Ah, Goa! The smallest, most versatile and charming state in India. It’s the land of sun, sand and beaches; often called the Ibiza of India, because this is where the parties happen! But Goa offers much more than that. In fact, Goa has a slice of paradise for all kinds of people — party people, those seeking solitude, nature lovers, adventure seekers, hiking enthusiasts, history buffs, and music lovers.
Nestled between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, Goa is a gorgeous, scenic place. It paints a perfect picture of a tropical seaside vacation spot. Here, you imbibe the susegad way of living. What is susegad, you ask? It’s a Konkani word (Konkani is the language spoken in Goa), borrowed from Portuguese word sossegado, which means ‘quiet’. In Goa, susegad represents a way of life — a life is that laid-back, relaxed, contented.
But what is Goa famous for? Goa is famous for its happening nightlife, vibrant culture and cheap alcohol. Goa is also known for its old churches and Portuguese-style houses, quaint by-lanes, breathtaking views, stunning monsoon greenery, lip-smacking cuisine, night bazaars, shopping, casinos, and a plethora of activities to choose from — scuba diving, kayaking, parasailing and jet skiing, among others.
The word Goa conjures up images of sun, sand and surf. It’s what Goa is most known for. Located on the Western part of India, visiting beaches at dusk is sure to give you views of magical sunsets. You can sit back with a drink in hand and watch the sun go down for the day, as it paints dramatic scenes in the skies and waves lazily splash against the shore.
With sun-kissed beaches and soft sand beneath your feet, beaches in Goa are a great way to unwind. You can pick a beach depending on your preferences. If you’re looking for a lively place with vibrant beach life and lots of shacks and people, you could pick a beach in North Goa such as Anjuna, Candolim, Calangute, Baga or Vagator. If you prefer quieter areas with fewer people and lesser noise, you could go to Cola, Palolem, Agonda or Majorda in South Goa. While these are some of the best beaches in Goa, others include Morjim, Sinquerim, Miramar and Colva
2. Goan cuisine
The Portuguese ruled Goa for 450 years, till 1961. It is little surprise, therefore, that its influence is found underlying Goan life, right from its language, to food to architecture. One of the main cities in the State is called Vasco Da Gama! The Portuguese gave Goa many things. But possibly the most important contribution is to that of food when they introduced potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, cashew nuts, and most importantly, the quintessential Goan bread, the pao to Goa! All these ingredients are a staple of Goan Food today. Located on the coast, Goa is knows for its seafood — prawns, crabs and fish. One of the most famous dishes here is the Fish Curry Rice, where fish, such as pomfret and kingfish, is cooked with delicious spices and coconut to give it a spicy, tangy flavour. A few other well-known Goan dishes include chicken xacuti, pork vindaloo, sorpotel, and cafreal.
Don’t miss: Their local desserts such as bebinca, dodol, doce and Portuguese dessert, serradura.
3. Feni and other cheap liquor
Goa is also famous for the availability of cheap (inexpensive) alcohol. While almost all major brands of whiskey, rum, vodka and other spirits are available in wine stores, I personally suggest you try their homegrown drink, feni. Feni is distilled from cashew nut, or made from coconut. It has a very distinctive taste and pungent smell — and does its job really well. It’s mostly consumed as a cocktail. The other local drink is the port wine, which was first introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
What happens in Goa, stays in Goa! The state is most famous for its vibrant, lively nightlife. It is the one state where parties go on till the wee hours, and travelers let their hair down and dance in high spirits. The choice of music includes Trance and EDM, and you can pick from any number of clubs and seaside parties.
Fancy a gamble? How about poker? Texas Hold ’em? American roulette? Indian Flush? Blackjack?
Take your pick from various hotels and floating casinos, such as Deltin Royale, Big Daddy, Casino Pride, Dunes and a few others. Goa is only one of the three states that hosts casinos in the country. Most of these casinos are located in, or are close to Panjim. So go ahead. Give your luck a chance.
Shopping in Goa is nothing like shopping in other places. Famous for flea markets, Goa is where you can get literally anything you want — spices, clothes, jewelry, handcrafted art pieces, tattoos, and even beer. There are a number of famous markers such as Arpora Night Market, Anjuna Market, Mapusa Friday Market, Calangute Market, Mackie’s Night Bazaar and more. This, coupled with live musical performances, makes a visit to these markets a must. Note that in your to-do list.
7. Water sports
Where there is ocean, there are adventure sports! There are innumerable adventure sports such as parasailing, jet-skiing, flyboarding, white water rafting, water surfing, catamaran sailing… you name it, and it’s there! Depending on the kind of activity, when you’re planning to do it and with whom, the cost can range from INR800 ($10) to INR3,000 ($40).
8. Scuba diving
Goa boasts of having one of the first mainland diving centers in India. That was, of course, just the start. Today, a number of operators offer scuba diving experiences. One can also do a course in scuba diving, and end up with a PADI or SSI certification.
9. Dolphin sighting
While there are a handful of companies that organize dolphin sighting excursions, I would personally recommend choosing an organization that deals with sustainable tourism. Selecting such organizations ensures that you get a well-rounded experience in dolphin watching. Not only do you learn more, but you’re doing your bit for the environment!
Kayaking in the river or amidst the mangroves in Goa can be a magical experience. Not only is it peaceful and scenic, but in the latter case, you learn how intrinsic they are to protecting wildlife it harbors. Again, I would strongly suggest you choose an organization that deals with sustainable traveling.
This is the time when Goa truly comes alive! Viva Carnival begins right before the 40-day Lent season of fasting and penance followed by Catholics in Goa. The Goa Carnival is a continuation of the tradition started by the Portuguese. The four-day celebration takes place in four main cities in Goa, touching Panjim, Vasco, Mapusa and Margao. It is sure to give you Mardi Gras feels, with vibrant floats, colorful costumes, painted masks, dancing, drinking, Goan food… basically, all the ingredients of a good time.
