Though Goa is a relatively small state, the differences in character between the regions, villages and beach enclaves are surprisingly pronounced.
Central Goa is home to the capital, Panaji, an unmissable example of Goa's Portuguese heritage, as well as the state's biggest historical attraction in nearby Old Goa.
North Goa’s buzzing resorts offer plenty of nightlife, shopping, yoga retreats and fine dining, with just a few patches of quiet sands but plenty of action. Goa's busiest beach strip is between Candolim and Baga.
South Goa is more serene, with a largely laid-back tourist vibe, Goa's biggest five-star resorts and its most picturesque beach community at busy little Palolem. Don't miss some inland exploration here, from traditional villages to wildlife sanctuaries.
Panaji & Central Goa
Picturesque Portuguese-era homes and historic riverside buildings are a highlight in the relaxed state capital of Panaji. Not far away, Old Goa’s glorious cathedrals once earned it the title ‘Rome of the East’.
Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, on lovely Chorao Island, makes for a leisurely spot of birdwatching beside the river. Further afield are Bondla and Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Backwoods Camp is another ornithologist’s dream.
Temples abound around Ponda, where the Shri Manguesh and Shri Laxmi Narasimha temples are especially worth a visit. Further east, Tambdi Surla is home to an interesting little 12th-century temple, which has survived centuries of conquerors and temple demolitions.
North Goa is the place to party. Calangute, Baga and Candolim are popular for clubs and live music, while Anjuna, Vagator and Morjim pull out the stops with late-night rave parties.
Yoga and spirituality are big business with dozens of retreats, courses and drop-in classes setting up for the winter, especially in Anjuna, Assagao, Mandrem and Arambol.
From the boisterous beaches of Baga to the relatively empty white sand at Mandrem, there’s a beach to fit every inclination in North Goa. Arambol, Vagator and Anjuna’s beaches are popular with backpackers; Calangute, Candolim and Sinquerim are the places to head for water sports, while Arambol is best for paragliding.
South Goa has some of India's finest beaches and with its chilled-out vibe this is the place to find a patch of peaceful paradise. An almost uninterrupted strip of sand stretches from Velsao to Mobor via Colva and Benaulim, but in the far south Palolem, Patnem, Agonda and tiny Cola show off Goa's coastline at its best.
The south has a string of five-star, beachfront resorts, from the Leela in Mobor to the Lalit in Rajbag, with golf courses, spas and all-round pampering.
Exploring the Past
Getting off the beaten track is easy in South Goa, where tiny coastal villages invite exploration by scooter, motorbike or rental car and inland villages shine a light on Goa's colonial past. Trips to Usgalimal, Netravali and Cotigao are adventurous. The ride down the coast from the Sal River to Agonda is one of the prettiest in the state.