South Goa is like North Goa was decades ago, with relatively pristine beaches and minimal development. If you want to escape the ever-growing crowd and commercialization in North Goa, and have a relatively laid back vacation, you'll love it there. Accommodations consist mostly of luxury hotels, heritage villas, and cottages on the beach. Plan your trip there with this South Goa travel guide.
Depending on your budget, there are various ways you can reach South Goa. The most convenient way is to fly to Goa airport and then take a prepaid taxi from the arrivals hall. Depending on how far south you want to go (Patnem beach is usually the limit for most people), it will be a drive of up to an hour and a half (expect to pay an 2,000 taxi fare for this distance). The main railway station in South Goa is called Madgaon (Margao). It's on the Konkan Railway line and is commonly reached by train from Mumbai. Margao is 40 minutes away from Patnem and the trip costs about 1,000 rupees in a taxi. The bus from Mumbai is another inexpensive way of getting to South Goa, albeit a less comfortable one.
The majority Goa's luxury hotels are located in South Goa, particularly in the vicinity of Varca, Cavelossim and Morbor beaches. These fishing beaches are clean and unspoiled. The most popular luxury hotels are the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, Zuri White Sands, ITC Grand, The Leela, Alila Diwa, and the Lalit Golf and Spa Resort near Patnem beach in the far south.
The Mayfair Hideaway Spa Resort is a serene boutique riverside option at Betul. It's a 10 minute boar ride along the Sal River to Morbor beach.
A stay at The Postcard Cuelim, inland from Cansaulim beach, combines boutique luxury with heritage and local culture. The property is part of an innovative new hotel chain that was founded by the former president of the Oberoi Group, and focuses on authenticity and flexibility. It has eight rooms in a glorious restored Portuguese mansion with a 350 year-old chapel. You can check-in and check-out any time you want. Breakfast is served all day too. Activities include heritage walks, cycling, and Ayurveda.
Where to Stay: Secluded Beach Views
If you're looking for an intimate and secluded getaway, a couple of options stand out. Paradise found is the first thing that comes to mind at Dwarka Eco Beach Resort on Cola beach (not to be mistaken with touristy Colva beach) about 20 minutes north of Agonda. The stylish cottages are among the best you'll find in Goa. They're set amid a sprawling palm grove that borders a lagoon and the ocean. The property is reached via a private dirt road and is idyllic as it sounds.
The Cape Goa fits the bill for somewhere more luxurious. It has nine gorgeous sea-facing cottages built into the side of the cliff near Cabo de Rama fort, about 20 minutes north of Cola beach. The cottages all have their own private Jacuzzi.
Where to Stay: Heritage Villas
Turiya Villa is a stunningly restored 100 year-old Goan villa in Canacona (Chaudi) town, near Patnem and Palolem beaches. It has two wings: the original heritage villa with five rooms that open onto the patio, and the new wing with three rooms that open out onto the garden. The villa is an ideal place to stay if you're traveling with family or a group of friends, as the whole property can be booked.
Vivenda dos Palhacos has a delightful village setting only a few minutes from the beach in Majorda. Nostalgic, intimate, and eclectic, it's perfect for discerning guests who want to experience a different side of Goa. Oh, and there's a swimming pool too!
Where to Stay: Environmentally-Friendly Concepts
One of the top places to go glamping in India, you can stay by the Galgibag River in a chic tipi at La Mangrove south of Patnem. There are four tipis on the property, and they're really comfortable. Attached bathrooms have composting toilets and open-to-the-sky showers. Delicious global cuisine is prepared by the in-house chef.
The Tribe Goa is a collective of individuals that has come together to build an off-the-grid forest village for creative people to meet and live amid nature. They've transformed a huge derelict former cashew plantation into a thriving, self-sufficient jungle with guesthouse, vegetarian cafe, and music venue. It's located inland from Agonda beach near Leopard Valley.
Also in the same area, Khaama Kethna is another jungle haven that's been turned into a holistic well-being retreat center with yoga, organic food, healing therapies, and workshops.
Bhakti Kurtir, on a coconut grove near Palolem beach, is a similar concept. Its eco-friendly cabanas are made out of natural materials, and there's an Ayurveda center and yoga.
