Cavelossim Beach, south Goa, India.
What is and where is Goa?
Goa is an historic Portuguese colony on India's west coast, entirely different from the country's other major tourist destinations such as Rajasthan and Kerala.
Goa embraces the best beaches in the country but also a unique culture combining local Indian and old Portuguese cultures and architecture. If you take a holiday in Goa don't spend all your time closeted in a fancy hotel beside the beach. Do explore the inland villages and temples where a nicely twisted version of real India lies, thanks to over 400 years under the flag of Portugal.
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One of many old Portuguese mansions in Goa. Photo by D.Hundhammer.
The best months are from October to March, with mostly sunshine and not too humid or hot. Goa temperatures
will generally range from 21C (70F) to 31C (88F) during these months. Tourists during this winter season come mostly from Europe.
The worst months are June to September when the monsoon rains hit but this time is popular with Indians. April and May are very hot and sticky.
Big Vagator Beach, with the old Portuguese fort of Chapora, near the Chapora River. Photo by D.Hundhammer.
Things to Do in Goa
Goa is the smallest state in India and offers a fascinating mix of Indian and Portuguese cultures. Away from the superb beaches, there's quite a bit of sightseeing to do.
The modest, low-rise capital, Panaji, has a fine collection of colonial-era buildings, the most attractive of which are on the waterfront and in the colourful little Latin Quarter, Fontainhas.
A few miles upriver, in Old Goa, the more adventurous visitors can find tranquil old streets and massive churches while along the coast there is a scattering of Portuguese-era forts: Chapora is still an atmospheric ruin, but Tiracol has metamorphosed into an exquisite heritage hotel.
Some ancient mansions have been beautifully restored, such as the Figueiredo in Loutolim and the Palacio do Deao in Quepem.
For a taste of the Western Ghats, Wildernest is a fantastic eco-lodge in the lush green hills of the interior, with trekking, birding and an infinity pool.
Calangute beach, north-central Goa. Photo by Uspn.
Goa has succumbed to massed charter flights, importing 1.5 million packaged
people a year and cramming them into hundreds of cement blocks adjacent to what used to be fine beaches, so if you're coming this way plan your beach and hotel carefully, there are still some superb locations on this 70 km stretch of sand but at the peak of the tourist season the beaches get unbelievably crowded. Russian visitors are overtaking Brits these days and rotgut vodka is the boisson du jour. With less than a 2 hours flight trip, many local Goa folks prefer to spend their beach vacation in Phuket, Thailand, which also offers great accommodation similar to Goa.
Calangute, Baga and other beaches near Goa's Dabolim airport are doing an Indian version of the Costa del Sol, trashing low-impact tourism and local culture in favour of the concrete dollar; perhaps the greed and corruption that led to the cementing over of Spain's Costas and the subsequent financial collapse will slow the pace in Goa before it's too late.
Anjuna beach's famous flea market on Wednesdays, north-central Goa. 8 kms (5 miles) from Mapusa 18 kms from Panaji. The nearest rail station is Thivim.
Anjuna is still raving, colourful and frantic with neo-hippie
action and illegal trance parties tho' package tourism has grabbed it by the throat and is strangling the creativity and tranquility out of it (hard-drinking Russians are now a major part of the tourist trade), while Morjim (aka Turtle) beach
is more tranquil, Mandrem is eerily quiet and Querim in the far north
of Goa is positively deserted, apart from the odd hut, hammock and itinerant
A Hindu Temple in Siolim. Photo by D.Hundhammer.
Isolated pockets of peace and harmony can be found in central Goa -
at a price - but for more solitude head far north to the Chapora River area, such as Arambol beach, where
Goa crowds thin out and beaches thicken, or far south to Palolem beach.
Arambol beach, one of India's best beaches, in far north Goa.
Arambol is the latest best beach for the new-age traveler, offering many activities associated with that genre of beach lover, including simple friendly accommodation, some water sports, yoga, reiki, martial arts and nightly smashed jam sessions.
Arambol is 33 kms (20 miles) from Mapusa or 50 kms from Panaji.
Anyone wishing to explore this region can catch a train to Pernem rail station. Other favourite laid-back beach zones can be found at Palolem (check out the 'Quiet Noise' parties!) in Goa, Gokarna in Karnataka and Varkala in Kerala.
Typical Arambol beach residents at work.
Goa people are generally relaxed and friendly but along with the huge numbers of tourists inevitably follow con men, touts and thieves, so don't relax your guard too much
• do not take free food or drink from strangers at any time.
• be alert for pickpockets, backpack/bags/sandal thieves on trains.
• do not accept rides from strangers at night.
• ladies, do not stroll beaches alone at night.
Palolem beaches or India Pictures
Goa beaches versus Kerala beaches
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