Goa has almost 100km of unbroken beaches lined with palm trees. Its relaxed atmosphere makes it one of the most popular places to visit during the winter months. The sea is fairly mild and it is pleasant for swimming. Goa has a wide range of visitors: backpackers, college students from around the world, and resort goers.
Goa was a Portuguese colony from 1510 until 1961. For years, Goa was isolated from the rest of India; and you can feel a difference in atmosphere immediately upon arrival. Roman Catholicism is a major religion here.
Over the years, the traveler’s scene has spread out both north or south from the capital, going to either the extreme north or the southern border of Goa. The main music that you hear is techno music and there are some large techno parties. Anjuna, Vagator, and Chapora are the main bases for the techno music party scene.
Old Goa, 10km from Panaji, has a good number of old Catholic churches and is the most popular non-beach tourist site. The Wednesday flea market at Anjuna is attended by thousands of people and is an interesting event, even if you do not plan to purchase anything. At Ponda, 23km from the coast, there are several temples dating from the 18th century. Margao has old churches and Portuguese mansions. Cotigoa in the far south is a wildlife preserve.
Goa has one of the highest literacy rates in India. The property law in Goa states that married women are entitled to fifty percent of the family estate, an unusual law for India. Goa has the third highest GNP in India. The economy is based mainly on tourism, iron-ore mining, farming, and fishing.
It is said that Goa was created when Parasuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, fired an arrow from the Western Ghats into the Arabian Sea. From the place where the arrow landed, he ordered the water to recede.
Goa was part of the Mauryan Empire back in the 3rd century BC. It was ruled by the Chalukyans of Badami from 580 to 750 AD. It was then controlled by the kingdom of Kadamba, then the Chalukyans in the 11th to 13th centuries. In 1312 the Muslim Bahmanis conquered it. Around 1370,
Harihara I of the Vijayanagar kingdom captured Goa and controlled it for about one hundred years. At this time, Goa became an important port for the kingdom based in Hampi, Karnataka. Arabian horses were landed here to be distributed to the powerful Vijayanagar army. The Muslims Bahmanis Sultans in Gulbarga captured Goa in 1469, and when their dynasty disintegrated, Yusuf, the founder of the Adil Shah dynasty of Bijapur, took control. He made Old Goa (then known as Ela) his second capital. The present Secretariat building in Panaji was once the Shah’s palace.
The Portuguese, under Afonso de Albuquerque, captured the city of Panaji on November 25, 1510, on St Catherine’s day. The Portuguese then ruled Goa for the next 450 years. Albuquerque died in Goa in 1515, and his body was sent back to Portugal.
Old Goa became the capital of the area, and its population grew to over 200,000. For a while, the Portuguese controlled the spice trade and many made their fortunes from it. A plague in 1635 killed over 100,000 people.
At first, the Portuguese did not interfere with the locals, although they banned the sati rite (burning of widows). They employed Hindus and engaged them in their armies, and they maintained good trade relations with the Hindu empire of Hampi. When different missionaries arrived in Goa, the question of religious tolerance began.
In 1580 Portugal became part of Spain. Eventually competition from the British, Dutch, and French caused a decline in Portuguese influence in the area. In 1640, Portugal regained her independence from Spain. The British East India Company signed the Convention of Goa in 1642, giving them the right to trade with the colony.
In 1680 the Maratha under Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son, occupied part of Goa. The Maratha forces were then forced to withdraw from Goa to fight with the Mughal army in Maharashtra. In 1739, the Marathas again came close to conquering Goa.
Goa reached its present size in 1788 after the British granted additional land when the Portuguese assisted the British in defeating Haider Ali of Srirangapatnam. These new territories, known as the New Conquests, included areas with a predominantly Hindu population.
A strong attempt was made to convert the residents of Goa to Christianity. After St Francis Xavier founded the Jesuit mission in 1542, religious persecution found new ground and the Catholics attempted forced conversions. By 1560, the Inquisition had come to Goa, and Catholicism was the only legal religion. Syrian Christians were banned in Goa, and Hindu temples were destroyed. The Jesuits were eventually expelled in 1749 by the Portuguese government because of the powerful political influence they held. At this time, their properties were confiscated by the state, although worship in their churches was allowed to continue. At this time native Goans were permitted to become priests. In the 18th century, Hindus regained the right to worship in public.
The Indian government blockaded Goa after several people were killed in a liberation march in 1955. The railway was cut off and trade between Goa and India was stopped. Around this time, Dabolim airport was built. In 1961, Prime Minister Nehru ordered the Indian army to take control of Goa. Meeting only token resistance, they took Goa in two days, along with the territories of Diu and Daman. Goa then became a Union Territory.
The residents of Goa voted by a large majority to not become part of the neighboring state of Maharashtra in the 1980s. In 1987, Goa became the twenty-fifth state of the Indian Union. Diu and Daman are still Union Territories and are governed by the governor of Goa.
