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Goa, a small and perfectly formed state in western India, has become a dream holiday destination. Its glorious beaches, beautiful cities replete with colonial architecture, wildlife reserves and spice plantations are complemented by the delicious Goan cuisine and the warmth of the local people. Whether you’re simply looking for an enjoyable beach break, are hoping to unwind in the birthplace of yoga, or are interested in the region’s unique history and culture, Goa is an endlessly fascinating region that has something for all visitors.
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Goa’s blissful beaches and sleepy fishing villages have long enticed visitors. Its laid-back capital, Panaji (Panem), which sits on the banks of the broad Mandovi River, is scattered with handsome colonial buildings and 17th-century churches. There are more in Old Goa, which was the Goan capital under the Portuguese for many years, and was once known as ‘the Rome of the East’. There are also some spectacular forts, such as Fort Aguada, which provide a fascinating insight into Goan history.
Inland, you’ll find magnificent nature reserves, which protect a vast array of animal and bird life, as well as offering fantastic opportunities for hiking along the nature trails. There are several amazing waterfalls, including the Dudhasagar Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in India, and the Arvalem Falls. Excursions to these often include a visit to one of Goa’s fascinating spice farms and plantations.
The mouth-watering cuisine in Goa is a delicious fusion of Indian and Portuguese flavours. Seafood is a staple, although you’ll also find chicken and lamb (reflecting the prohibition of beef and pork in Hindusm and Islam respectively). The classic Goan dish is fish curry, which is flavoured with coconut milk and served with rice. Another famous local dish is vindaloo curry, which is a Goan variation of the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d'alhos (pork with wine and garlic), and is more delicately spiced than you might expect. Chicken xacuti is a zesty curry, and chicken cafreal is cooked with rum and plenty of chilli. For breakfast, try a bhali-pau (a roll dipped in curry). Vegetarians will find plenty of restaurants and local dishes to choose from. Alcohol is tolerated more widely in Goa than in other parts of the country, and the Goans produce their own fiery liqueur, called feni. It's made either from cashew or palm plants, and is most palatable mixed with plenty of soda water.
Goa is a fabulous destination for families. The beaches are breathtakingly beautiful, and ideal for children of all ages. Older kids will enjoy the opportunities for trying out some of the water sports, such as windsurfing and parasailing. They will also enjoy rummaging through the hippy market at Anjuna Beach. The charming cities of Panaji and Old Goa are a delight to wander around, and kids will enjoy the street food stalls and craft markets. The Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary is Goa’s biggest nature reserve, home to the vast and impressive Dudhasagar Falls among many other natural and historic sites. The park is home to rare creatures such as the black panther, tigers and leopards, as well as more commonly sighted animals such as deer, wild boar and all kinds of snakes.
Whether you want to take to the air and try parasailing, or head to a nature reserve in search of elusive leopards, Goa is packed with action and adventure. You could take a diving trip to Netrani Island (also known as Pigeon Island) or go white-water rafting on the Mhadei River. Other activities that will get the adrenaline pumping include canyoning and trekking through nature reserves that are home to leopards, panthers and cobras. If you prefer your action to be more spiritual in nature, you’ve come to the right place: Goa is the birthplace of yoga, and there are classes galore in every imaginable style.
The gorgeous beaches that span the entire 80-kilometre length of coastline is easily Goa's biggest draw. The busiest beaches with the widest range of amenities tend to be in the north of the region, with the quieter beaches in the south. Calangute, which has plenty of beach bars, cafés and facilities for water sports, is one of the livelier beaches; nearby Candolim is a little less crowded. There are plenty of quiet beauty spots such as Mandrem, or lovely Palolem and Patnem, a pair of quiet, picturesque beaches in the south of the state where you can chill out in peace. Anjuna Beach, the original hippie hangout in the 1960s, has changed dramatically over the last few decades, but retains its laid-back charm and is still home to a bustling market. Baga Beach is a top option for water sports, including windsurfing and parasailing. One of the most romantic beaches is Cavelossim, tucked between coconut groves at the mouth of the Sal River.
The beach parties and music scene in Goa have been a magnet for travellers since the 1960s. Much of the nightlife is concentrated in Baga, where you’ll find plenty of clubs, bars and open-air beach shacks. Whether you fancy a beer on the beach or want cocktails and dancing till dawn, there are plenty of options in Baga. Anjuna Beach is mellow by day, but by night the beach bars turn into psychedelic raves. There are quieter places close by to enjoy a cocktail or two, or you could head to the celebrated Club Cubana, regularly voted one of the best nightclubs in the world. Nearby Vagator Beach is also a popular choice for beach raves.
Beautiful, relaxed and welcoming, Goa is a blissfully romantic holiday destination. You could simply bask on the golden sand and soak up the sun, then enjoy a cocktail in a boho-chic beach shack, and follow it with a delicious supper of fish curry. Perhaps pick up a snorkel or try your hand at parasailing or windsurfing. If you’re in the mood to dance, there are trance parties on the beach, and scores of clubs in popular resorts that will keep you partying all night long. You could climb up to Fort Aguada to enjoy fabulous views, take a sunset cruise, or stroll through the romantically crumbling city of Old Goa, or the colourful capital of Panaji.
The Portuguese controlled Goa for four and half centuries, and their influence is nowhere more evident than in Old Goa. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this was the capital until the 19th century and is full of splendid monasteries and churches. Among them is the Sé Cathedral, the largest church in India and home to a supposedly miraculous cross that grants miracles. The present capital of Panaji (Panem) is replete with elegant colonial buildings, including the spectacular Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It is also home to the Goa State Museum, which offers insight into the region’s fascinating history. There are several forts – Fort Aguada, the Chapora Fort and Cabo Fort among them – which were built under the Portuguese and still stand sentinel along the coast. The House of Goa in Penha de França and Big Foot Goa in Loutolim are among several museums dedicated to Goa’s traditional culture. Margao is considered Goa’s cultural capital and has the best facilities for performing arts.