India’s smallest state, packs in the powers of the sun, sand and spirits—all the ingredients for the perfect beach vacation. Throw in the parties and casinos, and you have a holiday you won’t forget. And then there’s the other side—one of quaint villages, churches, museums and galleries that make it easy for you to cut away from the crowd and explore the state’s cultural offerings.
Beyond its shimmering beaches and trance parties, Goa is known for its rich and remarkable history; of all the dynasties that ruled here, the Portuguese, who arrived here in the 16th century, were who gave Goa its extraordinary legacy and its distinctive heritage. Their strong influence is seen in the baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, old forts, vibrant and lively festivals and ceremonies, soulful fado music, and the stunning cathedrals. The Goans love their food, which is a beautiful Indo-Portuguese blend of spices, flavours, and aromas.
Best time to visit: Mid-November to Mid-February is the best time to experience Goa.
How to reach
By air: The Dabolim Airport located 29 km away from the state’s capital, Panjim is the main airport in the region. IndiGo operates more than 150 non-stop weekly flights to Goa and all other key locations.
By train: Madgaon and Thivim are the two prime railway stations, connecting Goa to the rest of the country.
By bus: There are ample public and private bus operators in Goa that connects the city with the neighbouring region and other cities.
Getting around/Transport in Goa
You could either book a taxi in advance from tour operators or hire cabs to move within the city. Else you can hire self-driven cars, motorcycles or a scooty and start exploring yourself.
Head to Alila Diwa Goa and work your way through a delicious thali, using your senses other than sight. It’s done once a week at Spice Studio—on Thursdays, 8 pm onwards.
And how can you pass up on India’s own MasterChef Australia experience? Sarah Todd, finalist of the 2014 edition, helms Antares, a beachside restaurant attached to a 14-villa resort in Vagator. Expect some exciting creations: pork belly with kokum, lobster linguini, and raisin and onion jam are a few.
To go more offbeat, try a meal at a 200-year-old private palace. Palácio do Deão is now a hip restaurant in Quepem, where the focus is on freshly sourced ingredients from local farmers and fishermen and generations-old recipes. Your dinner gets served in a covered courtyard, with eye-stopping greenery all around you.
For local cuisine, wend your way through the tiny lanes till you get to this iconic restaurant. Ask for the sorpotel, pork vindaloo and chicken cafreal or get the king crab, as Sachin Tendulkar does when he comes to dine.
No prizes for guessing, this one excels at comfort cuisine. Lamb xacuti, marinated Goan sausages, and pork sorpotel with sannas come highly recommended. But Mum’s Kitchen scores over others because it is one of the few places that also serves authentic Saraswat cuisine.
Don’t let the spare ambience trick you, this restaurant’s been pulling in locals for the last 35 years for its squid, prawns and the legendary bebinca. Chef Vasco was born and raised in Angola, so you know you’ll get some flavourful Portuguese cuisine.
This cosy, unpretentious nook is another local favourite, for its gaboli (fish roe) and other home-style preparations. Run by an affable couple—where the wife runs the kitchen—this feels more like a home than a restaurant.
You must try this no-frills crowd-puller at Baga beach. Baked crabs, Goan fish curry with rice, and steak and kidney pudding, all at very pocket-friendly prices.
This is the place for a dozen Instagram pictures, with its Mediterranean charm and food. Must-tries include the terrines, gratins and the much-talked-about chocolate thali.
Need another French option? Sur la Mer place exudes a friendly charm that lets you dine leisurely for hours. Enjoy your oysters, lobster, and seafood chowder and finish off with the sinful chocolate fondant.
Its clifftop location makes this Greek taverna a sunset must-go. Feast on this traditional lamb stew called kleftiko, along with souvlaki wraps and tzatziki dip.
It is a large, well laid out, Mangalore tiled roof restaurant that is known for serving a delicious meal and your favourite drinks. Their Crab masala is a must try.
Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa, Cansaulim This five-star property a short drive from the airport packs in everything you need for a great beach holiday. Gorgeous, breezy rooms, great food across its five restaurants and cafes, a soothing spa and endless views of the Arabian Sea.
Beleza by the Beach, Betalbatim Colva beach is where you should stay when you can’t decide if you want to run away from the crowds or get all the action possible. The beaches are clean; the tourists are minimal and yet, there are enough watersports to keep you busy. Beleza by the Beach has a swimming pool, a spa, a beach shack and bar, meaning you never really have to go too far to enjoy. Add babysitting services, and you know why couples prefer this boutique resort.
Panjim Inn, Panjim This 180-year-old hotel gives you a chance to experience Goa’s rich heritage. Right in the heart of Fontainhas, Panjim Inn has rooms with vintage furniture and fittings that take you back in time. The floating casinos on the Mandovi are barely five minutes away, making it the perfect place for when you think you’re feeling lucky.
Shanti Morada, Saligao If you’re among those who think that Goa’s beauty is its countryside, not the beach, you’ll enjoy your stay at this hotel in Saligao. The “home of happiness” is a century-old home now restored and converted into a hotel. With art and furniture going back several hundred years, this place is all about charm. But not everything old is old-fashioned. The hotel has enough to keep you entertained: a jacuzzi pool bar, an Ayurveda massage centre and as many as four lounges. And if you still need more, they’ll arrange private fishing trips for you.
If you’re seeking thrills away from the ground, jump into a hot-air balloon from which the views of the lush Goan countryside will make it a ride to remember.
Located approximately 60km away from Panjim, Dudhsagar Waterfall is among the most spectacular waterfalls in India. The site of a multi-tiered waterfall cascading like milky white water from a height of 310 metres is a site pleasure to witness. You can even enjoy rock climbing or swimming here.
What do you do when you’ve sorted out your tan, gambled away that bonus and karaoke till sunrise? Goa still has plenty of surprises. If you’ve had your fill of water sports at the beach, try a round of kayaking on Goa’s quaint rivers. Take a trip with Goa Kayaking, which runs year-round services on waterways Mandovi, Nerul, Sal and Zuari, and explores the mangrove forests and ecosystems. And while the whole world is partying hard and gambling the night away, you can detox with a yo-cation.
Popular yoga hubs include Palolem, Agonda and Patnem in the south and Arambol, Mandrem and Anjuna in the north. Stay at a chic yoga retreat such as Banyan Tree Yoga in Ashvem, which combines a yoga experience with home-cooked farm-fresh meals (open from November to April).
The spice plantations of Goa are scattered around the interior of Goa's beautiful rural landscape. Traditional Goan methods of organic farming are done here. Coconuts, betel nuts, pineapples, different kinds of spices etc. are grown here. At the Plantation, enjoy a delicious Goan buffet lunch that will be specially laid out for you; serve yourself on a banana leaf and eat the traditional Goan way!
Over the year, Goa easily finds many reasons to celebrate. In February, it’s the Goa Carnival, with floats, parades, song and dance. It is a festival full of colour, extravagant dances, music performances and a lot more. This one of a kind festival portrays the beautiful Goan culture which a mix of Portuguese heritage. Go Carnival attract a large numbers of visitors every year.
In March, it’s Shigmahotsav, the state’s version of Holi. The festival is characterised by music, dance and fervour and is also known as Shigmo. It is a culturally vibrant and colourful festival marking the end of winter and welcoming spring. During this festival, the streets of Goa are abuzz with music, dance and more.
Sao Joao is one of the most prominent festivals of the Catholic community. It is celebrated with great pomp and show in the villages of North Goa.