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Pocket Guide: Goa

Pocket Guide to Goa

On India’s west coast, the tiny state of Goa provides an intoxicating mix of Indian and Portuguese cultures, with long golden beaches, colourful roadside markets, laid-back fishing villages and handsome colonial houses set against a backdrop of paddy fields.

More than 400 years of Portuguese rule has left an unmistakeably European flavour, particularly in Old Goa and state capital Panaji where you’ll see hybrid Catholic cuisine, whitewashed churches and ancient monasteries.

The resort areas of North Goa and South Goa are home to in-demand beach towns like Candolim, Baga and Benaulim, where hundreds of boutique guesthouses and luxury hotels overlook stretches of sand so vast you’ll feel like you have them all to yourself.

Where to Stay in Goa

Sandwiched between the Mandovi and Terekhol rivers, North Goa’s 22-mile coastline is a largely uninterrupted string of beach towns. Buzzing resorts like Anjuna, Baga and Calangute helped forge Goa’s reputation as a hippy hangout back in the 1960s, though today these hotspots are better known for their beach parties, restaurant shacks, thumping trance clubs and infinite array of watersports.

This is the oldest and most-developed section of Goa’s coastal strip, and if you base yourself here, you’ll find everything you could possibly need – tattoo parlours and secondhand bookstores rub shoulders with cyber cafes, flea markets and scooter-hire vendors, while taxis, auto-rickshaws and public buses ferry tourists up and down the coast, or on side trips to visit the ruins of the former Portuguese capital at Old Goa.

For North Goa’s best beaches head to Vagator, beneath the prominent landmark of Chapora fort. See Mandrem Beach, home to white-bellied fish eagles and olive ridley sea turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs during nesting season, or go to the far north resort of Arambol, a laid-back village famous for its yoga retreats, sunsets, and late-night fire jugglers.

South Goa stands in contrast. Fewer activities and amenities mean fewer people and quieter beaches, which is perfect if you want less action and more tranquillity. Bordered by the state of Karnataka to the south and the tidal Zuari river to the north, the coastal highlights include the peaceful fishing village of Benaulim and the empty white sands of Cavelossim, along with popular beaches like Arossim, Utorda and Majorda, where you’ll find some of South’s Goa’s most upmarket hotels and spa resorts.

Things to Do in Goa

Goa’s beaches are undoubtedly its main attraction, but its interior harbours some worthwhile excursions, too. Travel deep inland to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, where the basalt 11th-century Mahadeva Temple – the oldest in Goa – has exquisite carvings of elephants and lotus flowers.

Other highlights in Goa include the Dudhsagar Falls (literally translated as ‘Sea of Milk’) on the Mandovi River, and numerous species of birds and butterfly, including the ruby-throated yellow bulbul, Goa’s state bird.

Whether you’re seeking high-octane action in the north’s frenetic resorts or low-key relaxation on the quieter southern beaches, Goa – with its coastal, urban and natural treasures – is sure to deliver the perfect India trip.