10 ways to enhance your Goa experience
Goa is an internationally renowned destination in Western India and one of the sought-after destinations for a beach getaway experience. Goa is largely visited for its bars, pubs, shacks, beach hotels / resorts and water-sports. However, there are many experiences at Goa awaiting travellers looking beyond a typical beach vacation.
1. Spice Plantation Excursion
Spice Farms near Ponda area (30 kms from Panjim) are a popular half day excursion option for guests looking for an experience beyond beaches. You arrive here to many acres of spice farm that cultivate spices, fruits, medicinal trees and herbs. You arrive here for folk dances, elephant rides and plantation walks, followed by a simple local style lunch. Spice Farms is popular for family travellers and those looking to be away from beaches for a change.
2. Dudhsagar Falls
Dudhsagar Falls (72 kms from Panjim, bordering the state of Karnataka) is a 4-tiered waterfall and one of the tallest waterfalls in India (310 meters). Dudhsagar falls is surrounded by thick Western Ghat forests and is a popular day excursion for family travellers. You are required to leave early to reach by 7 AM to ensure availability of entry tickets (no online reservations). From here, you take a 4WD Jeep drive uphill for the wateralls. After spending a couple of hours, you come back to Sonaulim, base entry point. Sonaulim is home to The Jungle Book restaurant where you can enjoy fun activities with the resident elephants (elephant bathing, scrubbing, feeding) along with a simple local style lunch.
3. Guided Bird Watching
Goa is a prime bird watching destination, renowned for its 8 varieties of Kingfishers and 300+ other species of birds around the Western Ghats and countryside areas. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary near Panjim, a mangrove forest where boat rides are conducted by the forest department with a birding guide, is a popular activity for entry level birders. Zuari river has a boat safari, which is recommended for experienced bird watchers looking for sighting prized Kingfisher species such as Collared and Black Capped Kingfishers. Areas such as Mollem and Bondla are excellent (overnight stay recommended) for experienced bird watchers where you can walk around all day for a wide range of exotic bird species such as Malabar Trogon.
Note: Independent birding guides are available (recommended for small groups) to explore coastal, countryside and Western Ghat areas for exclusive birding.
4. Guided Heritage Walk in Panjim
Goa Tourism (GTDC) conducts a guided heritage walk at Panjim Old City area (known as Fontainhas) every winter evening at 4:30 PM. The walk is where you understand the history and heritage of Goa as you walk past typical 19th century Portuguese heritage homes. The heritage walk is recommended for heritage travellers looking to get an insight into the colonial history and heritage of Goa.
5. Sailing Experience
Sailing in Goa is where a group of friends can hire a yacht and slice through the high seas or quietly sail through the backwaters of Goa. The cruise is excellent for photography as it offers a 360-degree view of the Arabian Sea and pristine riverside areas. The sailing experience is popular for private parties and for celebrating special occasions.
6. Exclusive Beachside Dining Experience
Goa is a mecca of exclusive beachside dining with many beachside shacks and restaurants options. Shacks on the beaches of North Goa (Baga, Calangute, Candolim) are very popular with tourists for beachside dining. However, it is the beaches north of Baga that offer exclusive dining. Some of the celebrated beachside restaurants are Thalassa (Vagator) and Chronicle (Vagator). Curlies (Anjuna), Cafe Liliput (Anjuna) and Shanti Bar (Morjim) are renowned nightclubs that offer dining right on the beach with a dance floor attached (where one can party all night). Tiracol Fort on the upper tip of Goa bordering Maharashtra is home to an exclusive restaurant (The Tavern) with stunning Arabian Sea views (popular for special occasion luncheons).
7. Sunday Cycling in Goa
Cycling is conducted on Sundays where you cycle past villages and backwaters around Chorao Island, Divar Island and Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. During the trip, you cover the UNESCO heritage site of Old Goa, its historic churches, ancient temples around Ponda and pristine countryside areas around Divar and Chorao Island. The cycling tour is a 3-hour activity covering a total of 22 kms.
Note: Those who are not regular cyclists may opt for electric cycle option for ease of riding.
8. Experiential Stays
Goa has perhaps the widest range of differentiated stays in India for a destination in India. Most travellers opt for a resort or a hotel by the beach or at a short distance from the beach. However, there are a number of stays that offer offbeat / experiential character. Such stays can be broadly classified into Heritage Homestays (e.g. Arco Iris – A Portuguese heritage villa), Countryside Villa (e.g. Birdsong – A villa in the Goan countryside), Village Stay (e.g. Casa Susegad – A homestay in the heart of a village), Beach villa (e.g. Cabana Dempo – Exclusive beach villa by an idyllic beach). These are perfect for families or a set of friends to opt for a countryside experience, ethnic cuisine and be totally away from tourists.
9. Bike Hire / Self Drive Car
Hiring a self-drive vehicle (two-wheeler or a car or an open jeep) is a popular option in Goa to move around. It helps you cut down on transportation costs (as cabs can be costly in Goa) and offers the flexibility of having a car even at the wee hours to drive back to the hotel. The real experience is when you take your self-drive vehicle deep into the countryside. Routes like Cavelossem to Palolem in South Goa or Baga to Keri in North Goa offer superb countryside drives through small villages, idyllic beaches and no tourists.
10. Ethnic Cuisine
Goa (especially North Goa) is home to restaurants that offer cuisine from all over the world. The real experience is in dining at local restaurants that are renowned for authentic Goan Cuisine. The cuisine of Goa is a mix of traditional Indian cuisine and Portuguese cuisine. Seafood features prominently in Goan Cuisine. Some of the popular Goan dishes are Humann (Goan Fish Curry and Rice), Solachi Kadi (Kokum and Coconut Curry), Vindaloo (Spicy curry made out of Chicken, Pork or Lamb) and Xacuti (Coconut Curry with Chicken or Lamb). Most authentic Goan cuisine is offered by restaurants in countryside areas and in the capital city of Panjim. The restaurants such as Vinayak Family Restaurant (Vagator) are simple countryside restaurants that offer authentic Goan cuisine whereas restaurants such as Soi (Candolim) offer Goan cuisine in a fine dine setting.