Goa! Beaches, Sunsets & Crazy Nights: A Complete Travel Guide

Lying on the west coast, Goa is one of the smallest states in India known for its brilliant beaches, scrumptious food and Portuguese heritage. Panjim, the capital city located in the centre is well-connected with an international airport and roads and trains run from North to South part of Goa.

With a coastline stretching for over 100 kilometers, Goa has numerous beaches that attract millions of visitors. While Baga and Calangute are more popular among the Indian family crowd, Anjuna and Arambol draw a lot of foreign tourists. The beaches in South Goa are relatively lesser explored, but some of them like Agonda and Palolem are more beautiful.

A former Portuguese colony, Goa also boasts of beautiful architecture from the colonial era with many churches and old-style bungalows. The people are quite friendly towards tourists and celebrate many festivals throughout the year. While the seafood is excellent, Goa has one of the best nightlife in the country with trendy bars, beach shacks, elegant cafes and many clubs and discotheques. Thanks to lower alcohol prices in the state, Goa is also great for younger tourists with relatively tighter pockets.

Goa Attractions

  1. Basilica de Bom Jesus

Famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, the imposing Basilica de Bom Jesus contains the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the so-called Apostle of the Indies. St Francis Xavier’s missionary voyages throughout the East became legendary. His ‘incorrupt’ body is in the mausoleum to the right, in a glass-sided coffin amid a shower of gilt stars. Freelance guides at the entrance will show you around for ₹100.

Construction on the basilica began in 1594 and was completed in 1605, to create an elaborate late-Renaissance structure, fronted by a facade combining elements of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian design. Prominent in the design of the facade is the intricately carved central rectangular pediment, embellished with the Jesuit emblem ‘IHS’, an abbreviation of the Latin ‘Iesus Hominum Salvator’ (Jesus, Saviour of Men).

This is the only church in Old Goa not plastered on the outside, the lime plaster having been stripped off by a zealous Portuguese conservationist in 1950. Apparently his notion was that exposed to the elements, the laterite stone of which the basilica is built would become more durable and thus the building would be strengthened. Despite proof to the contrary, no one has got around to putting the plaster back yet; hence, some of the intricate carving is eroding with the dousing of each successive monsoon.

Inside, the basilica’s layout is simple but grand, contained beneath a simple wooden ceiling. The huge and ornate gilded reredos (ornamental screen), stretching from floor to ceiling behind the altar, takes pride of place, its baroque ornament contrasting strongly with the classical, plain layout of the cathedral itself. It shows a rather portly St Ignatius Loyola, protecting a tiny figure of the infant Jesus. His eyes are raised to a huge gilded sun above his head, on which ‘IHS’ is again emblazoned, above which is a representation of the Trinity.

To the right of the altar is the slightly grisly highlight for the vast majority of visitors: the body of St Francis Xavier himself. The body was moved into the church in 1622, and installed in its current mausoleum in 1698 courtesy of the last of the Medicis, Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in exchange for the pillow on which St Francis’ head had been resting. Cosimo engaged the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Batista Foggini to work on the three-tiered structure, constructed of jasper and marble, flanked with stars, and adorned with bronze plaques that depict scenes from the saint’s life. Topping it all off, and holding the shrivelled saint himself, is the casket, designed by Italian Jesuit Marcelo Mastrili and constructed by local silversmiths in 1659, whose sides were originally encrusted with precious stones which, over the centuries, have been picked off.

Crowds are busiest at the basilica during the Feast of St Francis Xavier, held annually on 3 December and preceded by a nine-day devotional novena, with lots of lighthearted festivity alongside the more solemn open-air Masses. Once every 10 years, the saint is given an exposition, and his body hauled around Old Goa before scores of pilgrims. The next one is in 2024.

Passing from the chapel towards the sacristy there are a couple of items relating to St Francis’ remains and, slightly further on, the stairs to a gallery of modern art.

Next to the basilica is the Professed House of the Jesuits, a two-storey laterite building covered with lime plaster. It actually predates the basilica, having been completed in 1585. It was from here that Jesuit missions to the east were organised. Part of the building burned down in 1633 and was partially rebuilt in 1783.

Mass is held in the basilica in Konkani at 7am and 8am Monday to Saturday, at 8am and 9.15am on Sunday, and in English at 10.15am on Sunday. Confession is held daily in the sacristy from 5pm to 6pm.

2. Sé Cathedral

At over 76m long and 55m wide, the cavernous Sé Cathedral is the largest church in Asia. Building commenced in 1562, on the orders of King Dom Sebastiao of Portugal, and the finishing touches were finally made some 90 years later. The exterior is notable for its plain style, in the Tuscan tradition. Also of note is its rather lopsided look resulting from the loss of one of its bell towers, which collapsed in 1776 after being struck by lightning.

The remaining tower houses the famous Sino de Ouro (Golden Bell), the largest in Asia and renowned for its rich tone, which once tolled to accompany the Inquisition’s notoriously cruel autos-da-fé (trials of faith), held out the front of the cathedral on what was then the market square.

The huge interior of the cathedral is surprisingly plain. To the right as you enter is a small, locked area that contains a font made in 1532, said to have been used by St Francis Xavier. Two small statuettes, inset into the main pillars, depict St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius Loyola. There are four chapels on either side of the nave, two of which have screens across the entrance. Of these, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is outstanding, with every inch of wall and ceiling gorgeously gilded and decorated – a complete contrast to the austerity of the cathedral interior.

