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This article is an insider's guide to Goa, India that contains a comprehensive Goa travel guide for first-time visitors as well as returning visitors to Goa.
Goa is a phenomenal beach destination that is a crowd favourite among Indians and foreigners alike. Even though Goa is known for the buzzing beaches, cheap alcohol, raging parties, and scores of people thronging towards the beaches, this is just a tourist's perception of Goa. The real Goa is a much more laidback, serene and not to mention, hauntingly beautiful place.
Thus, having lived in Goa for over 13 years now, I've put together my insider's guide to Goa in order to show you the real Goa - one that is known to tourists and also, the other side which is known to locals. I hope you enjoy reading my comprehensive Goa travel guide.
Additionally, if you have any queries or if you think I missed out on something, feel free to drop a comment below or reach out to me via direct messaging on Instagram (@thespicyjourney).
Insider's Travel Guide to Goa
My insider’s travel guide to Goa contains all the information about Goa that will help you plan your entire Goa trip on your own. I understand that as a first time visitor, doing research on a particular location can get overwhelming. And so, I've put together all the information on Goa in one place for you.
This Goa travel guide has information on all the beaches, places to visit in Goa, a list of extra activities you can indulge in, references to offbeat things to do in Goa, nightlife, flea markets, and lots more. So without further ado, dive right in.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Basic Info about Goa
- How Many Days to Spend in Goa?
- How to Reach Goa
- Best Time to Visit Goa
- Goa Trip Cost
- Where to Stay in Goa
- Getting Around Goa
- What to Wear in Goa
- Best Places to Visit in Goa for Sightseeing
- Things to do in Goa - List of Activities
- Best Beaches in Goa
- Where to Eat in Goa
- Nightlife in Goa
- Goa Flea Markets
- Events and Festivals in Goa
- Goa Travel Itinerary
- Insider's Travel Guide to Goa
Basic Info about Goa
- Language: Konkani is the local language of Goa. Apart from that, English is widely spoken here. Keep in mind that locals aren't well-versed in Hindi.
- ATMS: There are ample ATMs in the cities. However, finding ATMs may be difficult in the villages and in areas farther away from the main cities.
- Petrol Pumps: The situation with petrol pumps is the same as that with ATMs.
- Currency Exchange: You will find counters at the Goa International Airport and various exchange shops in the cities as well as in the tourist hot-spot areas.
How Many Days to Spend in Goa?
The answer depends on how much of Goa you want to see. In order to explore all of Goa in-depth, you will need at least 10-14 days in Goa. However, you can cover the major sightseeing spots in Goa within 3-4 days.
My personal suggestion is that you should spend 5-7 days in Goa to get its feel and cover some of the major sightseeing spots, beaches and everything else that Goa has to offer.
How to Reach Goa
Goa is the most popular beach destination in India. Thousands of tourists - local as well as foreigners arrive in Goa on a daily basis. Thus, Goa is very well connected by flights, trains and road.
Goa has one airport - the Goa International Airport which is located at Dabolim in South Goa. The Goa airport has direct flights flying between Goa and major Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata, to name a few. Furthermore, the airport connects Goa to many international cities as well. Both Panjim and Margao cities are located at a distance of roughly 27 km from the Goa airport in opposite directions.
Goa has 3 main railway stations - Margao, Vasco-da-Gama and Thivim. Margao railway station in South Goa is the main hub which is connected by an extensive railway network to other parts of India. Margao or Madgaon railway station to Panaji is a distance of roughly 37 km.
One can very easily find buses to Goa from metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad etc on the redbus website. Moreover, there are state run buses such as Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC), Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), and Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) between Goa and neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Alternatively, taking a road trip to Goa from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is an option that many tourists prefer to take. The drive to Goa is scenic and there are many beautiful stops along the way.
Best Time to Visit Goa
Goa has two main seasons - the tourist season (also known as the “on” season) between October and April and the monsoon season (or the “off” season) from May to September.
