Recently I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Goa, India, for the GITM International Travel Mart with Goa Tourism. Many people think that Goa is simply a destination for sea, sun, and sand, but if there’s one thing I learned during this trip, it’s that Goa is much, MUCH more than that.
Sure, its great to visit Goa to relax the beach; it’s a fabulous destination to return from an ocean dip into a bumping bar, cocktail in hand. However, there is so much more to this place than that.
Visiting Goa is great for everyone. Whether you’re into history, fascinating culture, unique food, heart-pumping adventures, nature, partying or more…. Goa has a little bit of everything for every age and type of traveler.
But first, a bit on info on logistics:
Best Time to Visit Goa
The best time to visit Goa is between November and March/April. They say in Goa that they have three seasons – summer, winter, and RAIN! And it’s not just light rain, either – there’s a full monsoon season between June and August/September.
The Monsoons bring HEAVY rain and make the area gorgeous and lush. November is when the outdoor markets and bars begin opening for the season, making it a great time to begin visiting Goa. The weather is the hottest around Feb/March, before cooling down again leading into the monsoons.
Goa really is a destination for all seasons, however, as each time has something different to offer. Keep reading to see why!
Safety in Goa
If it safe to visit Goa? The short answer is, yes. If one takes the same general common-sensical precautions that they should take anywhere else in the world and remains vigilant, Goa is as safe as anywhere else.
Goa doesn’t have any ‘must-avoid’ type areas (as many place in the world do) and many would agree that the local population is generally very kind and always willing to lend a helping hand. In my case, the locals were lovely, gentle, and always kind.
Getting Around Goa
Although it is currently being looked over, the public transport in Goa is not the easiest to navigate just yet. But, they have recently invented their own version of Uber/Ola, called GoaMiles, to alleviate this problem.
GoaMiles can be used in conjunction with a local SIM to get around Goa, and is quite affordable. Other than that I recommend getting around by booking organized tours that will take you wherever you need to go.
Why Visit Goa?
Without further ado, here are some awesome reasons to visit Goa that may be a bit different than you think!
Outside the Basilica Bom Jesus
Older ruins of the Augustinian Convent in Old Goa – seen on a tour with Soul Travelling
Visiting Goa for HISTORY
Goa has an ancient, diverse, and fascinating history that’s sure to amaze even the least likely history buff.
Ancient History in Goa
Goa has been a human settlement since the Mesolithic and Paleolithic eras. This essentially means that people have been living here since the stone age – some settlements can be dated back 30,000 years! That’s old, people. Very, very old.
You can find ancient Indian temples throughout Goa to take a peek back to times of ancient civilizations. Prehistoric rock art engravings (petroglyphs) have been found in a few different sites, that may date all the way back 20-30,000 years. The Hindu Temple of Tambdi Surla dates back to the 12th century, which is another great historical site to visit.
Portuguese History in Goa
Goa has a more unique history than a lot of India because it was a Portuguese colony – for 450 YEARS! Goa was the longest-standing Portuguese colony in India, and the culture has had a lasting impact on Goa’s architecture, religions, cuisine, fashion, music, dancing, and even language.
Visiting the ‘Latin Quarter’ of Fontainhas is a must in Goa’s capital of Panjim, where you can see colorful Portuguese buildings, relics, eateries, and more. You’ll see remnants of Portuguese Goa in some increduble Christian churches in Old Goa, from the Basillica of Bom Jesus and the gorgeous white Se Cathedral to the oldest (470 years) Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Fort Aguada is a massive Portuguese fort on the sea from the 16th century, as is the Tiracol Fort which has been converted into a luxury hotel.
People who are into history can also visit the Archaeological Museum of Goa to take a deeper peek into different times in the state’s history.
Flower Power Roots in Goa
The most recent history if Goa is when it became a destination for the ‘flower power’ generation in the 60′ after its liberation from the Portuguese. These ‘hippies’ were drawn to the carefree lifestyle of Goa’s beaches and played a large part in creating the idea of Goa as a beachside destination.
Traditional dancing at one of the floating casinos
Visiting Goa for CULTURE + HERITAGE
Due to its incredibly diverse history described above, Goa’s culture is a main drawing point for tourism. Visit Goa to see cultural displays, take a journey through different points in time, and understand a way of life that is unique from many other parts of India.
