With its age-old forts steeped in colonial history, churches, palm-fringed shorelines, bazaars, nightlife and mouth-watering cuisine, complemented by a relaxed coastal vibe, GOA is a must for holidaymakers seeking a quick little respite
Beachy, chilled, eclectic, Bohemian. If those adjectives aren’t enough to get you packing on a return trip to Goa, then trust the stands of swaying palm trees, quaint fishing villages and arresting history of Portuguese colonisation – one that goes back over four centuries and whose influences remain to this day as reflected in its architecture, cuisine and art – to reel you in, hook, line and sinker.
Bordering the state of Maharashtra (in the north) and Karnataka (in the south and east), Goa is India’s smallest state with a land area of 3,702 km2. Dubbed ‘the Pearl of the East’, it boasts a coastline that stretches over 100 kilometres, beckoning holidaymakers from the world over as well as locals (it’s just an hour’s flight away from Mumbai).
The little south-western coastal state is divided into two districts – North Goa and South Goa – both distinct in nature, each with its own allure. With most of Goa’s attractions located in the North along with the capital Panaji (formerly Panjim), it’s a lot more tourist-heavy, boasting vibrant nightlife along with an array of F&B outlets. South Goa, meanwhile, calls to those who seek to get away from the crowds, preferring to savour quiet relaxation in the villages and experience a more authentic feel of old Goa. The state’s sole international airport, Dabolim Airport, is also located in South Goa, about 4km from Vasco da Gama, the nearest city.
There are quite a number of attractions and beaches to cover in Goa, and you’d be hard-pressed to skip any of it – but if you only have three days and two nights to spare, here’s a quick guide on the spots to hit.
One of the best places to experience Goa’s colonial past would be Fontainhas (or Bairro das Fontainhas, in Portuguese), known as the old Latin Quarter. Located in Panaji (Panjim), the 18th-century UNESCO Heritage Zone is a treasure trove of traditional Portuguese influences, beautifully reflected through quaint, cobbled streets, picturesque buildings reminiscent of old Mediterranean cities – vintage cottages and villas painted in pale yellow, green or blue with red-tiled roofs, artistic doors and overhead balconies – so, the heritage area is best explored on foot.
Take an easy stroll to Maruti Temple, which is perked grandly on top of Altinho Hill. Dedicated to Lord Hanuman (the monkey god in Hindu mythology), this crimson vision with accents of white – once you’ve taken on the uphill climb leading to it – will afford a serene ambience with panoramic vistas overlooking the Latin Quarter. There are also lovely cafes, restaurants and galleries in and around the heritage zone.
Next, grab a taxi or ‘tuk tuk’ (or ‘auto’ as the locals call it) to Basilica of Bom Jesus, about 20 minutes away. Built in 1605, this magnificent example of Portuguese baroque architecture is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World, and houses the preserved body of St Francis Xavier.
Another historic church worth visiting in Panjim is Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church. Its history dates back to 1542 when it was first built as a chapel, which was later (in 1609, to be exact) replaced by the current structure, distinct in pristine white – signifying the immaculate Virgin Mary – with zigzagging stairways.
On Day 2, visit some of Goa’s most famous forts, chiefly located on the coast, built without the use of cement, steel or mortar, but whose imposing walls have withstood the elements for centuries. Completed in 1612, Aguada Fort is located at the estuary of Mandovi River along Candolim Beach and is a popular shooting location for Bollywood filmmakers. The largest and best-preserved Portuguese bastion in Goa was built to defend the Portuguese community from Maratha and Dutch attack, and includes a lighthouse that is 13 metres in height. Part of the fort that remains in good condition currently serves as Goa’s largest prison (closed to the public). There’s also a hotel at the site of the fort, Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa (formerly Fort Aguada Beach Resort), which opened in 1974.
Less than 4km away from Fort Aguada is Reis Magos Fort in the province of Bardez. Though smaller in scale, it pre-dates the more popular Aguada Fort. Erected in stages in the mid-16th century, it proved incredibly strategic as a first line of defence to the port town of Old Goa. Other forts worth the visit include Chapora Fort, located near the Chapora and Vagator beaches, as well as Terekhol Fort, whose remains have now been converted into the Terekhol Fort Heritage hotel.
