Goa  is a former Portuguese colony, currently a state in India's West region. It is 3700 square kilometers in size and has a human population of approximately 1.4 million. Its east-west mix, beaches and syncretic culture is what attracts an officially-estimated two-and-half million visitors each year. Out of these, about 400,000 are foreign tourists, the rest coming from other regions of India. Portuguese culture and architecture can still be found.
Some call it "India lite", an easy-to-encounter version of India. Others label Goa's Panaji (also referred to as Panjim, Ponnje or Pangim) as India's most charming of state capitals. It probably still is, despite recent changes. Goa has its brown-tiled roofs, beaches, a reputation for centuries as a place where cultures and people meet. And undoubtedly, the holiday capital of South Asia.
But Goa is much more too. It's a charming place with a different history. A place that acts as an entry point into India for a growing number of Euro tourists. And a place that writers, creative persons and others find increasingly attractive to make their home. From the 1960s, Goa has been attracting a steady flow of visitors -- first the hippies and returning expat Goans, then the charter tourists visiting (starting with the Germans in 1987), pilgrims visiting both Catholic and Hindu shrines, those opting to settle in Goa as their home, visitors coming here for medical treatment, and a growing number of those who attend seminars and conferences in Goa.
If Goa is visibly different from the moment you encounter it then, that has something to do with Goa's unusual past. Obviously South Asia, like any other corner of this region, Goa's isolation from the rest of India for 451 years of Portuguese rule, in many ways, shapes its current reality.
Many are attracted by Goa's Portuguese face, even if the post-1961 dominant political face sees this as somewhat politically incorrect. Hotels too sometimes name their suites with quaint Portuguese names and icons.
By Indian standards and size, Goa is a very small state with only two districts. These districts are together further divided into 11 talukas (sub-districts). While for administrative purposes Goa is divided on a North and South Goa basis, for touristic purposes (other than understanding the geography), this distinction doesn't make much sense to the traveller. Both North Goa and South Goa are similar, and each has their own "coastal" and "interior" areas. Likewise, the central coastal part of both the district have similar histories, and underwent Portuguese rule for longer than did the hinterland, making them more Westernized in appearance.
Goa's different regions, if these are to be pointed out, are actually its central coastal areas (where the beaches are located, and these area were under colonial rule for longer, reflecting more of Portugal's influence, including having a relatively larger Christian population), and the interior hinterland areas (more of the nature sanctuaries, mining zones and rural areas are located here).
It must be however noted that despite popular perception, Goa has a minority Catholic population (a little over 25%) while the Hindus (in varying caste groupings) form the majority. Likewise, contrary to popular perception, Goa is not an island, though parts of what was considered "Goa" in the past were cut-off from the mainland by the many rivers this region is known for.
Goa also has a number of other smaller, sometimes charming and sometimes crowded towns such as along the beach belt (Calangute, Candolim), and in the interior (Chaudi in Canacona, Sanvordem-Quepem, Bicholim, Pernem town, etc). Some of these are gateways to the nearby touristic areas. In addition, Goa has some nearly 350 villages, often scenic and each having a character of its own.
Some other places which you could find more information about:
The Goan population is a mixture of Hindus and Roman Catholics, the distribution being approximately 65% Hindu and 24% Christian. There is also a smaller Muslim population. Despite this, there have been no communal clashes (except for violence in 2005 in the twin towns of Curchorem-Sanvordem, involving the Muslim and Hindu communities, over a dispute believe to have been politically stoked-up) in the past and Goa is regarded as one of the most peaceful states in India.
Goan Catholics generally acknowledge their Hindu roots, and carry traces of a caste-system within their social beliefs sometimes. It is recorded that in many instances the Hindus left one son behind to convert and thus continue to own and manage the common properties while the rest of the family preferred to emigrate to neighboring areas along with the idols representing their Hindu deities.
Over the years large numbers of Catholics have emigrated to the major commercial cities of Bombay and Pune and from there onward to East Africa, the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, to Portugal itself and towards the end of the 20th century to Canada and Australia. Many old Goan ancestral properties therefor lie either abandoned or mired in legal tangles brought about by disagreements within the widely dispersed inheritors of the property. In recent years, expat Goans have been returning to their home state, often purchasing holiday homes along the coast (which are then converted into 'rent back' apartments, hired out to short-staying tourists by realtors).
