In the past, Goa was the preserve of hippies making their way across the Indian sub-continent, stopping off to enjoy some rest and relaxation on its then undiscovered beaches. Today, it still retains much of that old hippie vibe, but has become so much more besides, and is even a stop for ships sailing with Fred Olsen cruise lines. Neither the hippies of the sixties, nor the Portuguese colonists that arrived in Goa in the sixteenth century would have foreseen their little slice of Indian paradise becoming a luxury holiday destination. However, among many other things, that is exactly what it has become. So what’s the appeal?
Goa’s main attraction is, naturally, its beaches. Huge swathes of deep yellow sand,.lapped by warm seas and and backed endless palm trees are strung out all along the coast. Some beaches are almost as deserted as they might have been back in the sixties, others are most definitely on the tourist trail, with a modern nightlife to match. In most areas, there is a choice of accommodation, from basic beach huts to sparkling, modern four and five star hotels. So, choose your beach and then find the accommodation to match. From north to south, these are the places to be in Goa.
Arambol and Mandrem
The last real hippie paradise in Goa. Arambol is a quiet paradise, far away from the package tourist crowds that dominate further south. The village is really just a ramshackle collection of streets that lead down to the beach. There, you’ll find beach huts serving up the catch of the day, and a friendly, laid-back vibe. If you’d rather experience glorious isolation, head just south to the wonderfully empty sands at Mandrem beach.
Chapora and Vagator
Chapora is a gorgeous, characterful village that charms everyone who visits with its cafe culture, ancient fort and stunning views over rugged clifftops that back the beach. The small settlement of Vagator is just around the headland. It’s quieter and less discovered than neighbouring Anjuna.
Anjuna is famous for its flea market, which has run there weekly since the 1960s. It’s also the centre of Goa’s party scene, so is the place to head if you’re keen to get your dancing shoes on. If you’d rather just kick back and relax, you’ll fit right in. There is plenty of space on Anjuna’s huge beach, with beach restaurants offering cold drinks, hot food and comfortable sunbeds.
Baga, Calangute and Candolim
This stretch of central Goa is the centre of its tourist industry, and offers the widest choice of hotels, huge beaches and plenty of drinking and dining options. The character changes as you head south. Baga, to the north, is the party end, with some noisy upmarket clubs catering to a mixed crowd of young Indians and westerners. Calangute is quieter and more family oriented, with Candolim the most chilled-out.
Colva and Benaulim
This pair of beaches in the south of the state are ideal for those who just want to relax and enjoy. Days are spent sunbathing or exploring the local back-lanes by bicycle, evenings eating out under the stars, listening to the waves…
Palolem and Agonda
Completely undeveloped until relatively recently, these beaches have become favourites with both backpackers and luxury-seekers. Palolem is lively and friendly, lined with bars and restaurants. Agonda is much quieter. They’re just a few kilometres apart, so you can easily split your time between the two as the mood takes you.
Away From the Beach
While the beaches are, indeed, lovely, Goa is not just about its beaches. It has a fascinating history and culture too, with strong Portuguese influences. In the quieter resorts, you can wander along the lanes away from the beach, past white churches and green fields. Head to the magnificent Old Goa, once the Portuguese capital, to see what colonial life might have been like in Goa. The city is a unique meeting of cultures, packed with churches, cathedrals and other historic buildings that have made it a UNESCO world heritage site.
Non-stop flights operate from the UK, taking around ten hours. For a wider choice of flights, fly to nearby Mumbai and catch an internal flight from there. If you have time, stop off in Mumbai for a couple of days and experience a little of its Bollywood energy.