Goa, with its wonderful unspoilt stretches of sand, palm trees and blue sea, local hospitality, lifestyle away from the stress, people's love for music and dance, all enhanced by its superb cuisine, make the destination a heady mix that is hard to resist.
Located about midway along the west coast of India, Goa is a paradise bordered on one side by verdant hills of Sahyadri mountains and on the other by the Arabian Sea. More than 450 years of Portuguese rule have made Goa an exciting mix of cultures. From impressive churches, fortresses perched on high cliffs, ancient palaces and villas, picturesque villages immersed in the emerald landscape of rice fields are all elements that are part of this exciting land.
The happy mix of Indian and European heritage, especially the Portuguese, make Goa a unique place in the world. The Portuguese arrived there as early merchants of the sixteenth century and later the region was part of the Portuguese colonial empire for about 450 years, thus becoming one of the most ancient and enduring colonial domains of history. For its geographical position, Goa has always been a strategic place for trade with the Arab world.
From Bangalore we landed at Dabolim airport, which is small, but crowded with people, who are about to enjoy the beaches, relaxation or nightlife. Goa was born in the sixties and seventies with a subgenre of trance music known as the "goa", and this location was very famous among the hippie community for its partying on the beach and the ease of finding drugs of all kinds. Of that past now, there remain mostly some memories and some eyewitness, who definitively are placed between palm trees and banana trees except during the period between Christmas and New Year.
After more than a month and a half of nomadism, finally we stopped at Siolim for 13 days. Thanks to the suggestion of some friends we booked an room in a resort in the countryside away from the crowds but only twenty minutes from the sea and, after having drunk a beer, we go to sleep. Next morning we wake up quietly at 9 am, and after a beach breakfast with fruits and juice, and we prepare the beach life. We were told that it was better to avoid them because they are crowded and not very clean, but in fact we found ourselves pretty well.
Obviously some are more deserted than others. In fact this is a small flaw in Goa. We had a wonderful time and the thirteen days have flown away amidst palm trees and beaches that were lovely, but you should not expect much from the sea. It is clean, but it certainly not crystalline or dreamy as in other locations like Maldives, Zanzibar or Seychelles.
We take a taxi which takes us to the Palolem beach, which is more touristy. Just after arriving we are immediately approached by a person who suggests us to go by boat to see dolphins and butterfly island, the island shaped like a butterfly. The heat begins to fade but the situation is perfect.
We take a walk on the beach and stop at one of the many that give free sunbed and umbrella provided you eat something from them. For lunch we have a plate of fruits and beer.
The beach is not bad and there is more life than in Agonda, virtually dozens of restaurants and shops serving all the same things. If you watch the beach from the sea coast it is lovely with all the colored huts under the palm trees. On the way back we take a jeep. For dinner we decided to take the smoked chicken, chips and naan with garlic with beer. While waiting we ordered a Long Island and a pineapple version of the Mojito, both pleasant although not perfect.
Surprisingly, they brought two sandwiches with mustard, onions and mint, which was really excellent, accompanied by a warm soup of mushrooms served in two test tubes, a pretty and unusual idea. The menu was really inviting and they use the lava stone to enhance the flavor of the meat and give it a particularly smoky aftertaste.
Next day takes us to Old Goa and Panaji, hoping to see the closing of the carnival, and some palace and a church. At 11 we arrive in Panaji and visit the cathedral, stroll along the river and enter the covered market. After a brief tour of some alleyways we get back to the cathedral.
We start in the direction of Old Goa which is about ten kilometers and visit the Basilica do Bom Jesus, where the corpse of Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa is kept and then the Se Cathedral in about an hour. In the afternoon we set off for the long trip and visit the Bigfoot, which is a kind of reconstruction of an old village around the place. Finally we stop in a small town near Agonda to see a parade of floats and masks because it is the last day of Carnival. We arrive at the resort in the evening and after a quick shower, we have a dinner of excellent tandoori chicken, rice, naan and lightly fried prawns dipped in sauce of garlic.
Our next day takes us to the Hippie Market at Anjuna. we Departure at 8.30 am and arrive at 11 and make the usual purchases of some junk items. Along the way back we stop to see the fort and the lighthouse of Aguada. We get back to the resort by 6 and decide to rent a Royal Enfield bike for next day afternoon, to go see the Portuguese fort of Cabo da Rama.