The dry or the “on” season is the best time to visit Goa. This is when beach shacks are set up across most beaches in Goa, lots of events and festivals going on and the entire place is a gala feast. Plan a Goa trip during the “on” season if you want to attend events, parties and meet other travellers.
On the other hand, the monsoon season is a time when most of the Goa beaches are nearly empty and there’s very little going on. This is the time to visit Goa is you’re looking for greenery and peace and quiet.
Goa Trip Cost
So how much will a Goa trip cost you? The answer completely depends on how flexible your budget is.
If you’re looking to make a budget trip to Goa, then staying at hostels, eating at authentic Goan restaurants and taking local buses to get around Goa will save you a whole lot of money.
If you have a mid-range budget then you can very easily find budget and mid-range hotels in Goa. You can hire a two-wheeler instead of a cab and eat at mid-range restaurants.
On the other hand, if you're willing to splurge then you can stay at a nice resort, eat at upscale restaurants and travel around Goa in a hired cab.
Where to Stay in Goa
Goa, being a popular backpacking destination, has many-a backpacker hostels scattered throughout the state. Most hostels in Goa are located in North Goa - near Vagator, Anjuna, Candolim and Arambol. Similarly, there are hostels at the popular beaches in South Goa as well. A bed in a dorm will typically cost between INR 400 and INR 800.
Goa Tourism Hotels
If you’re looking for hotels that provide the bare minimum comfort and amenities on a limited budget, then look into the Goa tourism hotels. There are hotels run by the state government located in Panaji, Old Goa, Calangute, Mapusa, Colva and a few other places in Goa. Book rooms at the Goa tourism hotels on the GTDC website.
Budget Hotels in Goa
Despite Goa being a popular tourist destination in India, there’s no dearth of budget hotels in Goa. You can find budget stays in every location in Goa - be it South Goa or North Goa. One way to look for budget hotels in Goa is on a site like booking.com. If not that, you can even find rooms on airbnb at low costs. Sign up to Airbnb using my referral code to get a juicy discount on your first stay.
Goa Beach Shacks
O3 Beach Resort, Palolem Beach, Goa
The Goa beach shacks are a ubiquitous choice of stay in Goa. While beach shacks can be found at almost every beach in Goa, it’s the Palolem beach shacks that are predominantly popular in Goa. Read my comprehensive breakdown of the Palolem beach huts in my blog post on Palolem beach.
Resorts in Goa
The infinity pool at Doubletree by Hilton, Panaji, Goa
While North Goa has quite a few resorts, I highly recommend staying at a resort in South Goa. This is due to the fact that South Goa sees a fewer number of visitors as compared to North Goa which makes staying there all the more peaceful and serene. That being said, there are peaceful hotels in North Goa as well. Take Doubletree by Hilton Panaji for example (shown in the picture above). This hotel, located on the outskirts of Panjim, has sweeping views of the Goan rivers and islands as seen from the infinity pool and rooms. Moreover, the two restaurants here serve all sorts of International, Indian and Goan cuisine.
Getting Around Goa
Hiring a two-wheeler is the most popular and budget-friendly way to get around Goa. it’s a well-known and unfortunate fact that taxi prices in Goa are sky-high. This is the reason why renting a two-wheeler is an affordable and rather fun way to see Goa. A scooter typically costs INR 200-250 for a day whereas renting a motorbike such as Royal Enfield for a day will cost above INR 300. In case you need a taxi service at affordable rates, install the GoaMiles app to book a taxi instantly.
What to Wear in Goa
Unlike most of North India, you have the freedom to wear whatever you like in Goa. There are no restrictions on clothing items when it comes to choosing what to wear in Goa. While at the beaches, you can wear a bikini and shorts or short skirts, while sightseeing you can wear maxi dresses, knee-length skirts, trousers and fancy tops. Read my handy little guide on what to wear in Goa for women and girls.