Opposite, to the right of the nave, is the other screened chapel, the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles. The story goes that in 1619 a simple cross (known as the Cruz dos Milagres), made by local shepherds, was erected on a hillside near Old Goa. The cross grew bigger and several witnesses saw an apparition of Christ hanging on it. A church was planned on the spot where the vision had appeared and while this was being built the cross was stored nearby. When it came time to move the cross into the new church it was found that it had grown again and that the doors of the church had to be widened to accommodate it. The cross was moved to the cathedral in 1845, where it soon became, and remains, a popular place of petition for the sick.

Towering above the main altar is the huge gilded reredos (ornamental screen), its six main panels carved with scenes from the life of St Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. She was beheaded in Alexandria, and among the images here are those showing her awaiting execution and being carried to Mt Sinai by angels.

3. Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Panaji’s spiritual, as well as geographical, centre is this elevated, pearly white church, built in 1619 over an older, smaller 1540 chapel, and stacked like a fancy white wedding cake. When Panaji was little more than a sleepy fishing village, this church was the first port of call for sailors from Lisbon, who would give thanks for a safe crossing, before continuing to Ela (Old Goa) further east up the river. The church is beautifully illuminated at night.

By the 1850s the land in front of the church was being reclaimed and the distinctive crisscrossing staircases were added in the late 19th century. Today the entrance to its gloriously technicolor interior is along the left-hand side wall. A tangle of ropes leads up to the enormous shiny church bell in the belfry, saved from the ruins of the Augustinian monastery at Old Goa and installed here in 1871. The church is the focus for celebrations during the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December.

4. Goa Chitra

Artist and restorer Victor Hugo Gomes first noticed the slow extinction of traditional objects – from farming tools to kitchen utensils to altarpieces – as a child in Benaulim. He created this ethnographic museum from the more than 4000 cast-off objects that he collected from across the state over 20 years. Admission is via a one-hour guided tour, held on the hour. Goa Chitra is 3km east of Maria Hall – ask locally for directions.

5. Braganza House

Braganza House, built in the 17th century and stretching along one whole side of Chandor’s village square, is the biggest Portuguese mansion of its kind in Goa and the best example of what Goa’s scores of once-grand and glorious mansions have today become. Granted the land by the King of Portugal, the Braganza family built this oversized house, which was later divided into the east and west wings when it was inherited by two sisters from the family.

Braganza House, built in the 17th century and stretching along one whole side of Chandor’s village square, is the biggest Portuguese mansion of its kind in Goa and the best example of what Goa’s scores of once-grand and glorious mansions have today become. Granted the land by the King of Portugal, the Braganza family built this oversized house, which was later divided into the east and west wings when it was inherited by two sisters from the family.

6. Reis Magos Fort

Opened to the public in 2012 as a cultural centre, Reis Magos Fort overlooks the narrowest point of the Mandovi River estuary, making it easy to appreciate the strategic importance of the site. It was originally built in 1551, after the north bank of the river came under Portuguese control, and rebuilt in 1703, in time to assist the desperate Portuguese defence against the Hindu Marathas (1737–39).

It was then occupied by the British army in 1799 when they requisitioned Reis Magos, Cabo Raj Bhavan and Fort Aguada in anticipation of a possible attack by the French.

After the British withdrawal in 1813 the Reis Magos fort gradually lost importance, and was eventually abandoned. Like Fort Aguada nearby, the fort was turned into a prison in 1900 until it was abandoned again in 1993.

In 2011 the fort underwent extensive restoration and is now a cultural and heritage centre with exhibition spaces, including a gallery of works by cartoonist Mario Miranda, a room devoted to the history of the fort and its restoration, and an excellent exhibition on Goan history and independence. You can wander the ramparts for great views and inspect the original cannons pointing out over the Mandovi.

7. Palácio do Deão

About 8km southeast of Chandor is the busy small town of Quepem. Here the Palácio do Deão, the renovated 18th-century palace built by the town’s founder, Portuguese nobleman Jose Paulo de Almeida, sits across from the Holy Cross Church on the banks of the small Kushavati River.

Today the restored house and its beautiful, serene gardens are open to the public. Call ahead to book a tour or arrange a delicious Portuguese-inspired lunch or afternoon tea on its lovely terrace. All donations are used to continue restoration work and eventually create a cultural centre here.

8. Dudhsagar Falls

Situated in the far southeastern corner of the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa’s most impressive waterfall splashes down just west of the border with Karnataka state. At 603m this is the second highest in India, after Jog Falls. The falls are best visited as soon after monsoon as possible (October is perfect), when the water levels are highest and the cascades earn their misty nomenclature, Dudhsagar, meaning ‘Sea of Milk’ in Konkani.

Getting to the falls starts with a trip to the village of Colem (Kulem), around 7km south of Molem, either by car or by the scenic 8.15am local train from Margao or the 7.50am VSG Horawh Express – the South Central Railway line actually crosses over the falls, offering excellent views. Check return train times in advance, as they vary seasonally. From Colem, pick up a shared jeep (₹500 per person for seven people) for the bumpy 45-minute journey, then it’s a 10-minute clamber up over the rocks to reach the falls themselves.

Dudhsagar is an extremely popular day trip with a limit of 300 jeeps allowed in per day and there can often be long waits and queuing for tickets. To alleviate this you can now book a jeep or time-slot online through Ticket Papa (www.tiketpapa.com). It requires a registration process, valid mobile phone number and credit card.

