From lush tropical rain forest covering the extensive mountains to pristine beaches Goa in the south of India is a heaven for travellers. Whether you are looking to explore beautiful mountains and wildlife, discover culture and history or just want to relax this place really has it all.
I'll be honest India wasn't originally on my bucket list or places to see, that most travellers have. I don't like crowds and struggle to not hand over all of my money when I see poverty. In the media India is often portrayed as a place that is hectic, extremely divided in class and poverty and full of pollution. Whilst I'm not naive enough to think that this isn't case in some (or many) parts; India is so vast and much like any country has its goods and bads.
I am so glad I went to India and decided to account for a few extra weeks travelling round. I am also planning to head back to see more; As far as Goa is concerned, I was really impressed.
A Few Key Facts
The main language in Goa is Konkani, with the second languages being English (as I also mentioned in my article on Kerala Backwaters) or Portuguese, with a few other Indian languages.
Goa has a strong connection with Portugal due to the 4 centuries of colonisation which was only released in the 1960's. You will notice this in the architecture of the buildings when moving around and in some of the Goan dishes.
Goa tends to attract a random mix of populations, it is very popular with Russian tourists, European and American young backpackers. Aside from this you will see a number of retirees from Europe swapping their winters for a relaxed extended holiday here each year. It also attracts yoga students / practitioners who come here to improve their practice or become yoga teachers (I was and am one of these and wrote a seperate article on my experience doing the TTC in Goa here).
The recommended time of year to visit Goa is from September to late Feb / early March following mid march it falls into shoulder season just before the monsoon where you can still visit but many accommodations, restaurants and services may be limited or closed.
I'd recommend a Minimum Time of a week (it still wouldn't feel like enough time but if you are travelling through Asia, there is also so much to see in other areas of india and asian countries, this should give you a taste of Goa's highlights). The ideal time would be 2 to 3 Weeks or more.
Palolem was the first beach in this area that we visited, it was busy but beautiful. The business came from the fact that their were lots of wooden shacks, bars and shops in the main road and along the beach. However it still felt very relaxed and wasn't just a sea of sun bathers.
We spent two nights here but came back a few times to try out different bars and have food. In the evening you would hear bars that had live artists playing, some just had guests jamming with their guitars and campfires on the beach in front of the bars. Our Favourite Places to eat were Om Shanti and Havana; and we stayed at two places but enjoyed the nest the most, which was clean comfortable and charming bungalows in the heart of the beach.
Two things I'd also recommend on here and both lie on opposite ends of the beach.
Silent noise: A silent disco on the south side of Palolem
Sangeeta cafe: This lies on the north side of the beach, and requires a bit of a wade through water (if you time it right, it will be ankle deep but be prepared to get soaked or swim back if you take your time), this cafe is really relaxed and calm looking back towards the long stretch of Palolem (picture above).
Agonda seems worlds away from Palolem, very beautiful and elegant. You still find some of the same people drifting up and down the beach or wandering round however there are less accommodations and bars on the beach front and less budget friendly choices. So for many its just a little too pricey or needs to be booked ahead even in the shoulder seasons to get a lower price.
Nearby is butterfly beach which is inaccessible by normal vehicle but we got a boat trip to here which was pretty cheap. They took us to see pods of dolphins that regularly visit this area of India and we saw a few, then dropped us off. This small sandy bay felt like you had your own island, we relaxed and just enjoyed the escape and the sound of the waves. You can swim here too but just make sure you are a competent swimmer a there is a bit of a current and waves.
There is also a club in the jungle called leapard valley which I also went to a few times. Once on my own and the others were with friends. We timed our trip really well and ended up being there during Holi. We didn't know what Holi was or why someone was throwing paint in our face until later but it was a funny experience.
Holi festival is a Hindu celebration marking the end of winter (at the end of March). The 'festival of colour' has a positive connotation of good overcoming evil. Sometimes it will also be referred to as the festival of colours or love. The playing with colours is just a small part of this festival but probably the most synonymous.
