As a Goan, I often have to answer a barrage of questions from potential travelers to Goa. Rather than answering same questions over and again, I decided to put up this article to provide at some basic information. Needless to say, the would-be travelers are advised to make their own inquiries before setting out on the journey.
So here we go!
When to visit:
Goa can be visited any time of the year, but tourist season begins in October and continues up to the onset of monsoon in first week of June. The week from 25-December to 3-January is the peak season.
Goa receives about 100-120 inches of rainfall from June to September. This is the off-season and you can actually enjoy low tariff at hotels. However, the incessant rains and muddy beaches would rather restrict your plans.
If you have some time to spare, traveling by Konkan Railway from Mumbai to Goa, especially during rainy season, can be an experience to remember. The entire route is full of lush green forest cover, and has scores of long tunnels and high bridges to keep you enthralled all the way.
How to visit:
Goa enjoys excellent connectivity by road, rail and air with almost all major cities in India. Goa has three national highways: NH4A, NH17 and NH17A. NH17 connects Mumbai and Goa. Konkan Railway project runs through the state. All the airlines operate flights from the Dabolim airport, the only airport in Goa.
About a decade back, Damania Shipping operated a Catamaran ship service between Mumbai & Goa but it was stopped when Konkan railway became operational.
Goa has a complete range of lodging facilities: right from five-star hotels like Cidade de Goa, Marriott, Taj and Park Hyat to Holiday Homes run by tourism department to low-cost living rooms. But if you really want to freak out, then shacks (i.e. bamboo huts raised on poles) on beaches is the option to go for!
How much time:
This entirely depends on how much time you have at your disposal. The least you should plan for is 3 days: 1 day each for North Goa & South Goa, and one day for shopping and relaxing on a beach. If you have more time, keep 2 days for North Goa, 2 days for South Goa, and 1 day for shopping/beach. That’s sufficient on all accounts.
Goa Tourism Dept arranges bus tours that cover North Goa and South Goa in one day each. Most of the major hotels have their own sight-seeing tours. Apart from these, there are independent tour-organisers.
One of the best ways to see Goa is to hire bikes from one of the many rental services in Panjim, the capital city and set out to explore the state on your own, with the aid of a map.
Most of the roads are in a good condition, with ample road signs.
What to see:
Beaches: Goa – the land of Sun, sea and sand! The state is gifted with 110 km of west coast which contains about two dozen major and smaller beaches. Miramar, Calangute & Baga (near Panjim), Colva, Benaulim (near Margao), are the major ones, and hence more congested. There are some less frequently visited ones like Harmal near Pernem (North Goa) and Palolem near Canacona (South Goa).
Dona Paula, situated just a few kilometers from Miramar beach provides a breath-taking view of sea. One can enjoy water-sports here. There is a romantic/tragic story associated with the small hill-top from where tourists watch sunset.
For the ones who like peace & quiet, Morjim beach in North Goa is the place to try. The beach is at 'sangam' of the Zuari river with Arabian sea, and is a paradise for swimmers. Of late, this beach has become famous as breeding place for the rare Olive Ridley turtles.
Churches: The state was under Portuguese rule for more than 450 years. Catholicism is the more dominant of the Christian sects here. There are practically hundreds of beautiful churches all over the state, but the most famous are in Old Goa, where mummified body of St. Francis Xavier is preserved. It is taken for public view once in a decade.
Temples: My home town Ponda (pronounced Fonda) is ringed by all the major temples of Goa: Shantadurga, Manguesh, Mahalasa, Kamaxi, and Ramnath. The temples are managed by mahajans (priests) rather than government trusts, the main reason they are well-looked after as a personal property.
One good thing about temples in Goa is that you can spend considerable time having darshan of the deity, rather than being shooed away in a matter of seconds.
The big temples have huge chandeliers and glass lamps hung from the ceiling and when lit, they cast a beautiful sight. One can only imagine how the scene must have been when there was no electricity.
Dudhsagar waterfall: Deep in the Sahyadri ranges on eastern border of Goa, one can see the Dudhsagar waterfalls while traveling by train. The falls are at their best during the rainy season.
Apart from these, there are minor attractions like two wildlife sanctuaries.
Last few years, one major tourist attraction that is coming up in a major way is plantations such as Ela Pharma.
For the more adventurous, Tambdi Surla temple is recommended. It is small temple of Hemadpanthi architecture, built in 13th century. Folklore has it that a king cobra wraps itself around the Shiv-ling every night.
Calangute beach has Subodh Kerkar's art complex which is worth a visit.
The trip aboard Santa Monica cruise boat across river Mandovi is an experience to remember. There is a band and food and drinks are free (needless to say, included in the boat fare).
Goa is a paradise for fish-lovers (i.e. people who relish fish as their food!). There are lots of varieties of prawns, pomfrets, sardines, oysters and lobsters. Traditional Goan plate consists mainly of fish-curry, pickle and rice, washed down by the very refreshing solkadhii!
(Photo courtsey: Joel's Flickr album)
Fresh cashew nuts are available in many varieties, roasted/salted/ with husk/spiced.
Liquor, esp. beer is quite cheap. You can get good wine. FeNii (fermented cashew juice with a very high alcoholic content) is the local favourite. Mama Costa is a good place to try it out.
What to enjoy/buy:
T-shirts marked Goa and bamboo hats are available at very low prices on all major beaches and are quite a craze. Artifacts made from sea-shells, coral etc are good as souvenirs or gift items.
There is a midnight bazaar at Arapora… highly recommended for those who can make it.
All the major beaches have one or the other water sport: Motor Boat Rides, Parasailing, Water Scooter Rides, Water Skiing, and Windsurfing. Parasailing is a bit costly, but then the experience is truly out of this earth!
Official site of the state tourism board: www.goatourism.org/
Goa Tourism Development Corporation: www.goa-tourism.com/
Goa is one of the most peaceful states in India. People have a susegad (laid-back) attitude towards life. There was a time when shops opened at 10 in morning and you would find hardly any shop open after 8 pm. Of course, things are changing, with malls and multiplexes sprouting up in all the major towns.
Goa has two state-languages: Konkani & Marathi. People can easily converse in either of these two, and are generally good in Hindi as well as English.
Though Goa is better known as a tourist destination, this tiny state, with a population of just 1.8 million has given India some of its best scientists (Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, former Director General of CSIR and Dr Anil Kakodkar, Director of BARC), singers (the Mangeshkar family, Pdt Jitendra Abhisheki, Kishori Amonkar, Prabhakar Karekar, Remo Fernandes), artists (Mario Miranda), fashion designers (Wendell Rodricks), sportspersons (Leander Paes, Bruno Coutinho), Writers (Manoharrai Sardessai), Business leaders (Victor Menezes, Sumant Mulgaonkar), and so on.. Due to limited opportunities for high-end careers in the state, most of the Goan youth is spread all over the India & world.
The most important thing to remember is Goa is more about chilling out and relaxing, rather than rushing from one spot to another.
I extend you a warm welcome to my home-state, and hope that you have a good time!