How to live it up in Goa
Let’s see if I can keep the beach references to a minimum. It’s not to say that beaches in Goa aren’t worth visiting – they’re a big draw indeed – but there’s so much more to the Goan experience than just having sand in your feet, hair, trousers…
The Goan society is a melting pot of different identities, and its people have created the quintessential easygoing Goan culture. This “Susegad” lifestyle is rooted, among other things, in the old world charm of their Portuguese colonial structures; in Bebinca, Khatkhate and other exotic cuisines; in the serendipitous bylanes of flea markets; in the churches, spice farms, wildlife sanctuaries, the old forts with fancy names and yes, the beaches. The multi-million dollar tourism industry around Goa’s unique geo & demo-graphy have added to that list as well; so you can experience world class hotels and spas; try out your luck in casinos (gambling is legal here); go kayaking in the serene backwaters; hire a yacht and cruise the sea with your pals; and while you’re still at a beach – do all sorts of surfing, sailing, skiing, diving – as long as you know how to swim! It’s quite clear that the smallest state of India is packing some the biggest fun to be had and here’re some the ways you can go about living it up, Goan style.
Take Cover !
Start by landing in Panaji, the capital city, and take shelter in either a budget friendly world heritage hotel or if you’re feeling adventurous, try out the famed Goan hospitality by staying in someone’s home! Both are located in Asia’s only Latin colony of Fontain has – a satiating treat for the history buffs as the place maintains to this day its Portuguese influence, such as the narrow streets, old villas and buildings painted in lively hues of red and blue. For the fans of room service, the Panjim Inn heritage hotels are the ideal place. These colonial-structures-turned-hotels offer all the trappings of an exotic vacation: period architecture, antique interiors, art galleries and immaculately dressed staff catering to your needs!
While there is no shame in preferring the pampering of hotels, you can also try out something different in the area – Homestays. Experience the warmness of staying with the host family in the 200 years old “Casa Nova”. Make yourself comfortable in the ancestral house of a legendary anti-Portuguese journalist and dive straight into the stories of the various artefacts which decorate the spacious wooden floored living room. The family lives on the first floor while the ground floor is kept especially for guests in this beautiful house overlooking the Altinho hill and flanked by the creek of Ourem.
After checking in to the place of your choice, start your Goan vacation by heading to Old Goa, a 10 minute drive from Fountain has. Check out the imposing churches and cathedrals in the area which are amongst the largest in Asia. Some of the buildings have now become museums, providing a fascinating display of Goa’s history. A must-see is the Basilica of Bom Jesus – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which contains the preserved remains of Saint Frances Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. The body is shown to the public every 10 years, with the next exhibition due in 2014.
To Paddle or Not to Paddle
Morning will present interesting choices on how you want to continue your sightseeing. For those who’d like to get close to the sights, there’s the joyously paced kayaking. Start early morning with a group of fellow kayakers and paddle through backwaters, mangroves, fishing villages and witness other riverine delights. Everything will be provided for; you just gotta paddle and ogle!
The other option is rather awesome – A personal yacht! Bring up to 27 of your guests and charter the seafaring beauty “Solita” for a cruise on a per hour basis or choose from sample itineraries which includes: Bird watching (real ones!) in Salim Ali Sanctuary; chasing Dolphins around north Goa beaches; sailing further north to the majestic Tiracol Fort; Mandovi river cruise of Panjim & Old Goa; deck dinner under the open sky; and the special overnight cruise for two where you’ll be taken far off-shore and be left alone to your romantic fantasies for the night!
Spices, Dices & Sales
Goa’s tropical climate makes it an ideal place to grow a variety of spices, crops and fruits. The spice farms are open to visitors, with accommodations, and other activities such as elephant or boat rides, offered at many of them. You can take a guided tour, enjoy the scenery, and finish with a spicy lunch fresh off the farm! Most of them are located in Ponda, the Savoi Plantation being the most popular.
The Goan night markets are very popular and for those who like the bustle of the bazaar while hunting for bargains or souvenirs, Mackie’s Nite Bazaar and Saturday Nite Market is the place to be on Saturdays. Handcrafted accessories, live music, massage and hair parlours, belly dancing and even magic wands; all sorts of wonderful things are up for grabs.
The more suave and deep pocketed among us would love to play Bond at high stakes gambling games in one of the many casinos here. The Deltin Royale is Goa’s largest and most popular casino; located on a huge ship anchored in the Mandovi River. It has five decks, and three floors spread over 12,000 square feet, with 50 gaming tables, 30 slot machines, and top level tournaments every week.
Life is a Beach
Well, I tried: You just can’t leave out beaches from a travel article, it’s Goa after all! You did well in checking out the various other attractions of Goa instead of just scurrying to the beach first! So now, convinced that you’re not the average traveller, head over to one of the many beaches and discover the unique personality each one has. There’re the quiet ones – Agonda & Patnem; The home of the hippies and flea market – Anjuna; The wild ones – Baga, Calangute & Palolem; The lively one – Candolim, and several others. The characteristic beach club/shacks offers the eclectic mix of good food, alcohol, live music and disco by the seaside. Curlies in Anjuna, Tito’s and Mambo’s in Baga, La Plage in Ashvem and Horizon Grill in Candolim (arguably serving the best steaks in the state). An event not to miss is the annual Sunburn Festival on Candolim beach. The festival is a celebration of music, entertainment, food and shopping, and was ranked as the ninth best festival in the world by CNN in 2009.
If night life on the beaches is exciting, water sports during the day is just the fix for adrenaline junkies! The Dona Paula beach specializes in water sports activities and offers water-scooter rides, windsurfing, parasailing, water-skiing, skibob, fishing, snorkelling, and scuba diving.
The Goa Marriott Resort & Spa in Miramar beach is good place to end your vacation: they say vacation refreshes the soul; spoiling yourself with a spa certainly ensures that!