Places To Visit in Goa – Your Total Travel Guide To India’s Party Capital!
Goa, the coastal state in India has many feathers on its cap. It is the party capital of India, a backpacker’s delight, the destination for beaches and a budget-friendly destination for the youth, and never fails to attract millions of visitors every year. What is it that makes Goa irresistible? Well, the list is really long, but let’s start by finding out more about all the places to visit in Goa.
Places To Visit in Goa
Heritage Sites/ Historical Monuments
The capital of Goa itself has many places to offer, and you can spend around 2 to 3 days exploring the attractions in Panjim. There are daily cruises and boat rides in the Mandovi river. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church located at the center is one of the most visited attractions and a landmark of Panjim.
But if architecture is your thing, you should head to Fontainhas, a Latin colony in the heart of the city. The influence of Portuguese architecture is apparent in the vibrant buildings that are hundreds of years old, and it is a well-protected area ideal for photography and a walk. A few kilometers away from Panjim lies the old Goa, which takes you through the old quarter comprising of ancient, traditional homes and the churches along the backwaters of Mandovi.
2. Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Basilica of Bom Jesus, located in old Goa is one of the top attractions of Goa. Home to the mortal remains of Saint Xavier, the church receives thousands of visitors every day and people who come to pray and take the blessings of the saint, whose remains are believed to bring miracles. The Basilica is known for its magnificent architecture and brilliant decor. Built in the 15th century, this church is listed on UNESCO world heritage sites.
Basilica of Bom Jesus timings: 8 AM to 9 PM.
3. Se Cathedral
Also located in old Goa and built in the 15th century, Se Cathedral is one of the biggest cathedrals in India. The tower houses a huge bell, which is the largest in India, and the fine architecture of the church embodying the Portuguese-French style draws thousands of visitors. Note that it is required to be dressed appropriately for both men and women to visit this church.
4. Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of Goa located in the old town is a must-to-do thing if you are in Goa for the first time. Through its more than 8 galleries, the museum takes you through Goa’s history from the entry of the Portuguese to the Medieval times to the end of the colonization in Goa. This museum has been renovated several times with the addition of new sections to include more collections that tell the visitors about Goa’s past.
The Archaeological Museum of Goa timings: 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed on Fridays.
1. Aguada Fort
Aguada Fort is one of the most visited places in Goa. Earlier built by the Portuguese in the 16th century to supply water to the places, the fort also served as a protector against invasions, before also being used as a prison for traitors. A large courtyard with huge walls facing the sea, it covers a huge area. There is a lighthouse in the fort, although it doesn’t allow visitors to climb it. It is one of the few forts in Goa that is well preserved and receives thousands of people every day. The best time to visit this fort is when the sun isn’t too strong as it gets too hot during the afternoons.
Aguada Fort timings: 9:30 AM to 5 PM. No entry fees.
2. Sinquerim Fort
Located on the shores of Sinquerim beach, Sinquerim Fort offers great views of the Arabian sea and is one of the most visited attractions in Goa. Today the area surrounding the fort has been occupied by swanky resorts, making it a favorite among the luxurious travelers. If you don’t like the hot sun, walk along the walls of the fort in the early hours of the morning or in the evenings.
Sinquerim Fort timings: 9:30 AM to 5 PM. No entry fees.
3. Reis Magos Fort
While not as popular as the other forts, Reis Magos on the northern bank of the Mandovi River in Bardez, Goa, is one of the forts to check out if history interests you. Apart from the fortification, the fort was used as a prison for many years. You can take a boat ride on the Mandovi river from Panjim to get a view of the fort as well.
Reis Magos Fort timings: 9:30 AM to 5 PM. No entry fees.
3. The Chapora Fort
Located next to Vagator beach, Chapora Fort on a hill is today the most popular viewpoint in Goa. Not much of the fort remains today, but a small hike to the top is totally worth it despite the crowd, which is the highest during the evenings as you can get to view a fabulous sunset from the top and an aerial view of the coast.
4. Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary/Dudhsagar Falls
One of the most visited wildlife parks in Goa is Mahaveer National Park, for its splendid waterfalls – Dudhsagar, which is in full vigor post the monsoons. The waterfalls are so popular that the forest officials had to limit the permit every day to conserve the area.
You have to book your tickets to the wildlife area at the entrance, where a group of 7 people is taken in batches in Jeeps through the reserve area to the foot of the falls. A small walk further leads to the magnificent waterfalls. You are allowed to spend 1.5 hours exploring the area, and you should board the same Jeep that would take you back to the entrance. There is often a long queue for the tickets with people arriving since morning. So it’s better to plan your time accordingly. The last tickets are sold at around 3:30 PM and the national park closes around 5:30 PM. The charge is about 400 INR per person, and you need to mandatorily rent life jackets that cost an additional 30 INR.
The beaches are the heart of Goa’s attractions and given a long coastal strip up for the travelers to explore, there is a beach for every kind of traveler! Going by the regions, here’s how you can make the most of Goa’s beaches.
1. North Goa
The beaches in the north are more popular among the hippies and backpackers, and travelers who stay long in Goa prefer staying in North Goa. Morjim, Ashwem, Arambol, Kalacha and Querim are the beaches in the stretch with Morjim ideal for having fun, Querim being the non-crowded beach, Kalacha being known for its small sweet-water lake and Arambol for its flea market.
The best part about the beaches in the north is its ideal crowd-size, which mostly comprises of the youth, and the liveliness and the cleanliness of the beaches
2. Central Goa
The beaches in the centre are the major tourist attractions of Goa. Home to markets, many shops, a wide range of restaurants and pubs, most tourists spend time in this region. Hence, the beaches like Calangute, Baga, Candolim and Sinquerim are crowded all the time and aren’t clean too. It gets a little better as you go to Vagator, Anjuna up north where the sand is smooth and the beaches aren’t dirty.
3. South Goa
The beaches in the southern part of Goa are the least visited, with mostly locals enjoying them on holidays and the weekends. They aren’t commercialized yet and during the off-season, you won’t find any restaurants or shacks by the beaches as well, and along with a long drive beside the shore, the beaches in the south are the best to spend away from the crowds. Vasco da Gama, Colva, Benaulim, Palolem, Agonda and Canacona are the beaches that are definitely worth visiting if you want to have the beaches for yourself!
Adventure in Goa
The beaches of Goa are a hub for many water sports, which are popular among all types of travelers. Families can enjoy parasailing, boat rides, speed boats, banana rides, or just swimming in the beaches. Head to Kalacha beach in the north for paragliding which happens during the winter.
Off the beat Goa
1. Tambdi Surla
Tambdi Surla located off the Bhagwan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary is the oldest Hindu temple in Goa, dedicated to Lord Shiva. This 16th-century temple is surrounded by forests and is totally secluded with a river that flows next to it. The temple is small with a big garden around it, which was curated while renovating the place to open for tourists. It is not crowded at all, and the best time to visit Tambdi Surla is early in the morning.
A long drive of more than 65 km from Panaji would take you to Tambdi Surla temple. The nearest town in Kollem, which is 22 km away. No public transport is available to the temple, but you can hire a tuk-tuk or taxis to visit this place.
2. Fort Tiracol
Tiracol is the northernmost fort of Goa, located close to the borders of the state of Maharastra. Adjacent to Querim beach, today the fort has been converted into a heritage hotel. From the top of the fort, you can view the furthest of Goa.
The drive to the Tiracol is one of the best drives that you can enjoy in Goa. You’ll pass through the serene backwaters of river Tiracol on your ride on the hills, and the curves lead to villages that give you a glimpse of rural Goa, which is nothing like its touristy side.
