The gods smiled on Goa. They blessed this sun-kissed strip of the Indian coast with warm winter weather, whispering palms, fine food and friendly people, then garnished the dish with a string of sandy beaches, creating an almost unbroken strip of gold from Arambol to Polem. But with so many beaches to choose from, where to begin?
Whether you’re after unspoiled golden shores, morning yoga classes under the palms or the last embers of the full-moon-flavoured hippy vibe that made the region so (in)famous, there’s a stretch of sand suited to you. Here’s our guide to Goa’s best beaches.
Best for peace and quiet: Querim
Escaping the crowds can be tricky in Goa – the beaches are obviously no secret – but it can be done; the trick is to go to the end of the line. So far north it’s almost in Maharashtra, Querim, aka Keri Beach, lies beyond the radar of the legions who congregate in Baga, Calangute and Candolim.
It’s not quite Swiss Family Robinson territory, but this tidy, curving bay comes close if your dream is just the sound of shifting sand. A few beach bungalows set up here in season, but amenities are limited; for the middle ground, try the more developed, but still calm stretches of sand at Mandrem and Agonda.
Best for party animals: Anjuna or Vagator
At the other end of the spectrum, the party scene raves on – though with slightly less wild abandon as in the 70s and 80s – at Anjuna and Vagator. You still get great music and barefoot dancing on the sand, but most parties now take place in established venues such as the Hilltop nightclub in Vagator. To get around noise regulations, touring big name DJs often play their sets on Sundays from afternoon to late evening, rather than raving through the night.
Old school full moon parties still take place, of course, but these days things are fairly secretive, with locations shared by social media on the day, to avoid visits from party-pooping officials. There is of course a reason for these party-pooping visits: drug-related deaths occur all too frequently in Goa. If you’re planning to join the party, proceed with extreme caution.
Best for water sports: Mandrem or Morjim
With the beach resort scene in full swing, you can get wet in all sorts of wild and wonderful ways along the Goa coastline. January to March is prime time for wind-surfing, with the best breezes in Dona Paula Bay near Panjim. For kitesurfing, learn the ropes at Kite Guru, based at the Riverside resort in Mandrem, or Kitesurfing Goa at Morjim.
Goa also has a healthy ‘proper’ surfing scene, with some impressive swells from October to April, coinciding with the peak tourist season. Banana Surf School at Morjim is a good place for beginners, with surfing lessons that will help you get up on your feet on your very first outing. Agonda’s Aloha Surf India is another prime spot for first-timers.
Scuba diving off Goa isn’t quite the tropical wonderland you might have experienced in Southeast Asia, but there are fish aplenty, plus wrecks, reefs and seaweed forests around Ilha Grande, Ilha Netrani other offshore islands. Candolim’s Dive Goa and Baga’s Barracuda Diving are trusted operators.
Best for families: Agonda
Goa is the perfect choice for a family beach holiday in India. The winter weather is pitch perfect, the beach scene is developed, locals love kids and you can even find the familiar tastes of home for tiny travellers who haven’t yet developed an appreciation for Indian cooking.
Many parents rate Agonda for its boogie-board friendly surf, and beachside restaurants that provide a vantage point for watching the children play in the sand. Aswem, Palolem and Patnem also have a good family vibe, with just the right balance of amenities and personal space.
Wherever you go in Goa, be aware that undertows are common, so make sure children stick to the shallows and share advice about swimming parallel to the shore if you get caught in a current. The good news is that most Goa beaches now have government-appointed lifeguards, which should help put parents’ minds at ease.
Best for culture vultures: Candolim
You don’t just go to Goa for the beach. Thanks to centuries of cross-cultural influences, there’s plenty to see once you step back from the sand. The cultural centre of Goa is its appealing capital, Panaji, with a Portuguese-by-way-of-the-tropics vibe, and a cluster of good museums, art galleries, and historic churches. The serious history unfurls once you hit Old Goa, the original Portuguese settlement, where a string of stone-walled churches and cathedrals stand handsomely amongst the palm trees beside the Mandovi River.
The best bases for exploring the state capital and its historic counterpart are the beaches immediately to the north and south, with Candolim, Calangute and Baga having the best bus connections for popping in and out. All three are packed with hotels and resorts, and the competition means you can often pick up a room for a bargain price.
Best for foodies: Baga
There’s more to Goan food than vindaloo, though a well-prepared version of this Portuguese-Indian fusion dish flavoured with palm vinegar and dried red chilli is still a delight on the palate. With the influx of globetrotters taking up permanent residence on this strip of coastline, Goa now serves up some spectacular world food amongst the eateries serving delectable Indian cuisine.
Dining choices cross the spectrum, from old-school, traveller-centric cafes such as Vagator’s ever popular vegan Bean Me Up to Utorda’s club-chic, party oriented Zeebop by the Sea. South Goa is where expats head for the taste of home, at restaurants such as Patnem’s garden-style Jaali Cafe, serving tasty tapas plates from the Middle East and Mediterranean, and Palolem’s highly regarded Ourem 88, offering inspired takes on European classics such as baked brie and the English Sunday roast.
Some of the tastiest meals are served in the capital, so choose a resort in Candolim, Baga or Calangute to be close to elegant dining options such as Panaji’s boutique Black Sheep Bistro, where tapas dishes ooze farm-to-table flavours, and nostalgically old-school Goan restaurants such as Hotel Venite and Viva Panjim.
Best for yoga: Assagao and Arambol
Yoga classes on the sand are the very vision of life in Goa, and there are some excellent centres here offering yoga tuition, from casual drop-in classes to serious training from veteran teachers. Assagao has become Goa’s favourite spot to do the downward dog, with popular retreats such as Purple Valley Yoga Retreat and Swan Yoga Retreat offering the full sand and serenity package.
For low-stress drop-in classes, you’ll be spoiled for choice in hippy havens such as Anjuna, Aswem and Mandrem; in South Goa, get your stretch on in Palolem and Patnem. Dedicated practitioners gather in Arambol, where the highly-regarded Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre offers five-day training programmes from November to March.
This article was first published in July 2010 and last updated in December 2019.