Goa India – Top-10 Attractions and Things to Do
Goa has far more to offer beside its paradisiacal beaches and aquamarine coastline. If you travel to the heartland of the city – and its surrounding localities – you will be surprised by the numerous tourist attractions inland, including world-famous monuments, nature reserves, breathtaking Ghats, backwater boat trips, festivals, and markets. We heartily recommend you don’t miss out on the following:
Renaissance in Old Goa
Old Goa remains the State’s foremost historical site. It is one of the places not to miss if you love Renaissance architecture; splendid piazzas; and grandiose Baroque churches. Granted World Heritage status by UNESCO, it has been memorialised as a must-see tourist attraction.
Just 30 minutes away from the State capital, Panjim, Old Goa is accessible by bus, which runs every 15 minutes. We suggest you purchase your tickets beforehand – as it is a fairly popular tourist destination – at Panjim’s Kadamba bus station. Otherwise, take a rickshaw or a taxi which will cost you about INR150 and INR300 respectively.
While there, however, we discovered that there was nowhere worthwhile to eat in Old Goa, so either have a sturdy meal before you set-off or take something along.
Christmas with a difference
December is the perfect time of year to visit Goa, especially if you wish to get away from traditional Christmas celebrations. Both Christian and Hindu Goans travel back home for this most important festival, which commences with Midnight Mass. It is an incredible sight to behold; Goa alight with candles, fairy lights, and fireworks. Live music, singing, and dancing resonate throughout the city buzzing with exhilaration.
The Zagor festival in Siolim, northern Goa, held annually on 26th December, is among one of the best kept secret tourist attractions. It begins with a religious procession, followed by live music, dancing, complimentary food and Konkani classical hymns usually delivered by a local “rock star”. Tourists are welcomed with great enthusiasm, particularly to the Feni-fuelled after-party. Please note, however, that while the festival is free Siolim accommodation is pretty pricey starting at around INR1700.
A sanctuary like no other
Only 26 miles away from Margao is Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, most famous for housing Indian’s biggest waterfalls, Dudhsagar (Sea of Milk). The area comprises 93 square miles of pristine semi-evergreen forests, deciduous woodland, and several palm-thatched villages. It also houses innumerable species of flowering plants, sub-tropical birds; panthers; Bengal tigers; flying squirrels, wild boar, and monkeys. Not only that it’s home to king cobra, which we were lucky enough to spot despite the spectacular views around us.
The best time to visit is October to mid-December, and the easiest way to get there is by taxi. We suggest you book one via your hotel, which will get you there safely and at a fair price, INR500 maximum.
Anjuna’s flee market
Once a chaotic gathering of Western tourist trying to flock various junk they’ve unearthed along their travels, nowadays Anjuna’s flee market is the perfect tourist destination to find some interesting souvenirs. The range of goods is pretty broad, so you are more than likely to pick up something you fancy. On one end you will find garish psychedelic t-shirts and tie-dyed hoodies, on the other end you’ll come across some gorgeous silver jewellery, Kashmiri shawls and ethnic skirts and money belts handmade by Lamani women of Karnataka. The market also has sellers from Rajasthan, Kerala, and Gujarat offering authentic goods from each region. What you pay, however, is down to your haggling skills. But be persistent the Indians expect nothing less.
Anjuna beach is about 5 miles from Mapusa, where you can get a bus for about INR10. Wednesdays only.
North Goa’s Hindu Temples
Dotted around the valleys of Ponda are a dozen or so Hindu temples, built around seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the temples themselves have been modernised, the religious relics of old still remain. If you’re after an authentic pilgrimage experience you will have to spend the day there, meandering along about 3 miles into the village, north of the town.
The most popular and easily accessible of the temples are Shri Manguesh and Shri Mahalsa, the first one is home to Shiva, the second one to Vishnu. The decorative wood carvings, brightly painted iconography and statues are magnificent.
If you do decide to visit any of these sacred places, we recommend you take along some token “offerings” such as flowers, fruit or local sweets. Regular buses run to Ponda from both Margao and Panjim. We took a rickshaw for a tour-around, which cost us INR250.
The Seven Gables of Margao
A stone's throw from Ponda’s main road stands one of Goa’s grandest buildings the “Seven Gables”. Sadly, now, only three of these remain but the mansion itself is an impressive site. The residence’s Rococo inspired exterior is exquisite, with oyster-shell windows and wrought-iron decorative scroll-work lining the balconies. Casual visitors are not encouraged, but if you’re courteous enough you might just get a look inside this place, which has its own private chapel, airy salons with suspended slatted wooden ceilings, lavish Bavarian chandeliers, antique furnishings and opulent murals offset by white marble floors. It is a remnant of a bygone age and you are bound to lose yourself, as if in a fairytale, while looking around this grandiose old house.
Arambol’s Holistic Therapies
Arambol, in north Goa, is known as a hippy-heaven and has come to be a pretty tight-knit expat community. It’s a bustling seaside resort, but it also has a lot to offer if you’re on the lookout for some restorative time and relaxation. Arambol boasts its own paragliding school, yoga virtuosos, surfing and whole-food cafés, which while shabby on the outside offer some outstanding dishes catering to boost your energy levels and bring you back to health. You will also find free live music here and impromptu jamming sessions, which often end up as small, private, but very shati parties that carry on until sunrise.
Buses from Panjim run to Arambol every 30 minutes and cost around INR20.
Usgalimal Rock Carvings
The village of Usgalimal became something of a tourist attraction in 1993 when a large sloping shelf of laterite was discovered to be engraved with ancient carvings of zebu bulls, bison, deer, antelopes, a dancing woman and other human figures spread over the area of the rock’s 500 metres. The elusive markings on the rock have since been established to be as old as thirty thousand years, and belong to either the Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic eras. This fact alone makes this finding one of the most important prehistoric sites in western India and thereby an unmissable tourist attraction.
It is, however, a little tricky to find. We suggest you take a taxi, from Margao and head toward the hamlet of Colamb, then Usgalimal, which will set you back about INR800/1000.
Backwater boat trips
If you enjoy water activities then we recommend you take a boat trip down the Mandovi river for an afternoon of dolphin and crocodile spotting. The four to five-hour trips commence at 9am and include a hotel pick-up, food, and drink. John’s Boat Tours offer the service for INR600 per person, but you must book in advance from John’s office in Murrod Waddo, a five-minute walk from the centre of Candolim.
Alternatively, you can opt for a two-day tour (one night on board) of the backwaters around the Mandovi estuary and Cambarjua canal, where crocodiles are aplenty. This option is a little bit pricier at INR3500 per person, but absolutely worth the unforgettable sightseeing and on-board-overnight experience.
Western Ghats of Goa
For some spectacular views head to Canacona to see the jungle-covered Sahyadri Hills, which offer an unforgettable panorama of crystal-white coves and sweeping beaches enveloped by laterite headlands and colossal black boulders. If you do decide to visit there, we recommend you do so before sunset so you can watch the sun go down in all its glorious splendour. The nearby Palolem beach and its stunning concave bay has plenty of places to stay and some pretty excellent dining options, set to make a fine ending to your day.
Regular buses run to Canacona from Margao and cost around INR30. Alternatively, you can take a rickshaw, which set us back INR350 but was worth every penny for the views along the way.
Which attractions to select?
While it may be impossible to visit all of these destinations in a day or even a week, we recommend you select a few places of interest and spend a day or two leisurely wandering around to get the full Goan experience, which may just yield the most memorable moments of your trip.