Palolem is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Goa. It is a natural bay surrounded by lofty headlands on either sides, resulting in a calm, idyllic sea with a gently sloping bed which allows you to walk up to 100 metres out from the beach.
Unfortunately Palolem has been saturated by travellers, hawkers and over priced sellers: it is sometimes difficult to walk up the beach at high tide due to the restaurants jutting into the cresting waves and you will certainly be asked about your plans for dinner a few times.
The easiest way to get to Palolem is to take the train or fly to Margao (locally known as Madgaon) and pay for a Government approved fixed-price taxi to Palolem. Fixed-price taxis are available from the train station and from Goa Dabolim Airport(GOI) at Vasco da Gama.
Alternatively, Canacona is Palolem's nearest train station, approximately 5 minutes drive away, but for shorter journeys from other parts of India it is almost always better to arrive by bus due to the remoteness of the train station from Palolem beach.
Backpackers may also take a State Transport bus from Margao Bus Stand to Canacona or Palolem. It takes around 90 minutes. If you alight at Canacona bus station, you can take an autorickshaw or taxi to Palolem Beach which is only about 3Km. The journey by bus is comfortable and the route is a scenic one too. However do keep in mind that local buses in Goa are not air-conditioned and at times quite dusty. It is possible to walk from the bus station to Palolem, but might not be the ideal option on a hot sunny day.
Palolem is quite small, so easy to explore on foot. Mopeds and bicycles are available for hire on the main street.
Taxis and rickshaws are also readily available on the main street or though a travel agency. Day trips can be booked through agencies.
Cotigao wildlife sanctuary is a good day trip from palolem. you can also ride along the narrow but beautiful coastal road northwards to visit agonda beach and still further north cabo da rama(a ruined fort on a cliff)
Take a walk to Butterfly Island... You will spot this island to your right on entering the beach... you can walk along the beach and across some rocks during low tide and reach the island, during high tide water covers and makes it impossible to walk across. The island has a network of trails to explore and the more adventurous can traverse the rocks on the periphery of the island. Make sure you carry your water bottle and be careful, people have injured themselves walking over these rocks.
Further on to the right is Butterfly Beach. You'll need a boat to get there but worth a trip for a change of scenery. It has a very steep beach, so deep that you can dive in from the waters edge if you time your dive correctly.
Further on still is Honeymoon Beach, a small strip of beach which generally brings you total seclusion. These islands are usually visited by couples who want get away from the prying eyes of tourists.
The best time for a boat ride to these islands is either in the morning at 7 AM or in the evening around 5 PM when you can see the setting sun from the boat. You need to bargain really hard with the boatsman to strike a good deal , there are quite a few guys running these boats and it would be best to talk to 3-4 guys before you strike a deal , a good rate would be Rs 700-800 for a hour long ride.
Palolem is a small beach town but do take long walks (carry a torch/flashlight if walking along the beach at night!). If you happen to be there on a full moon night , its quite an experience stolling on the beach on a full moon night with the islands clearly visible in the moon light,you will find people partying late into the night upto 2 - 3 am in the morning .Immediately to the south of Palolem, which gets busier every season, is the beautiful Columb Bay where you can stay in a comfortable yet eco friendly complex. Just beyond is Patnem beach which used to be much quieter than Palolem but has a few guest houses and beach shacks.
You can take a boat ride in the river joining the sea on northern side of the Palolem beach.
Very quiet and more in the 1960s than in the 21st c (thank goodness). No Jet Skis - no rip-offs or touts - very good locals who make this a unique place in India - one that the authorities could learn a lot from - more the sort of place you come to compose music on the beach.
From Palolem you can find some outdoor sport as :
Spend a day in Agonda 20km north of Palolem, very quiet beach. Further north there is an old fort (Cap de Rama) and beautiful views as you drive over the hills.
One of the most beautiful Goan beaches, although not as peaceful as it used to be (sometimes referred to as the Goan lost paradise). Palolem Beach is long beach now entirely filled with rooms and huts (150-400 Rs.) and restaurants, sometimes with live music. There's also a market for tourists. Walk the beach at night with a flashlight and you'll be amazed by crabs running away from you.
