Goa – every step you take, you will land either on a beach, or a market, or a heritage site, or some ruins. If you found none of these, we are sure you will find a place to party. With so much happening all around you, do you really need a guide to Goa? Let us see.
So where to go and why?
It is often thought that a small place retains a similar flavour throughout its length and breadth. But just like the rest of India, Goa is full of surprises. Divided into two by the capital, Panajim, Northern Goa is where you will find the party-goers and the hippies. The South is quieter with some travellers hanging around in the pristine beaches, enjoying the whiff of spice in the air and devouring the local culture. For the ones interested in the jungles and wildlife – the interiors of Goa should be on your go-to list.
Goa is flanged by rivers, estuaries, bays and creeks which form the inland waterways adding to the beauty of the place and acting as a mode of transport. And the coastline running from one corner to the other is a must visit for any traveller who lands in Goa.
Northern Goa comprises of all the places that you have probably heard of. The crowded beaches, the night-life, trance and the hippies – all can be found if you love the fast paced life. Though not much, there are few things that a laid back traveller can consider in the North. As for the beaches, it is best to avoid Calangute and Baga – unless you want to experience the crowd and colour. While you can experience the once prominent hippy vibe and the famed flea markets at Anjuna and Vagator, Arambol is the place where the hippy scene exists to a large extent even today. And if you are on that do-nothing holiday, your guide to Goa will suggest the laid back Morjim, Aswem and Andrem – these beaches will render the much needed retreat.
Well! If you fail to find the peace you are looking for in the North, we suggest you look out for the South. The crazy crowd and the noisy bars and clubs suddenly disappear and all you have is the vast stretch of white sand beach in Benaulim, Palolem, Patnem, Agonda with a rustic feel to it. Dive in the tastefully carved lanes here for a taste of Goa’s finest Portuguese-era mansions. Drive down far south for a glimpse of the flora and fauna. South Goa is a rewarding travel experience.
This vast contrast in the two regions of Goa is the result of the rich and turbulent history that Goa has experienced – here is a small history that we, as your guide to Goa, want to tell you about to help you understand this diverse land.
Goa of the past
Different people have different views but as per the written references that are available, Goa is ancient – dating back to the times of the Sumerians.
Legends have it that a group of people who were settled around the river Saraswat were struck by famine. They started moving around in search of a new place to settle. Some went east and some went south-west. Majority of the population settled in the south-west, which is the current day Goa. It is believed that this bunch of people were hard workers who converted the stretch of land in between the sea and the mountains into the most fertile land.
Apart from these groups, there were Greeks and Arabs – some of them visited Goa for trade and the others to gain control over this beautiful land. Finally, after some wars and bloodshed, it was the Kadambas who gained a strong foothold in this region. But soon the Kadambas lost power and other kingdoms took over.
Another remarkable landmark in the history of Goa was when the Vijaynagara Empire (kings of the current day Hampi) conquered Goa. Goa was important during those days for a king because the Arabian horses arrived at Goa’s harbor, which were then taken to Hampi to strengthen its cavalry.
After the fall of the Vijaynagara kingdom, Adil Shah of Bijapur ruled Goa before it was colonized by the Portuguese. After the Poruguese ships anchored off the Goan harbor in 1510, they ruled over this place for 450 years. They did rule, but what they have left behind is beautiful architecture and heritage that lends Goa its true flavour. There is no guide to Goa that does not mention the Goan heritage and the Portuguese influence over this place.
What is the Goan heritage all about?
Goan heritage is a concoction of cultural influences, Portuguese being the most prominent contributor. The people who ruled over Goa for over four and a half centuries had remarkable influences which were blended in the food, architecture and the way of life of the Goans. A strong presence can be felt even today at most of the places. Here are some of the more famous ones.
Fontainhas (Panjim) – One of the few places where you can see the entire script of history and not just a few shredded pages from here and there. The Latin quarters of the city, a walk around here is a must when you are in Panajim.
Braganza House (Chandor) – This 350 years old house is the most exquisite heritage house in Goa’s countryside. The exotic chandeliers, furniture, books in the library and the antique vases – all of which takes ones breathe away. Not just the house, the history of the family is also exotic. The last knight of Dom Luis, Braganza de Perreira, travelled extensively between Indian and Europe in the 1800s had collected all the treasures that are here today. This old home remains open to public for visit.