You can catch an amazing cultural dancing show in many different places in Goa – from 5 star resorts, to the incredible floating casinos, to Baga beach. Many of these dances and performances will be reminiscent of Indian culture, while many will also have a tangible Portuguese flair.
Heritage Sites + Religion
Many of the sites above are protected World Heritage sites, from a few dozen to hundreds and thousands of years old. There are many Hindu temples that coexist peacefully alongside Christian/Catholic churches, which is something very special to Goa as well.
Visiting Goa for UNIQUE CUISINE
Goa’s cuisine is considered VERY global due to -you guessed it – its diverse history and culture. The food here is a very unique (and delicious) blend of different influences – some say it’s a blend of at least 40 different cuisines in one!
You’ll find classic curries with a seafood-based twist, as well as some native drinks as well. The most famous Goan dish is the fish curry + rice – a delicious light curry with flaky white fish. As a seaside state, fishing has a very important role in the economy and provides many locals with jobs.
You cannot leave Goa without indulging in a cashew feni drink. It’s an exotic spirit made from cashews, and is actually the only drink that has won geographical indication status in India. Drinker beware – it’s VERY potent!
Goa Tropical Spice Plantation
Visiting Spice Plantations in Goa
Goa is also very special because of the volume of spice plantations in the province. India is the world leader in spice production, and you can visit the source of much of the world’s different spices right in Goa.
I took a tour of the Tropical Spice Plantation and loved smelling and tasting all sorts of different spices in their ‘natural habitat’ and then tasting them in a delicious buffet lunch afterwards. It’s a must!
Visiting Goa for OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
Goa was awarded the best state for adventure tourism – which you will find is actually no surprise at all! You would have to stay here for months, adventuring every single day, to even try to get all the outdoor adventures done around here. Sounds like the ideal place for an adventurer like me! Here is a very long list of all the adventurous things to do in Goa:
River Rafting – Waterfall Chasing – River Crossing/Ziplining – Rapelling – Jet Skiing – Hiking/Trekking in the Jungle – Wildlife Spotting – Bird Watching – Bungee Jumping – Battery-Operated Cycling – Scuba Diving – Water Sports – Parasailing – Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours – Surfing – Hot Air Balloon Riding – Kayaking – Banana Boating – River Cruising – and more!
Phew! If that list doesn’t have you wanting to visit Goa immediately, I don’t know what will. Here are a few specific adventures to do:
These massive waterfalls are about 60km from Panjim and are completely mind-blowing. They’re one of the tallest waterfalls in all of India (at over 1000ft tall) which fall over 5 tiers.
Due to heavy water levels they are not visitable in monsoon season, but any other time of year (especially just after the monsoons) you’ll be spoilt with jaw-dropping views of this waterfall, which translates to ‘sea of milk.’ Due to its remoteness, the best way to reach it is with a tour like this one.
Goa River Cruise
One of the most spectacular things to do in Goa is to take a river cruise along the river Mandovi. It’s a great way to do some sightseeing along the wide and flowing river, see some traditional performances, and experience some shopping stalls as well.
Birdwatching and Wildlife in Goa
There are a lot of pristine jungles in Goa which are very biodiverse, which is great for lots of outdoor activities like trekking and wildlife too. You can spot over 500 bird species in Goa; the best place to do so is at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (also reachable by adventurous bike tour).
Goa is also known for many protected turtle nesting sites on the southern beaches, dolphin spottings all up and down the coast, monkeys all over the jungles, and more!
Floating Casino Boats
Visiting Goa for PARTY + MUSIC
Beginning with the ‘hippie trail’ in the 1960’s, Goa has come to be known as a great destination to party.
If you’re into traditional/local music, performances, and gambling, you MUST check out some of the massive floating casino boats at the mouth of the river. These casinos have fabulous buffets, lots of gambling, and great entertainers performing each and every night.
If you would like more pop music and dancing, the beach bars of Baga beach will be the place for you. As the sun sets over the crashing waves, the music turns up as beachgoers retreat to the open-air bars for a few cocktails in the evening.
Goa: The Origin of Trance Music
It’s no mystery that Goa is widely known as the bona-fide birthplace of trance music. This is something that actually brings in revellers from all over the world.
The current ‘hippies’ on the northern Goa beaches may well and truly be the descendants of the ones who started Goa’s first flower-power movement, as they party beachside to trance and techno each and every night.
