Goa is one of those states that I think has fascinated me, although it is undeniable that it has spas that meet expectations. There is fine sand, crystal clear sea, vegetation, exoticism and sunsets that do not need Instagram filters. I had to face the chaos of cities like New Delhi or Calcutta or Varanasi and had been overwhelmed by vendors especially in cities like Agra and Jaipur.
Now I look back and wonder if I really liked Goa for its warmth or if it was simply that in contrast to the rest of the country I found a delicious breath of fresh air amid the chaos, pollution, crowded streets and the millions and millions of people.
Goa, a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years captivated me by its silence, by the slow pace of its people and by the conversations less focused on the commercial and more on the cultural exchange and the curiosity of the locals. Goa still attracts thousands of partiers who seek to gather on the beaches and enjoy the raves of techno music, the Goa trance style of the place.
Especially when Christmas and New Year approaches, young boys and girls mainly from Europe and Israel flock to Goa. The Sunburn Festival, Asia's biggest music festival takes place in Vagator in North Goa, every year between Christmas and New Year's Day.
This pilgrimage goes back to the 60s when the hippies ended up in this part of India, for its climate, landscapes and perhaps a tolerance towards drugs that were not available elsewhere. The Magic Bus left Amsterdam, sometimes daily to Goa via Kabul.
Over the years it became the ideal place for tourists who want to enjoy the sun and the beach in the best western style in a bikini and drinking beer in beach bars, along with yoga classes, brushstrokes of spirituality and nocturnal firestones with soft drugs especially the feni and happy lassi.
The old hippie landmark of the 1960s is now welcoming new alternative backpackers who travel to eat vegan and do yoga, but also many affluent tourists who stay in luxury resorts. It is especially a holiday spot popular with Indians who come to see the beach and party in this state, where the legislation is much more flexible than in the rest of the country, including alcohol.
12 Hours in Goa
After much weighing on the way to get to Goa, we decided that it was best to take an Air India flight from Jaipur. That meant a 4-hour stopover in New Delhi and a stop without getting off the plane in Bombay. A lot of people told us not to move out of the airport. There is not much to do. We listened and did not leave the airport.
New Delhi airport has everything spotlessly clean and there are lounge chairs to sleep on if you have many hours ahead. We ate a Mcdonald's Chicken Maharaja Mac and we took two hours of nap.
We arrived in Panjim at night with many expectations and eager to finally see the beach. We chose to go to the beaches of South Goa, which they say are very calm and beautiful. I remember the exact moment when I left the international airport in Goa. At the door, dozens of taxi drivers crowded around offering their services to any point in the smallest state of India.
The air felt clean and something made me think and feel that this was not India. The first thing we did after getting out off the airport was to find someone to share a taxi like good backpackers we are already and we found a couple of Israelis. They were super talkative. They told us how much they like India, that they have come four times, that we cannot leave without seeing Hampi and that because they are from Israel, everything is cheaper.
They also told us about the situation in their country. We hallucinated when they told us about their experience in the army (both men and women have to spend a few years mandatorily in it). During the taxi ride, we crossed several towns, including Margao. The postcards through the taxi window followed one another with palm trees, paved roads in very good condition, colorful houses in the small clean towns that ran along the road, smiles in passing, salty air and tranquility.
I had to rub my eyes a couple of times and incredulously verified my location on my mobile. Am I in India? The app confirmed the location. But all these qualities that I could easily use to describe what I was seeing, clearly contrasted with those that draw in the minds of readers.
Half an hour later the taxi driver left me in front of the guest house at Agonda beach. It was right in front of the town church. I had booked a very basic but super cozy resort, with cabins on the seafront and bungalows with bathroom in the garden.
I sat on the balcony in front of what would be my room. I was gazing around listening to the sound of silence in a country where the norm is strident noise. I was fascinated. Suddenly a strong breeze warned me of the approaching tropical storm. We went to dinner at a nearby bar. We ordered burgers and a beer.
1 Day in Goa
We woke up with some great views. After a good night's sleep, I have breakfast with milk coffee and bread toast. We go to a beautiful beach called Cola Beach, which is about 15 minutes by scooter. The beach of 2km of white sand is located in a large cove. It is semi-virgin and is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and palm trees. This beach combines a freshwater lake with the Arabian Sea.