If you are part of the consumer rat race - a shoppaholic - this is not a great place for you - but there are great crafts people on the beaches (stone carvers, instrument makers etc). Be very firm but polite if you don't want their wares - they are much more polite and civilized than sellers on other Indian beaches - let's keep it that way! The situation has got worse in recent years though with the result that there are now far too many beach sellers. Your best bet is to compare their prices with what the shops are charging....generally the shops are cheaper. There are also many beggars, some are regulars who follow the tourist season and the tourists around, but giving 10 or 20 rupees to an old woman will not kill you.
On the beach front and inland there are many wonderful little music shops, spice shops and garment shops - some of which are mini bazaars. The hippy influence over the years means that they can let you chill out and choose rather than trying to hard sell you from the second you enter the store. Some of the stores are now onwed by westerners offering western labels at cheap but fixed prices.
There are no ATM's near the beach in Palolem. There is one that is 2km away from the main stretch of restaurants and shops that the rickshaw drivers will take you to at a heightened charge (try to get 40 rupees there and back, but you may need to pay 60 or 70). This one has a surcharge of $4 though. The easiest thing to do is bring enough money with you. More shops, a Saturday market and several ATM's are a 10-minute drive away in the local town, Chaudi.
Some people are under the mis-apprehension that most of the food in Palolem is quite westernised. Actually most places serve both "international" food and Indian - so you have the choice. There are great curries and rotis/nan/chippati/rice almost everywhere and these are great and very cheap to live on. Being more sensitive to local needs and choosing local brands is more environmentally sound, means that you help the local economy more - your money doesn't just go on exports, halves the cost of your stay and give you a more Indian experience - so call for a King's, not a Fosters as so many embarrassing "westerners" do! Also remember that the chefs idea of an western dish may be slightly different than yours in some of the restaurants.
Local trade is mainly tourism and fishing - so it can be guaranteed that your fish dinner is straight from the sea. A good fish main course usually starts from 300Rs upwards.
Fernandes - just past the church on the right hand side of the beach, great indian food and tandori plus fairly cheap and fresh fish, a favourite for old regulars.
Palolem Beach Resort - Curries in Palolem tend to be quite lacklustre - but the Palolem Beach Resort does a great paneer butter masala and chana masala with garlic naan and rice. Chicken is great here too. The service is really poor and most of the focus is on foriegn tourists, best avoided. The food quality is ok and serving size is quite genorous. One of the few places on the beach where there is a proper restaurant and clean washrooms and a proper kitchen. They also have a large wall mounted tv , which mostly plays football to cater to western tastes.
Cool Breeze - a jazz cafe that is quite popular with the locals, great food.
Sameer Restaurant - good breakfasts and their fish sizzlers are to die for. It's right on the beach, so fantastic views of the ocean.
There are many places along the beach serving alcohol and are usually your best bet if you want to mingle and meet new people. Try the Sameer Restaurant or Cafe del Mar which are supposed to be quite happening. There are two places on the main road with cable so you can watch football.
Also Cuba bar on the main road just before you take a left towards the beach plays good music, has a pool table and great atmosphere.
The days of partys in Palolem are over now but there a few things happening at night, ask people. For a different expierience try the Headphone Party at the Alpha Bar on Wed /Thur, its different!
Outside of New Year period, basic accomodation (rooms/shacks) should cost 200-500 rupees (200 for a very basic local-style room in October). Nice rooms with TV, etc. easily can go for around Rs.1000 or even more (often depending more on owner's ambitions than on room quality). If you're looking for the better value, try next beaches to the south (Colomb, Patnem) or even Agonda 10 km to the north.
There are plenty of beach shacks along Palolem Beach, not much point in booking as many of them don't answer the phone/take bookings. Usually your best bet is just to turn up and cross your fingers. Bear in mind that a local law prohibits permanent structures on the beach, so from May to October the shacks are supposed to come down (although this does not always happen!). Shacks should be 100% free of crawling insects. At Xmas and New Year it can get very busy and room rates are high, expect to pay a minimum of R500 / 700. The left hand side of the beach tends to be quieter with the right hand side where the bars / nightlife are. Cressida does good live music on wednessdays. Local touts would gherao you once you hit the parking area , you can take there services , they would show you the shacks ,bargain hard with them. Most of the average cost shacks would cost about 500 -700 Rupees ( Nov 2011 prices) and are very basic , do check before you pay that it has clean bed sheets , and running water and the room has been cleaned up. Most of the shacks would have a mosqito net , however no a/c or hot water would be availbe in the room.
