Fascinating history, Ayurvedic healing, waterfalls and a wealth of beaches combine to provide an enchanting getaway
Throw some hiking boots, pack your swimwear and get ready for fun in the great outdoors in tropical Goa. September marks the tail end of monsoon season and many Goans believe this is when the destination is at its very best. Parties and celebrations are held to welcome the rains and the countryside transforms into a lush, green land. Sneak in ahead of the throngs of tourists and see Goa from a fresh perspective by trekking in the thundering waterfalls or escaping to a serene yoga retreat. If the rains do come, simply retire to a decadent five-star hotel to feast on some of the local cuisine. Read on for our edit of the best ways to experience this land of amazing contrasts…
Sweetest sun spot
Long stretches of white sand, blue waters and not a crowd in sight — welcome to Agonda beach. This three-kilometre-long stretch, nestled between Palolem and Panaji, is delightfully free from restaurants, souvenir stalls and thumping music. The water can be a bit rough, so grab a prime shady spot for a nap under swaying palms.
Roam through grand Old Goa, which harkens back to the bygone era of Portuguese rule. Tourists flock here to see the historic cathedrals and numerous museums; visit early on a weekday morning to avoid the crowds
Fall in love
With a thundering roar, Goa’s majestic Dudhsagar Falls cascade an awe-inspiring 1,017 feet. Its name translates as ‘sea of milk’ – a reference to its huge plumes of white foam. It’s a bit of a hike to reach it (even if you hire a Jeep and driver), but it’s worth it when you get there. Bring a swimsuit for an invigorating dip.
Goa’s many spice tours are tourist kitsch, but fun all the same. Tropical Spice Plantation provides an insight into plantation life followed by a Goan meal served on a banana leaf. There’s the option to buy local handicrafts, so bring small bills. USD6 including lunch, tropicalspiceplantation.com
Art and artefacts
More art gallery than exhibition, and located in the middle of an industrial estate; the three-storey Museum of Goa has more to offer inside than at face value. Check out an ever-evolving array of sculptures, artefacts detailing Goa’s history, paintings and installations. Pieces are chosen by the private museum’s owner, Subodh Kerkar – a mover and shaker on the art scene. Many pieces are for sale. Entry costs USD1.5. museumofgoa.com
No trip to Goa is complete without a stroll through capital city Panjim (aka Panaji). Leave the tree-lined avenues for a vigorous uphill walk to Altinho. This posh residential area provides views over Mandovi River and Panjim’s colonial-era buildings, as well as sightseeing at the Bishop’s Palace. You won’t need hiking boots, but a sun hat and water come in handy.
Flag down one of Goa’s yellow-and-black autorickshaws for an authentically adventurous journey. These cheap, three-wheeled vehicles are best for short rides without luggage. Make sure you agree the fare before clambering inside
While Shantadurga Temple (shreeshantadurga.com) began as a mud shrine, today the popular spot boasts serene architecture, an outdoor pond, and a glimpse into Goa’s spiritual side. Expect a journey to get here, as Shantadurga is nestled at the foothills of Kavalem village. Make the most of the trip with a stop at Mangeshi Temple and Mahalasa Narayani Temple, both within an hour’s drive (free to visit, overnight accommodation available).
Feeling strong? Slather on the sunscreen and head to Goa’s Western Ghats for a wild, adrenaline-filled white water rafting trip. You’ll tear through 10km of white water with class two and three swells. The rafting is best enjoyed during monsoon season (end of June to September) when the river reaches peak power. From USD28 per person, gorafting.com
Amazing 360-degree views with the lush Goan countryside rolling underneath, bursts of flame overhead — a visual pick and mix of treats awaits as you float over Goa in a hot air balloon. Head out in the morning to catch the first rays of sunrise before the afternoon heat sets in. The flight lasts around an hour and can get chilly. USD161 per person.
Shop like a local
Throngs of people pushing past, vendors hawking dried fish and old coins, the scent of cinnamon in the air — Mapusa’s Friday Market is gloriously chaotic. Head here for a raucous morning of shoulder-to-shoulder bartering with locals. When the crowds and scooters become too much, you can retreat into one of the many local restaurants for a traditional thali lunch (around USD1).
Goan and Portuguese cuisine collide to exquisite effect at The Beach House, a fine dining restaurant at Vivanta by Taj Holiday Village. Chandeliers and thatched roofs contrast for a romantic ambience. Order the galinha cafreal for a twist on Goa’s traditional spicy chicken or ask for the catch of the day cooked at the live kitchen counter. Around USD40 for two, vivanta.tajhotels.com
Food that goes further
If you’re after a non-profit restaurant where the location is half the fun, head to Go With The Flow. This Brazilian fusion venue, housed within the gardens of a restored Portuguese mansion, is nestled at the far end of the Baga riverbank. Here, plates of hearty meats are served with local ingredients. To dine at this charity-focused stop (profits go to the Samarpan Foundation), book in advance. Around USD50 for two, gowiththeflowgoa.com
Step off the beach and into the subtly lit colonial-inspired interiors of Casa Sarita at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa. This upmarket Goan restaurant serves traditional food with nostalgic twists, like fish drizzled in coconut gravy. Bag a candlelit table outside for a dash of romance. When the meal is done, you can hop into the resort’s helicopter for a scenic tour. Main courses from USD8.
UNWIND THE MIND
The spa-meets-yoga programme at Alila Dewa Goa has been known to lure guests in for a month-long detox. If you can’t afford that much holiday time, stop by this high-end resort for a 60-minute Shirodhara treatment. In an effort to relax the third eye, this treatment involves warm, medicated oil and continuous movement.
In need of a complete mind and body refresh? Check in to Devaaya Ayurveda and Nature Cure Centre on Diwar island. This isolated property offers massages, steam baths, Ayurvedic food, yoga and meditation, all alongside a healthy dose of relaxation and healing. When not taking cooking lessons or talking to the on-site doctor, you’re free to stroll around manicured gardens. From USD100 per night, devaaya.com
Bend it like a pro
Ashiyana Yoga Resort Goa may be best known for its yoga teacher training but you won’t be shunned if you’re new to the art of asanas. Stay at this serene venue for a dose of self reflection served beside twice-a-day yoga classes and buffet meals, or book a drop-in yoga class. When acroyoga and inversions become too much, the beach is an eight-minute walk away. The property is closed during Goa’s monsoon season but think about booking now for the months ahead.
Swap Goa’s mainland for Chorao Island. Accessible via ferryboat, you can spend a day decompressing from everyday life by strolling along winding roads past quaint houses and its chirping bird sanctuary
WHERE TO STAY
Taj Exotica Goa
At the five-star seaside resort Taj Exotica Goa you can wander through flower-lined pathways and lush gardens, retreat to the airy atrium with a good book, or soak up the sun by the beach.
The Leela Goa
Set in 75 acres of landscaped seclusion, The Leela Goa is surrounded by freshwater lagoons and offers luxury at every turn. Unwind at the beach or the Ayurveda spa and take a refreshing dip in a private plunge pool.
Alila Diwa Goa
This eco-friendly hotel is wrapped in 12 acres of rich green paddy fields, creating a serene vibe with views so inspiring you’ll forget all about the beach.
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