There is a small freshwater lake for swimming or kayaking and some beach huts too. The adjoining beaches are even quieter. The water is very hot, as in Thailand, although yes, the sea is not as transparent as in the Andaman Sea. It is an idyllic and quiet place, where there are no harassing sellers. Early in the morning, around 7:30 am, we can see dolphins from the shore of the beach that come in search of small fishes.
We arrived just at the end of the monsoon and the tourist season had not yet begun. There were hardly any accommodation and food options. So we took a tuk-tuk and went to the next beach. We visited Cabo de Rama, an old Portuguese fortress of which only a few ruined walls remain, but with beautiful views.
We cross the mangroves of the Sal River in Betul, a fishing village, and we reach the beach of Varca. Finally, we were in Benaulim, a quiet beach with some bamboo huts and few people.
From Mobor to Colva, there is a virgin beach more than 10 km long, with a fine white sand. On this extensive beach, in the areas of Mobor, Cavelossim, Carmona, Fatrade, and Varca there are some scattered luxury resorts filled with mainly Russian and Eastern European tourists.
Colva is a place that at first sight is not very appetizing. It was crowded with people. There are motor boats for excursions and vendors offering all kinds of water activities. It is very focused on local tourism that arrives here from the city of Margao, which is only 6 km away. From time to time we see a bar or restaurant that offers its hammocks and umbrellas to those who buy a drink and also grilled fish freshly caught from the Indian Ocean.
The Agonda church is beautiful and the beach is very good. The problem was that it was all closed, covered with blue tarps and under maintenance. At night we see a parade through the streets to celebrate Holi. For dinner, we order rice, fish, dal and palak paneer. In the appetizers, we find the warm goat salad. The half-cooked tuna is absolutely divine. We also try the rhubarb crumble.
2 Days in Goa
We left for Palolem, which is the most developed beach in the area with colorful cabanas. Palolem beach is reputed to be the best in Goa. As it receives more visitors, it has a greater offer of hotels and restaurants although we are not in high season. We went walking along the beach looking for accommodation and try to get rid of a lot of commission agents.
In the Goa travel guide, it is defined as the perfect beach, a wide semicircle of white sand surrounded by a lush palm grove and all the necessary services for all budgets. I find a crowded place, with hundreds of more or less stable buildings covered by blue plastic, shops, bars and cabins raised on bamboo for rent. These can be attractive in isolation, but in such a large amount they give that a grotesque appearance.
When they saw us with backpacks, they approached us offering everything (hotel, taxi, boat). They are a real pain! I get out of there as fast as my legs allow. I walk across a sadhu, an ascetic who renounces everything material to seek union with the divine through meditation, living on alms. His hair and beard are very long.
He wears a simple loincloth and his body is covered with ashes, which gives him the appearance of a living statue. I give him some coins and he greets me by joining his hands.
Prices are expensive compared to other places in India, but being in paradise comes at a price. The chosen one was an inn, with a good room and what we liked the most was the swimming pool. After settling in, I went for a walk and eat breakfast of bread toast and fruit juice.
The next thing we did was take a bath in the sea, which we were looking forward to. The water of Goa is not crystal clear and it is not a place to snorkel or dive, but the beaches are very long and full of palm trees. Of course, the water is like a broth. The good thing is that there is nobody and we are practically alone with the cows and crabs.
Here we spent the day resting and eating good fish. We eat tiger prawns in garlic butter at one of the many restaurants on the beach and then lie down to take a nap and enjoy the sun. Palolem is a great idyllic cove with white sand flanked by palm trees. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset and then a beautiful full moon.
The town is a street parallel to the beach with low houses, a large Catholic church, and a few shops. We find a very commercial street, with all kinds of products for tourists like clothes, accessories, spices, travel agency, pharmacy, and internet cafe. The main street is lively with restaurants and clothing and jewelry stores.
There are many tourists (backpackers), but it is not cramped. In Chaudi in Canacona, near Palolem, there are several tailors where they make custom-made clothes.