There are many other heritage buildings in Goa like the Salvador Costa mansion in Loutolim, a village in Southern Goa, Ribandar, Panjim, Porvorim in the North. A visit to one of these places is a must if you want to look beyond the beaches and the party scene in Goa.
Some churches to leave you mystified!
Goa has many beautiful churches – each different from the other. Most of the noteworthy churches can be found in Old Goa which was the capital of the Portguese Goa. However, there are many churches across the state. Don’t miss visiting a church in the Goan countryside. The greenery all around makes the church look like a jewel in the crown.
Chapel of St Catherine of Alexandria (Old Goa) – This is Goa’s first chapel dedicated to St. Catherine. This is the only building in the whole state that is purely Portuguese in terms of building style.
Capela Da Nossa Senhora Do Monte (Old Goa) – Also knows as the Holy Hill, this is one of the oldest churches in Goa. Legends have it that this hill was one of the vantage points for wars. Every year, an annual music festival is held here to. Even though the ride to the place is bumpy, the music lovers flock to this much-awaited event.
Ruins of the church of St Augustine (Old Goa) – The remnants tell us that this was a beautiful church. It was abandoned due to expulsion of the Augustinian friars from Goa and was partially demolished by Portuguese government and then rapidly decayed. However, the ruins stand tall to tell a story about the past – some discovered and some yet to be unearthed.
St Cajetan Church (Old Goa) – It is a replica of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Take your time looking at the pulpit. Since there were no microphones, the priest had to rely on his own voice box to get his message across. Hence, the position of the pulpit was of paramount importance.
Basilica of Bom Jesus (Old Goa) – This church holds the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. The church is built in an elaborate Renaissance structure. Once every 10 years the body of the pilgrim is hauled around Goa. The last one was in 2014, so you will have to wait until 2024.
While these churches are the more popular ones, you will find many churches just as you go along – each one different from the other.
The citadels of Goa
One cannot go to Goa and not visit one of the many forts. There are 24 forts in Goa that silently stand to tell us a story about this special place.
Reis Magos Fort – From an outpost of the Sultan of Bijapur, to a defence fortress of the Portuguese, the Reis Magos Fort was converted into a prison during the fight for liberation of Goa from the Portuguese. And now it is being used as an art gallery to display some of the finest works of Mario Miranda – the famous cartoonist.
Mario Miranda’s diaries, the day to day account of his life in Goa are not ordinary thoughts and words merely about what happened and what did not. His diaries are a treasure trove that contains sketches and caricatures of people around him in Goa in the 50s and 60s. He is a beloved in Goa and his galleries are found in a lot of places – the most famous one being in the Reis Magos Fort.
Chapora Fort – This fort was intended as a border watch post which was ultimately deserted by the Portuguese. Today the fort lies in ruins. Though there is not much from history that you can see, the view from the fort is stunning. Try locating the small passage that can lead you to the tip of the cliff.
Fort Aguada – The largest and the best preserved Portuguese bastion in Goa was built to control entry into one of the most important rivers of Goa, Mandovi. The fort is a four storey Portuguese lighthouse and one of its kinds in Asia. Look out for the dried moat that has to be crossed even today to get inside the fort.
Redi Fort – Also known as Yashwantgad Fort, this fort is a tree entangled ruins that looks over the scenic beaches of the south Maharashtrian coast. It is an abandoned fort and trust me you will not find another soul here. Have fun but also ensure that you are safe.
The story of markets
A city is incomplete without a market. For the locals, markets are the place which is an integral part of the lives – a place where they go around for their day-to-day lives, standing by and talking to that shopkeeper who over a period has become a friend. But for a traveler, city markets are the places where they can understand the spirit of the city better. It is a place where they understand the daily lives of the locals, the belief of the city and the camaraderie between the city folks. Markets are one place where the soul of the cities can be found.
Goa is known for its markets – the flea markets, the night bazaars and the hippie-run markets have been a rage. But Goa has a soul different from the ones that you find here – the markets where the local Goans go to.
Chapora fish market – Caution: For sea food lovers only. Head here in the mornings to watch the fisher women offer their fresh catch. This market is along the Chapora river and a must visit if you like your seafood fresh.
Mapusa Friday market – Just outside the Mapusa municipal market, the Friday market comes to life every week. Small entrepreneurs and farmers from all over Goa, come together to sell their products directly to consumers here in this market. From jewellery, pottery, spices, wares, organic food, straw hats, Goan pork sausages (chouriço), everything can be found here. It is one market that truly reflects the spirit of Goa.