The jeep takes you into the sanctuary, through a rough but scenic jungle track (there are three streams to be forded). En route, you’ll pass Devil’s Canyon, a beautiful gorge with a river running between the steep-sided rocks.

Swimming is possible at the falls themselves (compulsory life jackets are provided for ₹40), but don’t picture yourself taking a romantic swim on your own – there will be plenty of other bathers joining in. You can also walk the distance to the head of the falls (though it’s unwise without a local to guide you), a real uphill slog, but resulting in beautiful views.

Goa Tourism runs one of its trademark whirlwind day trips, the ‘Dudhsagar Special’ (₹2300) to the waterfall, with stops at Old Goa, Ponda and lunch at Molem and Shri Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla. Tours depart at 6.30am from Calangute or Panaji. Private travel agents also offer tours.

It’s no longer possible to trek to the falls or take your own transport.

9. Shri Mahadeva Temple

If you’re a history or temple buff, don’t miss the atmospheric remains of the unusual little Hindu Shri Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla, 12km north of Molem. Built around the 12th century by the Kadamba dynasty, it’s the only temple of dozens of its type to have survived both the years and the various conquerings and demolishings by Muslim and Portuguese forces, probably due to its remote jungle setting.

No one quite knows why this spot was chosen, since historically there was no trade route passing by here and no evidence of there having been any major settlement nearby.

The temple itself is very small, facing eastward so that the rays of dawn light up its deity. At the eastern end, the open-sided mandapa (assembly hall) is reached through doorways on three sides. The entrance to the east faces a set of steps down to the river, where ritual cleansing was carried out before worship. Inside the mandapa the plain slab ceiling is supported by four huge carved pillars. The clarity of the designs on the stone is testimony not only to the skill of the artisans, but also to the quality of the rock that was imported for the construction; look out for the image on one of the bases of an elephant crushing a horse, thought to symbolise Kadambas’ own military power at the time of the temple’s inauguration.

The best examples of the carvers’ skills, however, are the superb lotus-flower relief panel set in the centre of the ceiling, and the finely carved pierced-stone screen that separates the outer hall from the antaralya (main shrine), flanked by an image of Ganesh and several other deities. Finally, beyond the inner hall is the garbhagriha (shrine room), where the lingam resides.

The exterior of the temple is plain, with a squat appearance caused by the partial collapse of its shikhara (sanctuary tower). On the remains of the tower are three relief carvings depicting the three most important deities in the Hindu pantheon: on the north side is Vishnu, to the west is Shiva and to the south is Brahma.

10. Church & Convent of St Cajetan

Modelled on the original design of St Peter’s in Rome, this impressive church was built by Italian friars of the Order of Theatines, sent here by Pope Urban VIII to preach Christianity in the kingdom of Golconda (near Hyderabad). The friars, however, were refused entry to Golconda, so settled instead at Old Goa in 1640. The construction of the church began in 1655, and although it’s perhaps less interesting than the other churches, it’s still a beautiful building and the only domed church remaining in Goa.

Though the altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, the church is named after the founder of the Theatine order, St Cajetan (1480–1547), a contemporary of St Francis Xavier. Born in Vicenza, St Cajetan spent his whole life in Italy, establishing the Order of Theatines in Rome in 1524. He was known for his work in hospitals and with ‘incurables’, and for his high moral stance in an increasingly corrupt Roman Catholic church. He was canonised in 1671.

The facade of the church is classical in design and the four niches on the front contain statues of apostles. Inside, clever use of internal buttresses and four huge pillars have given the interior a cruciform construction, above the centre of which is the towering dome. The inscription around the inside of the base of the dome is a verse from the Gospel of St Matthew. The largest of the altars on the right-hand side of the church is dedicated to St Cajetan himself. On the left side are paintings illustrating episodes in the life of St Cajetan; in one it appears, quite peculiarly, that he is being breastfed at some distance by an angel whose aim is remarkably accurate. Traditionally, the last mortal remains of deceased Portuguese governors were kept in the church’s crypt, beneath the reredos (ornamental screen), in lead coffins until their shipment home to their final resting place. The last few, forgotten for more than three decades, were finally sent back to Lisbon in 1992.

Adjoining the church, the Convent of St Cajetan is nowadays a college for recently ordained priests.

11. Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

Named after the late Dr Salim Moizzudin Abdul Ali, India’s best-known ornithologist, this serene sanctuary on Chorao Island was created by Goa’s Forestry Department in 1988 to protect the birdlife that thrives here and the mangroves that have grown up in and around the reclaimed marshland. Apart from the ubiquitous white egrets and purple herons, you can expect to see colourful kingfishers, eagles, cormorants, kites, woodpeckers, sandpipers, curlews, drongos and mynahs, to name just a few.

Marsh crocodiles, foxes, jackals and otters have also been spotted by some visitors, along with the bulbous-headed mudskipper fish that skim across the water’s surface at low tide. There’s a birdwatching tower in the sanctuary that can be reached by boat when the river level, dependent on the tide, is not too low.

Even for those not especially interested in the birds themselves, a leisurely drift in a dugout canoe through the sanctuary’s mangrove swamps offers a fascinating insight into life on this fragile terrain.

The best time to visit is either in the early morning (around 8am) or in the evening (a couple of hours before sunset), but since the Mandovi is a tidal river, boat trips depend somewhat on tide times. You’ll find boatmen, in possession of dugout canoes to take you paddling about the sanctuary, waiting around at the ferry landing on Chorao Island; the going rate is around ₹800 for a 1½-hour trip. The forest department also operates two boats, which can hold up to 10 or 12 people, for ₹750 or ₹900 respectively. Don’t forget to bring binoculars and a field guide to all things feathered if you’re a keen birdwatcher.