In the evening we had dinner in the guest house. It was the best thali that we have eaten so far. The menu was a good choice for a rich and cheap dinner. It has the vegetable and chicken curry, chapati, rice, vegetable salad, dal, raita and a dessert.
As it seems, the Full Moon Party was invented in Goa! We enjoy one here in the middle of nature. It was nice with good music and fire shows. It reminded me of the Koh Phangan full moon party in Thailand!
3 Days in Goa
We woke up and we changed accommodation to a much cheaper one. It was all very new and clean with a huge room and terrace. It is located on the main street of Palolem where there is a little more activity, with many shops and restaurants. After breakfast of croissants and coffee at the guesthouse restaurant, we rented bikes and we went south to see Patnem beach.
This beach is really deserted. It is not as pretty as Palolem but the water is cooler and there are more waves. We were enjoying the feeling of having a beach for ourselves. In addition, the road there was very pleasant among palm trees, cows, and local businesses.
We head to the small but very beautiful Honeymoon beach by boat. We see the dolphins and the beautiful beaches around Palolem. In the afternoon we returned to Palolem to eat something on a terrace on the beach and watch the sunset. We have a great chicken korma and naan.
In a day, many more tourists had suddenly appeared and there was more activity. We move across the Palolem beach as much as possible. The more time we spend in it, the more we like it. We stayed all the time in the water catching waves, but without a board. We did not see any place to rent.
At night in Palolem people gather on the beach to have a few beers in the sand. The firecrackers are here too. We have a beer under the light of the moon. The truth is that it was luxurious because the temperature was perfect and there were no mosquitoes.
And 100 meters from the beach, two trucks arrived one with a giant figure of Ganesha and another with speakers from which Bollywood music was played loudly. Locals and gurus gave everything dancing in honor of the elephant god. On the way back, in the hotel restaurant, I had a good fruit salad with a banana lassi.
We head to the silent disco party at Neptune Point. It is a silent rave, that is to say, we celebrate with a headphone. There are multiple DJs mixing at the same time so we can choose between different musical moods depending on our taste. Depending on the music chosen, we have a small blue, red or green light on our headphones so we can see who listens to the same music and dance together.
I really loved this concept! Already we can adjust the volume in the headphones, which avoids damage to the eardrums with too loud music as is often the case in nightclubs. And what's more, when we want to talk to people, we just take off the headphones and talk normally without having to scream to hear the noise.
After a dinner with the Goan thali with prawns peri peri and the chicken cafreal, we head back to our resort.
4 Days in Goa
After having breakfast at the guesthouse of bread toast with jam and milk coffee, we left for Calangute. When we arrived in Calangute I almost went crazy again with all the traffic jam, after days of silence and an unusual calm in this country.
So we continued on to Anjuna. At 9 we went to Vagator to see its beautiful beaches. Vagator has two beaches separated by a rocky promontory. To the south is the quietest with a cove surrounded by palm trees. In the southern part of the small cove, I see every day a group of Westerners, all young, and some couples. They have mounted a kind of makeshift camp among the palm trees.
There are hammocks hanging and some carpets on the floor. They seem to spend the days in that place. It gives the impression that they live nearby, if not permanently, but for a long time. I guess they are something like new hippies and they look very happy.
To the north of the rocky ledge is Big Vagator, an extension of fine white sand ideal for walking. At the end of the beach, a short climb to the nearby hill leads us to a 17th-century Portuguese fort. From here we can see the endless beaches to the south and the almost virgin territory to the north, beyond the Chapora River, whose entrance from the sea is controlled by the Chapora fort.
We take the opportunity to go to the famous flea market in Goa. The corner is quite touristy. Beach vendors are more or less insistent.
We then head to Old Goa. Old Goa is an enigmatic and exciting place. It is a city of cathedrals, basilicas and convents half eaten by the surrounding jungle. Some of them are only ruins. We walk through the silence of the huge buildings haunted by vegetation and try to imagine what life was like here when in the city Europe and India were united.
We see the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Mecca of the Catholic world that houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. I decide to cruise on the Mandovi river. The boat is filled with tourists. In the middle of the main deck begins a karaoke show entertained by the travelers of the cruise. They alternate to sing on the stage.
