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home > recommended index > recommended goa

Recommended states - Goa (GA)

This page gives some background info on places to go and things to see in the state of Goa for backpackers and budget travellers, plus shortened "quick reference" versions of the full listings for some of the recommended places within the state. These in turn are linked to the full description and local information for that place (one place per page).

On this page:
BenaulimCabo de RamaCandolimColvaMargaoPalolemPanaji

All states reviewed by us are: Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, or visit the recommended section's index page

See the bottom of the page for a description of the rationale behind the recommended section.

 Goa (GA)
state capital: Panaji (Panjim)
 population: 1.3 million location: South West India
 popup quick ref statistics on Goa
state description: On the glossy pages of holiday brochures Goa is everyones idea of a idyllic sun-drenched paradise; palm fringed beaches of endless white sand facing on to the Arabian Sea, plenty of sun, fishing boats silhouetted against glorious sunsets, welcoming people and cheap booze. The main towns of Margao (formerly Modgaon), Panaji (formerly Panjim) and Mapusa have a distinctly mediterranean feel, due in part to the profusion of picturesque buildings with their weathered paint and rusting decorative balconies, left over from Goa's long history as a Portuguese colony. The coastal strip is predominantly Christian (although the state is still largely Hindu) and graceful, white painted churches dot the landscape, strikingly contrasted against the dark red earth and vivid green of palm trees.

Goa, arguably, is India for the lazy. Since the early days of the hippie trail, Goa has been the place travellers head for when they want a break from the often hard grind of travelling in India. Cheap beer, good food - especially abundant fresh fish - and the promise of the easy life have made the tiny state a magnet for budget travellers, and in recent years the hordes of package tourists who arrive at Dabolim airport by charter flights from Europe in the main season of November to February.

History

Goa's long history as a Portuguese colony began in 1510, when Alfonso de Albuquerque took it for Portugal from the Muslim invaders, who had in turn defeated the previous Hindu rulers 40 years earlier. Under the Portuguese, Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries zealously set about converting the population to Catholicism and built the impressive churches and cathedrals that remain to this day. Around 30% (2001 census) of the population remain Christian.

The 450 year colonial era came to an end in 1961 when India, tired of having its demands for Portugal to cede the state ignored, sent troops who successfully invaded and expelled the colonial rulers from Goa and the other Portuguese colony of Daman and Diu, finally marking the end of all colonial occupation in India 14 years after independence from the British.

Another India

To some, part of Goa's attraction is that it is not perceived as the stereotypical India of chaotic, dusty streets, limpet like beggars, grinding poverty and arid landscapes; the culture and architecture give it a vague feeling of familiarity for most Europeans, partly due to the heavy Portuguese influence. Unlike the rest of India, it is football and not cricket that is the local sporting obsession, the Goan leagues extensively covered in the many local papers. Attitudes seem less conservative, and women are more often seen in knee length skirts or pattern dresses than a sari or shalwar kameez.

Whereas cows are considered sacred in most of India, and beef is taboo, it is a common dish on Goan menus, served either as steak or shredded in "beef chilli fry." Britain's most popular post lager-binge curry, Vindaloo, is a Goan speciality; the name coming from the Portuguese for "wine and garlic." Another aspect of local culture popular with tourists, drink, is extremely cheap owing to Goa's low taxes on alcohol. Hard liquor in particular is far less expensive than the rest of India, and bus loads of (usually male) out of state day trippers arrive at the weekend for a skinful of whisky and a perve (the more organised bring binoculars or video cameras) at the bikini clad women on the beach.

Tourism

Tourism is big business and growing rapidly by the year, with resort complexes, hotels and restaurants springing up everywhere to cater for the increasing flow of westerners and affluent Indians on two or three week breaks. Many well known resorts such as Calangute and Baga are increasingly chasing these higher spending package tourists, making some areas less attractive to bargain seeking backpackers and budget travellers.

In terms of tourism, Goa can be divided into three areas. The beach area north of the state capital Panaji and the Mandovi river is the most visited, with popular resorts such as Fort Aguada, Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Vagator and Anjuna, famous for its techno parties. In the far North, close to the Maharashtra border, Arambol and Chapora are known for peace and quiet and a slower pace of life.

The coastal area south of Panaji and the Zuvari (or Zuari) river is far less developed (although that is changing) and correspondingly it is both more peaceful and generally cheaper; typically a comparable meal in Benaulim or Colva will be less than half the price of Anjuna or Calangute, with rooms following much the same pattern.

