Your Trip to Goa: The Complete Guide

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Let's face it. Most people visit Goa for the beaches and parties. However, there's plenty more to experience. The Portuguese occupied Goa for about 450 years until the Indian Armed Forces finally drove them out in 1961. The state was also a significant destination on the 1970s hippie trail. As a result, it's quite unlike anywhere else in India and has a distinctly different culture. This Goa guide will help plan your trip.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Goa's tourist season runs from October to March, when the weather is warm and dry. Most beach shacks open in November. They pack up by April or May due to the extreme heat and humidity. The southwest monsoon brings rain from June to September.
  • Language: Konkani and English. Hindi is widely understood and spoken.
  • Currency: Indian rupee.
  • Time Zone: UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +5.5 hours, also known as Indian Standard Time. Goa does not observe daylight saving time.
  • Getting Around: Taxis and auto-rickshaws are the most common methods of transportation. Unfortunately, the notorious Goan taxi mafia keeps fares high and prevents app-based cabs such as Uber from operating. There is a state-run, app-based taxi service called GoaMiles. The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus is an inexpensive way of reaching Goa's tourist attractions. Hiring a motorcycle or scooter is popular and affordable.
  • Travel Tip: The monsoon season in Goa is ideal for spending time in the state's mountainous interior hinterland. White water rafting is possible.

Things To Do

Most people are surprised at how many things there are to do in Goa apart from the beach and nightlife. This includes water sports and adventure activities, hot air ballooning, cooking lessons, exploring old forts, seeing the spice plantations, browsing museums and art galleries, bird watching at Doctor Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, hiking in the nature reserves, yoga and natural therapies, cruising along the Mandovi River in a private yacht, betting at the casinos, listening to live jazz music, and of course shopping (men might not be so keen though!). Active travelers can go on these off-beat electric bicycle tours and walking tours.

Three of the main things to do in Goa are:

  • Hanging out at the Wednesday flea market at Anjuna beach, Friday Goa Collective Bazaar at Hilltop near Vagator, and Saturday Night Market at Arpora (between Anjuna and Baga). These markets are seasonal.
  • Wandering around Old Goa and the Fontainhas Latin Quarter.
  • Touring the Portuguese mansions in South Goa.

What to Eat and Drink

Goan cuisine was influenced mainly by the Portuguese and is predominantly non-vegetarian. Lesser-known is the traditional cuisine of the state's Hindu Saraswat Brahmin community. Fish curry and rice is a ubiquitous staple in Goa. Common types of dishes you'll find on the menu are xacutti (coconut-based curry), cafreal (marinated and fried/grilled), sorpotel (stew), recheado (stuffed), ambot tik (sour and spicy), and vindaloo (fiery curry marinated with garlic and vinegar or wine). Goan chourico (sausages) and pao (bread) are popular as well. However, you'll need to venture away from the beach shacks to get authentic Goan food.

Feni is Goa's pungent local brew and the unofficial state drink. It's made from cashew fruit or the sap of coconut palms. Drink it with tonic water or lemonade and a slice of lime. Avoid cheap, commercially produced feni though, as it has a distinctively unpleasant smell. Instead, try and get your hands on some home-distilled feni (Dudhsagar Plantation Farmstay makes their own). Or, a bottle of premium Big Boss orĀ Cazulo feni. It's now possible to go straight to the source of Cazulo feni, as the company has opened its cellar in the Cansaulim foothills for tours and tastings. Call 8605-008-185 to book. Joseph Bar in Panjim's Fontainhas Latin Quarter crafts some innovative feni cocktails. On the beach, King's beer goes well with a curry.

Where to Stay

Goa's coastline extends for about 100 miles. Every beach is different, and there are so many types of accommodations ranging from beach huts to luxury private villas. It can be confusing! If you're looking for action, base yourself in North Goa because South Goa is relatively undeveloped and laid-back. Most of the luxury hotels are situated in South Goa. Palolem is the most happening beach in South Goa, while Agonda is ideal for chilling out and doing nothing. Patnem offers a bit of both. In North Goa, the Candolim-Calangute-Baga stretch of beaches is especially commercialized and gets super crowded during peak season. Backpacker hostels are prevalent near Anjuna beach, and the famous Wednesday flea market takes place there as well. The remaining psychedelic trance scene exists around Vagator beach, the Mandrem-Morjim-Ashwem stretch of beaches has become quite trendy, while Arambol beach is the new traveler's center with a wide range of alternative therapies. Capital city Panjim is centrally located between north and south Goa. Its Fontainhas Latin Quarter is an atmospheric neighborhood to stay in a restored Portuguese mansion.

Getting There

Goa has one airport. It's an international airport that operates out of a military airbase in Dabolim, roughly equal distance from Goa's north and south beaches. Most people take a prepaid taxi from the airport to their hotel. There's a counter in the arrivals terminal where you can book and pay. A shuttle bus service also runs from the airport to Panjim, Calangute, and Margao. It can be booked online here or at the airport.

Indian Railways train is another option for getting to Goa. It's handy for budget travelers, and conveniently has multiple stops in north and south Goa. The stretch from Mumbai to Goa along the Konkan Railway is particularly scenic. Here are the best trains from Mumbai to Goa.

Culture and Customs

Goa is more liberal than other states in India. This means women can wear short dresses and bikinis on the beach. There's no need to dress conservatively.

Scams are common in Goa, including the infamous gem scam. Beware of any Indian guys who try to befriend you. People offering to sell you drugs may also approach you. Don't accept, as dealers often have arrangements with the police. The police are corrupt and will extort money from tourists found in possession of illegal substances such as marijuana. The cops demand bribes for traffic violations too. If you hire a motorcycle or scooter, make sure you carry your license with you and wear a helmet at all times.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Hotels offer huge discounts of up to 50% during the low season from May to September.
  • There are many budget accommodations in Goa that don't advertise on the Internet. If you're not traveling during peak season (mid-December to mid-January), turn up and find a place and negotiate the rate.
  • Stay in a dorm or private room in a backpacker hostel.
  • Keep an eye out for happy hours and ladies' nights at bars for cheap or free drinks.
  • Eat in restaurants that aren't on the beach.
  • Make sure you bargain at markets to get a good deal.
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