Next morning we wake up at 7.30 and leave immediately towards the discovery of the north beach area. The bungalows which open directly into the sea are spectacular. At three o'clock we leave for a ride towards Cabo da Rama which is about twenty kilometers. Driving on Indian roads is not simple but fortunately the road is not busy and everything is fine. We arrive at the fort that is all ruined. We do a tour inside where practically there is nothing left, and we see some monkeys. We have some beer and go back.
On the way back we decided to go to Palolem to review the beach. For dinner we go to a nice restaurant near the resort and eat well a lobster along with the usual stuff.
We go for visiting a few temples on the bike, many of which have a unique architecture, the result of meetings between several cultures. It's impossible to list them all but among the most famous is the Sri Mangesh at Ponda Taluka, about 23 km from Panaji. The temple is dedicated to the deity of Lord Shiva. It is one of the temples that attracts most visitors to Goa, along with Shantadurga, dedicated to Goddess Durga, located on a slope at the foot of a mountain range, surrounded by lush greenery and consists of a main temple and three smaller devoted to other divinity.
The temple consists of a pyramidal structure with an interesting domed roof. All of Ponda temples are located in beautiful hilly sites, including forests and shrubs. In the heart of the city of Panaji, the Mahalaxmi Temple is a Hindu shrine dedicated to Sri Laxmi, the Goddess great in the role of bearer of abundance and good fortune. The Maruti Jatra festival held at the Temple of Sri Mahalakshmi during the months of January-February draws large numbers of devotees.
In the afternoon we do some shopping. For dinner we decide to have tandoori chicken, naan, fish and some soup.
Next morning after having breakfast and a cup of cappuccino and brioche with cream, for the rest of the day we dedicated ourselves to the beach even if the weather is clement and too clouded. We were hoping for some kind of hippy market but to no avail. In the afternoon, we get a taxi and head towards the south.
There are so many things we can tell about Goa, and so from now we grouped together thematically our experiences instead of writing chronologically. This should also encourage the search for practical information for those who would, one day, go for a holiday in Goa. We begin to speak of the beaches that we tried and in the next we will advise all the rest from What to see and Where to eat and where to buy.
Ashvem - The beach is really great, and here we found the lowest price for sunbeds with 50 rupees per person for all day or free if you decide to have lunch at the shack who rents the sunbeds.
Morjim - This is a little further south of Ashvem and an equally deserted beach. Obviously there are some facilities that offer food services and accommodation. The only aspect not to be underestimated is that close to this beach often there is berthing of ships and the water could be decidedly more murky.
Arambol - It was historically one of the areas preferred by hippies and will not be difficult to see some, who chose Arambol. The road leading to the beach is crowded with stalls on both sides and continue becoming more and more narrow. It is on this street is the entrance to a famous school of Yoga. Here, too, we paid 100 rupees for two beds. We turned to on one of the restaurants on the beach for a seafood lunch.
Anjuna - This beach is usually chosen by young people around the world to spend their holidays during the peak season between Christmas and New Year. Among the more developed ones this is one of the best. The beach is not as large as those further north, but there is a wide choice of beautiful rooms, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the sea.
Here the Russians predominates and they are too many groups of middle-aged Indians, who observe costumed girls. But the environment is moderately festive and less seedy than Arambol. Indeed, this beach has given us a surprise. The day when we were there had been found a sea turtle, just in the area closest to where the market is held. When we arrived some people were digging a hole to bury the dead body of this wonderful animal. It took five men to move it and even though it was a sad time, we have been able to closely observe a sea turtle. Next time we hope to see one in still water full of energy!
In our opinion the best time to visit this beach is on Wednesday when south of the town center takes place on Wednesday Flea Market. The ideal is to do a lap in the morning around 9, before heading for the beach having a great day in the sun and drinking, enjoying the sea views offered from the terraces of the restaurants. At the end of the day is the right time to return to the market to buy. This will allow you to get the most honest prices and negotiating a bit to take down what you want for a few rupees.