Leopard Valley is owned by a couple of DJ's who used to be on the Ibiza circuit and swapped that for India. When you arrive it is very much like a arriving at a European super club except you're in the open air of the jungle. I really loved this here, I felt safe, had fun, enjoyed the music (a mix of nostalgic 90's trance and current house music) and enjoyed the production of it all. If you go here make sure you know how you are getting back. We ended up on the back of some motorbikes (probably one of my silliest decisions yet). Holi in Leapard Valley was amazing, the atmosphere was brilliant and we were covered in paint when we got back that was still partially present for a few days after.
Patnem beach lies south of Palolem and was my favourite to visit and we came back on our Sundays off between the course. It is beautiful, smaller than both Palolem and Agonda. I would describe it as somewhere between the two in terms of how busy it is. Mainly I just loved the atmosphere, it seemed a bit more relaxed than Palolem, I spent a lot of time chilling at Harerama's reading books between swimming.
I'd recommend staying at Hareramas beach huts or H20 Patnem beach tents (they have air-con and proper mattress beds).
For vegan food you wont be short of choice but I would strongly recommend Zest Cafe which is amazing (i'm a meat eater), I went there quite a lot during my stay.
Also don't miss a chance to do a drop in yoga class with Kranti yoga. I really enjoyed this yoga school that we stumbled upon, it sits right on the beach and we felt immediately welcomed by their student teachers.
Arambol Beach & Surfing
Surfing is really popular in Goa too, we saw a few people doing this in Agonda beach, however the waves aren't quite as consistent if you are here specifically for this. Arambol is the place you want to be to do surfing. This is in the north of Goa with the school of Surf Wala being a favourite with those we spoke to on this trip. A quick check online and you will see this recommended by travellers, adventure magazines (including red bull) and locals alike. With day tasters starting from as little as £30 or $40 (USD) and world class coaches, you cant go wrong.
Other Beautiful Beaches
Vagaitor Beach, Colva and Talpona are are also great beaches for getting away from crowding in the peak months over November and around Christmas. We stayed in Colva beach on our first night at a lovely hotel, we had some great local food and the beach was lovely, however I just don't have enough of a memory (due to jet lag and limited time) to be able to give you more valuable information on this one.
The Let Down of Baga Beach
Made world famous for its long beach (that is seemingly never ending, its nearby Portuguese forts at Aguada and Chapora and by visits from the Beatles, many hippies visiting in the 60's claiming this places of paradise.
My Unpopular Opinion on Baga Beach
The reality of this place is much further from the tranquillity and beauty promised. We expected some crowds but mass tourism has managed to turn it into a human soup, dirty, loud beach resort that you would expect to see in the Spanish resorts notoriously ruined by English binge drinkers trashing the place and only sunning themselves.
It did have a beautiful sunset and if you walk to the far end of the beach on either side away from the town you may reach a point that is peaceful and somewhat beautiful. And it did have a lot of banana boats and paragliding which they class as water sports (without sounding snobby here we'd class it more as water attractions than sports, we kind expected surfing of some kind from the wording water sports).
I don't feel comfortable putting our accommodation on here as it was still the worst place we have ever stayed, with holes in the walls, doors and window. Cracks in the tiles that leave sharp exposed edges. Sticky bed sheets with stains all over (clearly hadn't been washed) and we would have had to pay extra to get clean sheets so we kicked them off. The shower and sink did not work properly and we didn't dare use the toilet. It was also the most expensive accommodation we stayed at in India (and the worse). We stayed that night then got a taxi back to Patnem (the beach next to where we had stayed previously). If you are staying in Baga and want to check you don't get this place, please feel free to contact me. I didn't want to put the link on as it has been a few years and I really hope they have had new management and given the place a clean and rebuild.
Please note that I am very much into quieter spots, don't like the crowds and really bore of party resorts. I grew up in a coastal town known for its nightlife with hen and stag do's (Bachelor and bachelorette parties) alongside a wierd mix of family attractions and high levels of deprevation. I have also spent a lot of time living in areas of natural beauty, pristine beaches and national parks (which I appreciate more).