Maharashtra (north of Goa) and Karnataka (south of Goa) have some refreshingly unspoiled beaches and mountains. In case you're tempted to venture across the state border, here are the best day trips from Goa. Do note that these trips are most suited to people who are staying close to the border. Goa's coastline is about 100 miles long and the amount of travel required may be tiring otherwise. In addition, if you've hired a motorcycle or scooter, make sure it has all the paperwork necessary for crossing the border because the police do check.
Fort Tiracol is perched on a cliff on the other side of the Tiracol (Terekhol) River, which divides Goa and Maharashtra. It's thought to have been constructed by Khem Sawant Bhonsle, the king of Sawantwadi. However, the Portuguese captured the fort in the 18th century and used it as part of their strategic defense. They also built the quaint white-washed church inside it. Freedom fighters carried out various demonstrations for Goa's liberation at the fort. After the Portuguese were finally ousted from Goa in 1961, it fell into disrepair until it was restored and converted into a heritage hotel that's open to day visitors. Walking trails from the fort lead around the edge of the cliff.
Getting There: Tiracol Fort is about a 30-minutes drive north of Arambol beach, across the Kiranpani-Aronda Bridge. For fun, take a ferry from Keri (Querim) beach instead of the bridge.
Travel Tip: Go for lunch, as the fort's restaurant serves fabulous Mediterranean fusion cuisine with a view.
Malvan Beach: Coral Reef and 17th Century Fort
One of the most significant and most accessible coral reefs in India is located off the coast of Malvan in Maharashtra, making it the top spot for scuba diving and snorkeling around the mainland. Marine Dive is a reputable company based in Malvan. Another attraction in the area is Sindhudurg Fort. This substantially-sized sea fort was built by revered warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and is one of many along Maharashtra's Konkan Coast. Its wall extends for almost two miles and has 42 bastions. There are several temples inside the fort, including one dedicated to Shivaji Maharaj. A few families, who are descendants of soldiers who fought in the Maratha army, still live there and take care of it. Sadly, maintenance and facilities for tourists lack, though. To reach the fort, take a boat ride from Malvan jetty.
Getting There: Malvan beach is about two hours drive north of Arambol beach, across the Kiranpani-Aronda Bridge. Various travel companies conduct one-day scuba diving, and snorkeling group trips from Calangute, Baga, or Candolim beaches in Goa. Here is one option that also includes water sports. Dive time is limited to about 20 minutes, though. You'll get a longer dive time through local operators.
Travel Tip: Visibility for scuba diving and snorkeling is best from November to February.
Redi, Vengurla, Bhowge: Pristine Beach-Hopping
If you're in the mood for beach hopping and want to get away from the crowds, the coastline from Redi to Bhogwe in Maharashtra has some peaceful spots. Unlike Goa, Maharashtra's beaches aren't really set up for foreign tourists yet, so they receive a lot fewer visitors. Don't expect much infrastructure, just serene stretches of sand frequented by fishermen. There are temples and evocative ruins of the old Yeshvantgad hill fort (currently being restored) to see at Redi. The lighthouse is worth visiting at Vengurla for an outstanding panoramic vista.
Getting There: Redi beach is about 40 minutes' drive north of Arambol beach, across the Kiranpani-Aronda Bridge. From there, Bhogwe is a further hour and a half up the coast.
Travel Tip: You can hire a boat at Redi to go across to Shiroda and Paradise beaches.
South of the Goa border in Karnataka, Gokarna still has a hippie vibe and is famed for being what Goa was like before development set in. Two of its beaches can only be reached by 30-minute hikes around the cliff or by boat, keeping them delightfully secluded. Holy Gokarna town is an atmospheric place to wander around. Keep an eye out for the colorful street art!
Getting There: Gokarna is just over two hours' drive from Palolem beach via National Highway 66.
Travel Tip: Many people prefer Kudle beach to the more accessible Om Beach, as fewer day-trippers and locals go there. Om Beach does get busy at times, especially on Sundays.
Yana: Unusual Rock Formations
The mysterious black crystalline limestone rock formations in the Western Ghat mountains near Karnataka's Yana village are fascinating. There are two towering ones named Bhairaveshwara (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) and Mohini. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva took refuge there when demon king Bhasmasura was trying to touch his head and turn him into ashes. Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of a beautiful woman called Mohini and tricked Bhasmasura into touching his head, thereby burning him instead. Devotees believe the fire blackened the rock formations, and the ashes produced the black soil. A cave passage leads to a temple complex dedicated to Lord Shiva at the base of the rock. It's an offbeat destination that not a lot of people know about. The Mahashivratri festival is celebrated for 10 days there in February or early March.