Vagator - Vagator and Little Vagator are two beaches located north of Anjuna. Here we found the most expensive sunbeds with 100 rupees for a whole day, but are free if you have the lunch. These beaches are short and narrow, but there is beautiful view on the interior, which in this part of the coast is almost mountainous.
Candolim - This area of Candolim-Calangute-Baga is one of the most suitable for the nightlife and shopping, but we can safely say that it is one of the worst to spend a day at sea. Right here you can enjoy the famous Sunburn Festival, four days of concerts of electronic dance. On the beach there are many poorly maintained shacks. The sea in India is never excellent except in Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, but here it is almost scary. Despite this, the beach is pretty crowded and there are many brave or reckless who bathe without problems.
Calangute, in a picture postcard, is considered among the most beautiful beaches of Goa, and the nearest to the capital Panaji Miramar, Gaspar Dias, on the mouth of the Mandovi River. For lovers of nature and silence, Colva is a place to be taken into account, as well as Vogator and Bogmalo.
To the south there are many other beaches, including Velsao, Majorda lingers, Benaulim, Cavelossim Fatrade and, still less touristy than areas north and Palolem, considered by many the best western beach, with a breathtaking life on the side of Western Ghats, with mountain ranges covered with forests suitable for hiking.
There are many activities that you can do on the beaches of Goa in Arambol, as in other places along the coast, and there are several centers that organize from November until March yoga classes on the beach, while at night, you can get into a party, such as those at Anjuna, already famous for the market on Wednesday, recalling people from all over India.
But Goa is much more than beaches and sea. Fort Aguada and its old beacon of reference, for example, are important testimonies to colonial legacy, along with the Chapora Fort and Fort Terekhol, which are located inside the area of north Goa. To the south and close to Vasco da Gama is the Mormugao Fort, which dates back to 1624 and was the actual entrance of the Mormugao harbor, a beautiful natural harbor where passenger ships and business from around the world.
We started by telling you about the beaches and we now narrate the places of historical interest and cultural visit.
WEDNESDAY FLEA MARKET
This is one of the most famous and important weekly markets of Goa. It was once the haunt of many hippie, but now attracts all types of tourists. Here you need to bargain and turn a bit before you buy. The ideal is to arrive early in the morning to do a lap and then enjoy a day at the beach. Only towards the sunset you should return to the market to buy as this will allow you to more easily negotiate, obtaining excellent rates.
We think it is a good place for shopping, given the huge number of shops and if a price does not convince you just move on to the next. The only thing grueling thing is the continued demand from the sellers to stop that or that other counter, but if you're in the mood for shopping you will not regret!
This fort was built by the Portuguese in 1617, over the remains of an old structure. The aim was to protect the territories of Bardez, but despite the location and its fortifications, was repeatedly conquered by many groups. In 1717 it was rebuilt with the addition of underground passages that connected the fort to the beach and to the river bank to facilitate supplies or to assist the strong joints. In 1739, however, it fell back into the hands of the Marathas was in 1892 and finally abandoned.
The ruins of this fort tell little about his past, but it seems almost impossible that it was so easy to conquer. The entrance to the fort is free and independent, and is much left to himself. Just get to the tree at the center of Chapora and after a few minutes you will find it in front, on top of a hill. It is worth a visit especially around sunset as from here you can enjoy a magnificent 360 ° view of the sea, the river and the lush greenery of the Bardez Province. You can go for walks on the other side until you reach the rocks. Inside they are still intact the inputs of the two underground passages and a pre-Portuguese gravestone, which stands at the center of the ruins.
This city was the capital of the state of Goa before the current Panaji. It was conquered by the Portuguese in 1510 and for more than a century was known as Goa Dourada because cosmopolitan, with palaces, markets, churches and an important port for international sea traffic, from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca. With the Portuguese arrived early missionaries, followed by the Jesuits, who transformed the port city in one of the most important religious centers of the time.
But the Portuguese empire fell fairly quickly, by the end of 1500, for a number of reasons Old Goa soon fell into isolation and at the mercy of epidemics. Now you can admire the gilt decorations and overflowing of the Baroque colonial churches; the most important are the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Cathedral of Saint Catherine, the Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Old Goa is the location in which it retains almost all the religious buildings defined by the UNESCO World Heritage Site with the words "Churches and Convents of Goa".