Goa is divided into three basic areas: the cities of Panaji and Old Goa are roughly in the middle; there is a beach area stretching north of Panaji; and there are beaches south of Panaji. The further you travel in either direction from Panaji, the more secluded the beaches become. Some beaches are strictly five-star resorts, while other beaches are visited by Western travelers planning a long stay on a low budget.
There are many different beaches along the coast, and each of them has its own attraction for tourist. Many beaches are frequented by charter tour groups, which fly directly into Goa from Europe. This is often the only place in India that such tours visit. For a lengthy stay, it is cheaper to rent a house, as the Goa hotels can be expensive, especially during the Christmas season. If you wish to rent a house, it is best to arrive in Goa in early November when there is still a good selection. During the Christmas holidays, it will be difficult to find a good house at a reasonable price.
Some beaches—Agauda, Bogmala, Varca and Cavelossim—cater to package tours and rich tourists.
Calangute and Baga in the north, and Colva and to a lesser extent Benaulim in the south, are developed areas and have good tourist facilities, including hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas. In Vagator and Anjuna there are hip travelers who plan to stay for a long period of time. Both places have decent facilities and a good beach, but a place to stay can be hard to find.
Further north is Arambol (also called Harmal), which is much less touristed and has only basic accommodations. Visitors interested in spending time at the beach will find the area pleasant, but should not expect to find the same party atmosphere as at the beaches mentioned above. South of Colva is Betul, and further south again is Palolem. Here too the accommodations are basic. Palolem is a quiet place, removed from the package tourist crowds. Many people head south to Gokarna in Karnataka, and go to the secluded OM or Kudli beaches.
Visitors arriving during the height of the season (around Christmas) and heading north toward Anjuna, Vagator, or Arambol, may find it a good idea to first stay in Baga or Calangute, then make day trips until they find a place to stay. It can be difficult during the season to find accommodations.
North of Panaji
Arambol – a hip beach, basic accommodations, secluded, relaxed, beautiful.
Big Vagator – Mainly visited by Indians; accommodations may be tight.
Little Vagator – a hip beach where visitors wear minimum clothing (if any), small but beautiful beach, accommodations may be tight. Good techno party scene.
Anjuna – a hip beach, long and spread out, secluded, busy on flea market day, good accommodations. Good techno party scene.
Baga – a “young” beach crowded with college students, some travelers, Western and Indian family crowd. The beach is long, developed, connected to Calangute, and has good facilities.
Calangute – again, a young crowd of college students, some travelers, and Western and Indian families. Long, developed, connected to Baga, reminds me of a beach in the West, good facilities, good shopping.
Candolim and Fort Aguada – both resorts, private beaches, more expensive.
South of Panaji
Bogmalo – richer package tourist crowd.
Colva – Indian and Western families, package tourists, college student, some travelers, developed, fairly secluded, good facilities.
Benaulim – near Colva, but more secluded, fairly developed, good facilities.
Varca – richer package tourist crowd, secluded, good beach.
Palolem – popular with travelers, relaxed, secluded, with decent facilities.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Goa is from late September to March, when there is almost no rain and it is a bit cooler. Mid-December until the end of January is ideal, and is the most popular time in Goa. Rarely does the temperature go over 32°C (90°F) during this time. It can be unbearably hot from April to the beginning of July. The monsoon rains come in July, August, and early September, and can be very heavy. The sea is rough and the water muddy during these months.
Travel To and From Goa
During the Christmas season flights may have to be reserved months in advance. To get a flight to Delhi or Mumbai from Goa during January, you will usually have to arrange it several days in advance.
Rail The Konkan Railway goes along the coast between Mumbai and Mangalore, stopping in Goa at Margao. It may stop at more places in the future, so you may want to check on this. The direct train from Mumbai to Goa takes 12 hours and to Mangalore six hours. Tickets for the Konkan Railway are sold at the railway stations in Margao and Vasco da Gama, and at the bus station in Panaji.
At the present time South Central Railway is converting their lines from metre to broad gauge, so rail service are disrupted. When this service is completed there will be direct trains between Vasco da Gama and Delhi (42 hr) and Bangalore (15 hr). There is a direct train from Mathura to Madgaon, in south-central Goa.
Getting Around Goa
The state-run Kadamba bus company is the main bus company in Goa, but there are many private companies. The main long distance bus stations are in Panaji, Mapusa, and Margao. From Panaji or Vasco da Gama, if you are heading north to the beaches of Anjuna, Vagator, or Arambol, you will usually have to catch a bus to Mapusa and from there, another bus to your destination. There are frequent local buses between many of the coastal towns. Many of the local buses are uncomfortable being extremely crowded and slow.
Old Goa to Piedade—Leaves every half-hour.