To get to Chorao Island by bus, board a bus from Panaji bound for Old Goa and ask to be let off at the Ribandar ferry crossing.

12. Church of St Francis of Assisi

West of the Sé Cathedral, the Church of St Francis of Assisi is no longer in use for worship, and consequently exudes a more mournful air than its neighbours.

The church started life as a small chapel, built on this site by eight Franciscan friars on their arrival in 1517. In 1521 it was replaced by a church consecrated to the Holy Ghost, which was then subsequently rebuilt in 1661, with only the doorway of the old building incorporated into the new structure. This original doorway, in ornate Manueline style, contrasts strongly with the rest of the facade, the plainness of which had become the fashion by the 17th century.

Maritime themes – unsurprising given Old Goa’s important port status – can be seen here and there, including navigators’ globes and coats of arms, which once adorned ships’ sails.

The interior of the church, though now rather ragged and faded, is nevertheless beautiful, in a particularly ‘folk art’ style. The walls and ceiling are heavily gilded and decorated with carved wood panels, with large paintings depicting the works of St Francis adorning the walls of the chancel. Look out for the huge arch that supports the choir, painted vividly with floral designs, and the intricately carved pulpit. The reredos (ornamental screen) dominates the gilded show, although this one is different to others in Old Goa, with a deep recess for the tabernacle. The four statues in its lower portion represent apostles, and above the reredos hangs Christ on the cross. The symbolism of this scene is unmistakable: Jesus has his right arm free to embrace St Francis, who is standing atop the three vows of the Franciscan order – Poverty, Humility and Obedience.

13. Shri Chandreshwar Temple

Approximately 14km southeast of Margao near the village of Paroda, a number of hills rise out of the plain, the highest of which is Chandranath Hill (350m). At the top, in a small clearing stands the Shri Chandreshwar (Bhutnath) Temple, a small but attractive 17th-century building in a lovely, solitary setting.

Although the present buildings date from the 17th century, legend has it that there has been a temple here for almost 2500 years, since the moment a meteor hit the spot. The site is dedicated to Chandreshwar, an incarnation of Shiva who is worshipped here as ‘Lord of the Moon’. Consequently it’s laid out so that the light of the full moon shines into the sanctum and illuminates the glittering gold deity. At the rear of the shrine, two accessory stone deities keep Chandreshwar company: Parvati (Shiva’s consort) to the west, and Ganesh (his son) to the east. It’s said that when the moonlight falls on it, the shrine’s lingam (phallic symbol of Shiva) oozes water.

Leaving through the side entrance there is another small shrine standing separately that is dedicated to the god Bhutnath, who is worshipped in the form of a simple stone pinnacle that sticks out of the ground.

To get here, you’ll need your own transport, since buses don’t service this road. Head to Paroda, and ask there for the turn-off that takes you up the narrow, winding hillside road. There’s a small parking area near the top, from which the approach to the temple is via a steep flight of steps.

14. Fort Aguada

Standing on the headland overlooking the mouth of the Mandovi River, Fort Aguada occupies a magnificent and successful position, confirmed by the fact it was never taken by force. A highly popular spot to watch the sunset, with uninterrupted views both north and south, the fort was built in 1612, following the increasing threat to Goa’s Portuguese overlords by the Dutch, among others.

One of the great advantages of the site was the abundance of water from natural springs on the hillside, making the fort an important first watering point for ships just arrived from Portugal; the spring also gave the fort its name – agua is Portuguese for ‘water’. Like Reis Magos and Cabo Raj Bhavan, the British occupied the fort in 1799 to protect Goa from possible French invasion.

Today visitors flock to the bastion that stands on the hilltop – though when compared with the overall area surrounded by defences, this is only a fraction of the original fort. To get to the hilltop fort, take the 4km winding road that heads east from Sinquerim Beach and loops up around the headland. Otherwise there’s a steep 2km walking trail to the fort that starts just past Marbella Guest House. You can also walk out to the sea level fort walls at Sinquerim along the road past the Taj Hotel.

15. Usgalimal Petroglyphs

One of Goa’s least visited but most fascinating sights is deep in the countryside at Usgalimal: a series of prehistoric petroglyphs (rock art), carved into the laterite-stone ground on the banks of the Kushavati River, and depicting various scenes including bulls, deer and antelope, a dancing woman, a peacock and ‘triskelions’ – a series of concentric circles thought by some archaeologists to have been a primitive means of measuring time.

These underfoot carvings are thought to be the work of one of Goa’s earliest tribes, the Kush, and were only discovered by archaeologists in 1993, after being alerted to their existence by locals. The images are thought to have been created some 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, making them an important, if entirely unexploited, prehistoric site. In order for you to make out the carvings better, you’ll likely have a helping hand from a local, who sits patiently at the site waiting to drizzle water from a plastic bottle into the grooves; he appreciates a tip for his efforts.

To get here, continue past Rivona for about 6km and keep an eye out for the circular green-and-red Archaeological Survey of India signs. An unsealed road off to the right of the main road leads 1.5km down to the river bank and carvings.

16. Goa State Museum & Secretariat Building

Currently housed in the Secretariat, the oldest colonial building in Goa, the state museum features an eclectic, if not extensive, collection of items tracing aspects of Goan history. As well as some beautiful Hindu and Jain sculptures and bronzes, there are nice examples of Portuguese-era furniture, coins, an intricately carved chariot and a pair of quirky antique rotary lottery machines.