Getting There: Yana village is about three hours' drive south of Palolem via National Highway 66. You'll need to hike along a forest trail and climb some steps to reach the rock formations.
Travel Tip: Visit on weekdays to enjoy the solitude.
The port city of Karwar is an ideal destination for families with kids as it has some interesting educational attractions such as the INS Chapal Warship Museum housed in an Indian Navy missile boat, and rock garden with sculptures depicting Karnataka's tribes and their lifestyles. Both are at Ravindranath Tagore beach. It's also worth taking a 45-minute boat trip from Sadhashivgad Jetty on the Kali River to Kurumgad Island, where there's the Cintacor Island Resort and a temple. If you're feeling energetic, you can go on a short hike from Majali beach just north of the city to isolated Tilmati beach, remarkable for its black sand.
Getting There: Karwar is about an hour south of Palolem via National Highway 66.
Travel Tip: You'll get delicious coconut-based curries and fresh seafood there. Try Swetha Lunch Home for inexpensive authentic regional food.
Amboli: Waterfalls, Viewpoints and Biodiversity
Amboli, a small hill station in the Western Ghat mountains of Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district, is a favorite monsoon season destination for rain lovers. Indian tourists flock there to frolic under the numerous waterfalls. Amboli Ghat waterfall and Nangartas waterfall, on opposite sides of town, are the biggest ones. When the skies are clear, Sunset Point is the place to be in the evening for a magical vista over the Konkan Coast. The other primary viewpoint, Kavlesad Point, faces the valley and forest. Five minutes from town, Hiranyakeshi temple was built by a man who's said to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva. The Hiranyakeshi River originates from a cave next to it.
Getting There: Amboli is about two hours drive northeast of Arambol beach via Sawantwadi. Here is one option for a day tour from Goa.
Travel Tip: The monsoon season is outstanding for macro photography of the abundant biodiversity, including snakes and frogs. Stop at Sawantwadi to buy wooden toys, which are traditionally hand-made there.
Chorla Ghat: An Invigorating Ride
If you've hired a motorcycle or a scooter and feel like going for a long ride, head to Chorla Ghat at the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka. It's more about the journey than the destination, as the route passes through the spectacular lush Goa hinterland. Once you arrive, relax and soak up the mountain views before returning via Aldona. This route isn't much longer, but it's picturesque and will take you past rice paddy fields and backwaters, over bridges, and through pretty villages with old churches.
Getting There: Chorla Ghat is about two hours drive east of capital city Panjim along State Highway 4.
Travel Tip: Pack food or eat before you reach Chorla Ghat because there aren't any restaurants there.
Dandeli: Adventure Activities
For a day of thrills and spills, get up early and make your way to Dandeli on the Kali River in Karnataka. It's one of the top destinations for white-water rafting in India from November to June. Other possible activities include kayaking, coracle boat rides, zip-lining, zorbing, rock climbing, caving, nature walks, and trekking. You'll need to book one of the day packages offered by the "resorts" in the area. Recommended options that conduct their own river rafting trips are Flycatcher Adventures White Water Living Resorts (budget) and Hornbill River Resort (upmarket).
Getting There: River rafting starts at Ganeshgudi, a bit over three hours drive southeast of Panjim.
Travel Tip: Short river rafting trips are sufficient to cover the best rapids.
Belgaum (Belagavi): One of Karnataka's Oldest Cities
Belgaum was the early 13th century capital of the Ratta Dynasty, and it has an ancient fort and temples dating back to that time. The fort was later transformed into its present imposing structure, complete with moat and bastions, by Yakub Ali Khan of the Bijapur Sultanate. Inside the fort, the highlight is the artistically carved stone Jain Kamal Basadi/Basti (Lotus Temple). What's remarkable is that the fort also has Hindu temples and Muslim mosques, as well as a Ramkrishna Mission Ashram. The building where Swami Vivekananda stayed for 12 days in 1892 has been converted into a memorial with an exhibition about his life and message. Entry to the fort is unrestricted, although part of it is occupied by the Indian Army.
Getting There: Belgaum can be reached in about two hours from Mollem, near Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
Travel Tip: If you're fond of sweets, try the local delicacy, kunda (made from condensed milk and sugar).