The third area - and that least visited by tourists - is the beautiful inland area that starts a few kilometers from the beach, stretching back to the solid crescent of the Sahyadri hills (part of the Western Ghats) that made Goa a natural fortress for the Portuguese occupiers. This inland area has a far more tropical feel than the surrounding areas in Karnataka or Maharastra, with small, quiet villages nestled in among the coconut palms and rice fields, life continuing at a slow pace much as it has for centuries.

The Cotigao wildlife sanctuary covers much of the southern area, from the North - South national highway to the border with Karnataka, and is a fantastic place to go if you want to head off the beaten track.

Environmental pressures

The impact of tourism is, inevitably, not all good news, with problems arising from the environmental impact of tourist numbers and the huge increase in construction projects. Less than ten years ago, Palolem in South Goa was a genuine paradise, with only a dozen or so beach shack restaurants on its idyllic half moon beach. By 2002, more than a hundred wall to wall shacks occupied the same space, and much of the laid back atmosphere has gone.

Like much of India, Goa has continual problems with supplies of fresh water, and what exists is placed under further pressure by the voracious appetite of the tourist industry, which requires a seemingly endless supply for swimming pools, ensuite bathrooms, laundry and improbably lush green lawns. The water table becomes lower every year, and while the well water in Benaulim was quite palatable when we visited in 1996, by 2002 it had acquired a strong taste of salt.

Goa's "full moon" parties

The state is famous for its "full moon parties"; techno and trance music events organised throughout the season that have gone from ad-hoc gatherings to big business, attaining a legendary status around the world, and becoming an obligatory checkbox on the Israeli India tour itinerary. The popularity and scale of the parties, as well as their reputation for nasty druggie behaviour has made them a big political issue, resulting in a crackdown by the Police in recent years. Party organisers face increasing difficulties finding an acceptable location, and face higher costs in the form of backhanders to the local cops.

In the same vein, the free and easy smoking of charas is a thing of the past on the North Goa beaches. Police demands for "baksheesh" have been subject to high rates of inflation, and those caught are faced with the stark choice of handing over very large amounts of cash (dollars are often demanded) or being carted off to enjoy the delights of Goa's jails. However small fortunes can be made, and in spite of the risks, many travellers and Indians smuggle hash from the Kulu Valley, or acid and 'E" from Europe, selling to travellers on the beaches at a large markup.

Carving up the pie

Revenues from tourism are very unevenly distributed, and many poorer people in coastal areas are unable to capitalise on the tourist influx, but suffer the inconvenience and higher prices that come with it, all of which fuels a growing sense of resentment. Inland areas scarcely see any income at all from tourism, and are not top of the Governments priority list when it comes to handing out the funds for the development of infrastructure.

Inevitably, when the money gets big, the crooks move in, and there are now plenty of rackets going; extortion of money from businesses, scamming foreigners who purchase property, drug sales and turf wars over the proceeds of it all. An Indian friend, who used to manage an upmarket restaurant in Calangute, ended up leaving the country after he was attacked one night by three or four heavies, ending up with a 12 inch knife scar across his stomach because his foreign boss refused to pay up "insurance" to the local goondas.

Drinkers paradise

Goa is famous throughout India for cheap alcohol, and attitudes in the state to drinking are more relaxed than other parts of India, where drinking is often treated publicly as a kind of guilty secret, bars are few, and the accepted mode of consumption is to drink as much hard liquor as possible as fast as possible before vomiting and/or passing out. The profusion of 'local' bars in Goa are very much social places where people meet and talk as well as drink. There are plenty of local beers, with Kings probably being the best known.

Kaju feni; a mugging in a bottle

One of the things you will either love or hate (most likely both in rapid succession) is Feni, a strong - and extremely cheap - local liquor made from either coconut or the fruit of the cashew nut tree. The latter, named Kaju Feni, is the more lethal of the two, with a strong, sickly sweet smell and taste that sticks to your skin for days should you spill some, and is best diluted with Seven Up or Sprite.

It's one of those drinks that sneaks up on you like a mugging; you feel fine and a little tipsy, then get up for a piss and discover your body is no longer interested in obeying basic commands. Its brutal and toxic effects on the central nervous system continue the next day with a hangover whose only serious rival is a long night on budget Tequila, and a mere whiff of Feni in the morning is likely to induce another chat with Hughie on the Great White Telephone. In spite of this 'never again' moment, you may well find yourself repeating the process a few hours later as the only effective cure for a Feni head is more Feni.

Bread heaven

For anyone with a particular fetish for fresh, doughy white bread, Goa provides a pleasant break from chapati or naan. All over the state, supplies are delivered each morning by guys on bicycles laden with large wicker baskets, brimming with superb white bread rolls, often still warm, their arrival announced by ringing a bell. We first encountered these rolls in Diu, and they seem to be common down most of the south west coast from Gujarat to southern Karnataka, perhaps a legacy of the Portuguese.