Best Beach for Chilling Out: Agonda
If you're keen on simply relaxing and doing nothing, Agonda beach is the place! It's still fairly quiet and undeveloped. This long stretch of beach extends for nearly two miles, so there's plenty of space for everyone! Inexpensive accommodations are available in simple beach huts on the sand. Read more in this Agonda beach travel guide.
Most Happening Beach: Palolem
About 10 minutes south of Agonda beach, Palolem is South Goa's most picturesque and happening beach (although don't expect a lot of action because South Goa just isn't like that!). Colorful coco huts and shacks are clustered under the dense palm trees that line this semi-circle shaped beach. Silent Noise Parties are held every Saturday night at Neptune Point, at the southern end of the beach. Read more in this Palolem beach travel guide.
Bit of Both: Patnem
Five minutes south of Palolem, Patnem offers a blend of entertainment and relaxation. This small beach, nestled between two cliffs, is a wonderful place to stay if you want to chill out but not be too far away from the nightlife in Palolem. Sometimes, there will be live music in the beach shacks at Patnem. There are a few popular yoga centers there as well. Read more in this Patnem beach travel guide.
Best Secret Beach: Galjibag
About 15 minutes south of Patnem beach, little-known Galjibag beach is a protected Olive Ridley turtle breeding site that remains refreshingly untouched and free of any permanent structures. There's hardly a soul on this long stretch of beach, thickly lined with Casuarina trees. The handful of shacks at the southern end of the beach serve fresh seafood from the nearby river. Read more in this Galjibag beach travel guide.
What to Do: Explore Old Portuguese Mansions
If you're interested in Goa's Portuguese heritage, it's possible to go inside some magnificent old mansions that have been restored and are open to the public. There are quite a few of them in South Goa, and you can spend a day exploring them. You'll find them in Chandor (the Braganza House), Loutolim (Casa Araujo Alvares) and Quepem (Palacio do Deao). They display a treasure trove of historical memorabilia and you'll feel like you've been transported back in time. Find out more about Goa's Portuguese mansions.
Learn about Goa's traditional farming lifestyle at the unique Goa Chitra Museum in Benaulim. It was privately set up to showcase and preserve the agrarian way of life, and has more than 4,000 artifacts on display. Many of them are old farming tools and equipment, as well as other implements including kitchen utensils. You can see them in use at the functional organic farm next to the museum. There's also a separate section, Goa Chakra, with about 70 antique carts, carriages and palanquins from across India. Interestingly, the museum was built using repurposed doors, windows and pillars from more than 300 demolished traditional houses. Tours are conducted every hour. Tickets cost 300 rupees per person.
Tiger Balloon Safaris, in conjunction with Goa Tourism, conducts daily early morning hot air balloon flights over South Goa from mid October to mid May. The flights depart from Chandor and cost $190 or 11,000 rupees per person.
Where to Eat: Top Goan Cuisine Restaurants
Fish curry and rice are ubiquitous in the beach shacks. However, if you're willing to venture further inland, you'll be able to feast on scrumptious Goan cuisine at some memorable restaurants. Martin's Corner, near the Alila Diwa hotel in Betalbatim, is perhaps the most famous one. It's been in business since 1989 and grew out of a corner shop with just a few tables. Seafood is the specialty, and it's flavored with family-made spices. There's live music Sundays and most nights.
Head to the Fisherman's Wharf, by the banks of the River Sal in Cavelossim, for seafood and Goan fusion cuisine in an upmarket setting.
In Margao, South Goa's main city, Martins is a stylish option for Goan and global fare. It's closed on Tuesdays though. A bit easier on the wallet, Peppers Gourmet Cuisine is recommended for traditional Goan food too.
Chef Fernando's Nostalgia, at the late chef's heritage mansion in Raia village just north of Margao, is renowned for its classic Portugese-Goan dishes that are rarely served in restaurants. The place really comes to life Thursday through Sunday, when bands play at night. There's karaoke on Wednesdays.
If you're visiting the old Portuguese mansions, book a day in advance to have lunch at Palacio do Deao (from 11 a.m to 3 p.m.). There's no menu or choice of dishes, apart from vegetarian or non-vegetarian. You're guaranteed to get an authentic homemade five-course meal though, featuring produce from the owner's garden. It's special.