You need to reach the ferry point to head to Fort Tiracol. A 15-minute ride in the river Tiracol will take you to the other side. You can also carry your vehicle on the ferry, which you can de-board to continue your ride once you get down. A-10 minute ride will take you the fort, which is now a hotel.
Visitors are allowed to enter during the day until 5 to 6 PM. You can check out the views from the top, enjoy a drink and dine at their restaurant and capture the place on your lens.
3. Arvalem Caves
Arvalem is a small region in the interior of Goa, located about 30 km from Panjim, which is known for its ancient cave and a waterfall. It is an excellent choice for an offbeat destination and for a long ride on a motorbike. Believed to be built somewhere during the 6th century, it is also called as Pandava Caves. The legend has it that the Pandava kings of the Hindu epic Mahabharata took refuge during their exile here.
The cave is small in size, and a ride further will lead you to Arvalem waterfalls. Located amidst a canopy, the waterfall is a good place to relax after a long ride from the centre. These two attractions aren’t very extraordinary, to be honest, but if going on long drives and off the beaten path travel is your preference, you would enjoy your visit to the cave.
Public transport is available until the nearest town Bicholim, from where you take a cab to both the caves as well as the waterfall.
4. Divar Island
It’s located less than 10km from the capital Panjim. Divar island is another place surprisingly off the radar for many people traveling in Goa. Divar was home to a sizeable Hindu population and hence home to many temples. For a brief period of time long ago, the island was nearly abandoned by its residents due to the onset of plague.
Today, it’s a peaceful island co-existing very close to the happening Panjim. The island is famous among the locals for the two festivals that are celebrated: Potekar, a Halloween-like festival held before Lent and Bonderam, a carnival which happens on every fourth Saturday in August.
You can visit the ruins of the Kadamba dynasty that built temples here and a few big churches that were built during the colonization times by the Portuguese and the French. More than these attractions, the island makes you feel as the time has stood still as you walk through the streets passing through the structures. You can’t miss the otherworldly aura of this island, which is the reason that makes it alluring.
An ideal place for a day trip from Panjim, you can reach the island by ferry only, at 3 points: from Ribandar or Naroa or from the ferry point near the Viceroy’s Arch. You can also stay in Divar island in the exquisite Portuguese homes. The options are limited though if you are traveling on a shoestring budget.
5. Mangeshi Temple
A ride for more than 60 km from the center of Goa to the east will take you to Mangeshi, an ancient temple dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman. The temple is not too big but has a lovely decor with the interior consisting of neatly cut mirrors. The drive is awesome, especially if you intend to go on a motorbike, where you pass through highways and the inland of Goa comprising of old homes, rivers and lush landscapes.
6. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Although not very far from the capital Panaji, Salim Ali Bird Park on the Chorao island is one of the most underrated places in Goa. Located about 10 km from Panaji, a visit to this bird sanctuary is worth if you love bird watching or just love being outdoors in nature, where you can go on a boat ride in the Mandovi river. During the migration season, a lot of rare species of birds can be seen in the sanctuary.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary timings: 6 AM to 6 PM every day. Entry fee: 50 INR and 50 INR for the camera. A tour costs around 900 INR to 1200 INR depending on the boat and the number of people.
7. Spice Plantation experiences
Not many know that the western ghats section in Goa makes a great base for the cultivation of coffee, tea and spice plantations. Especially, you can plenty of farm homes in Goa where locals grow spices, cashews and even manufacture fenny – a cashew based liquor, which is actually the signature drink of Goa.
Staying in these plantations is an experience in itself. You can go on a plantation tour where the hosts will take you on a hike, get to taste to the local Goan cuisine, which is excellent, and you’ll get an experience beyond just the beaches.
8. Mandovi Backwaters
The Mandovi river is the heart of Goa. Its journey to meet the sea has created several beautiful regions of backwaters that passes through many villages. This gives the offbeat explorers a chance to know the rural Goa. Also, a stay overlooking the backwaters is a different experience altogether.