Best Places to Visit in Goa for Sightseeing
Visit the Forts in Goa
Before the Portuguese invaded Goa in the 1500s, Goa was under the rule of the Muslim ruler Adil Shah. While Adil Shah built a number of forts for himself, after the Portuguese takeover, they modified some forts to suit their needs. Thus every fort in Goa has a rich cultural and architectural significance. Chapora Fort, Aguada Fort, Tiracol Fort, and Reis Magos Fort are the forts located in North Goa. On the other hand, Cabo de Rama Fort is a well-known fort located in the South Goa district. Each of these forts offers spectacular views of the ocean. While Chapora fort and Cabo de Rama fort don’t have any timings, since they are cliff-top ruined forts, Aguada fort and Reis Magos fort are open from the morning till 5.30 pm in the evening. Tiracol Fort, on the contrary, has been converted to the Fort Tiracol Heritage Hotel. You can book a stay here to live in a palace, dine with insane ocean views and to escape the hustle-bustle of the crowds.
Take a Ferry Boat to an Island
Divar Island near Old Goa
Most tourists coming to Goa think of it as a beach destination. While this may be true, there is lots more to do in Goa that’s beyond the beaches. There are two main islands in Goa - Divar Island and Chorao Island. Both of these islands can be reached by taking a ferry from Ribandar, which lies on the road between Panaji and Old Goa. Chorao Island is famously known for the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. You can hire a little boat, watch the mangrove, spot birds and enjoy a languid boat ride in the Goan rivers.
Dudhsagar waterfall, located on the Goa-Karnataka border is a 4-tiered, 3-streamed, 320 m high waterfall. Apart from being surrounded by a lush forest, the waterfall also contains natural pools to wade into the waters. You can reach the mighty Dudhsagar waterfalls by either completing a trek to the bottom of the walls or by going via the government-approved jeep rides that start from Molem. The waterfall has been named after its milky appearance and is a worthwhile day trip from Panjim, which is located 60 km away. Other than that, there are tons of other smaller, albeit beautiful, waterfalls scattered across Goa.
See the Churches
Goa was under the Portuguese rule for over 450 years from the 1500’s until 19 December 1961. Due to this reason, there are striking churches scattered all across Goa. While the Panjim church and the Old Goa church are the two famous churches in Goa, it’s the offbeat ones that steal the heart away. The Mae De Deus church and the Siolim riverside chapel are both exquisite and worth exploring!
Visit Old Goa
While Old Goa may be known for the Old Goa church, there is, in fact, a lot more to do in Old Goa that only the locals know about. Whether it’s a hilltop chapel with a view of the river and islands, a hauntingly beautiful ruined church complex or a restaurant right next to the river, Old Goa has lots waiting to be discovered. You can take a half-day trip to Old Goa from Panjim, which is the closest city. Take a look at my post on all the places to visit in Old Goa to discover the hidden gems of Old Goa!
Go Sightseeing in Panaji
Panjim or Panaji is the ever-lively capital city of Goa. While one might wonder if there’s hardly anything to do in Panjim, as a matter of fact, there are lots of things to do in Panjim. Whether it’s the famous Panjim church, Dona Paula jetty, Miramar beach, the chaat street of Miramar, the colour burst region of Fontainhas, there are so many popular as well as offbeat things to do in Panjim. Read this travel guide to Panjim city which contains all the top places to visit in Panjim, events, festivals and lots more.
See Salaulim Dam
Did you know that Goa has an extremely scenic dam called the Salaulim dam hidden away? This dam is the perfect example of a duckbill spillway, is surrounded by a botanical garden where you can indulge in a picnic and is located on the river Salaulim, a tributary of the Zuari river. Panjim to Salaulim dam is a distance of 61 km while Margao to Salaulim dam is a distance of 26 km. If you’ve explored Goa many-a-times and are looking to see a different side of Goa, visit this dam and enjoy the picturesque drive along the way.