We arrived from Siolim to Old Goa with the scooter and we visited the Basilica of St. Jesus, one of the most important landmarks of the Christian community, it was built by the Jesuits, and inside is an imposing mausoleum of St. Francis Xavier, donated by the Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III.
From here we moved to the white Cathedral of Saint Catherine, which is one of the largest churches of all Asia. This place of worship is one of the best examples of Portuguese architecture and its whiteness does not pass unnoticed! In addition to these sites Old Goa does not offer much, in fact, to have lunch and spend the afternoon we moved to Panjim, the modern capital of Goa.
This city is often called by the Portuguese name of Panjim. It is bordered by the Mandovi river and spread over a hilly area. It is a very lively capital and there are many clubs, casinos and shops, which are open until late at night. There is also a large cinema where you can see the latest Bollywood film releases. The city is very modern, but fortunately remained intact the Portuguese neighborhood that exudes an amazing charm.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
This is one of the most impressive Catholic churches of Goa. Also a blinding whiteness, stands on a hill, almost held up by a long staircase, creating great contrast with the low houses that surround it. We observe it for a while, the blue sky as background makes this scenario similar to a painting. We have been to Goa during Christmas time, so we saw many nativity scenes decorating the interior or exterior of many Goan churches.
But this time the representation of Jesus' birth was definitely the protagonist of the scene with life-size characters and a cute dress mannequin with trousers, shirt and tie.
This neighborhood is developed on the eastern hills of the city of Panaji and preserves intact the palaces, the Portuguese narrow streets and the small chapel of St. Sebastian, built in 1818. In mid-November is held a lively trade fair on the feast of the Virgin Mary, but this neighborhood is a must throughout the year because its houses, its balconies and its narrow streets will catapult India in an atmosphere far from the chaotic India.
Just spend hours among its lanes, trying to imagine how people lived there during the Portuguese rule. In general we do not recommend to stay in Panaji, but if you have to or you want to stop in the capital, we advise you to choose to stay in one of the lovely guesthouses to be found in the romantic neighborhood of Fontainhas!
ABBÉ FARIA STATUE
With this unusual gem we pass quickly from the sacred to the profane. Abbé Faria was born May 30, 1746 in Candolim, a son of a monk and a nun, who became one of the most enigmatic figures of Goa. This character hovered on the edge of the biggest events of the 18th century and managed to enter into the good graces of the main actors of the time from the Portuguese royal family, to people like Robespierre, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon.
This mysterious character earned the trust of the various courts, while managing to remain an elusive outsider, immersed in a world of black magic and esotericism. He is considered the father of modern hypnosis with his research into the power exercised by the suggestion on people, particularly on women. He was carrying on the scientific study of hypnotism, in the wake of the work of Franz Anton Mesmer. Unlike the latter, who claimed that hypnosis was mediated by the animal magnetism, Faria had understood that worked exclusively through the power of suggestion.
In the 19th century it was he who introduced the oriental hypnosis in Paris. A statue pays tribute to one of his few citizens who became famous in Europe and the effect created by the reproduced scene revives the aura of mystery that permeated the life of Abbé Faria. The best time to visit this square is obviously the time of sunset, when the light leaves the dark space and the shadows and contrasts enhance the ominous silhouette of the hands of Faria, intent to hypnotize an innocent girl!
Goa is no longer that of the 60s and 90s as there are no trance parties at every beach and it is not so easy to meet someone who asks you if you want "some stuff". This did not prevent the proliferation of night life as there are many private clubs in Calangute and Baga, and are often organized the famous "silent party" and, finally, every year in the period between Christmas and New Year, is held major electronic music festivals like the Sunburn.
It seems that this festival is one of the greatest of its kind in Asia and certainly attracts many young people from all over India, Russia and Europe. A day pass is quite expensive. The festival lasts three days and usually takes place close to the Candolim beach. If you come to Goa with the intent to not miss the Sunburn, you'd better find a place to sleep in close proximity and you'll have to start looking well in advance, given the popularity of this festival, because the traffic in the area close to the two event inputs is unnerving!