The best time of the year to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant.
Goa's state language is Konkani. Most Goans speak Konkani, English, Hindi and Marathi. Portuguese is also known by a small segment, especially the elite and earlier privileged class or the older generation which studied in pre-1961 Portuguese-ruled Goa. Portuguese was the language of the educated-elite in the pre-1961, Portuguese-ruled Goa.
However, different languages tend to be used for different purposes in Goa. Konkani is the most widely spoken. English and Marathi tend to be most widely read. (Most newspapers are read in these two languages too.) For primary schooling, education has to be imparted in "local regional languages" (i.e. Konkani or Marathi) to be entitled to receive government grants, on the argument that elementary education is best imparted in the "language of the child". At middle and high-school, and college too, education is almost wholly imparted in English.
Catholics largely use Konkani for their prayer services, while the language for region is largely Marathi for Hindus. The administration is largely conducted in English, which is also the language of publication of the official gazette, and the mainly used tongue in the courts.
It can be rather difficult currently to be able to learn Konkani, with options for learning rather restricted. The language is written in four to five scripts, in and beyond Goa -- Devanagari (the official script), Roman or Romi (widely used in Goa), Kannada-script, Malayalam-script and Perso-Arabic reportedly used by some Muslim communities further south along the Indian west coast. Recently, books to learn Konkani in the Roman script have also been published, making it easier for those not knowing the Devanagari script (used to write Hindi, Marathi and other languages too) that is the officially-recognized script for Konkani in Goa.
Goa can be reached by its lone airport (Dabolim), by train (Konkan Railway or via Londa, and by the many buses connecting the state with cities in India (primarily Mumbai and Bangalore). The once-popular steamer service that connected Goa with Bombay via a 22-hour inexpensive journey however no longer plies.
There are several bus routes from various cities, but most traffic is from mainly Bombay and Pune, but with increasing demand from the south, there has been an increase in buses and trains from Bangalore and New Delhi.
Indian Railways connect Goa from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Mangalore, Ernakulam and Thiruvanantapuram (via Bangalore) and all other places in India.The destination station is usually Madgaon in Goa.There is a daily express train service from Delhi.Beware of Pickpockets, people who offer you snacks or Tea and other such people who make trains to Goa a regular hunting ground. Traveling to Goa by Konkan Railway is a real pleasure as the train passes thru greenery and many tunnels.
Some airlines fly directly to Dabolim Airport (GOI) at Goa, but most international flights arrive via Mumbai. As the airport is also used by the military, it only accepts flights during the daytime (until 4 PM or so), which makes eg. sensible weekend escapes from elsewhere in the country effectively impossible. (Note: It seems the problem is partially resolved, because some domestic operators now also have evening flights to Goa, especially during high season)
Goa has daily flights to and from Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune (no flights return to Pune) and has flights twice a week to Chennai and Cochin.
The steamer and catamaran services connecting Goa with Mumbai no longer plies.
Goa lacks good maps. This small state still lacks an atlas or a good 1:50,000 wall map with standard geographic details. So government officials and educationists make do with tourist maps. Most local maps fail to show the islands off Canacona, apart from Anjediv. (This one was handed over to the Indian Navy by the Ravi Naik government in the early 1990s). Isles that are growing increasingly popular among Western tourists are simply not shown.
Parts of Goa lack sign-boards. So finding your way around might be a challenge, specially after dusk. The usual way is to "just ask". People are friendly and helpful, usually. In rural areas, expect not-too-precise answers though.
A lot of tourists rent scooters which are usually Honda Activas, an ungeared scooter which is quite easy to ride. One can also rent geared motorcycles including the popular Royal Enfield, the British motorcycle which is now manufactured in India. This is even bought by tourists from the rental company if they plan to stay longer. However make sure you are careful while riding especially if you plan to ride on the highways. The rental company doesn't provide helmets and it is up to you to look for one if you want one. One can get these scooters or motorcycles from garages or from people standing on the road next to these scooters and one can expect to spend between Rs.150 - Rs. 250 a day on a scooter and a little more if one is looking for a geared motorcycle.