Another piece of bread heaven is the local specialty known as the "sweet bun"; similar in taste to a doughnut, they are made of slightly risen sweet chapati dough, deep fried till crisp and rolled in sugar. In texture they are like the (non-sweet) Bhatura found in North India. Finding sweet buns can be a bit hit and miss, but they are usually served in pukka local chai shops.

Conclusion

Goa is different things to different people. For some it is all of India they ever have a desire to see; the ideal spot for a relatively inexpensive and easy life, with beautiful beaches, lush landscapes, friendly people and great atmosphere. For others it is too un-Indian to be of more than passing interest, lacking the chaos and predominantly Hindu culture of the rest of the country, with parts of it beginning to acquire the crowds and concrete uniformity of mediterranean resorts.

One friend has spent a total of 5 years in India, and yet only left Goa once - for three weeks. Another claims to have visited Goa only once - for an hour - to collect his girlfriend, and has no desire to return. Personally I find most of North Goa's main beaches a bit too much, and prefer the less frenetic atmosphere in the smaller places to be found south of Panaji and the Zuvari river. Goa is certainly an easy enough habit to slip into; a relaxing few days on the beach, and a week's stopover on a tour of the south can easily stretch into a month or two.

*A note on peak season:

If you are planning christmas and/or new year in Goa, try to get to your chosen spot a good few days beforehand, as half the backpacker population of India will be thinking along the same lines, and the cheaper rooms can fill up quickly. As it is also a big holiday season for Indians (who tend to fill the mid to high price accommodation), prices overall tend to go up wildly to reflect demand (or naked, slavering avarice, depending on how you see it), and finding a room at all - let alone one at a reasonable rate - can cost you valuable drinking time.

 season: October to April , with the main season November to February; (peak of monsoon: July)
 tourist spots: Anjuna, Arambol, Fort Aguada, Candolim, Calangute, Colva, Benaulim, Varca, Palolem, Panaji
related: On this site: Goa photo gallery

External site: John the Map has produced an outstanding set of maps on Goa, including a detailed map of the state and a selection of individual maps for the most popular destinations showing hotels, restaurants and places of interest.

our  listings: BenaulimCabo de RamaCandolimColvaMargao
PalolemPanaji (full entry, one place per page)


 recommended places in Goa


 Benaulim
highly recommended highly recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: 3-4 km west of Margao
 info date: January 2002 size: village / small beach resort
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus, rickshaw
 hotels: plenty good for: everyone

For me, Benaulim village and its beach are the best of Goa as it is today; still less developed and relatively quiet in comparison to the north Goa beaches, it strikes a good balance between the party animal overcrowding or rampant package tourism... more (full Benaulim listing)

 
 
 Cabo de Rama
recommended recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: 25 km south of Margao
 info date: January 2002 size: none / fairly deserted fort
 season: Oct - Mar transport: taxi, motorbike, bicycle, no bus
 hotels: none good for: motor bike or cycle tours

Cabo de Rama is worth visiting as much for the surrounding landscape as for the Portuguese fort itself, and if you have rented or own a motorbike a visit to the area is an excellent excuse to get out and explore the Goan landscape... more (full Cabo de Rama listing)

 
 
 Candolim
not recommended don't bother - not recommended at all
 state: Goa location: North Goa, 12 km from Panaji
 info date: January 2002 size: beach resort (mainly package tourists)
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus, taxi
 hotels: plenty good for: anyone who isn't on a tight budget

Candolim is just north of the Mandovi river, on the strip of beach in the Bardez district that is home to Goa's most popular and well known resorts. Its less of a backpacker destination than neighbouring beaches such as Anjuna and Baga, and tends... more (full Candolim listing)

 
 
 Colva
recommended recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: 4 km west of Margao
 info date: Jan 2002 size: village / medium size beach resort
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus, rickshaw from Margao
 hotels: many good for: everyone, beach heads

Colva is the busier and more resort-oriented counterpart to Benaulim, which is just 3 km down the beach to the south. It can sometimes feel like a curious point in the fabric of space time where Goa intersects Blackpool, mostly due to... more (full Colva listing)

 
 
 Margao
recommended recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: South Goa, 35 km south of Panaji
 info date: Jan 2002 size: town; Pop: 79,800 (1998)
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus, train
 hotels: a fair few good for: day trip (shopping etc)