Explore Offbeat Goa
Lately, more and more people are inspired to explore Goa beyond the beaches. Consequently, people are driven to explore offbeat places in Goa - such as the temples, the lesser-known churches, islands, lakes etc. If you too are keen on exploring another side of Goa, take a look at this blog post on the 17 best offbeat places in Goa.
Things to do in Goa - List of Activities
Goa River Cruise
The Panjim river cruises that originate at the Santa Monica jetty in Panjim city are a great way to spend the evening cruising in the Goan rivers. The cruises usually last an hour, there are food and drink stalls present and an entertainment program which includes local dance performances. You can book tickets with various cruise companies online or book directly at the booking counters present at the jetty. Do note that it gets crowded in the evening so be prepared to wait in a queue. It’s ideal to take a cruise at 6 pm in order to catch the sunset from the boat.
Visit a Casino in Goa
There are lots of casinos, to indulge in a night of carefree fun, that are located in Panjim city. Most of these casinos have a package that costs approximately INR 2500 per person that includes a buffet dinner and a few complimentary chips to get you started. The ports of all the casinos of located on the main road of Panjim (DB road). You can buy your tickets right here, catch a boat to the casino and come back the same way.
Want to ditch the car or motorbike and cycle around the quiet lanes of Goa? B: Live runs e-bike tours in many places all across Goa. These e-bikes are battery operated and they come with an accelerator which means that you don’t have to pedal the bicycle if you don't want to. The bikes can even go up a hill with great ease and comfort to the rider. Check out the B: Live website to choose an e-bike tour of your liking. What’s more, each tour comes with an authentic Goan experience, snacks and a tour guide who will assist you throughout the duration of the tour.
If you’re the one who prefers to walk around and soak in the essence of a place, then a heritage walk is the way to go for you. You can take all sorts of heritage walks which give you an authentic experience where you will learn about the history of Goa, gain an insight to the Goan culture and go back with a wealth of knowledge about Goa. Perhaps the most popular and the most loved heritage walk in Goa is the Fontainhas heritage walk. You can take a look at some of the heritage walks in the Airbnb experiences section. Moreover, sign up to Airbnb using my referral code to get a discount on stays and experiences.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to throw lavish parties or add a magical touch to special occasions, consider renting out a yacht for a few hours. Depending on the kind of package you choose, you can get food, drink and entertainment services on board along with a wait staff. These yachts come in different budgets for all kinds of occasions ranging from birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, wedding functions to office events, social gatherings etc.
Best Beaches in Goa
South Goa Beaches
The South Goa beaches are the laid-back beaches in Goa. As someone who has been living in Goa for over 13 years, I prefer the South Goa beaches as opposed to the North Goa beaches because of the lesser crowds and the pristine nature of the beaches. Read my guide on the South Goa beaches to explore the tranquil beaches in Goa.
North Goa Beaches
While the South Goa beaches are peaceful, the North Goa beaches are always a happening place to be at. Whether it’s a taste of the hippie culture, the best beach shacks, karaoke bars and beach clubs, you’ll find it all at the North Goa beaches. Take a look at some of my personal favourites as well as the crowd favourite North Goa beaches:
1. Arambol Beach
Did you know that Goa was a raging hippie paradise back in the ’70s? The first hippies arrived in Goa in the 1970s and settled onto the North Goa beaches of Arambol, Vagator and Anjuna. While Vagator and Anjuna are more commercialised tourist beaches, Arambol still retains the hippie spirit. Whether it’s vegan cafes, yoga centres, hippie stuff (you know what I mean), you’ll find Arambol to be the perfect hippie paradise even today. While you’re at Arambol, do not miss other great nearby beaches of Ashwem, Mandrem and Morjim, which are less popular but equally beautiful.
