A kaleidoscopic blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures, sweetened with sun, sea, sand, seafood, susegad and spirituality, Goa is India's pocket-sized paradise.
Goa’s biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of golden-sand beaches. This coastline stretches along the Arabian Sea from the tip to the toe of the state, and each beach community has developed its own personality and reputation since the hippie days of the '60s. They cater to every tropical whim: choose from backpacker Arambol or bolder, brasher Baga; the palm-fringed sands of Palolem, hippie market bliss at Anjuna or lovely, laid-back Mandrem; expansive groomed sands in front of fancy five-star resorts or hidden crescent coves, where the only footprints will be the scuttling crabs' and your own.
Want to top up your Zen as well as your tan? Welcome to winter in Goa where yoga is king and the crop of spiritual activities grows more bountiful each year: sunrise yoga sessions on the beach, reiki healing courses, meditation, and just about every other form of spiritual exploration, are all practised freely. Many travelers come here for a serious yoga experience and you'll find everything from drop-in classes to teaching training courses and spiritual retreats.
The Spice of Life
Food is enjoyed fully in Goa, as it is throughout India. The scents, spices and flavours of Goa’s cuisine will surprise and tantalise even seasoned travelers: whether it's a classic fish curry rice, a morning bhali-pau (bread roll dipped in curry), a piquant vindalho, with its infusions of wine vinegar and garlic, or a spicy xacuti sauce, the Indo-Portuguese influence is a treat for the taste buds. While you're here, visit a back-country spice farm to learn why the Portuguese colonizers were so keen to invade about Goa.
Goa stands out in India for its Portuguese colonial architecture and heritage. The Portuguese invaded Goa in 1510, lured by the exotic East and the promise of lucrative spice routes, before being booted out in 1961. Their indelible mark is still evident in the state’s baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, crumbling forts, colorful Catholic ceremonies, mournful fado music and the stunning cathedrals of Old Goa.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Goa.
Famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, the imposing Basilica de Bom Jesus contains the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the so-called Apostle of the Indies. St Francis Xavier’s missionary voyages throughout the East became legendary. His ‘incorrupt’ body is in the mausoleum to the right, in a glass-sided coffin amid a shower of gilt stars. Freelance guides at the entrance will show you around for ₹100.
At over 76m long and 55m wide, the cavernous Sé Cathedral is the largest church in Asia. Building commenced in 1562, on the orders of King Dom Sebastiao of Portugal, and the finishing touches were finally made some 90 years later. The exterior is notable for its plain style, in the Tuscan tradition. Also of note is its rather lopsided look resulting from the loss of one of its bell towers, which collapsed in 1776 after being struck by lightning.
Panaji’s spiritual, as well as geographical, centre is this elevated, pearly white church, built in 1619 over an older, smaller 1540 chapel, and stacked like a fancy white wedding cake. When Panaji was little more than a sleepy fishing village, this church was the first port of call for sailors from Lisbon, who would give thanks for a safe crossing, before continuing to Ela (Old Goa) further east up the river. The church is beautifully illuminated at night.
Opened to the public in 2012 as a cultural centre, Reis Magos Fort overlooks the narrowest point of the Mandovi River estuary, making it easy to appreciate the strategic importance of the site. It was originally built in 1551, after the north bank of the river came under Portuguese control, and rebuilt in 1703, in time to assist the desperate Portuguese defence against the Hindu Marathas (1737–39).
About 8km southeast of Chandor is the busy small town of Quepem. Here the Palácio do Deão, the renovated 18th-century palace built by the town’s founder, Portuguese nobleman Jose Paulo de Almeida, sits across from the Holy Cross Church on the banks of the small Kushavati River.
Artist and restorer Victor Hugo Gomes first noticed the slow extinction of traditional objects – from farming tools to kitchen utensils to altarpieces – as a child in Benaulim. He created this ethnographic museum from the more than 4000 cast-off objects that he collected from across the state over 20 years. Admission is via a one-hour guided tour, held on the hour. Goa Chitra is 3km east of Maria Hall – ask locally for directions.
If you’re a history or temple buff, don’t miss the atmospheric remains of the unusual little Hindu Shri Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla, 12km north of Molem. Built around the 12th century by the Kadamba dynasty, it’s the only temple of dozens of its type to have survived both the years and the various conquerings and demolishings by Muslim and Portuguese forces, probably due to its remote jungle setting.
Named after the late Dr Salim Moizzudin Abdul Ali, India’s best-known ornithologist, this serene sanctuary on Chorao Island was created by Goa’s Forestry Department in 1988 to protect the birdlife that thrives here and the mangroves that have grown up in and around the reclaimed marshland. Apart from the ubiquitous white egrets and purple herons, you can expect to see colourful kingfishers, eagles, cormorants, kites, woodpeckers, sandpipers, curlews, drongos and mynahs, to name just a few.
West of the Sé Cathedral, the Church of St Francis of Assisi is no longer in use for worship, and consequently exudes a more mournful air than its neighbours.