Margao (formerly Modgaon) is the largest town in the southern end of Goa, and the main place to go if you are staying in Benaulim or Colva and need to use an ATM, make a rail booking, or send a parcel home. The town doesn't have anything specific... more (full Margao listing)

 
 
 Palolem
recommended recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: South Goa, 40 south of Margao
 info date: Jan 2002 size: village, beach area
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus to Chauri, then rickshaw
 hotels: many guesthouses good for: everyone

Palolem's Paradise Beach (also known as Half Moon Beach) is the last major destination in Goa for those heading south, with the Karnataka border only a few kilometers away, and is some distance from any of the state's other popular tourist haunts. Palolem... more (full Palolem listing)

 
 
 Panaji
recommended recommended graphic
 state: Goa location: North Goa, 400 km south of Mumbai
 info date: Jan 2002 size: town; Pop:93,000 (1998)
 season: Oct - Mar transport: bus, air, train (approx 11km away)
 hotels: a fair number good for: everyone

Panaji (formerly Panjim) is Goa's largest town and the state's administrative capital, and sits between the mouths of the Mandovi and Zuvari rivers, at the point they flow into the Arabian Sea at Fort Aguada. Much of the town has a quaint mediterranean... more (full Panaji listing)

 
 

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The why and what for of the recommended section

Guidebook syndrome
Like most backpackers and independent travellers, we usually travel with a guidebook to get some idea of what we are letting ourselves in for, but over time have become extremely disillusioned with the bland writing, long out of date information and inconsistent opinions these guides usually offer. The air of neutrality and the number of writers with opposing likes and dislikes prevents these "guidebook gurus" from telling you when somewhere isn't worth the effort, or leads you into some dhaba they claim is “the best food in India” while ignoring the place round the corner that sells the Chicken Kiev you’ve been craving for 3 months, just because it doesn't fit their politically correct 70’s veggie world view.

The travellers grapevine
The best recommendations and advice always come from people you meet on the road, and in that spirit we’ve put this section together to let others know of the places we liked - and the ones we didn't, to offer a few basic facts and background to give you a feel for the place and how to get there, plus the date the information was current so you can gauge the accuracy. We have also added a note on the size of the place where it is applicable.

Off the beaten track
While some listings are our impressions of well known backpackers destinations, others are not found in the guidebooks or only rate a bare mention. Many are places we have passed through while touring by motorcycle, and may be rather inaccessible to those travelling by train and bus - or may be only worthwhile as short breaks from the heat and dust of the National Highways. In the same vein, some places are less about arriving than getting there; the landscape, villages and people that are only really accessible if you have your own transport and would not be worth the effort of 3 days on a local bus. To this end we’ve included a “whos it for?” note to give an idea if its worth the effort.

The living "heart of India"
There are many towns and villages in India that lack any obvious sort of tourism pull, yet have an undefinable quality that makes them worth visiting and watching the world go by for a few days. It is often the fact that they are simply very "typical" Indian towns gives them that edge that the pre-packaged experience lacks. They are usually the places that you find while going from A to B; Bhavnagar in Gujarat, Mandi in HP and Mahad in Maharastra fit the bill. These towns and villages - and the people who live there - are the heart and soul of modern India.

Subjective recommendations
We’ve tried as far as we can to be honest in our assessments, but will offer an opinion - good or bad - where we feel it is warranted. At the end of the day, these are very much the impressions of two people who know what they like, and you may have similar or different tastes to us, so please bear that in mind when viewing the information presented.

A note on food and costs
As a guide to the words “expensive” and “cheap” when used to describe hotels or restaurants; we think 100 Rs is cheap for a room, and 500 Rs is expensive; when in touristy areas we will usually spend somewhere around 80 - 100 RS each on a meal, in a major city, more. To put “great food” in context Kirsten is a lover of spicy dhaba food, I wish India was littered with cafes that sold a full (very non veg and chilli free) english fry up of the "heart attack on a plate" variety. We tend to agree somewhere around kebabs.

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 Goa Stats
 location: South West India
 capital: Panaji
 population: 1.3 mil (2001)
 area: 3701 sq km
 population density: 351 persons per sq km
 number of districts: 2
 languages: Konkani (51.5%); Marathi (33.4%); Kannada (4.6%) (1991)
 religion: 65% Hindu, 30% Christian, 5% Muslim (1991)
 literacy rate: 82% (male 88.4%, fem 75.4%) (2001)
 gender ratio: 961 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 child (0-6 yrs) gender ratio: 938 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 normal temperature range: min: 21C; max: 33C
 main income: tourism, industries, mining
 main season: November - March
 tourist places: Arambol, Calangute, Candolim, Benaulim, Palolem, etc, basically most of the coast line
 
 
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