cafe in Candolim
- Sofala in Nerul
- Decades Bar at Calangute
- Cavala at Baga
- Mayonna’s Creek Side at Arpora
If one is interested in visiting discotheques in Goa, then two places are worth mentioning. One is Club Cubana at Arpora and the other one is Club LPK at Candolim. I had visited both these clubs on Wednesday nights and they were quite crowded since the entry for ladies was free. Drinks are included in the cover charge which is quite reasonable.
4.) Transportation in Goa:
Public transportation is a major pain in Goa. The taxi operators charge extortionist fares for short distances especially during the peak season. Buses are mostly available for long distance travel and are not really tourist friendly. Therefore, it makes sense to hire your own vehicle in Goa to move around. Most of the tourists hire two wheelers which typically cost around Rs. 400/- per day. Tourists with families can also hire cars which will cost around Rs. 1300/- per day. “Thar” jeeps are available at Rs. 2000/- per day. It is easy to find places in Goa; hence it makes more sense to hire your own self-driven vehicles. However, tourists who are staying in five star hotels will face a lot of problem renting private vehicles. Most of these five star hotels are surrounded by local taxi stands that have a strong union. They expect the patrons to use only their services while in Goa. They generally don’t allow hired vehicles to pass through and will make your life difficult if you trying doing so. This problem is more acute in South Goa where there are a lot of five star hotels.
5.) Activities/ Things to Do in Goa:
Apart from beach hopping, partying and indulging in food craving, Goa has a lot to offer in terms of activities. Visit Panjim and explore the city and the local markets. Panjim city also offers cruises along Mandovi river although I have never taken one. However, it is worthwhile visiting a casino at least once while in Goa. There are some popular off-shore casinos on Mandovi river. These casinos are located in cruise ships. These ships offer a wonderful ambience and have a five star quality about them. I have been to Deltin Royale and Casino Pride and will recommend both these casinos for a visit.
Take a day off to visit old Goa near Panjim. Old Goa is famous for its churches. I have visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Se Cathedral. Its Renaissance architecture is breathtaking and the UNESCO has declared Old Goa as a World Heritage Site.
Goa is famous for its flea markets. These flea markets are temporary and are generally organized only during tourist seasons. These markets are nothing like you might have seen before. They have numerous stalls set up on different layers. Delicious food and amazing music completes the market. You will see a lot of foreigners selling their wares in these markets. One flea market is organized in Anjuna Beach every Wednesday and two flea markets are organized every Saturday night in Baga (Mackies Night market) and Arpora (Ingos Night Market). Out of the two markets I will recommend the one at Baga as it has lesser crowd and easier access.
One thing that you must indulge in Goa is water sports. You can try parasailing, banana boat ride, jet skiing, wind surfing, catamaran sailing and dolphin spotting. These water sports operators also offer back water cruises along Mandovi river.
Certain things in Goa tourist places are highly overrated. Amongst them is a trip to Dudhsagar waterfalls and spice plantation. I took these trips and found them to be extremely tiresome and not worth the time and effort. If you want to experience waterfalls and spice plantations, its better to visit Kerala which has a lot more to offer. However, a lot of people do visit these places. So do some research on the internet in case you are interested in seeing these places?
While in Goa, why not unleash the hippie in you? Braiding your hair, getting a black henna tattoo (temporary) and making dreadlocks are some of the most popular things in Goa. Lots of tourists end up getting permanent tattoos as well. My wife who wanted a temporary tattoo, ended up getting a permanent one.
So go ahead and take a trip to Goa. Return from your holiday sporting a tattoo, a suntan and a free spirit. Trust me, once you return, you will already be making plans for the next visit like I have been doing so for the past few years.