Saturday night market – It is not a market. It is the place with the vibes that can spring any dull soul back to life. Between Baga and Anjuna, this is a place where you will find everything from the dirt cheap trinkets to the expensive Pashmina. Take your pick! And if you are not the shopping kinds, go here just to enjoy the spirit, music, lights and colours all around.
Margao market – If you are in Southern Goa, visit the Margao market. Tucked in between narrow lanes, this is a beautiful city where you can find your favourite fish, some really good port wine and the local delicacies like bebinca fresh from the bakery oven. The Goans are amazing bakers and have multiple varieties of the simplest cakes and breads that cannot be found anywhere else. Ask a baker for a tour of his backyard bakery. If you are lucky, he will show you around and offer you his freshest delicacy as well.
If you are confused about what to buy, check our post here on what could you buy in India. As for Goa, we suggest some unusually fashionable jewellery and accessories. Do pick up some cashew nuts as well.
Are you feeling adventurous?
Kayaking – The scenic rivers of Goa provides a perfect spot for kayaking. And kayaking is the best way to explore the scenic mangroves, jungles and the pristine beaches that tourists do not have access to.
Canyoning – Jump, slide, swim, trek – the canyons and the waterfalls of Goa make it perfect for the high-pitched adventure that you are looking for. If you are fit and healthy and if you think you can do it, go for it.
Trekking – The iconic Dudhsagar (ocean of milk) provides a scenic spot for hikers and trekkers. It is India’s one of tallest waterfalls. Not just that – trekkers have walk alongside a railway track that winds through forests, tunnels and waterfalls. Apart from Dudhsagar, there are other hiking trails in Goa. Vagheri peaks and Mollem National Park are a few that you could try.
Scuba diving – There are many dive sites in Goa. Attractive corals, beautiful shells and fishes all are inviting for any aqua lover.
Knee-boarding and Wake-boarding – Want to go a notch higher on your adventure expedition? Try wake-boarding and knee-boarding. The clear skies and calm waters of the Goan coastline make it a memorable experience. And yes! The thrill of the wind when you are on water – just perfect!
Apart from these, for light adventures, you could go for a jungle walk or visit one of the many caves in Goa. Then there are cooking and yoga lessons on offer too. Take your pick and make your Goan experience memorable.
Time to celebrate – the colourful festivals of Goa
Shigmo – This is spring’s biggest festival to honour the homecoming of warriors who had left their homes to fight the invaders. Traditional folk dances and enactment of mythological scenes is the major highlight of this parade. This is a grand five-day festival of colours, celebrated distinctively in the villages, corresponding with Holi or the Indian Spring Festival. Held for one-week up to the full-moon day in March, Shigmo is universally celebrated in Goa, but especially at Panaji, Mapusa, Vasco-da-Gama and Margao.
Bonderam – This is celebrated on the fourth Saturday of August every year at Divar Island. Legend has it that there were fatal fights between people from different villages over property. The Portuguese then introduced a system to demarcate boundaries using flags which were knocked down by rival groups with stones. This is celebrated even today with mock fights being conducted. The mood is festive with colours and music all over the island on this particular Saturday every year.
Goa carnival – This festival is a reminder of the Potuguese heritage that is still found in Goa. Men and women wearing fancy dresses and colourful masks parade the city. It goes on for 3 days when there is enthusiasm and enjoyment all around.
San Joao – This is the festival for the newly-weds where the son-in-law celebrates in his mother-in-law’s house. The youth go out in procession wearing crowns of leaves and fruits carrying Feni, the famed Goan liquor.
The heart is where the food is
Goan food is a mix of Indian and Portuguese flavours. The famed Goan Poi (bread), ros-omelette, bhaji paav (goan bread with curry), the Goan samosa – everything is a must try. And yes, one cannot forget the variety of sea food available here. Treat your taste buds to the wide variety of local speciality.
Thalassa – Goa brings our romantic sides to the fore. And if you are with your soul mate, there is no better place to go to than Thalassa. Situated atop a high cliff in Vagator, this open-air Greek restaurant offers you a stunning view of the Arabian Sea. The menu offers you classic Greek appetizers and the quintessential Greek salads and grills. That and the beautiful sunset, what more could you ask for?
Martin’s corner – If you want to sample Goan local food and some seafood delight, this is the place you should go to in Betalbatim.