If you are looking for psytrance and techno, you’ll feel right at home all along Anjuna Beach and up into Vagator. Electronic beats pulsate out of dozens of beautiful and psychedelic open-air venues along Anjuna beach, and slowly disappear into the sea breeze. Vagator has a few more cliffside and hilltop music venues.
Visiting Goa for FESTIVALS
Goa is also famous for a number of cultural and music festivals. The Diwali Festival happens each October, the Carnaval (similar to the one in Rio) each February, and there is also the Ganesh festival early each year. Music festivals and cultural/religious festivals happen throughout the year.
Visiting Goa for MEDICAL TOURISM
Goa is actually chock-full of fantastic hospitals that will offer high-standard procedures for a fraction of Western prices. Many Goan doctors actually trained in Europe and returned back to renowned hospitals in India, so the quality of care will be the same for about 1/5 of the price. Dental tourism is becoming popular as well.
Goa has both regular medical tourism and also traditional Ayurveda and eastern healing techniques.
Visiting Goa for WELLNESS, YOGA + RETREATS
Goa is also rising in popularity for spiritual tourism. Alongside some other very famous destinations in India, Goa has properties that offer a range of yoga retreats, Ayurveda retreats/workshops, and other activities in wellness and healing.
These retreats will involve different healing practices, meditation, yoga, special diets, and/or different seminars – all of which aim to raise one’s vibration and help them become their best self!
Visiting Goa for SHOPPING
Goa is also very well-known for shopping – from the massive Mall de Goa to much smaller flea markets. You can wander some main towns and malls to find lots of high-end brand names, but many are allured to Goa for the local handicrafts.
Popular flea markets such as the Wednesday Anjuna flea market Saturday Arpora night bazaar. These are fabulous places to get some beautiful Indian printed clothes and bags, handmade jewelry, fun crafts, traditional decorations, and more.
Visiting Goa for BUDGET TOURISM or LUXURY RESORTS
That’s right, visiting Goa is perfect for travelers of all budgets. From 5-star luxury resorts to backpacker hostels, there’s a bit of something for everyone.
Budget Travel in Goa
Goa is a backpackers’ haven. There are dozens of hotels all over the state that average about $5-6 for a bed per night! Hostels here provide fantastic social atmospheres for travelers to get together, explore the area, and check out the local nightlife scene.
Luxury Travel in Goa
Goa is also a suberb destination for those who want a bit more luxury in their lives. There are over 450 5-star hotels, many of which also classify as resorts – with in-house spas, saunas, organized activities/yoga, and more. 5-star resorts in Goa are also oftentimes much more affordable than they would be in other destinations.
The Hilton Doubletree Panaji is an absolutely stunning property overlooking a vast expanse of river and distant mountains. The area is dotted with beautiful gardens, has a diverse range of spa treatments, and has an infinity pool to die for.
The Leela Goa is a beautiful remote property – the only one in Goa that is both beachside and lagoon side. All rooms have a lagoon view, and they offer a spa, yoga, art classes, and more.
Visiting Goa for BEACHES: SUN, SAND, and SEA
Now, I know I said Goa is much more than sun, sand, and sea…. but when speaking about reasons to visit Goa it of course cannot be left out! There’s a reason Goa became famous for this exact reason – it’s an absolute beachside paradise.
The weather is generally warm year-round (despite being wet for a few months per year). There are over 65 miles of pristine beaches, from packed party beaches to remote resort sandy stretches. The sea is fantastic for water sports, swimming, and even surfing in some places.
If you’re looking for a party hangout, Anjuna Beach is the place to go. Morgim, Ashwem, and Mandrem Beaches farther north are more remote with a better change of dolphin spotting. Palolem Beach is a very relaxed backpacker beach hangout, while Cavelossim Beach is known for its lovely resorts.
Many beaches also have markets and craft stalls along the sand as well. It would be easy to get lost relaxing on the sand in Goa, exploring cliffside nooks, and cooling off in the warm water.
So there you have it – you can still visit Goa for the beaches, but don’t forget to immerse yourself also into its history, culture, cuisine, outdoor adventures, nightlife, medical benefits, wellness retreats, AND shopping, too !
Interesting jungle critters
Goan Sweets: Available all over the state, but these were from a special Portuguese confectionary in Fontainhas. They are called: dodol, bebinca, doce, and pinagr.
locals hanging out in the Fontainhas Latin Quarter