Even away from the beaches and nightlife, Goa has plenty to keep you active, from impromptu cricket and beach volleyball matches to hilltop paragliding or cooking classes. You’ll find plenty of seasonal eco-slanted activities on offer: yoga and meditation, nature walks and day trips, river cruises, birdwatching and guided hikes through the state’s national parks. As with most Goan activities, outfits change regularly and it’s best to check online or noticeboards in hotels, restaurants and cafes for up-to-the-minute offerings.

Yoga

India is widely regarded as the birthplace of yoga and Goa is the place that many teachers and practitioners set up for the winter season. From your open-air beachfront or jungle yoga shala, there are few better places to downward dog or salute to the sun.

Yoga Season

The best time to visit is mid-November to early April, when all outfits or retreats are open and courses are in full swing. A handful of smaller classes operate year-round, so it's still possible to get your yoga fix, even during the monsoon.

Palolem, Agonda and Patnem in the south of the state, and Arambol, Mandrem, Anjuna and Assagao in the north, are particularly great places to take classes or longer courses. At most beach centres you’ll find no shortage of morning and afternoon drop-in classes.

Teachers and practitioners are largely an ever-changing parade of foreigners or Indian teachers who set up shop in Goa as soon as the monsoon subsides. Peruse hotel, restaurant or cafe notice boards for current and upcoming courses.

Sidebar: Which Yoga Class?

  • Ashtanga

Often referred to as ‘power yoga’, active and physically demanding, good for some serious toning.

  • Bikram

Also known as ‘hot yoga’, with a focus on correct alignment, Bikram’s 26 poses are performed at 41˚C (105˚F) and 40% humidity – not hard to achieve on a Goan April day.

  • Hatha

Covers a whole gamut of styles, but generally refers to yoga focused on breath work (pranayama), and slow, gentle stretching, making it good for beginners.

  • Iyengar

Slow and steady, often using ‘props’, in the form of blocks, balls and straps.

  • Kundalini

Aims to free the base of the spine, to unleash energy hidden there, and usually involves lots of core, spine and sitting work.

  • Vinyasa

An active, fluid series of changing poses characterises Vinyasa, sometimes called ‘flow yoga’.

Goa’s Yoga Centres

Scattered across Goa are a number of respected options for yoga classes, courses, retreats and teacher certification. Many hotels, guesthouses and resorts also offer yoga classes.

Ayurveda

Goa offers plenty of opportunities to explore ayurvedic treatments. Briefly defined as an ancient science of plant-based medicine, ayurveda’s Sanskrit name comes from a combination of ayu (life) and veda (knowledge); ancient ayurveda resources described 2000 species of plants, of which at least 550 are still in use today. Illness, in the doctrine of ayurveda, comes from a loss of internal balance, which can be restored through a regime of massage and panchakarma ('five therapies' internal purification).

The first part of this regime (and without doubt the most popular) comprises an hour-long massage with warm medicated oils, followed by a cleansing steam bath. Other treatments include aromatherapy and shirodhara (pouring of warm oil on the forehead).

The second part of the full regime, the internal purification, takes longer and most people opt for a fortnight’s course of treatment and strict diet in order to feel its full advantages.

Ayurvedic therapy treatments can be found at most beach villages, but ask around for personal recommendations and ensure that a massage is conducted by a female if you're a woman and a male if you're a man. Another option is to head to one of the swanky spas at Goa’s five-star hotels. It won't be cheap but you can be certain of well-trained staff and superluxurious treatments.

Meditation

Vipassana, roughly meaning ‘to see things for what they really are’, is a meditation technique most often taught in Goa as a 10-day residential retreat, concentrating on ‘self-transformation through self-observation’. In practice it's an extremely strict regime that translates as 10 days of meditation, clear thought and near silence, abstaining from killing, stealing, lying, sexual activity and intoxicants, and concentrating at length on one’s own breathing. Consult www.dhamma.org for more detailed information on the art of silence and courses in Goa.