After the festival, however, our suggestion is to move further north or further south in order to enjoy fully the slow flow of goan life and its beaches. If you are here with a group of friends in my opinion it is worth going to the Sunburn, because it is a way of reliving the Goa of the recent past. For the most demanding there is a different official location to stay, called Afterburn, but be prepared to shell out thousands of rupees!
AGUADA FORT AND OLD LIGHTHOUSE
A seventeenth-century fortress overlooking Sinquerim beach in the Arabian Sea, was built by the Portuguese in 1612 to defend against the Dutch and the Marathas. It was a landmark for ships coming from all over Europe, which was entrusted with the task of shelter for shipping and defense of the territory of Bardez. In the basement it was built a cistern for rainwater, which was used for the procurement of ships that docked. That's why the fort was named Aguada, which in Portuguese means "watery."
Here is a Portuguese lighthouse of four floors which was built in 1864 and is the oldest of its kind in Asia. The fortress was one of the most valuable and crucial for the Portuguese, in fact it was once much more extensive and enveloped the entire peninsula on the south-western tip of Bardez territory.
One that you can visit today is part of the fort used as a water reservoir, which was finally abandoned only in 1976. At the end of the sixties, a part of the structure was used as a prison and still many of its detainees are Western tourists, convicted of having committed drug offenses. The entrance to the fort is free. The entire site has been preserved very well and underground cistern is impressive, that can hold up to 9 million liters of water!
You can visit the modern lighthouse of Aguada, which is next to the fort, but you must pay an entrance fee of 25 rupees (about 35 cents) and a surcharge for the use of each camera you intend to use, even if the photographs are allowed but only outside of the lighthouse. The opening hours and from 15 to 17.30. Our advice is to go around the outside of the structure by switching to the left of the entrance. Following this path you will come to a point where you can see all the territory once protected by the strong, almost 360 °. Here nature is still the mistress and would be a shame to miss this magnificent panorama.
EXPLORE THE TERRITORY - BARDEZ
The beauty of Goa territory, its climate and be able to move independently with two wheels is that you can spend days just wandering. Sometimes you are forced to spend so some half an hour because there are so many internal roads and most of them do not report any signpost, so either you have a superhuman sense of direction or lost is really simple. This wandering allows you to discover the magnificent landscapes and to feel in deep contact with the goan territory.
We started with beaches, we continued suggesting some places of historical and cultural interest, and now we conclude with our recommendations on where to eat and where to go to buy in North Goa. Are you ready to lick your mustache?
WHERE TO EAT
In Goa, things are a bit different as life is generally more expensive than many other areas, but of course remains very economical. On the coast, the choice is really wide and have many local shacks where you can eat without spending much. The northern part of Goa offers a lot to those of us keen to make nice dining experiences, to remember and recommend.
WHERE TO BUY
One of the best experiences in India, but basically in all countries, including those of origin, is to dive in the markets, negotiating and snooping to stand at a stall. In Goa, as throughout the Indian territory, the more you will find stalls of clothes hanging above the ground with the goods. At Siolim every morning you can buy fresh fish, although you need to pay a little attention, of course. For everything else there are some supermarkets to find everything you need to fill the pantry. Our advice however is to venture, occasionally, in small shops, because often you can make friends with some nice Indian traders.
BARDEZ BAZAAR - MAPUSA
This is a mini Indian market that is messy, overflowing and labyrinthine. It is located in the center of Mapusa, near the building of the municipal market. This is a busy city and a little decadent, though here every Friday is held a large vegetable and fish market. The small market is always crowded, but it is quite fun to extricate the aisles and among the baskets of spending, dropped off right in the middle of tiny corridors. Here you will get the cheapest cashews, especially rice, salt, sugar, cereals and other basic necessities.
Renting a scooter in Goa
Here is really widespread the use of two wheelers, both for tourists and among the Indians, and actually turned out to be an indispensable means to move around to visit the places of cultural interest without the anguish of the parking lot. In any case the two wheels remains the most convenient and sensible to move throughout the state of Goa.
When to visit Goa
The climate level from the period from December to February is the best, because that's when the temperature is hot by day, with pleasant breezy and at night the temperatures drop for a maximum peace of mind. The monsoon period, however, is generally placed between June and September.