We go further south, to Quepem, where is one of the most beautiful houses in Goa. It is the former home of the Portuguese founder of the city of Quepem. The setting is beautiful and the garden too! Not far from Quepem, we also visit two other houses in Chandor. We are greeted by the owner of the place who tells the story of the house. There are beautiful furniture and valuables. It is a real trip back in time.
Then we returned to Panaji where I have already said goodbye to the driver. It's a very quiet little town, with an air of old colony stopped in time. I stay at a resort. It is not the eighth wonder but it is not bad.
I do not know yet how the price of the hotels works because the Palolem room was like that of a 4-star hotel. I went to eat at a great place with sea views and free wifi. I have shahi chicken korma, dal, and rice. In the afternoon I went around Panaji, visiting points of interest as in the Lonely Planet travel guide. I see the library, the Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, and St Sebastian Chapel.
We went for a walk through Fontainhas, an old Latin Quarter. It is a very nice walk between what were the old Portuguese style colonial houses. I have an orange juice in a good place to rest for a while. Then I take some walks on the beach and the cloth, and handicrafts stalls until the time of sunset.
The sun is descending like a huge disc and fills the river with orange reflections on the shores of the palm trees that jut out over the rest of the vegetation. Then I went to the Santa Monica jetty to catch a cruise on the river at 6 in the afternoon. I liked this beach but I liked Palolem more.
We settled in Candolim for the night. The rooms are spacious and well decorated. The real plus of the hotel is its superb swimming pool and there is a bar to sip a cocktail while staying cool in the water. There is also a spa for a massage and a gym.
We head to Arpora to see the night market between Baga and Anjuna that has been one of my favorites in Goa! Between Baga and Anjuna, is one of the largest clubs in Goa, at the top of a hill. We have a drink and party on the dance floor with a DJ that plays till late at night.
On the way back I dine near the guesthouse with batata vada, an exquisite fruit salad, and a papaya lassi. We also taste the local drink called the Feni. It is like a mojito, but with cashew nut instead of rum.
5 Days in Goa
The buffet breakfast is royal, with both western pastries and Indian delicacies. The breakfast set includes a tea or coffee of our choice, a fresh fruit juice, two cooked eggs of our choice and a large bowl of muesli with fresh fruit and yogurt that we can drizzle with honey!
We head to Arambol, one of my favorite places in Goa. It has become a rallying point for all new vegan or vegetarian hippies. There are yoga practitioners, meditators and all kinds of Oriental philosophies and therapies such as tai chi, reiki, qi-gong and Bollywood dance.
I discovered tantric meditation, which is a form of meditation applied to love. With exercises, practiced alone or in pairs, we learn to feel more sensations. Even if we are not really part of this movement, which is my case, we appreciate the joyous harmony and brotherly love that emerges from it. In addition, it is also a good place to enjoy the beach.
The beach of Arambol is also very nice. We see the sunset on the beach. At sunset, there is a drum circle in Arambol. The jugglers come to practice with the last light of day and sellers of trinkets display their goods on colorful fabrics. Tam-tam players gather in a big circle to play music and make the audience dance.
We go down a little further south. Walking along the beach we arrive quickly enough to Mandrem. In this atmosphere of peace and love in the evening, we go to a bar in the forest with alternative music concerts, famous for its nightlife.
The Greek salad with chicken and moussaka are exquisite. I had a prawn sizzler, a meal served on a hot plate with fries, rice, noodles, and vegetables with a huge shrimp. In addition, there are performances of Greek dancers. There is a beautiful atmosphere with painted alley like the soil of the Cyclades.
Next morning we took a bus to throw ourselves back on the road to Gokarna. We still had to visit one of the places we most wanted to see in India.
I can tell you that Goa is the ideal place to stop along the way and regain strength. It is quiet, relaxing, a small return to a western world of burgers and pasta, shorts and tank tops, characters from all over the world and night parties with trendy music as in any city. In short it is the Ibiza in India!
Goa has seemed like a good destination to rest a little after making the route to the north, which is crazy. But it does not have much more than beaches, palm trees, and cheap beer. I loved Arambol in the north Goa, but my favorite was Palolem.