Some of the areas that you can visit for backwater experience are Morjim in the north and Olaulim in the east. There is a place called Olaulim Backyards, which is one of the great homestays to spend your time right next to the backwaters. Check more on their website here.
9. Stay at Old homes in Goa
Thanks to the years of colonization, Goa is a hub for a sizeable Portuguese and French population. This means that there is an influence of these cultures in Goa, most notably in the architecture.
Goa boasts of thousands of homes that are more than 50 years old, beautifully embodying the Portuguese and the Indo-French style of architecture built in total style. Most of these homes are huge, close to the size of mansions with a garden as well.
Many traveling to Goa make it a point to experience staying in these lovely antique homes. They’re well-preserved by the locals who have been living there for long. The good part is that some have converted into guest houses. The homes open their doors for travelers to experience how it is to live and feel royal there.
These are some of the holiday homes that you can visit:
Braganza House in Chandor – Goa’s grandest 16th-century Portuguese mansion, Palacio do Deao in Quepem close to Margao, the 250-year-old mansion Casa Araujo Alvares located in Loutolim village, Acro Iris in Margao, Capella in Arpora and the simple yet elegant Siolim House near Calangute and The Secret Garden Goa, located in Pequeno Morod.
Festivals in Goa
Unlike the other states in India, the festivals celebrated in Goa receive global attention. They draw crowds from all over the world. The Sunburn festival is one of the biggest music events that attracts millions of tourists every time. Many trance festivals, musical concerts, rock band performances happen all over the year. Go there during the winter around the new year when Goa turns into a land of carnivals and celebrations.
You can also go to traditional festivals. Some of the most popular are: Sao Joao festival, Shigmo, the feast of St. Xavier and Goa carnival. These are some of the big feasts for which the entire Goa comes together to make merry with family and friends.
Goa Travel Costs
Goa is one of the most affordable destinations in India. This is also the reason why it’s a big hit among the backpackers and the youth. Whether it is accommodation or beer or food, Goa is a budget traveler’s friend. It receives the highest number of foreign tourists after Rajasthan and Agra. Let’s find out how much needs to be spent overall.
Accommodation in Goa is diverse. It gives you the choice on whether to save a lot of money or to pamper yourself in exotic homestays, resorts and boutique hotels.
For the budget-conscious travelers, the best thing is to go to the hostels. There you can get a dorm bed for around to 5 to 6 USD. Some also offer breakfast, along with excellent Wifi and basic amenities. Some of the hostels that are quite popular are Zostel, Backpacker Panda, Wanderer’s hostel, Roadhouse hostel and many more.
The mid-range options are plenty and are beyond listing here. And the price ranges vary from 25 to 50 USD per night for a double room.
Ask any foodie in India about the Goan food, and you’ll get to hear a long list of adjectives with pure admiration in their eyes for the exotic dishes. The seafood cuisines top the list of Goan delicacies. Xucati, a coconut based gravy that comes in different versions. There are versions with vegetables, chicken, fish and pork. This is one of the signature dishes of Goa. Reachedo, a spicy chilli sauce that goes perfectly with either seafood or meat, Sorpotel – a pork dish, Cafreal – a chicken delicacy, Xec Xec – a crab curry are some of the things that you must try in Goa.
There are no prepaid cabs and taxis in Goa. You can hardly find tuk-tuks and public transport isn’t everywhere. Cabs on request are available but aren’t reliable for visiting all attractions as the charges are high. The best way to go around in Goa is to rent your own vehicle – a motorbike, car (if in a group) or bicycles. Many hotels and hostels provide bikes on rent and it isn’t difficult to find them. The cost for a motorbike per day ranges between 7 to 10 USD depending on the season. The bikes get sold everywhere during the peak seasons so you might have to plan well in advance.