Most yoga retreats also offer some form of meditation classes.

Outdoor Activities

Goa has plenty to keep you active on land and in the water.

Diving

Although Goa is not internationally renowned as a diving destination, its waters are regarded as the third-best spot for diving in India (after the Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands).

The shallow waters off the coast are ideal for less-experienced divers; typical dives are at depths of 10m to 12m, with abundant marine life to be seen. The main problem is that visibility is unpredictable and is adversely affected by the Mandovi and Zuari rivers; on some days it’s 30m, on others it’s closer to 2m, so it’s best to check daily before deciding to go out. A Discover Scuba course costs around ₹5000 and a four-day PADI open-water course starts from ₹20,000. For certified divers, one dive costs ₹3000, two dives cost ₹5000. The dive season runs from late October to April.

The highlights of diving in Goa are the wreck dives – there are hundreds of wrecks along Goa’s coastline, including Portuguese and Spanish galleons and more recent wrecks of merchant and naval ships. It’s said that vast quantities of treasure still lie on its ocean beds, remnants from the wrecks carrying wealthy Portuguese traders.

Popular dive sites include Grande Island and St George’s Island. Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) accredited operations in Goa include the following:

Ecofriendly Diving

  • Avoid touching or standing on living marine organisms or dragging equipment across the reef. If you must hold onto the reef, only touch exposed rock or dead coral.
  • Be conscious of your fins. Even without contact, the surge from fin strokes near the reef can damage delicate organisms. Take care not to kick up clouds of sand, which can smother organisms.
  • Practise and maintain proper buoyancy control. Major damage can be done by divers descending too fast and colliding with the reef.
  • Resist the temptation to collect or buy corals or shells, or to take objects from shipwrecks.
  • Don’t feed fish, and never touch turtles, should you be lucky enough to encounter them.

Water Sports

Most water-sports outfits are run on a seasonal, itinerant basis, and it’s enough to turn up at a beach and look around for a shack offering your activity of choice. Calangute and Colva are the busiest beaches for water sports. Activities include jet skiing (tandem), parasailing (tandem), wake-boarding, kayaking, surfing and kitesurfing. Paragliding is popular from the cliffs at Arambol. The best places for kayaking are Palolem's calm bay or the state's numerous rivers and estuaries.

Wildlife Watching

Goa's hinterland is great for spotting wildlife, from the blazing kingfishers that fleck the coastal strip’s luminescent paddy fields, to the water buffalo that wander home come sunset after a hard day’s wallowing.

Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries host hard-to-spot wonders such as gaurs (Indian bison), porcupines, wild boar and the occasional pangolin (scaly anteater) or leopard. A loud rustle in the leaves overhead often signals the arrival of a troop of mischievous langur monkeys.

Taking a riverine trip inland, you might be rewarded with sightings of crocodiles, otters, and yet more birdlife: just try spotting a Ceylon frogmouth or a fairy bluebird without at least the hint of a satisfied smile.

Goa's Bird & Snake Man

Wildlife guide, photographer, snake-handler, twitcher, naturalist and author – there are few people in Goa better equipped to lead you into the wilds than Rahul Alvares. The speciality is custom birdwatching tours, but he also offers butterfly tours (to the conservatory near Ponda), night tours, reptile and amphibian-watching tours and photography workshops.

Rahul will also customise trips. He's the author of The Call of the Snake and co-author of Birds of Goa. Check his website at www.rahulalvares.com to see his sublime wildlife photography and to contact him regarding tour bookings.

Day Trips & Tours

A great way to see more of Goa, especially if time is tight, is to sign up for a day trip or two. Travel agents and taxi drivers at any beach resort can organise tours, offering visits to otherwise hard-to-reach sights, including river cruises and Keralan-style houseboat stays.

Cooking Classes

Cooking classes are gaining popularity in Goa. Some of the best:

Top Things to Do Away from the Beach