If you aren't comfortable riding in Goa or have a bigger group you can also rent a jeep. These are usually either Mahindras which are similar to Jeep Willys or Maruti Gypys which are the long wheel base version of the Suzuki Samurai. A lot of these jeeps are open without a roof and can really help to enjoy the Goa experience and is a better way to travel around as opposed to a regular sedan. One can expect to pay around Rs. 700 - Rs. 800 a day for these jeeps.
You can also use the local buses to travel to different beaches in Goa. Note that these buses are not owned by Goa municipal authorities and as such the fare can vary. A typical bus ride will cost anywhere from 4-6 rupees, fares for longer distances are usually displayed inside the bus directly behind the driver. Fares are not collected at the bus doors but rather after you after you entered and the bus has begun to move. It is prudent to ask your fellow passengers about the fare and the destination if you are not familiar with the distance or the place.
Goa is world famous for its beaches, its ancient temples and churches, and its Goan carnival.
If naval aviation interests you, you might want to stop by the Naval Air Museum. This is behind the Dabolim Airport, and you will need to loop around the airport perimeter across the Dabolim Railway station to get there. There are seven outdoor exhibits and other memorabilia and models in a two story building.
Following is a list of beaches in Goa, geographically, from north Goa to south:
In Pernem taluka:
In Bardez taluka:
In Tiswadi taluka:
In Mormugao taluka:
In Salcete taluka:
In Quepem taluka:
In Canacona taluka:
Since Goa has a large Catholic minority, it has many Catholic holidays besides the Indian national holidays. One of them, the Carnival though often mistaken for a 'Catholic holiday' is largely a Government sponsored affair of Floats and festivities.
There is a lot to do - for those who like their fun a little laid back
From wines to cashew-nuts, enchanting local music to alternative books and handicrafts, Goa has a lot. Goa's handicrafts are clearly under-rated and under-appreciated, even while being reasonably priced. Their range includes carved furniture, brassware, crochet and more (see section on the government-run Aparant emporia).
Global items come in amazing diversity specially at the night markets of North Goa. In Panjim, the 18th June Road is faster emerging as a lure for shoppers and tourists. Mapusa, while hosting a traditional market each Friday, attracts a number of tourists, specially foreigners. Goa's talented goldsmiths are neatly located in a line at Mapusa's market, and in parts of Margao and Panjim. Check out traditional Goan lacquerware toys (available at the Aparant emporia).
Every major hotel has its own bookshop, of varying quality. Books tend to be priced amazingly inexpensively in India, including in Goa. For the best collection of books related to 'alternative India' and the environment, visit the almost hidden Other India Bookstore. It sits atop the old Mapusa Clinic, at Mapusa's Feira Alta locality. Entrance from the behind.
Broadways Book Centre at 18th June Road (near Caculo Traffic Island); Confidant's Golden Heart Emproium in Margao (2732450); Mandovi Square near Cine Nacional (2234241); and Varsha Book Stall (2425832) near the Bank of India and Azad Maidan. The last two focus on newspapers and magazines coming in from the rest of the country and abroad.
One Goan unique product is that of hand-painted ceramics. *Furniture is another area of interest, in terms of shopping options, despite its bulky nature. Antiques are also a growing business here.
Foreign tourists increasingly go "shopping" for medical services. There are a number of outlets that offer a form of 'health tourism'. These include centres like Dr Pimenta's Dental Practice (www.goadentist.com) at Romano Chambers (near the Old Petrol Pump in Calangute) and Lake Plaza near Nehru Stadium in Margao.
Want to shop Goan? One good value-for-money place is the Aparant network of outlets managed by the State-run Goa Handicrafts network. In their ten outlets across Goa you could expect to find an interesting range of handicrafts from Goa. And reasonably priced too. Items range from shell-work to clay, bamboo, paper mache, coconut-items and fiber. "If visitors have a problem with carrying back some the (more fragile) handicrafts home, then fibre is a good option. These outlets are, besides four in Panjim, located at Vasco da Gama (on Swatantra Path, at the Vasco Residency) and at the local GTDC-run "residency" hotels in Margao, Mapusa, Calangute, the Bicholim Pottery Production Centre at the Industrial Estate, and at Loutolim's Big Foot.
