Things to do in Goa, India - a lot more on offer besides beaches
Sun-kissed beaches, coconut trees, great seafood, and enjoying the waves. It's what most tourists visiting Goa come for. But this former Portuguese colony has a lot more to offer the discerning visitor than most people think. From its colonial history, casinos, natural beauty, spice farms and the many rivers that flow through the state, Goa isn't just about beautiful beaches.
Visiting churches and temples
|Shantadurga Temple in Ponda Taluka, Goa|
Goa's historical past is best explored in the aptly named Old Goa, the former state capital under Portuguese rule. Remnants of its Portuguese past still stand throughout the city - the plazas, the monuments, and of course, the churches. Two of the most impressive historical monuments in Old Goa are Se Cathedral , the largest church in India, and Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses the relics of Saint Francis Xavier.
Goa isn't all churches though. This is India after all, and contrary to perception you may get seeing churches all over, Goa's population is predominantly Hindu. Some of the most popular places of worship for Goa's Hindus are the Shantadurga Temple in Kavalem, Mangueshi Temple in Pirol, and Shri Rudreshwar Temple , situated close to the famous “Pandava Caves” of Aravalem. If these temples don't appear ancient enough, it's because many Hindu places of worship were destroyed under Portuguese occupation to make way for catholicism. One among the few that was spared is the Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla, officially the oldest Hindu temple in Goa. This 12th century structure is a display of exquisite Jain architecture. It survived the Portuguese occupation only because the temple rests inside what was once a lush jungle centuries ago.
Discover Ancestral Goa
|Goa Ancestral is a museum for preservation of Goan art, culture and the village environment. Photo by Basheer Olakara.|
To further expand your immersion of the Goa 'way of life' (for the locals that is), one must visit Ancestral Goa, in the village of Loutolim. A project for preservation of Goan art, culture and the village environment, Ancestral Goa is also popularly known as the Big Foot Museum. No, not that Big Foot. The legend of the big foot here belongs to Mahadar, a historical figure of this region. Another popular attraction is the Sant Mirabai sculpture - India’s longest laterite sculpture. Other attractions at Ancestral Goa show visitors how Feni, a popular Goan distilled alcohol, is made from the cashew apple fruit.
Spice plantation tour and elephant jungle ride
|Tropical climate makes Goa an ideal region to grow a variety of spices. Photo by Nagarjun Kandukuru.|
Sticking to inner Goa, if you wish to 'spice' things up, a visit to Sahakari Spice Farm is a must. India is the land of spices and Goa's tropical climate makes it an ideal region to grow a variety of spices. Nestled amidst lush green surroundings of Curti, in Ponda district, Sahakari Spice Farm offers guided tours of the plantation, in which they explain how each spice is grown in this completely organic farm. Also on offer at Sahakari is the wonderful opportunity to wash domesticated elephants by the river. Elephants rides around a forest trail are there too, but is subject to availability.
|Dudhsagar Waterfalls, Goa|
The natural wonders of Goa's geography reach new heights with the amazing Dudhsagar Waterfalls . Situated along the Goa-Karnataka border, Dudhsagar literally translates to "sea of milk" because from a distance the water looks like milk flowing down rocks. Time your visit right, and you will get the opportunity to capture the exact moment a train passes in front of these majestic waterfalls.
Walking through the capital city, Panaji
|Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panaji.|
If you would like return to the city, Panjim (also called Panaji) is where you find all the modern-day comforts, but still mixed in with doses of old world charm. In the capital city, tourists often explore the Fountainhas, which is the Latin Quarter of the city. Walking down these streets is like taking a walk back in time, with the many old buildings still retaining the colonial influence and the ornate street lights adding to the classic charm. Nearby is the Sao Tome Old Quarter, further extending your walk down memory lane.
One of Panjim's main landmarks is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Climb its many steps, reach the top, and you are rewarded with great views of Panjim's promenade. Panjim has several colourful markets inviting you in with the aromas of spices and an assortment of fresh food. Tourists can also pick up fresh cashewnuts, handicrafts and souvenirs here.
|Spot mugger crocodiles in their natural habitat in the mangroves of Goa. Photo by Sam Leech.|
Panjim city is situated on the banks of Mandovi river, which flows out into the Arabian sea. Mandovi river passes through much of interior Goa, and capitalizing on this are the many river cruises that ply through these routes. Most cruise boats pick up their passengers from Panjim jetty. The most popular are the sunset and sundown river cruises which feature on-board live entertainment (usually traditional Goan music and dance) and dinner. But if you would like a bit of variety, the morning trips offer exciting dolphin sighting cruises and journeys across the backwaters of Goa. For nature lovers and thrill seekers, the Zuari river crocodile tour takes you on a journey through the mangroves of Goa to spot mugger crocodiles in their natural habitat. This adventure ride is a must-do for photographers and bird watchers for the variety of bird species that can spotted in the mangroves.
For some excitement of another kind, did you know that Goa is the only state in India where gambling is legal? Goa is home to several casinos, many of which - believe it or not - operate out at sea. That's right, floating casinos. These cruise ship casinos offer the usual gamut of casino games along with the glamorous entertainment, drinks and full-fledged dining on board the ship decks.
Diving, snorkelling and fishing
Wish to explore beyond mainland Goa? How about some snorkelling or diving? One of the best spots to do both is near Grand island, just a few kilometres off the coast of Goa . The clear waters here will leave you mesmerized with the marine life and corals down below. If fishing is more your fancy, there are boat tours for that too. Catch the freshest fish the Arabian sea has to offer and savour it the way you like it cooked. Some fishing tours include a cook who will prepare the fish on a BBQ, or you may even take your catch to an eatery back on land to have it cooked any way you want it.
Relax on beaches
|Vagator Beach, Goa|
Back on Goa's shores, we can't talk about Goa without mentioning its beaches. Whether you are in north or south Goa, visitors have the veritable pick of beaches. South Goa is generally quieter compared to the beaches of north Goa, which attracts more of the younger, party-loving crowd. Rest assured, no matter which beach you land at, the powdery white sands of Goa's beaches will ensure you soak in the sun and return home with a lovely tan.
Goa is all of the above and a lot more. The state's tourism has come a long way since the hippies first flocked to Goa's beaches way back in the 1960s and 70s. Of course, if you wish to enjoy the 'hippie' side to Goa, a visit to Anjuna's famous Flea Market and the beaches nearby should give you a glimpse into their way of life. Then there are the many forts, such as the famous Fort Aguada. Leftover fortresses from Goa's colonial past, overlooking the very seas they came from. That's what makes Goa so unique. From beach huts to five-star hotels, beach shacks to fine dining, jetski rentals to private boat tours, churches to battleforts - there's something for everyone in Goa.