Café Bhonsale – This is not a hotel, it is a legacy. Situated in Panjim, this was established in 1920 and serves some of the best. Try the Goan special thali (meals) here.
Viva Panjim – Situated in the Latin quarters in a heritage home, this is the perfect place to sit down for a good lunch after tiring yourself on the streets of Goa. The beautiful host, the charming house, the soothing music and the appetizing food will sure spoil you are you cannot stop yourself from returning here for another meal.
Venite, Panjim – The charming décor and the wall graffiti all over on the bar walls will for sure steal your heart – Goans have their own way of charming people. From some amazing cocktails to the famed chai, this man has it all. And do not forget to ask him for some home-made bebinca. If you have hated bebinca before, this one will change your opinion forever.
Bhatti Village, Nehrul – It is a cosy joint run by a Goan family. While the husband overseas the customers, his wife cooks the meals and the children wait tables. Do not expect a menu here. Patrick personally discusses the food preferences and makes recommendations. Have the baby corn curry with the Goan poi (bread).
La Fayette, Chorao – The sleepy Goa has an even sleepier village in the form of Chorao. The lady who runs this place however, does not mind giving up on her afternoon siesta to feed people in her home restaurant.
The Verandah restaurant, Panjim – One more in the Latin quarters of Panjim, this is located in the Panjim inn. It is a heritage home refurbished into a quaint boutique hotel.
Bob’s inn – A quirky little place where one should go to more for the ambiance rather than the food. With the 70s and 80s music in the background, this place is full of surprises. The owner who is a colourful storyteller does not mind showing around the memorabilia and the art that is found here.
Places to stay in Goa
Goa being a tourist destination has lots on offer – hotels, home stays, hostels, resorts, beach shacks and beach huts. There is everything for a backpacker, flash-packer and a luxury seeker.
Wanderers – This hostel for someone who is always on the hunt for something unique. This is located on Morjim beach – turtle spotting is a favourite activity here.
Zostel – It is India’s first chain of branded backpacker’s hostel. It is situated on Calangute beach in a heritage home which has been converted into hostel – and the walls are adorned with some beautiful photographs of Goa. Book a dorm or a private room, the choice is yours. The wall graffiti in the common lounge is a quick lesson in Goan lingo that may come in handy during your Goa travel.
Old Quarter – Situated in the Latin quarters, this hostel offers basic dorms and simple breakfast for everyone staying with them.
Jungle – This hostel is literally amidst the Jungle. And for everyone who wants to skip parties, they have rooftop movies for a chilled out evening.
Bricks and Bamboo Hostel – Situated on Anjuna, this hostel is meant for all. They have a bar and small café too.
Prison Hostel – This is a party hostel – they have an in-house bus shuttle to take people to parties. If you want to keep your budget in check, this is the perfect place to be in.
Red Door Hostel – Again situated on Anjuna beach, this hostel is built in traditional Goan rchitectural style. With a large lounge area, garden and a communal kitchen, this is a perfect place if you want to meet new people.
Roadhouse Hostel – Curlies is just a shout away from this hostel. The backyard sure will remind you of the 80s Goan hippy life. And remember – Nelson is always around if you need some help or if you need a good company for a pint of beer.
Funky Monkey Hostel – This is a 100 year old Portuguese villa where the old Governor once lived. Open air movies, parties and events are a common activity in the hostel.
Molly’s Nest – This is located on Mandrem beach in Goa. They also have a shack which serves as a restaurant. As rightly said by Team Molly’s Nest – no 5 star resort can match the experience of staying in a hut with sand and mud under your feet.
Morjim Hermitage – These are wooden cottages on Morjim beach and in close proximity to the nesting place of the humble turtles.
The Nest – Situated on a quieter beach, Palolem, they have the standard and the deluxe huts. Enjoy the huts with a hint of luxury here.
Goa always turns out to be more fun than one can imagine. And we hope with this local’s guide to Goa, we have notched it up a degree higher for you. Travel does get better when you observe the details and understand the way of living of the people in a locality. This is where we at goMowgli can help you. Not just places, we tell you the whats and answer your whys. May be these are the stories that gives the travellers a different perspective. May be these stories help them understand a bit of this vast country.
If you are planning a trip to Goa, you can spend a day with us (you can book the tour here). We take you to the offbeat locations without compromising on the must-visits – the flavour of a tour with us are the tales we spin about the places where we take you to.
And if you have been to Goa and have some suggestions that we have missed, do leave a comment. We promise to include them in our guide to Goa.