In Panjim, the other outlets of Aparant are located at the Udyog Bhavan (opposite the Goa Police Headquarter, near the Ferry Jetty); at the main Kadamba bus-terminus; and at the Crafts Complex office of the Goa Handicrafts in Neugi Nagar (Rua de Ourem). The largest number of items are available at the last location, about 2.5 kms off the center of town.
Most of the Aparant outlets are open between 9:30 or 10AM to 6 or 7PM, depending on their location.
Products of dry coconuts and coconut-shells are carved and often designed to fit on a wooden base. Items produced here include table lamps, flower pots, table clocks, different religious statues and decorative items.
Cotton thread is transformed in an artistic way with the crochet steel hook, rendering it in beautiful designs and shapes. Likewise, sea-shells that were once discarded by the beach get transformed by artisans. Traditional clay art -- in the form of pots, ash-trays, flower pots, images of gods -- is a skill that has been built up across generations in Goa. Ditto for the case of bamboo products.
A few of these items are produced in-house at the Goa Handicrafts' center in Bicholim. Others come from artisans across the state. This network has done a fair job in highlighting the skills of geographically-scattered local artisans, and also finding them the market they so-badly need to sustain their rich talent.
Museums, art centers
Goa has a number of museums. There's the Goa State Museum and then there's Architect Gerard da Cunha's relatively-new architectural museum called Houses of Goa. The Xavier Centre of Historical Research, at Porvorim, has its Gallery on Christian Art, named the Xavier Xandev Museum. the archaeological museum and portrait gallery is at Old Goa, the Christian Art Museum at the same location (a little further away at the Santa Monica Convent annexe), and the Pilar Seminary Museum. Big Foot at Loutolim (aka Ancestral Goa) is an attempt to illustrate and recreate Goa's traditional past. There's even a vintage-cars collection of sorts -- Ashvek Vintage World "dedicated to restore and preserve motoring and motorcycling gems of historical interest in Goa". You can find cars ranging from ye old Mercedes Benz, to the Peugeot, Morris, Chevrolet and the Volkswagen. Check it out at Nuvem, on permanent display. Entry Rs 50.
There's the religious Museum of Blessed Joseph Vaz and the Naval Aviation Museum. In the latter, you can see and touch vintage aircrafts like the Sealands, Doves, Alizes, Seahawks, Vampires and Huges Helicopters. The Goa-government run Kala Academy and the Portuguese-run Fundacao Oriente in India, the Central Library (even tourists can become temporary members) are also other options. The Sound and Light Gallery Museum is at Old Goa, where one can get a Christian religious tour, artistically done. The Goa Science Centre, at a scenic location along Miramar Beach, is a great fun-place for kids specially, but not only. Entrance is Rs 10 (and less for students). There's also a movie theatre showing 3D science-related films.
Art galleries in Goa include Gallery Gitanjali (run by Ajit Sukhija in a building that once was the People's High School at Panjim's latin quarter of Fontainhas), Galeria Cidade at the Cidade de Goa luxury resort, Peace Cottage Fine Art Gallery perched between two luxury hotels at Betalbatim, Gallery Boa Arte opposite the Municipal Garden in Panjim, Picturesque opposite the Goa Urban Cooperative Bank also in Panjim, and Gallery Yemania in Verem. Other art centres are also open in Goa. Art Chamber at Calangute, the Kerkar Art Complex and more. Dr Subodh Kerkar has two galleries, one for his permanent collection, and the other housing the works of Indian and foreign artists. The open air auditorium puts up performances in Indian classical music and dance.
The dive season is between mid October to mid May. Diving is not possible during the monsoons in India ( June till mid October ) The water temperature is between 27 to 30 degrees. The local diving here consists of dives sites around Grande Island, just off the coast near Vasco Da Gama. The dive sites are mostly 12 to 16m deep, and the visibility varies through the season, with an average of around 5-6 m. Marine life is abundant, with many species of reef fish, and hard and soft coral,and several shipwrecks to dive.
If you want to dive Goa, there are several dive centers operating, and they offer local dives,conduct PADI courses, and organize dive trips to Pigeon Island (also known locally as Netrani Island) in the neighboring state of Karnataka.