The most interesting exhibit is in the furniture room: an elaborately carved table and high-backed chairs used by the notoriously brutal Portuguese Inquisition in Goa during its reign of terror. The table’s legs feature carved lions and an eagle on one side, and four human figures on the other.

The Secretariat building stands on the site of the grand summer palace of Goa’s 15th-century sultan Yusuf Adil Shah, which was originally fortified and surrounded by a saltwater moat. After falling to the Portuguese in 1510, the palace was further reinforced and used as a customs post, also serving as temporary accommodation for incoming and outgoing Portuguese viceroys. It later housed Goa’s State Assembly.

17. Church of the Holy Spirit

Margao’s whitewashed main church (1675) remains in use as a parish church and is finely decorated inside. The impressive reredos (ornamental screen) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, rising from ground level to the high ceiling, made more distinguished by the gilded and carved archway that stands in front of it. The church doors are usually unlocked throughout the day, and access is via the side entrance on the northern side.

An earlier church was first built in 1565, on the site of an important Hindu temple. Before demolition started on the temple, local Hindus managed to rescue the statue of the god Damodara, to whom the building was dedicated. It was secretly moved to a new site in the village of Zambaulim, around 30km southeast, where there is still a large temple today. The original church was burned to the ground by Muslim raiders the same year it was built. It was soon replaced and a seminary was established, but both were subsequently destroyed, again by Muslim forces, after which the seminary was moved to Rachol, to the northeast.

18. Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary

The entrance to Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary is easily accessible from Molem and, with an area of 240 sq km, this is the largest of Goa’s four protected wildlife areas; it also encompasses the 107-sq-km Molem National Park. In theory, tickets are available at the Forest Interpretation Centre, 2km before the park entrance, close to Molem town.

The best way to explore the park is to organise a tour through a travel agent or hire a jeep for the day in Molem or Colem. Most tours will also visit Dudhsagar Falls and the Devil’s Canyon. At Dudhsagar Spa Resort, staff can arrange trips into the park’s interior.

Shy and hard-to-spot wildlife include jungle cats, Malayan giant squirrels, gaurs, sambars, leopards, chitals (spotted deer), slender loris, Malayan pythons and cobras. There’s an observation platform a few kilometres into the park; as with most parks, the best time to see wildlife is in the early morning or late evening.

19. Archaeological Museum

The archaeological museum houses some lovely fragments of sculpture from Hindu temple sites in Goa, and some sati stones, which once marked the spot where a Hindu widow committed suicide by flinging herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre.

You’ll also find two large bronze statues here: one of the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões, which once stood more prominently in the central grassy area of Old Goa, and one of Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese conqueror and first governor of Goa, which stood in the Azad Maidan in Panaji, before being moved here after Independence.

Upstairs, a gallery contains portraits of some 60 of Goa’s Portuguese viceroys, spanning more than 400 years of Portuguese rule. Not particularly exciting in terms of portraiture, they’re an interesting insight into Portugal’s changing fashions, each as unsuitable for the tropical heat as the last.

20. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary

About 9km southeast of Palolem, and a good day trip, is the beautiful, remote-feeling Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa’s second-largest sanctuary and easily its most accessible if you have your own transport. Don’t expect to bump into its more exotic residents (including gaurs, sambars, leopards and spotted deer), but frogs, snakes, monkeys, insects and blazingly plumed birds are in no short supply.

Trails are hikable; set off early morning for the best sighting prospects from one of the two forest watchtowers, 7km and 12km from the park entrance. If you’re serious about spotting wildlife, it might be worth staying a night in one of the forest department cottages, right behind the reception at the park entrance. They’re no frills but clean, and meals can be arranged. From here you can make a start before the park even opens.

List of Beaches in GOA!

You will find some of the best beaches in Asia in Goa. The 100 kilometer coastline is dotted with as many as 35 beaches, many of them unique in various ways. Some of the beaches are very quiet and serene with swaying palm trees. They are great for a relaxing holiday, while others are busier stretches of sand. The beaches are the main attraction of Goa. 7,785,693 tourists visited the state in 2017, including 890,459 foreign visitors, most of them from Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

There are shacks with loungers and umbrellas in almost all the beaches. You can see both Indian and foreign tourists relaxing. The shacks serve Indian, continental, and Konkani food, and drinks. Cafes, restaurants, pubs, cars/bike rentals, shops are close. There are massage and tattoo parlors as well. Arambol, Ashwem, Vagator, Benaulim, Palolem, and Anjuna are the most popular beaches with overseas tourists.

There are water sport activities on many beaches – You can choose from speed boat and banana boat rides, jet skiing, paragliding, waterskiing, water scooters, boogie boarding, windsurfing, and more. Most Goa beaches are safe for swimming. There are lifeguards in many of them. Head to Grande Island and you can do snorkeling and scuba diving too.

Many beaches in Goa have red hills of the Western Ghats in the backdrop, which makes the landscape look beautiful. There are 5 forts on top of these mountains – Aguada Fort, Terekhol Fort, Chapora Fort, Cabo Fort, and the Betul Fort where you can see the rich history of Goa. You will also get panoramic views of the sea and the shore. There are 6 rivers too – Terekhol, Chapora, Mandovi, Zuari, Sal, and Talpona that empties into the Arabian Sea. There are cruise trips on many of them.

