Goa holidays

Experience Goa

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa is one of the biggest attractions for religious pilgrims and for tourists of all types, with the opportunity to see the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the Indies. He can be seen in a glass mausoleum to the right of the Basilica, making this a holy destination for Roman Catholics all over the world. Those with an eye for architecture may want to visit sooner rather than later - in the 1950s, a Portuguese conservationist stripped the lime plaster from the outside of the church and, far from becoming stronger as he expected, some of the intricately carved laterite stone has been eroded away by the monsoon rains in the decades since.

Goa's most spectacular waterfalls, the Dudhsagar Falls (meaning 'Sea of Milk'), can be found in the south-east of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. These are India's second-highest at over 600m. For obvious reasons, the autumn is an ideal time to visit - the monsoon rains having swelled the water levels for an even more captivating display of nature's force. You can swim around the base of the falls, as many other people will do too, or consider joining a guided party and hiking to the head for unforgettable views.

A very different river feature is the laterite fort at Chapora, which can be found by the mouth of the river. Built in 1617 to guard the 'taluka' or district of Bardez, it is little more than a ruin four centuries later, but its crumbling outer walls still attract their fair share of visitors. Like the Dudhsagar Falls though, one of the major attractions is the view, and from the fort walls you can see the beaches of Ozran and Vagator to the south and Morjim to the north, along with the Chapora River itself.

Budding ornithologists should head to Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary on Chorao Island, created in 1988 as a way to protect the local bird life and their mangrove habitat. Both are now under the protection of the Goa Forestry Department. As well as eagles, kites, cormorants, kingfishers and woodpeckers, there are other creatures to be spotted here too, from mudskipper fish low over the surface of the water, to otters, foxes and even crocodiles sneaking silently through the marshland. The sanctuary itself is named for Dr Salim Moizzudin Abdul Ali, a leading Indian ornithologist who died in 1987.

Top Landmarks

If the remains of St Francis Xavier don't sound appealing, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Old Goa. The historic city—called Velha Goa in Portuguese—was built in the 1400s and was used by the Portuguese as their capital in the region for around 200-300 years afterwards, with an impressive population believed to be around 200,000. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, its landmarks are well protected, including the Church of Assisi and Se Cathedral - although as mentioned above, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is among those that could benefit from greater protection in the present era.

Another landmark built from Goa's abundant laterite stone, along with green granite, is Viceroy's Arch, which once represented a literal gateway into Old Goa. It dates to around 1600 and was created by Viceroy Francisco de Gama as a tribute to the explorer Vasco de Gama. However, this original structure collapsed in 1948 and the present arch is a reconstruction dating from 1954. Look for Vasco on the side nearest the river, with a statue of St Catherine at the other side.

It may seem unusual for a road to be a landmark in its own right, but 18th June Road brings plenty of tourists to the restaurants and shops all along its length, making it among the busiest roads in Panaji. It is also symbolic of Goa's freedom from Portuguese rule. Originally known as Rua Herois de Dadra, the street is now named for the date when Dr Ram Manohar Lohia visited Goa and sparked the struggle for freedom - Goa's Revolution Day.

Entertainment

Goa holidays in February allow tourists to be a part of the three-day (and three-night) celebration of Goa Carnival, a tradition dating from the time of Portuguese rule in the 18th century. You won't be the only foreign tourist there by far, and you can join in the festivities with dancing, music and local food, as well as soaking up the carnival atmosphere in general.

If your visit doesn't coincide with the Carnival, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the atmosphere and nightlife. Goa has a good number of clubs with their own ambiance, as well as bars stocked with local beverages and more familiar international options too. Look out for venues that serve food, as this can be a great way to add a taste of local cuisine to your night out.

For an even more atmospheric evening, head to Mormugao and discover the Caravela, a casino boat that promises a Vegas-style gaming experience during a nightly journey to Panaji and back. Up to 300 people can board the vessel, which has a range of facilities from blackjack, craps and roulette tables to bars and restaurants, and even a swimming pool.

Or if you simply want a relaxing holiday to Goa, enjoy the pleasant climate and soothing landscape, from the sun-drenched beaches along the coast, to the forests and mountains inland. Just be sure of when you visit, and whether or not you are likely to get caught in a monsoon.

Dining Out

Goa is a destination where the typical cuisine expected by foreigners is in fact the staple food of many local residents. This includes three main ingredients: fish, curry and rice. For many visitors to the region, a meal combining the three, served with local cashew or coconut feni (a spirit only produced in Goa), is the perfect package.

It's not just about what you eat though - it's also about how it is prepared. For a truly authentic experience, find food prepared in traditional clay pots over an open fire, as this adds a distinctive smoky quality to the meal, which simply cannot be emulated using modern kitchen equipment.

You are unlikely to find very complex meals, as most local cuisine is relatively simple, combining fish and rice with plenty of spices for a hot and strongly flavoured result. Many meals also incorporate coconut in some way, even if only in the feni served alongside the food.

