Think of Goa and what is the picture that comes to mind? Sun-drenched beaches with lazy tourists sunbathing, a dazzling coastline lined with coconut and palm trees and imposing churches and cathedrals that speak volumes about the history of this beach town. Add to this some fun and lots of feni, and you have the perfect holiday.
Located on the west coast of India, this former Portuguese colony has always been a hot favourite with tourists - Indians, foreigners and honeymooners - since the 1960s because of its hippie culture and bohemian lifestyle. However, today this carnival city is known more for its natural beauty, exotic beaches, lively festivals and delicious sea food that includes lobsters and Prawn Balchao, a Goanese speciality.
Goa is well connected by air, rail and road to all the major cities. Indian Airlines, Air India, Jet and Sahara have flights to and fro Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin and Pune. The Daboli airport is located 29 km south of Panaji. Similarly, Goa is accessible by train while good motorable roads connect it with all major towns.
You can also go to Goa by catamaran, run by Damania Shipping. The journey by boat takes about 7-8 hours.
What to See
Goa is a blend of the old and the new. While the new Goa is modern and bustling with life and activity, predictably the older part of the city retains an old world charm replete with churches and cathedrals and a laid back lifestyle.
New Goa: Most of the beaches and resorts fall in the newer part of Goa. In fact, for most people the beach forms the strongest association with Goa and why not. After all the sea stretches both towards the north and the south. The Calangute beach is the start of the south stretch and for about 3-4 km you can see nothing but the endless expanse of water, with hordes of people swimming or camping at the local hotels. Going southwards you would reach Benaulim, which is ideal for cycling or sunbathing. When you've had enough of the sun, you can have a glass of low-priced beer or feni, the local brew at the small shacks that are run by locals and are all over the beaches.
The north stretch includes a cluster of beaches that include Anjuna, Baga, Miramar etc. These beaches are more lively and vibrant with lots of music, small shacks and restaurants that serve exotic Goanese fare. You could dig into a spicy Prawn curry or savour the fresh catch of the day. For those who want to dance the night away, there are a number of discotheques too.
Interestingly, there is a marketplace near Anjuna beach where you can buy anything under the sun from traditional Indian stuff to swimming gear and lots of knick-knacks that are actually sold by hippies in order to extend their stay by a few extra months. Goa is perfect for those interested in water sports and windsurfing and other aquatic sports are quite a hit with tourists.
Old Goa: If you are sick of the sea, head towards Old Goa and enjoy some architectural magnificence. The erstwhile Portuguese capital with its architecture was once said to rival Lisbon in magnificence. Its most famous building is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which contains the remains of the great St Francis Xavier. Also of interest is the Convent & Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Besides this, there are a number of other churches that boast of an impressive architecture.
The best way to see Goa is to stay at the Baga beach and take a scooty ride to the other beaches. The trip across the cool waters is so exhilarating as you ride over the rivers and under railway bridges enjoying nature at its best.
If you are one for walking, Goa is a good place to get started. Step into your boots and you can walk for miles along the blue beach and the swaying palms. Or better still, rent a bicycle and discover the magic of the city. When tired, you can stop at the roadside joints and sip some beer.
The best time to sunbathe in Goa is during the months of October to February when it is neither too hot nor raining. Also, it is party time in Goa during this period. The streets are suffused with the festive spirit and there is plenty of music, dance and singing as people celebrate and enjoy themselves. It is this vibrancy and peppy spirit combined with a rich cultural milieu that acts like a magnet and keeps attracting people from all over the world.
Goa caters to both the high budget traveler with its many five star hotels and resorts which have all the modern facilities such as Fort Aguada and the Taj Holiday Village, while also having a number of medium to small budget places. However, make your bookings well in advance especially during the carnival time.
So whether you want to see the sights, roam the beaches or sip some lovely Goanese wine or eat some Balchao, Goa is the place to be in. Just remember to carry loads of sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and your swimming gear!