CHARACTERISTICS OF GOA BEACHES:

  •  They are all free to visit. There is no entry fee.
  •  In the south you can expect golden white sand, while it is slightly grayish in the north.
  •  Most Goa beaches are flat, so swimming is easy. It slopes down gently into the sea.
  •  The sea water is warm and comfortable in the main tourist season (October to March).
  •  You will find many beach shacks with loungers and umbrellas. The shacks offer food, drinks, information and sports equipment. Some beach shacks even offer accommodation at the backside. Many shacks host parties in the late evening.
  •  Restaurants, bars, pubs, shops, and hotels are close to the beach.
  •  There are lifeguards in many beaches.

GOA BEACHES (FROM THE SOUTH TO THE NORTH):

  1. Polem is the southernmost beach in Goa. It is near the Karnataka border and is deserted and clean. There is a backwater at the northern end of the beach. You can visit some islands from here.
  2. Xendrem is wild and secluded. This is a good beach for a day-trip.
  3. Galgibaga is frequented by eco-tourists who come here to see olive ridley turtles. There is a turtle nesting site at the southern end of the beach. The Galgibag River empties into the sea here.
  4. Talpona is a clean and deserted beach. The Arabian Sea is transparent and pure here. There are rocky outcrops at the northern and southern side of the beach. The Talpon River meets the Arabian Sea at the northern end.
  5. Rajbag beach has rocky outcrops in the north. Almost the entire beach is occupied by the 5-star Lalit Golf and Spa Resort. Talpon River meets the sea at the southern end.
  6. Patnem is the quiet and peaceful twin of Palolem.
  7. Colomb is a cozy small beach where you can try organic food and hear “the Pandavas drum”. The Silent Noise Club is just north of Colomb.
  8. Palolem is the most popular beach in South Goa. This is a long crescent shaped beach with palm trees bending over the sand, small guest houses and lodges, and popular “silent discos”. The Canacona Island is close. There are backwaters at the northern end of the beach.
  9. Butterfly beach is a secluded and small beach. You will see plenty of butterflies here. There is a chance to see dolphins. It is one of the most photogenic Goa beaches. But you will have to trek through forest to reach the beach or take a boat. There are cycle tours from Palolem to the Butterfly beach.
  10. Agonda has been ranked as Asia’s #1 beach for 2018 by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice® awards. This is an isolated beach, a good choice for those who want solitude. There are rock formations at the southern end and a small bay in the north.
  11. Cola consists of two neighboring tiny bays of the Arabian Sea. There is a beautiful blue lagoon.
  12. Kakolem, also called Tiger Beach, is a small and isolated cove with hills. Easier to access by sea. There are no shacks, restaurants or hotels here. According to a legend, tigers used to visit this beach.
  13. Cabo de Rama is just north of the Cabo de Rama fort. There is a dense grove at the base of the fort. This is a good beach for picnics.
  14. Canaguinim consists of two small and wild beaches. They are good for day-trips and long walks.
  15. Betul is a picturesque and romantic beach at the confluence of the Sal River. Betul Fort is on the other side of the river. There is also a lighthouse.
  16. Mobor is the southern part of the Cavelossim beach. You will find two big hotels here, Leela Palace Kempinski and the Holiday Inn. There are very few people on the beach. Good for relaxation.
  17. Cavelossim is a 10 kilometer long clean and sandy beach. Good for privacy and families. You will see many foreigners here. Sal River meets the sea close to the beach. There are Sal river cruises to see birds, bats, and village life. Developed infrastructure. There are many good restaurants.
  18. Fatrade and Carmona are two nice beaches just south of Varka. It is the same stretch of sand. The sand is whitish here. You will find a few expensive hotels.
  19. Varka is the continuation of the Cavelossim-Mobor strip, a place for romantic and family vacations. There are many high quality hotels.
  20. Benaulim is a long stretch of sand that runs all the way to Colva in the north. You will see many fishing boats and trawlers all along this tree-lined coast. There is water sport too. In the village you will see many old houses, temples, and churches. The 5-star hotel Taj Exotica is located here.
  21. Colva is close to Margao, the commercial capital of Goa. It is popular mostly with the locals and Indian tourists. There are a few foreigners too. Water sports on the beach. The tourist infrastructure is developed. Accommodation and restaurants of average price.
  22. Sernabatim is the southern part of Colva. It is quiet and pure.
  23. Betalbatim is a fast developing beach. It is one of the best places for watching sunset in Goa. There are many shacks, especially at the northern and southern ends.
  24. Utorda is a small, clean, and peaceful beach, 15.1 kilometers from Vasco da Gama. It remains serene throughout the year as there are very few tourists. There are many beach shacks and fishing boats.
  25. Arossim and Cansaulim are small and quiet beaches, part of the same stretch of sand. They are both close to Vasco da Gama. You will see palm trees and colorful fishing boats. Few tourists. There is water sport too, but do not disturb the colonies of birds on the water and the surrounding trees.
  26. Holland-Issorsim is a good beach for seeing marine life and corals. You can see them directly from the surface of water. This is also a good beach for kayaking.
  27. Velsao beach is close to the Goa international airport at Dabolim. This is a very serene beach with very few tourists. Good for long walks.
  28. Candolim is the first major beach in North Goa from Panaji. It is one of three most popular North Goa beaches. There are many shacks on the beach with sun beds and umbrellas. You will also find many shops and restaurants. There is water sport here.
  29. Calangute is just north of Candolim. This is another popular beach and part of the Calangute-Baga stretch. It is very commercial, but there are fewer shacks than Candolim. The tourist infrastructure is developed.
  30. Baga is the northernmost beach of the big 3 – Candolim, Calangute, and Baga. There are many good restaurants. It has one of the most happening nightlife in Goa. Baga River meets the sea at the northern end.
  31. Anjuna is north of Baga, across the hill. It was a favorite with the hippies in the 1960s and the 1970s. Now Anjuna is known for its liberal spirit, lively night life and the famous flea market.
  32. Vagator is at the foothills of the Chapora Fort. It is similar to Anjuna, but quieter. There are many foreigners. You can see the Chapora Fort on top of a hill. Chapora River meets the sea in the north. There are rocky outcrops both in the northern and southern end of the beach.
  33. Ashvem is a 1.5 kilometer long peaceful and serene beach. There are many beach shacks, cafes, pubs, and restaurants. You will also find yoga retreats and meditation centers. It is popular with foreign tourists.
  34. Mandrem is a small and picturesque beach. A small creek runs on the other side and meets the Arabian Sea here. Many bamboo bridges connect both the banks. There are shacks, restaurants, beach huts and ayurveda schools. This is a good beach for relaxation and camping holidays.
  35. Arambol is the northernmost developed beach in Goa. It is sandy and rocky. Arambol has a laid-back, bohemian, and liberal atmosphere. It is popular with foreigners.