2. Vagator Beach
In case you’re looking for a beach that has a hippie touch yet commercialised to the extent that you’ll find nice places to stay and good restaurants and cafes nearby, Vagator should be the beach of your choice. Vagator is a bustling area that’s known for the very famous Chapora fort aka the Dil Chahta Hai fort. You’ll find lots of hotels, hostels, upscale restaurants, cafes, shops and everything else in close proximity to the beach.
3. Anjuna Beach
Anjuna beach is yet another one of the North Goa beaches that’s on the way to becoming highly commercialised (read: Baga beach). Anjuna has some of the best restaurants and cafes in all of Goa. You can easily spend a whole day in Anjuna just eating at the beachside restaurants or exploring cafes nested in the tiny lanes of Anjuna.
Where to Eat in Goa
My insider’s guide to Goa would be incomplete if I didn’t touch upon this extremely important subject. When it comes to trying food in Goa, there’s no one list that anyone can prepare. Goa is home to so many wonderful restaurants and cafes, with new places coming up regularly that it’s hard to keep track of all the places to eat in Goa.
Nonetheless, I’ve put together 3 rough guides to Goa’s food scene. Of the three, this list of the best North Goa restaurants and cafes is perhaps the most popular of them all. Coming to Panjim city, check out this guide to the best restaurants in Panaji city. Finally, if you’re in the vicinity of the airport and need to refuel, take a look at the best restaurants near Goa airport.
Nightlife in Goa
Goa has a raging nightlife that consists of nightclubs, beach clubs, karaoke bars, pubs. Pool parties, rave parties and everything else in between. There are plenty of nightclubs in the Baga-Candolim region such as LPK, Titos, etc that play Bollywood and Punjabi hits to cater to a North Indian crowd. Meanwhile, places like Favella and Soro are much classier establishments that come with a dining experience along with foot-tapping English hits. Moreover, they even have themed nights every once in a while.
Coming to Panjim city, Soho and Cafe Mojo are the favourite pubs among the locals.
Going down south, Silent Noise in Palolem is well-known for the Saturday night parties where you dance to music while wearing headphones. In any case, you’ll find nightlife in Goa quite easily at almost every corner.
Goa Flea Markets
Apart from boutique stores and beach-side markets, there are quite a few flea markets in Goa. When it comes to the most popular Goa flea market, the Arpora Saturday night market tops the list. This market is held every Saturday night during the “on” season in Arpora which is located close to Anjuna and Calangute. This market has everything ranging from clothes, bags, jewellery, shoes, art and handmade artefacts. Furthermore, there are performances such as fire eaters and dancers along with live music and plenty of food stalls to choose from. Apart from this, there are lots of other markets like the Anjuna Wednesday flea market that are set-up in the tourist season.
Events and Festivals in Goa
The Goa Carnival is one of the most popular events to take place in Goa. The carnival parades are held at multiple Goan cities like Panaji, Margao, Vasco-da-Gama, and Ponda over a span of a few days late in the month of February.
IFFI (International Film Festival of India) which is held every year in the state capital Panaji sees many movie screenings and talks attended by Bollywood as well as local celebrities.
Coming to art festivals, Serendipity Art Festival is as big as it gets. This festival is held in the month of December at various venues in Panjim city.
While there are many events music festivals held in Goa, Sunburn, which is held late in December, is the most famous of them all that sees well-known international DJs and singers perform.
Goa Travel Itinerary
Even though this is a complete Goa travel guide to let you plan your own Goa trip, I do have a suggested itinerary for you. While I strongly suggest spending AT LEAST a week in Goa, tourists choose to spend anywhere between 2 days to months in Goa.
If you’re on a quick weekend trip to Goa, check out these places to visit in Goa in 3 days. This itinerary covers all the basics of Goa within 3 days. On the other hand, if you have more time, spend your time exploring the popular beaches and places in Goa like Arambol, Vagator, Anjuna, Panjim, Old Goa, Agonda and Palolem at the very least.