As a coastal region, seafood is a major component of the Goan diet, and it's not just in the form of fresh fish. Crabs, lobsters and prawns find their place in Goan recipes too, while preserved fish adds the unique tastes and textures of dried and salted seafood to the menu.

Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

Konkani is the main (and only official) language of Goa, accounting for about three fifths of the population, while Marathi, spoken by about a fifth of residents, is also permitted for official purposes, but as more of a courtesy. The UK market is important to Goa and, as a tourist, you should find staff in your resort are fluent or very close to it; if you are travelling outside of your resort, consider hiring an English-speaking guide, if you don't want to risk a language barrier.

Currency

The Indian currency is the rupee, and each rupee is 100 paise. Notes range from Rs 1,000 down to Re 1, with coins from Rs 5 down to 10 paise. Rs 2 and Re 1 notes are rare, as are coins of 20, 10 and 5 paise, and you should be very careful not to confuse Rs 100 and 500 banknotes - they look the same. You can't take rupees out of India or buy them outside of the country, so change some at the airport if you must, or get the best exchange rates at a State Bank branch. You can usually use Visa or MasterCard to withdraw cash from the ATM at any major bank.

Visas

Since 2015, India - including Goa - has allowed online visa applications using their e-Tourist visa service. You can apply between 34 and 4 days before you travel, at a cost of about £40 depending on exchange rates. You can use this system twice per year, and you'll need to prove that you have a valid passport with at least six months left on it, at least two blank pages inside it, and you'll typically need to send a scan of your passport's photo page too, along with a headshot of yourself on a white background.

Climate

The peak tourist season is in the Northern Hemisphere's autumn-winter months, beginning in late September and lasting through until the beginning of March. Goa's climate typically delivers cool and mainly dry weather throughout this period. By May, temperatures begin to rise sharply, and in late June the monsoon rains come - not a time to be on the beach, but a great chance to see Goa in full bloom.

Main Airports

Dabolim Airport itself—although its facilities may be more basic than you get at many international airports—is actually fairly well served in terms of airlines and route options. There are 15-20 airlines operating there are any one time, offering direct flights to around the same number of cities. Departures each week include roughly 50 international flights and as many as 400 domestic transfers.

Flight Options

Flying into Goa can be a challenge, with international routes typically limited to afternoons and overnight - in the daytime, the skies are used for military training. Travelling direct from the UK may also be difficult, if not impossible, with a highly seasonal calendar of charter flights landing at Dabolim Airport, so be confident about how you will actually arrive into the region.

Travel Advice

In terms of when to visit, the peak tourist season is in the Northern Hemisphere's autumn-winter months, beginning in late September and lasting through until the beginning of March. Goa's climate typically delivers cool and mainly dry weather throughout this period. By May, temperatures begin to rise sharply, and in late June the monsoon rains come - not a time to be on the beach, but a great chance to see Goa in full bloom.

Other Transport Options

If you’re planning on travelling to Goa from elsewhere in India, there are a couple of options to choose from. Hop on the train from cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore for a real taste of India. As well as fun, this is a relatively cheap form of transport. Alternatively, you could choose to drive, using your own itinerary and stopping off at notable sights along the way.

Getting Around

On arrival, you should find transport on the ground poses fewer challenges, with buses, trains and taxis all available for your onward journey. A cab is often the easiest option, and not punishingly expensive either, but always agree on the price before you set off and there are plenty of ways to get to your holiday destination.

Bus

Travelling around Goa by bus is simple and intriguing. Goa uses private and state run bus services to major locations. The buses are cheap and busy, often colourful, making unscheduled stops and picking up passengers that aren’t necessarily at a bus stop. Be mindful if you have to be somewhere on time!

Air

There are some direct flights to Goa but there are limitations with stops often required before arriving at your destination. There are regular flights to Goa via locations such as Doha, Muscat and Mumbai.

GOA`S WEATHER TODAY

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MAP

FACTS

  1. More than 30% of Goa is forested land - equatorial woodlands that are home to birds and other wildlife, in sharp contrast with the open beaches most people associate with the area.
  2. Goa's exports range from iron and manganese ores to clay and laterite stone, adding to the region's tourism revenues in India's overall GDP each year.
  3. The region is not just for tourists, by any means - in the 18th century, India's first healthcare college, the Goa Medical College, was founded here, and its library still contains many books dating to that period.

FACTS

  1. More than 30% of Goa is forested land - equatorial woodlands that are home to birds and other wildlife, in sharp contrast with the open beaches most people associate with the area.
  2. Goa's exports range from iron and manganese ores to clay and laterite stone, adding to the region's tourism revenues in India's overall GDP each year.
  3. The region is not just for tourists, by any means - in the 18th century, India's first healthcare college, the Goa Medical College, was founded here, and its library still contains many books dating to that period.

Holiday Types