Here are some tips on where to stay and how to save some money accommodation:
Basing anywhere close to the center like Calangute, Candolim or Baga areas will give you access to many beaches, restaurants and shopping markets. The downsides of staying here? These places are always crowded, and the many budget options get full during peak seasons, especially during the holidays. Therefore you can’t just arrive unplanned if you are hoping to save some money.
On the other hand, if you either base yourself a little ahead towards the north like Vagator, Anjuna, Morjim, Arambol or further, the areas aren’t too crowded. You can still get some decent dorms and budget places there during all the time. But the best restaurants or party places or shopping areas would require a ride to the center.
So, much depends on where you want to stay in deciding the accommodation choice in Goa. Most rent a motorbike to explore Goa so going away from the center shouldn’t be an inconvenience. This is a great idea if you don’t mind commuting for short distances.
Unless you are looking for a luxurious holiday by the beaches, it is better to spend a minimum on the accommodation, because Goa has too many things to do and spend. This means you would be spending most of your time outdoors, and what’s the need for fancy places?
Avoid booking group or package tours in Goa. If you’re a young and a fit traveler, traveling independently is the way to go when in Goa. That’s the reason why you also find so many shops selling/renting motorbikes, bicycles or cabs. There are very few tuk-tuks as well and the public transport caters mostly to the local’s needs.
Everything is pretty well laid-out and easy to travel while in Goa, and hence opting for group or package tours isn’t required. It is also expensive compared to traveling independently. Of course, you can still book day trips if you feel it needs planning (although not much effort is required).
Best time to visit Goa
Goa gets extremely hot during the summer that lasts from February to May. It is best to avoid traveling there during the months. If you like monsoons you might love Goa when it gets all green and lush during the months of July, August and September. The high season starts at the end of September and lasts until January. This is the time when Goa is full of life. But the prices get too high around Christmas and New Year’s eve, and the crowds swell much as well. It’s best to either plan ahead if you really wish to go there during this time or better to skip these weeks if you want to save some unexpected costs.
Things to keep in mind if you are a female solo traveler:
Most female foreign travelers find it uncomfortable the extra attention that they receive, especially in tourist destinations like Goa. While in most of the cases, it is just curiosity and harmless, entertaining them would lead you into serious trouble. As a solo traveler, it’s up to you to use your instinct while socializing or traveling with others anywhere. And the same applies in Goa too. Politely but firmly dismiss any advances or hand for help if you aren’t interested and you won’t be bothered again.
Parties & Clubbing: Goa is known for its party culture and most parties are fun and a great way to meet fellow travelers, connect and make friendships, even for solo female travelers. But it is essential to take everything with a grain of salt. Do a thorough check before making it to any parties. Feel free to say no if you are invited to any house-parties by people whom you don’t feel comfortable with or don’t know very well. It’s easy to find fellow travelers to accompany you if you don’t feel confident traveling alone. Most of Goa is totally safe for female travelers, though.
Dress code: Compared to any other destination in India, Goa has embraced the western style when it comes to attire. Shorts, skirts and any western wear are totally ok while in Goa. Keep in mind that while in temples or churches you need to cover fully. If you’re in a group or in a crowded place, it’s ok to wear bikinis. Avoid wearing skimpy beachwear if you are by yourself especially in beaches where there aren’t many around. Goa’s locals are still traditional although they thoroughly have embraced the tourists. Gaining unwanted attention and trouble because of your swimwear isn’t what you would want on your trip to Goa!
If you feel unsafe or find anything suspicious or think that you are in danger, don’t hesitate to seek the help of Women & Children help center, which is operational 24/7. The number that you need to dial is 181.
Traveling with kids
Goa is a popular destination for the families traveling with kids. Families enjoy the beaches, vacation homes, and the water sports activities. Don’t miss to go on a boat ride in the beaches of Sinquerim or in the backwaters where you can see a few dolphins! Also, make a visit to the Indian Naval Aviation Museum located in Mormugao that has an excellent collection of the Indian navy, kids love it!
So that’s all to know about Goa. So, when are heading there?
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