Panaji & Central Goa
Some travellers see Goa as one big beach resort, but the central region – practically beach-free – is the state’s historic and cultural heart and soul. Wedged between Goa’s two biggest rivers, the Mandovi and the Zuari, this region is home to the state capital, Panaji, the glorious churches of Old Goa, inland islands, bird sanctuaries and the wilds of the Western Ghats.
One of India’s smallest and most relaxed state capitals, Panaji (also still widely known by its former Portuguese name Panjim) crowds around the peninsula overlooking the broad Mandovi River, where cruise boats and floating casinos ply the waters, casting neon reflections in the night.
North of Margao
The northern section of South Goa’s coastline extends from Bogmalo, just a few kilometres south of Dabolim Airport, down to Mobor, perched on the headland above the mouth of the Sal River. Between the two is some 35km of virtually uninterrupted beach – golden sands in an almost dead-straight line lapped by the Arabian Sea.
Calangute & Baga
Calangute and Baga move to the beat of their own drum – and a pretty noisy one it is. For many visitors, particularly cashed-up young Indian tourists from Bangalore and Mumbai plus Russians on package holidays, this is Goa’s party town, where the raves and hippies have made way for modern thumping nightclubs and wall-to-wall drinking.
Palolem is undoubtedly one of Goa’s most postcard-perfect beaches: a gentle curve of palm-fringed sand facing a calm bay. But in season it’s bursting at the seams. If you want to see what Palolem looked like 10 or 15 years ago, turn up in September or early October, before the beach huts start to go up.
Candolim, Sinquerim & Fort Aguada
Candolim’s long and languid beach, which curves to join smaller Sinquerim Beach to the south, is largely the preserve of slow-basting package tourists from the UK, Russia and, increasingly, elsewhere in India. It’s fringed with an unabating line of beach shacks, all offering sunbeds and shade in exchange for your custom.
South of Margao
One of the most beautiful roads in Goa is the coastal stretch between Assolna, on the south side of the Sal River, and the village of Agonda, some 20km south – perfect on a scooter or Enfield. Hilly, winding and highly scenic, the road takes you into tiny villages, through thick patches of coconut grove, and up to some stunning vistas out over the sea.
Arambol (also known as Harmal) is the most northerly of Goa’s developed beach resorts and is still considered the beach of choice for many long-staying budget-minded travellers in the north. Arambol first emerged in the 1960s as a mellow paradise for long-haired long-stayers.