Don't forget to bargain for the prices of the beach huts - the more temporary it looks, the cheaper it's supposed to be. San Fransisco is one such place where a good shack above the restaurant can be had for INR 500 a night while a shack further inside the San Fransisco enclosure is 300-400 a night. The owner is very friendly, a family man, and protective of his foreigner guests. I remember that the waiters were also nice, to both Indians and foreigners alike and respected everyone's privacy. The only nit to pick here was the full course meal, but then you can drink here and move to a place like Draupadi - near the beach's main entrance from the road - for food.
Palolem Guest House is a nice place to stay if you don't like the beach shack concept. Neat & clean rooms are available from Rs. 600-1200 per night. WARNING: February 2009 - this place had a major BEDBUG problem, which the management of this guesthouse appeared entirely unwilling to address.
Virgin Beach resort which is just opposite the Om Sai guest house is a decent place to stay with budget accommodation available.
Le-Grand residency is opposite the turn to Palolem beach. The rooms are decent however there is some noise as the buses to Margao are parked just outside the hotel (opposite end).
Luke's Residence is the posh accommodation is Palolem. Though it is almost 2kms off the beach on the road towards Patnem beach. (ahead of Cleopatra resorts).
Fernandes there are two on the right hand side (owned by brothers) and both offer good clean accomodation in some of the best beach huts on the beach.
Neptune's Point stands a bit aside of the beach (on its left side) on an rock ground. There are wooden huts with cold showers, beds, big balconies, and with marvelous views over the beach. The price - 850 INR per hut per night.
Sundowner at the north end of the beach, is a nice place to stay, if you enjoy peace and quiet. During high tide getting to the beach might be difficult but the resort's staff are very kind, and will offer you a ride by boat. Prices from 600 INR, depending on the season.
Ordo Sounsar close to Sundowner, also enjoys peace and tranquility, but has the advantage of easy access when the tide is high, having its own bamboo bridge. Friendly Goan hosts, local Goan food in the restaurant, and the beach's best G & T's at the bar.
Allegra Cheap rooms, and friendly staff. However very basic, but located right on the beach behind the Hare Krishna Hare Rama Restaurant. You won't regret staying here as you will meet a ton of new people.
Home is cited by the major travel guides as a friendly, hospitable resort on Patnem beach, near Palolem. In fact, its owners are extremely disorganised and unpleasant; double-booking guests during peak season and refusing to acknowledge their mistakes, leaving would-be guests with no accommodation during the busiest time of year. Steer well clear.
Palolem is a very safe place - the main risk you face is not wanting to leave.
One thing to bear in mind is the dog situation - Palolem is home to a multitude of stray and semi-stray dogs which can become very aggressive if you try to cross their territory. They very rarely bite, but can be quite frightening especially in packs. The beach dogs are not generally aggressive and the main problems they present are fleas and mange, but the dogs on the back roads away from the beach can be noisy and peevish. Many dogs in Goa are badly treated by their owners, and some have no owners at all. Please do not harm the dogs of Goa, but be aware that they can be a nuisance.
There were also people selling mehndi (similar to henna) carelessly mixed with cheaper chemicals.
The local train station is Canacona - less than 5 minutes drive from Palolem. It's very quiet with not many trains.
If you want more choice, get a taxi to Margao where you can link up with all the main lines. If you have a little extra time and you want to save money, take the local buses. Dirt cheap, respectful locals and careful drivers. For a taxi ride that would cost you 1000 Rs. upwards (depending on what the cabbie thinks he can make off of you), you could get there for 17 Rs.!!
Dont miss the chance to haggle with flashy yellow plate cars. These are taxis heading to the Airport. (Though all yellow plate cars are taxis, the flashy ones usually head to the airport. These are either returning back or heading to pick a prebooking. Haggle hard and you may settle for under Rs. 500, though only during the day. As the sun goes down, the price goes up, which is normal for all facilities.
If you are interested in exploring nearby places, like the Patnem beach about 2-3 kilometers away, rent a bicycle. Better yet, rent a scooter/motorcycle for about Rs.300-500 per day and explore the area even more conveniently.
A little quieter (and more expensive) than Palolem is Agonda, a 15-minute autorickshaw trip north.