Things to do in GOA!

#1 – RENT A PRIVATE VILLA IN GOA

Private Villa in Goa

A hand-picked collection of private luxury villas in Goa to rent in beautiful locations, with concierge service and housekeeping included during your stay. Rent start from Rs. 19 000/- per night.

#2 – THE BEACHES

Top Goa Beaches

The beaches of Goa will always top the list of any tourist. There are many of them to choose from as well, from the North to the South. Select wisely because you cannot possibly visit them all. North Goa beaches are busier with a lot more activities, parties, and shopping. The beaches in the south are more serene and peaceful. There is more nature in the South too. Relax on the beach at a shack, get a massage, enjoy food and drinks, and go for a swim.

Top Goa Beaches – Baga, Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna, Vagator, Palolem, Colva, Cavelossim, Benaulim, Majorda, Chapora.

#3 – WATER SPORTS

Goa Water Sports

There are many water sports activities to choose from, almost throughout Goa. There is parasailing, windsurfing, speed boat and banana boat rides, waterskiing, water scooters, boogie boarding, dinghy sailing, and more. Of course, there is swimming too at the beaches. But remember, there are rocks in many Goa beaches. Also, watch out for riptides. There are lifeguards at the most popular beaches, but not all. You can also try deep sea fishing in Goa.

Best time for water sports – Try early morning for windsurfing or parasailing as the morning breeze is light and calm. You can do boating throughout the day. Water sports activities are mostly closed during the rainy season, as it can be too risky.

#4 – KAYAKING

Goa Kayaking

Kayaking in the backwaters of Goa could be an experience of a lifetime. Gently glide through the calm waters as you get close to the birds, bats, and the occasional dolphins. This tranquil experience will give you beautiful memories. You can see the villages, churches, and the daily life of the Goanese people as well.

#5 – WHITEWATER RAFTING

Goa Water Rafting

If you want more excitement and adventure, then why not try whitewater rafting. Take on the challenge and ride over the rapids. It is sure to give you an adrenalin rush. There is whitewater rafting in Goa at many places – Valpoi River, Mhadei River, and the Mandovi River. The cost will be between 1,500-2,000 INR per person, which includes basic lessons, safety briefing, lifejackets, and rafting gear.

Best time for whitewater rafting – The monsoon season between June and September when the rapids are the wildest.

#6 – SNORKELING, SCUBA DIVING

Goa Scuba Diving

Head to Grande Island near Vasco da Gama for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving! Equipment is available on hire. There is basic training as well. Explore the many famous dive sites and ship wrecks, or just skim the surface to see colorful marine life. You can finish the day with a barbecue. Snorkeling is also available at Bogmalo Beach in South Goa.

Best time for snorkeling, scuba diving – Between November and April.

#7 – DOLPHIN TOURS

Dolphin in Goa

Go on a boat trip for a chance to come face to face with the amazing dolphins. You can see dolphins close to the shore at many places in Goa, like Candolim, Calangute, Sinquerim, and the Varca Beach. You can see them also at Grande Island, and sometimes even in the rivers. There is such a high chance of a sighting that many operators offer ‘no dolphin, no pay’ service.

#8 – CRUISING

Mandovi River Cruise

There is cruising on the Mandovi River and on the Sal River in the south. There are all types of cruises to select from, such as dinner cruises with Goan music, food, singing, and dancing. Goa Tourism Department runs popular river cruises, but there are also private operators. Try a candlelight dinner cruise for a more private and memorable experience. There are 1 hour and 2 hour river cruises and sunset cruises as well. You can also go on a backwater or a houseboat cruise, or hire a yacht or catamaran for a few hours or the entire day for exclusive cruising.

Best time for cruising – Throughout the year, except the monsoon. Cruising is most popular in the winter season, though.

#9 – SPICE PLANTATION

Spice Plantations

Witness the aroma of spices, and learn how they are grown at the spice plantations in Goa. See some exotic spices that became India’s first exports. See cardamom, Peri Peri, which is one of the world’s hottest chilies, and more. You will also see many exotic birds. A spice plantation is a photographer’s delight. Ride an elephant or splash water with them, giving them a bath. Before leaving, enjoy a traditional Goan lunch that is cooked with farm spices.

