We have talked countless times about our houseboat cruise through the backwaters of Kerala in southern India, and how it was the highlight of our time on the subcontinent. We would have never imagined that India could be so peaceful and relaxed as it was in the little villages along the canals we softly glided down on our three-day cruise while enjoying home-made dishes and the silence around us – a welcome change to the noisy and hectic big cities.
However, you don’t need to go all the way down to Kerala to have a relaxing experience like that – much closer to the famous sights and cities of northern India which are on most travelers itinerary is Goa, known for its tropical beaches at little prices.
While the heyday of Goa as ‘hippie capital’ and ‘trance mecca’ might be over, there are still remnants of those eras that put Goa on the international map of wide beaches, swaying palm trees and wild parties.
Not only is Goa a fabulous beach destination, it is also the perfect introduction to India. You get the delicious food, spice markets, Hindu temples and cheap markets at a much slower pace than the rest of the country, along with a well-developed tourist infrastructure. Here are five reasons why we think Goa is the ideal vacation destination:
Since the best time to visit Goa is the winter (November to February), it offers much better value for money than other destinations that offer sun, beach and tropical temperatures at that time of year. There are some great bargain deals for package holidays to Goa, and especially in January and February – high season in Goa – cheap flights from Europe are abound, if you prefer to book your accommodation individually. Once you’ve paid for your vacation package or your flights, you won’t need much more – most restaurant offer a full meal for less than $5, tuktuk and bus rides are usually under $1, and drinks are $2 to $3.
Goa has over 70 kilometers of beaches, and there are dozens of little beach towns to choose from. Calangute, Baga and Anjuna are some of the most popular beaches in the north, Palolem and Colva are famous beach towns in the southern part of the state. The busiest beaches are Candolim, Sinquerim and Calangute – if you are looking for more quiet, serene beaches, head to Arambol, Patnem or Asvem. Most beaches offer water sports, as well, and you’ll find kitesurfing, windsurfing, jetskiing and paragliding.
3 Scrumptious food
No matter where you’re spending your vacation in Goa, you will find delicious Indian food EVERYWHERE! You will probably come across some of the dishes you know from the Indian restaurants back home (Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Aloo Gobi, Palak Paneer, Naan, etc) but also fall in love with new flavors and new dishes that are unique to Goa. Goan cuisine here is known to be influenced much more from the state’s proximity to the sea and most dishes are seafood-based and/or influenced by the Portuguese, who landed here in the early 16th century and stayed for over 400 years, leaving only in 1961. Don’t miss the famous Goan fish curry!
As mentioned above, Goa was a Portuguese province for about 450 years, which means that the Portuguese influence is still noticeable throughout the state. There are equally as many Catholic churches here as Hindu temples, and you’ll find beautiful Portuguese architecture in Old Goa, the former colonial capital of the state. It is located about twenty minutes east of Panjim, the state capital, which also has charming Portuguese churches and buildings.
Shree Manguesh temple is the most impressive Hindu temple in Goa, set in the beautiful village of Mangeshi. The temple is located between Margao and Panjim and is easiest visited by taxi.
Anjuna’s hippie market might be smaller than when the state became a popular hippie enclave in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is still going strong and shouldn’t be missed. You’ll find some amazing bargains for souvenirs, clothes and jewelry here. The market takes place every Wednesday and taxis to Anjuna can be arranged from anywhere in Goa.
Goa is also known for its rich spice plantations, where you can learn everything about Indian spices (such as chili, cinnamon, cardamom) and other fruits that are locally grown, such as coconuts, betel nuts and pineapples. Check which spice plantations are nearest to your beach and go on a tour of a spice plantation – of course you can also buy some spices directly from the farm!
Goa Travel Details
The best time to visit Goa is from late October to early March, when the temperature is perfect and high season is in full swing. The summer weather holds until May and you can take advantage of shoulder-season deals if you travel between March and May. After that, most of the beach downs shut down completely during the monsoon season.
If you book a package deal, flights and transportation from and to the airport will be taken care of. If you plan your trip individually, you can fly into Dabolim, Goa’s only airport, which is served by charter flights from Europe or can be easily reached through connecting flights from Delhi, Mumbai and all other major cities in India.
Candolim, Sinquerim and Calangute can get crowded. Quieter beaches are Arambol, Patnem or Asvem. The most popular beaches are Palolem, Anjuna and Baga. If you are looking to party, head to Morjim, Baga or Vagator.