With forts usually found along the coast, it only makes sense to check out Goa’s famous beaches such as Querim Beach (less crowds and ideal for beach-bumming), Arambol Beach (closest to the airport) and Morjim Beach (hatching site for the Olive Ridley turtles). Vagator, Anjuna, Calangute and Baga are also a hit with tourists as these beaches are dotted with an array of beach shacks (typically restaurant and bars); vendors/peddlers selling snacks, souvenirs and trinkets; along with accommodation to suit any budget.
On Day 3, let’s head out into the thick of nature. If you love waterfalls, you’d be delighted to know that Goa has a string of falls that deserve some up-close-and-personal attention. Dudhsagar Falls (which literally means ‘sea of milk’), located along the Mandovi River about 60km from Panjim, measures 600 metres and is absolutely magnificent, especially during the monsoon season when the water cascades furiously down its four tiers. Indeed a glorious sight to behold!
Arvalem Falls in the village of Sanquelim, set amidst lush surroundings, offers a multi-level viewing area, making it ideal for picnics. It may not be as breath-taking as Dudhsagar, but still a joy to experience during the monsoon. Plus, you’d also be able to visit the Arvalem Caves, located just 10 minutes’ drive away. This sixth-century cave is also known as the Pandava Caves as it’s believed that the Pandava brothers from the epic of Mahabharata made these caves their dwelling during their 12-year exile. This is definitely one for history and Hindu mythology buffs!
Wind down the day with some retail therapy – head to the Arpora Saturday Night Bazaar, THE place to get your grub on while browsing through a sea of stalls selling everything from leather goods and accessories to apparel and Goan handicraft – and of course, some of the best Indian street food (must-tries include ‘paani puri’ and ‘bhel puri’)! Wonderfully colourful and vibrant – with foot-thumping music blaring from the speakers – the boho-styled artisan bazaar is a real feast for the senses, so don’t miss it!
The Anjuna Flea Market would also make for a delightful shopping jaunt, enhanced with calming ocean breeze; you might even catch some four-legged shoppers (ie cows) waiting for sunset by the beach!
Other exciting activities you could indulge in during your trip include watersports such as kayaking, parasailing and jet skiing, as well as a sunset cruise along the Mandovi River, which usually comprises traditional Goan dance and music along with dinner. Dolphin spotting is also a must when in Goa, especially popular at Sinquerim Beach, Palolem Beach and Grand Island Beach. The Sahakari Spice Farm, spread over 130 acres offering a whole range of spices, fruits, medicinal trees and herbs, is worth a visit as well, especially if you have never seen Indian herbs and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and peppercorns being grown in their natural habitat. English-speaking guides would be on hand to explain the benefits of these herbs and spices.
If you’re a foodie, don’t miss Kokni Kanteen (located along Dr Dada Vaidya Road near Mahalaxmi Temple) for a truly gastronomic Goan feast. And don’t be fooled by the inconspicuous exterior either; this gem of a restaurant has been around since 1972 for a reason. Must-tries include Goan Prawn Curry with Goan Prawn Pulao, Goan Chilly Chicken and Rava-fried baby corn and mushroom (Rava is semolina). Other diners popular with locals and tourists alike include Gunpowder as well as Hoble’s River Lounge.
If you’re making a trip to nearby villages and coconut plantations, don’t shy away from humble huts selling simple-but-oh-so-delish set meals or ‘thali’ – comprising fresh rava-fried fish, two or three uncomplicated vegetable dishes and Goan fish curry, served with steaming white rice. The food served will be as fresh as they come, and you could also take the opportunity to chat with the simple, friendly locals.
The numerous beach shacks are also great for tasty treats as you watch the sun go down on the horizon. And if you’re a beer aficionado, ask the waiter for Bira, a home-grown beverage that is sure to impress. Another Goan specialty is Feni, a triple-distilled spirit made from the cashew fruit.
When To Go
The hot and humid summer in Goa stretches from March till about May when the temperatures fluctuate between 28°C and 33°C. Then the monsoon season from June to September brings moderate to heavy rainfall, and as a consequence, choppy waters and bigger waves! The best time to visit Goa would be during winter – November to February – when the weather (temperatures between 21°C and 28°C) is perfect for sightseeing, a day at the beach or water sports. As such, winter is also peak tourist season and all the beach shacks would be open for business.
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