12. Portuguese architecture
The other influence the Portuguese had on Goa was architectural. A casual walk in the streets will introduce you to the Portuguese-style houses — you can see houses painted in traditional Portuguese hues of yellow, green and blue. The red-tiled roofs and overhanging balconies complete the quaint, mediterranean look of these homes.
Where can you find these? While these houses can be seen all across Goa, you can step into Fontainhas or the Latin Quarter and let yourself be taken back in time. It is one of the prettiest places, located in the State capital, Panjim. Meandering through the interconnected streets, you could also pop in one of the many eateries for a beverage or a drink.
13. Postcard-perfect roads
Picture this — a narrow road, flanked on both sides by tall coconut trees. On either side, vast green fields stretch to as far as eyes can see, hemmed in by small hillocks. Here and there are small churches and shrines dotting the road. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?
Well, these are common sights in the inner roads in Goa. But if you’re looking for a specific location — especially one that appeared in a movie starring Shah Rukh Khan — I suggest you head over to Parra.
Pro tip: If you can get your hands on a bicycle, you can enjoy this experience that much more.
14. Imposing forts
A fort, by its very definition, is a fortified building in a strategic position. So it’s little surprise then that most forts overlook breathtaking sceneries that are sure to leave you speechless.
Most of the forts in Goa were either built by or captured by the Portuguese. Some of the most famous forts are Fort Aguada and Chapora Fort. While the former is located at Sinquerim beach, the latter gives you a bird’s eye view of Vagator beach. Some other forts you could visit include Sinquerim Fort, Reis Magos Fort, Corjuem Fort, Nanuz Fort, Cabo de Rama Fort and others. Each has its own unique history, is formidable, and overlooks stunning scenes.
15. Old Goa
Goa is famous for its gorgeous churches. And some of the most awe-inspiring structures and ruins can be found in Old Goa.
As you walk these roads, stop and stare at the majestic churches, hauntingly beautiful ruins, and convents. Interestingly, Old Goa was formerly Goa’s capital during Portuguese rule. But outbreaks of epidemics — cholera, malaria and plague — forced the Portuguese to shift their base to Panjim (Fontainhas).
Goa’s most famous church is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, where the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier are kept. Apart from this, your sightseeing plans can include visiting Sé Cathedral, the haunting, melancholic ruins of St Augustine church, the Viceroy’s Arch, Church of St Cajetan and Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, among others.
16. Stunning greenery
India’s Western coast receives heavy South-West monsoon showers. While indoors can get dull and dreary, the outdoors is just teeming with vibrant life. The carpet of fluorescent green, the mists softly touching tops of hillocks, the swish of swaying leaves, the roar of the rain — it’s a magical experience that makes you thankful for being alive. If your idea of a vacation is just relaxing indoors with little outdoors time, visit Goa during the monsoons.
17. Nature lovers’ paradise
Goa is one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots that exist in the world, with the smallest state boasting of hosting seven wildlife sanctuaries. They are Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Dr Salim Ali Wildlife (Bird) Sanctuary, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, within which is the Mollem National Park, and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary.
Each has its own magic, and each has its own mystical quality. Some of these sanctuaries have organized treks available, and even places to stay within the forests. Go on, walk among trees, on the understories, and listen, as they whisper their hidden secrets to you.
You can also visit Dudhsagar waterfalls. Literally translating to ‘sea of milk’, it forms a beautiful green pool at the base of the falls.
18. Beachside shacks
Picture this — you’re sitting barefoot at a table, feeling sand underneath your feet. You’re sipping your beer, and watching the waves incessantly advancing and receding. You notice pretty patterns left behind by the sea, on the sand, and the easy music in the background makes you feel calm and relaxed. Sounds delightful? It is!
The one characteristic Goa is famous for — apart from beaches — is the presence of beach shacks! Whether in North Goa or South Goa, shacks are the one feature common to all the beaches. The best part? They serve finger-licking-good food. Whether you’re craving continental food or Goan cuisine, you can have it all. And wash it down with a drink of your choice.
The music of Goa is unlike those found in other parts of India. Music is such an intrinsic part of Goans that it is believed that they are born with a guitar! The colonial inflections is not restricted to culture, food and houses, but is also seen in their proclivity to Western music, with a carefree, light feel. At every bar you visit, there are high chances that you will encounter live music.
If there is one Goan artiste you must listen to, it is Lorna, who is also known as the Nightingale of Goa. While the urban folks have adopted modern music genres, the rural musicians are still famous for traditional and folk songs.
20. Goa Spice Gardens
Goa is full of happy surprises and this is one of them! There are a number of spice plantation that have guided tours of their farm, where travellers can, in a pristine environment, learn more about spices grown in Goa such as cardamom, pepper, vanilla, cinnamon and turmeric. As you walk among the trees, you can notice the aroma of unpolluted spices tingling your olfactory senses.
So, now you know. Goa is not famous for one thing; it’s famous for a lot of things! It refuses to be boxed into labels. It’s a land where there’s something for everyone. Where party-hoppers can rub shoulders with history buffs and nature lovers; where you can get your adrenaline pumping or really slow down and relax. You know which your next destination should be!
How to get around Goa
While public transport is not very convenient, it is supremely easy to rent a two-wheeler and leisurely explore the state at your own pace. Bike rentals are very affordable, starting at INR300 ($4) a day for non-geared two-wheelers (Note: The rates vary depending on tourist/non-tourist season, and the time of the week).
Have you ever been to Goa? Let us know in the comments below if you’ve ticked all these items off your list.