Dona Paula to Mormugao—Runs only between September and May, this is a nice way to get from Panaji to Vasco da Gama. It makes infrequent crossings and stops running at 5 pm. You may have to wait a couple of hours. It is a passenger ferry only, and buses wait on each side for the boat to cross. Crossing takes forty-five minutes.
Agassaim to Cortalim—This ferry crossing is on the road between Panaji and Margao. There is a bridge here, but bus passengers have to take a ferry across because the bridge is weak and heavy vehicles are not allowed over it.
Nudism is prohibited in Goa. The stricture against nudism includes a prohibition against women bathing topless. Women bathe topless on the beaches at Vagator and some of the more secluded areas of Anjuna and Arambol, but at the more touristy beaches, and at the beaches frequented by families, the ban against nudism is strictly enforced and the police patrol the beaches.
India is a puritan country, and Indian women would not dream of wearing even a bathing suit. Most Indian women bathe fully covered by their saris.
Trouble and Theft
Although most people visiting Goa do not have a problem with thieves, theft is becoming more and more common in Goa. Items left unattended on the beach may be stolen. Do not leave valuables in your room. If you have a ground floor room, be sure the windows are locked when you go out, as thieves often use a stick to fish things out through an unlocked window. Robberies also occur at night while travelers are sleeping, so do not place valuables near the windows. Thieves sometime lift the tiles off the local houses to break into them.
Thieves strike especially on party nights.
Beware also of fellow travelers, especially those who have lived in India for awhile or those who have a drug addiction. I have heard of several cases of people having their entire houses emptied by supposed friends who were staying with them. According to a friend who spent several years in Goa, about eighty percent of the people staying for a length of time will be robbed. This percentage may be slightly exaggerated, but I wouldn’t underestimate the possibility of it happening to you. Take precautions. The more secluded the house, the more likely you will be robbed. If possible, rent a house close to the family who owns it.
It is possible to rent a deposit box in banks in which to lock your valuables. Some hotels have safe deposit boxes in the family house of the people who own the hotel. If you have travelers cheques (a good idea in a place like Goa), it is a good idea to leave them and your passport with the family from whom you are renting. Because they are native to Goa, and because they rarely leave their houses unattended, they are less likely to be robbed than a Western traveler.
Women and Violent Crime
Violent crime is not typical of Goa, but there are several cases where women have been attacked while alone on the beach. Women alone should be on their guard in secluded areas, especially at twilight or at night. Women should also be careful of the motorbike taxi drivers at night, especially if the driver has been drinking. Do not engage in small talk with them. There are known cases of such drivers attempting to rape Western women.
Women should be especially careful of drunk Indian men at night. The local Goans are usually restrained, but men from outside the state, who are unaccustomed to the Westerner’s mode of half-nudity, can lose control.
WARNING!!! During beach parties, foreign women should not wander off by themselves but remain with other foreigners (preferably men) or in well-lit areas. Drunk Indian men can be extremely aggressive (dangerous) with women, so it is best to stay away from them in dark places. This is a serious warning!
Drugs (even pot and hash) are illegal in Goa and possession of anything over 5 grams carries a heavy fine and up to ten years in jail. Usually offenders are not put in jail, but the police ask for a fine to let them go free. They may take every rupee (and dollar) you have. If you have a problem with the police, be very polite and request to pay the fine. Often they will ask you for money and you can negotiate the amount. Whatever price is set, you should pay it, because time in an Indian jail is extremely unpleasant and it is certain that you will be convicted, whether you did anything on not.
The general policy seems to be that as long as you are not a dealer, no one will bother you. You should not party around families.
WARNING Be careful of having the wax cleaned out of your ears. I have asked several doctors about this practice, and all of them have agreed that it is extremely dangerous. I heard of one case in which a person was shown an apparently huge piece of wax that was taken out of his ear. After a few days, he went to a doctor because he realized he had lost his hearing in that ear.
There are three seasons in Goa: high, middle, and low. The high season is from mid-December to the middle of January. During this time, hotel prices can double or triple, and it can be difficult to find a room at any price in some places. Many people renting houses come to Goa in November to get a good place.
The rates given in this section are usually the high season rates. At other times of the year, prices will often be twenty-five to fifty percent cheaper at middle and higher class hotels. You can request a discount if you are staying for a period of time.
The local language is Konkani. Some useful words are:
Yes – Oi
No – Nam
Please – Upkar Kor
Excellent – Kelem
OK – Borem
Welcome – Eukar
Slowly – Soukas
Faster – Vegin
Straight – Fuddem
Stop – Tamb
Go away – Voss
Enough – Puro
Excuse me – Upkar korsi
Thank you – Dev Borem Karum
How much? – Kitle Podtai?
How far? – Kitle poiss?
Too expensive – Chod marog