#10 – PARAGLIDING

Paragliding in Goa

Paragliding is a fun and adventure sport for the thrill seekers. You can enjoy paragliding at Arambol beach in north Goa for just 3,000 INR an hour. There are shorter duration trips as well. Take off after some basic instructions and safety check and glide gently up in the sky, helped by your instructor, of course. The flight will actually start from a cliff between the Arambol and Harmal beaches. See wonderful views of the sea, the cliffs, beach, and the countryside of Goa.

Best time for paragliding – Anytime of the day except late afternoon when the wind may pick up. Avoid the monsoons months – June, July, and August.

#11 – CASINO GAMBLING

Casino in Goa

Goa is the only place in India where gambling is legal. You can try your luck at roulette, slots machines, Indian Flush, poker, black jack, baccarat, and other games. There is live music and dancing, Russian dancers, stand-up comedy shows, and separate entertainment zones for the kids as well. Deltin Royale, Casino Paradise, Deltin Jaqk, Casino Carnival, Casino Pearl, Casino Pride, and Casino Paradise are some of the biggest names.

Where in Goa – Most of them are floating casinos on ships. There are casino games at a few land-based private resorts as well.

#12 – PARTY ON THE BEACH

Party on the Arambol Beach

When in Goa, you have to party on the beach. In North Goa, choose from Baga, Candolim, Calangute, and Anjuna. St. Anthony’s Bar in Baga is a great place from where you can see glorious sunsets. There is live music at Curlie’s and Café Lilliput in Anjuna. In the South, Cavelossim and Palolem are hot party destinations. Many beach shacks are transformed into nightclubs after dark, so you can party right on the beach. There are other beach parties as well, playing trance music.

#13 – UNLEASH THE HIPPIE IN YOU

Hippie in Goa

Goa became famous in the 1960s and 1970s as a hippie destination. The hippie culture is mostly gone now, but you can still get a henna tattoo, braid your hair, and make dreadlocks to bring out the free hippie spirit within you. It’s good to unleash, break free sometimes, and let your wild side out. Goa is just the right place for an image makeover.

Where in Goa – You will find tattoo stores and hair clinics throughout Goa.

Goa Weather And Best Time To Visit Goa

India’s favourite party destination has been blessed with some beautifully well-defined seasons. There are 4 distinct phases to the Goa weather – summer, monsoons, post-monsoon summer, and then finally, winter. Tourist season is generally during winter, because most westerners find the famous Goan sun a tad too heavy duty for their comfort in summer! The best time to visit Goa is between November and March when the Goa weather is beautifully balmy & clear with a cool sea breeze blowing through.

Summer (March, April, May & October)

Summer (March, April, May & October):  Goa Weather And Best Time To Visit Goa

Summers in Goa are extremely hot with temperatures touching 40 Degrees C (104 Degrees F). Being a coastal state, the humidity levels remain sky high. This may be uncomfortable and take some time to adjust to for tourists from colder countries. The sea remains Nice and tepid, and the beaches always have a nice balmy breeze flowing through them. Mornings and evenings are pleasant, but noon to evening can get pretty unbearable, and it’s best to remain indoors to avoid the risk of sunburn and heat stroke. Goa is not as crowded during summers and prices tend to be relatively low. If you don’t mind the heat, this may be the best time to visit Goa as you can explore this sunny state on a rather economical budget during summer.

Monsoons (June, July, August, September)

Monsoons (June, July, August, September):  Goa Weather And Best Time To Visit Goa

The monsoons in Goa typically last from June to September. This is the season during which people avoid Goa, simply because people associate Goa with beaches, sun and sand, and therefore, a rainy day is a huge letdown for beach bums. Unfortunately for them, they don’t know what they’re missing out on, for Goa is beautiful during the rains! The rainy season in Goa is a magical experience. After the harsh heat of May, the smell of wet earth is incomparable. Paddy fields are at their peak as the scorched, dry land gets infused with a new breath of life. If you’re interested in a beautiful and relaxed holiday, with no noise, no crowds and lots of soul searching time, choose Goa in the rains. The entire state is sparkling clean, emerald green, and above all, devoid of hordes of tourists! During the monsoons, Goa receives an average of three to five hours of sunshine during the day. We advise against venturing out into the sea at this time. Not only is the water freezing cold, it is also extremely dangerous during the rains. Explore the many spice plantations, Mollem National Park and Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary to make most of the magic of the monsoons.

Winter (November, December, January, February)

Winter (November, December, January, February):  Goa Weather And Best Time To Visit Goa

Winter in Goa is a time of great celebration and by far the best time to visit Goa! When the monsoons end, Goa looks like it’s just back from the laundry – every tree and building looks spanking clean. The Goa weather at this time is just perfect and the streets begin to fill up with thousands of holidaymakers, out for their fix of fun, sun and sand. People can pick from a host of watersports as the water is just right at this time of the year. Winter in Goa is a fun season with fairs, parades, festivals and parties that wind up late in the night on the beaches. It is a festive couple of months and all hotels, restaurants and shops are decorated with lights, stars, tinsel and Christmas trees. Also this is the period when maximum weddings and engagements are held in Goa. Hotels are packed to capacity so be sure to book in advance. January is a bit chilly but it is never too cold here. It’s good to have a sweater with you if you plan to bike around at night or early in the morning. Don’t forget to watch out for the beautiful mists that swirl around the paddy fields and all surrounding streets in the mornings and at night…its gorgeous!

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