The Goan staple diet consists of rice and fish curry along with pickles and fried fish. This can be found on many of the beach shacks. The Goan cuisine is a blend of Portuguese and local flavours. Many dishes such as prawn balchao and Kingfish in Garlic have distinct Portuguese flavour.
Dishes such as Vindaloo and Xacuti (pronounced Cha'cuti) will be familiar from Indian restaurant menus, and are originally Goan dishes.
Most beaches have shacks that serve surprisingly delicious meals, specially sea-food and they'll usually consult you to see how you like your food. Don't miss the shack eating experience. You'll want to go back and do it again. Most fancy hotels and restaurants serve terrible foods, it is best to eat at local places, ask a taxi driver where these would be and don't let him take you to any fancy restaurants as they receive commission. For a taste of the local flavour with clean facilities but low prices go to Caji's Place, Colva.
Value for money eateries
SOMEHOW only the big and luxury names seem to ever get written about in Goa. Probably it has something to do with their long reach, persistence and the fact that they simply have a bigger budget for doing PR.
But if you're looking for taste, and not ambience, here's where you could seek. Caution -- some of these places are really rough, though tasty:
Alcoholic Beverages The popular alcoholic beverages in Goa are Beer and Wine. There is also the local liquor, Fenny, which is quite potent and strong. It comes in 2 flavours, Cashewnut and Coconut.
Club Cubana(Arpora) - A night at the Playboy Mansion! This decadent mansion perched on the top of a hill looks over Anjuna and the sea and sports a huge pool, 4 bars, indoor dance floor, a pizza bar and four poster beds scattered around the place. Pay anywhere from 500 - 1000 Rupee for a couple entry (stag entry is not allowed) and pay no more for the rest of the night. Club Cubana has an open bar happening all night, unlimited beer, wine, sparkling and basic spirits are available to you all night! Enjoy the party!
A lot of great places to stay at, but more often than not, you will find that all your searches result in websites that do your travel/accommodation bookings. While this is good, it can leave a holiday maker frustrated. In this section, we will add direct contacts of hotels, resorts etc., so that one can choose to use travel agents and/or call/email directly.
Apart from alcohol, which is very cheap, Goa is one of the more expensive states in India to stay. Though for a foreign tourist it is still very cheap. Peak season, which is from November to late March the prices are very high. Especially in December, 5 star hotel rates rates range from around Rs.20,000 - Rs.35,000 per night some rates go even higher. All touristic places charge more in the season.
Many ancestral homes are being renovated to include full-facility guest accommodation, with/without authentic Goan meals, located in scenic, quiet and relaxed villages, all within easy reach of Cities and Beaches:
There are plenty of star hotels in Goa. So, depending on the location, take your pick. Local environmental campaigners have been critical of the impact of a number of the luxury hotels in particular (apart from some others), specially because of the impact they are perceived to have on the environment, their tendency to build close to the sea (sometimes violating zoning laws) and their demand on local resources.
It is very easy to get a Prepaid mobile, which is very cheap to get and for calls too. A Photo ID proof and photograph for prepaid as well as postpaid connection is required.
Internet cafes can be found in Goa's urban areas, tourist spots and hotels. It is not difficult to find a internet center in a state known for its large expat and tourist populations.
Opting for an ISP (for longer stays)
Goa's BSNL internet service provider is already providing some 3000 broadband connections in the state, and roughly another 24,000 people dial-up to get access the Net using this central government-run service. (Figures relate to approx 2006). Gene Lobo of Aldona runs Systeck Computer Solutions at 7-12 Braganza Trade Centre (opposite Mapusa’s Remanso Hospital, ph +91-832-2266433) in Goa. On Aldona-Net, one of the village-based mailing lists in Goa, he said:
For BSNL (i.e. for what is defined as “broadband” in India) the rates are as follows: For a basic connection it will cost you Modem Rs. 1200 Registration charges Rs. 100 Installation Rs. 250. Total Rs. 1,550. This is a monthly plan where you have to pay Rs. 250 per month for a rent and you are allowed 400 MB of upload/download per month.
