The Best Things to Do in Goa
Flanked by the Arabian Sea on the West and the grand Sahyadri mountains to the East, this small yet perfectly formed state can easily be covered in just a few days. However, to really discover Goa takes much longer. Beena Hammond lets us in on Goa’s must-do activities.
India’s pocket-sized-state (it’s about the size of Kent) comes with a reputation for hippies, scenic beach shacks and heady festivals. Though Goa can offer plenty to the party seeker, sandwiched between is a lattice of interesting waterways, history, food and festivals worth investigating.
Snaking though this tiny place, one can imbibe the beauty of anything from Portuguese-influenced churches to its ambient beach shacks.
There’s few places better than its beautiful southern beaches, so make sure you make a beeline for one and sit with India’s iconic Kingfisher Beer in hand while you watch the evening sun melt into the Arabian sea and dye the skies red.
With this in mind, Beena Hammond guides us through the top things to do in Goa.
EXPLORE HISTORIC GOA’S PORTUGUESE COLONIAL PAST
With natural harbours and wide rivers, Goa was the perfect location for seafaring Portuguese. Arriving in 1510 to control the spice route from the East, missionaries led by St. Francis Xavier, followed. For a while, the control was limited to what is now beautiful Old Goa, 9 km east of Panaji in central Goa.
The old colonial capital is mainly empty of its once iconic churches and convents, but those which remain are absolutely worth ambling around. You’ll find the best treasures along the course of the Mandovi River. Today, many of these architectural treasures are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; you will see this bevel of beauties all within easy walking distance of one another. Take a private tour of Goa’s Portuguese heritage with Viator so as to not miss a thing.
Avoid the maddening afternoon crowds and take a morning gaunt around the impressive baroque Basilica of Bom Jesus. With its impressive stone-crafted honey-hued façade and deep-red handsome exteriors of tumbling ridges, furrows and portholes, it’s said to be the final resting place of St. Francis. You will also find Se Cathedral, the largest church in the whole of Asia, with its blanched white exterior; it stands proud like a peacock, with its colonial appearance. Next to it is the Church of St. Cajetan, which was modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Old Goa links to modern Panjim by a centuries-old causeway that stretches through backwaters and traditional saltpans close to Ribandar. Here you’ll see its raffish historic charms, despite a few new developments. Its slow-paced capital, low roof houses and plentiful green lungs, it feels almost more like a Caribbean island than an Indian capital.
Established around the 1820s, you will see many of the buildings restored to their former glory — painted in pastels of ochre, greens and dusty yellows. From the Mandovi river, you’ll see overhanging arcades, while a pootle through the old quarter of Fontainhas, with its twists and turns of pink and orange buildings, will bring you out into one of its many tiny plazas.
GO ON A CROCODILE WATCH CRUISE
Ever fancied getting up, close and personal with a crocodile? No? Though they make formidable creatures, rest assured, their ferociousness can be admired from the safety of a boat. Actually, Goan crocodiles are mostly harmless: they adapted themselves to live in the canals here, unlike their freshwater ‘man-eating’ counterparts. In fact, it’s not unusual to see children swimming upside them and if you’re tempted to approach one — you’re likely to catch little more than its hind quarters scampering off into distance.
To get a look at these basking reptiles by boat, take one of the cruises that leave the Panaji jetti, which, in turn takes you through a narrow creek which shoves itself into a thick mangrove jungle near the village of Cumbarjua. The Cumbarjua canal — a favourite spot for the crocs — connects itself to Zuari and Mandovi rivers and boasts colourful birds and butterflies. One of the best crocodile tours is with Harvey and partner Neil Alvares, of Southern Birdwing, who also operate crocodile rescues, or opt for a private eco-tour with Viator and fit in a spice plantation visit and tour of Old Goa by foot.
HOUSEBOAT ALONG THE CHAPORAL RIVER
Originally, the preserve of Kerelan waterways, wooden houseboats have arrived in Goa, enabling a tranquil exploration of its idle backwaters. Taking a cruise on a houseboat here means whiling the hours watching bright-plumed birds picking fish from the river, while you concentrate hard on a cold beer.
From your boat, you can pick bread from the bakers who cycle along the riverbanks and source fish caught by local fishermen, from which an on-board chef can whizz you up a traditional Goan curry, all the while passing village markets, temples and churches that dot the Chapora’s edge.
Taking a break from all that relaxation means admiring the sunset and following the dusk into the blanket of night, before retiring to your on-board bedroom where you’re rocked to sleep in the willowy arms of the river.
SHOP AND SAMPLE FOOD AT THE MARKETS
For a real flavour (no pun intended) of Goa, head to the bustling Mapusa Market, with its sacks of multicoloured spices and sprawling stalls of rainbow-hued clothes and textiles, fruits, pickles and local handicrafts. Make sure you get here well before sunset when it closes.
For a more touristy feel, head to Anjuna flea market, while for those not yet satiated from shopping can treat their fever with Saturday’s Night Bazaar at Arpora, with kiosks rammed with carpets, silks and hammocks.
Foodies must head for Mackie’s Night Bazaar, with its girth-expanding array of cuisines, many featuring the delicious coconut-infused curries with pork or seafood. Any glutinous guilt can then be danced off at one the many dance floors here. Held from November to April at the banks of usually bustling River Baga — this is not one for those seeking quietude.
GOA’S MANY APPEALING BEACHES
In the north, Arambol retains a somewhat edgier feel. Its beach is dotted with shacks and the odd sleepy bar, harking back to the days of the hippy trails. Here you can sit and watch the sun slump lazily into the sea. The music is hushed, and the lights dance on the sea below.
The south, however, boasts the clearest and most scenic of beaches. Here development hasn’t hit hard and the colonial architecture remains preserved.
Think white sands stretching as far as the eye can see, with views to caress you to sleep. Farmlands and mining income mean it’s been unhampered by the north’s party culture scene, which leaves it free of tourist-driven development. See the odd whitewashed church and old colonial-era houses, with lovely people and delicious food to match.
The best beaches for pure indulgence and whiling away your well-deserved time off have to be the well-established favourite, Palolem, and its smaller sister beach, Patnem, which now firmly on the beaten track, where palm trees can be seen bowing deeply into the sea. Stay in Palolem’s Ourem Palace for a palatial stay on the south end of the beach.
GOA’S BOAT FESTIVAL
Not too far from the Mayem lake, is a warm hug of a festival, which happens every November in the town of Sanquelim, about 35 km from capital Panjim. The boats have become a centerpiece of the Tripurari Purnima festival, which highlights the end of Diwali. Here by the Pundalik Temple, the whole village is ablaze with lights and dancing. Lanterns snake down the river and locals parade hugely elaborate and illuminated model boats under the watchful gaze of a full moon. The event culminates in a final burst of colour with a fireworks display. Make sure you keep an eye out for more Goa events here.
Originally published at www.travioor.com.