According to UK-based editor of the Goan Voice Eddie Fernandes, who checked out various options in late November 2005, the Reliance offer looked appealing but one has to buy a Reliance handset. He wrote: "Since I also required a mobile phone service, the one I opted for was Idea GPRS package which required a Bluetooth mobile phone and Bluetooth nabled laptop, which I had. The Idea package, MWA (Mobile Web Access) 500 cost Rs 500 a month and allowed free unlimited internet onnection and data download. There are other cheaper packages vailable though - see Idea Cellular options. I was able to connect via the modem in the mobile phone from almost anywhere in Goa, even sitting in a car or restaurant. The speed was not brilliant but opening multiple windows for surfing did the trick. I was also able to use the Idea account to make and receive telephone calls."
Goa is a generally safe state, but as with any tourism dependent economy, it has its fair share of petty crime and touts.
Please remember these important points when you are visiting Goa:
For a state which has a lot of people passing through, Goa has nearly two weeks of holidays each year. Government offices have a five-day-week (Saturday-Sunday closed). Panjim closes early (around 8 pm) each evening, and shops here could have a fairly longish siesta break (from around 1.30 pm till upto 3.30 pm). Other shopping centres are more buyer-friendly.
Major public or special holidays are around Republic Day, Id-ul-zuha, Gudi Padva, Good Friday, Independence Day, Ganesh Chaturthi (both days), Gandhi Jayanthi, Dussehra, Diwali, Id-ul-fitr, Feast of St Francis Xavier, Goa Liberation Day and Christmas; Mahashivratri, Holi and Id-e-milad. Banks may remain open during local religious celebrations. Weekend: Saturday and Sunday.
Most tourists travel to and from Goa by bus. Book in advance during the crowded seasons (particularly during the Christmas-New Year rush, for Carnival, or when other Indian regions have school holidays when families travel). Trains connecting Goa offer an inexpensive and fairly pleasant ride, provided you get confirmed reserved seats. Unconfirmed travel can be pretty harrowing.
Goa is fairly well connected to other nearby Indian cities (Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc) via bus. One problem is that most buses ply in the night, and reach their destination teh next morning. If you have a connecting bus, train or flight, this means that the timing you reach there might be inconvenient.
Kadamba Transport Corporation is the Goa state-run transport service. Its buses have seen better days, and more efficient times. There are also other state-run buses run by the governments of Karnataka (some services are efficient, specially the Volvo buses), Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. Many private players also offer bus connections to other cities, with varying levels of discounts and efficiency, with the two usually being inversely related.
The main center for booking train and bus tickets, in Panjim, is around the Kadamba inter-state bus terminus. Tickets for the Konkan Railway can also be booked here, though expect long queues during the holiday season (which in India, can also coincide with the timings when children have a school break).
Paulo Travels is a Goa-based private player, with a fleet of buses connecting various locations. It's main booking office is at the Cardozo Building, near the Kadamba Bus Stand in Panjim (Phone 2438531). It can also do return-bookings, via telephone, say from Bangalore to Goa (as can some other bus services, like the computer-linked Karnataka's KSRTC, which also has a booking office nearby to Paulo's). Paulo offers 'sleeper' bus travel, a concept which crowds in passengers into horizontal sleeper space(If you have ticket numbered as say 5A ,then you have to share bed with person having ticket 5B so always confirm sharing of bed, better buy both tickets A and B so you dont have to share the bed ). Depending on how tall and claustrophic you are, you might enjoy or hate such a service. Nevertheless, Paulo's is a significant player in the Goa private bus transport space. Paulo's buses leave from Panjim and Mapusa to Mumbai (3.30 pm, 7 pm, 7.30 pm and 9 pm), Pune (7 pm, 8 pm and 9 pm), Aurangabad (9 pm), Aurangabad (9 pm), Kolhapur (9.30 am, 4 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm and 9 pm), Bangalore (3.30 pm, 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm), Mangalore (8 pm), Belgaum (9.30 am and 4 pm), Bijapur (8.30 pm), Bagalkot (8.30 pm), Hampi (8 pm), Ahmedabad (9.30 am), Surat (9.30 am), Hyderabad (4 pm). Buses also start and pick-up passengers from Vasco, Margao, Ponda and Calangute an hour earlier.