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Life in Goa

Carnival, a Uniquely Goan Celebration
Life in Goa
Festivals—some with religious music, some with contemporary dance music—provide a counterpoint to sleepy villages and UNESCO-recognized history. With coconut liquor, henna tattoos, and an abundance of colorful birds, even daily life in Goa is exotic.
By Neha Puntambekar , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Carnival, a Uniquely Goan Celebration
    Carnival, a Uniquely Goan Celebration
    A three-day, three-night festival, Carnival came to Goa by way of Portugal and offers one of the liveliest, most colorful ways to see the Catholic influence on the region. Taking place immediately before Lent, the spectacle involves relentless music, dancing, and partying, alongside several parades of costumed people on floats. The event is unique in India, and while it happens throughout the state, the biggest celebrations, parades, and dances are organized in the capital city of Panjim (known to Goans as Panaji).
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Feni, the Local Liquor
    Feni, the Local Liquor
    Feni is an exclusively Goan liquor made from either cashew fruit or coconut. Its name comes from the Sanskrit phena, meaning "froth," which refers to the bubbles that appear when feni is poured into a glass. No matter its ingredients, the resulting drink is strong—usually 40 to 45 percent alcohol—and is served straight with a splash of lime, or with a mixer. Coconut feni is more prevalent in the South Goa district, while the cashew-fruit version is available throughout the state. Make sure you purchase it from a licensed vendor or at a local bar, where you might find a creative menu of feni-based cocktails.
    Photo by Vinod D'sa
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    Intricate Henna Tattoos
    Intricate Henna Tattoos
    Henna is a dye produced from the dried leaves of the Lawsonia inermis, or henna tree, and has been used cosmetically for hundreds of years. These days, intricate henna tattoos are a common feature at tourist markets. You can also choose to get a tattoo at a salon, or from an artist freelancing on one of the beaches. Once drawn, henna tattoos have to dry on the skin for a minimum of two hours to allow the colors to deepen and set. The paste is then washed off, leaving the design behind. Henna tattoos generally last for about two weeks, gradually fading away.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Explore Goa by Scooter
    Explore Goa by Scooter
    The easiest way to get around Goa is by renting a scooter. Rather than being limited by a car, you can explore small roads and unknown alleyways, discovering crumbling ruins, idyllic bungalows, local taverns, and dusty soccer fields along the way. There are many rental-service operations—ask your hotel to guide you toward a reliable one. Even with a recommendation, however, be sure to inspect the vehicle thoroughly. It is also important to note that driving in India can be chaotic, especially at the busier intersections, so do take care; additionally, you need to carry a valid international driving license when riding. Drive out to Mapusa in North Goa for the Friday Market. Though operational every day of the week, the market has a particular vibrancy on Fridays when merchants and food vendors come together to showcase everything from textiles, antiques, clothing, handicrafts, pottery, carpets, and jewelry to spices, fruits, vegetables, and local delicacies. For a cultural immersion, head to the open-air auditorium at Kala Academy, which offers a distinctive menu of events and performances. Take some time to view the art exhibits or grab a seat for a classical-music show.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Sunburn Festival
    Sunburn Festival
    Every December, between Christmas and New Year's, Goa hosts the Sunburn music festival, an electronic-dance-music event that's billed as the largest of its kind in Asia. Renowned DJs play at multiple stages along the beach (the exact venue varies), while acrobats, fire jugglers, and other performers roam the sands. Pop-up shops sell trinkets and more; small stalls dish out endless food and drinks; and intense games of beach soccer and mechanical-bull-riding contests add to the charged atmosphere. Tickets and more information are available on the Sunburn festival website.
    Photo courtesy of Nishant Matta/Sunburn Festival
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    Exotic Birding and Wildlife
    Exotic Birding and Wildlife
    Goa is home to hundreds of species of birds, which are best viewed between November and March. Visitors will want to check out local sanctuaries Bhagwan Mahaveer, Bondla, and Salim Ali, where they can expect to see vultures, buzzards, doves, pigeons, kingfishers, and kites. Be sure to also watch out for Goa's state bird, the ruby-throated bulbul. Morjim Beach is the best place to find seabirds but you should also explore the wetlands near Carambolim. If you want guidance, Canopy Goa, based out of Tambdi Surla, offers tours, as does Rahul Alvares, a wildlife guide who prepares custom trips. Head north of town to reconnect with nature in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. Nestled in the Western Ghats, the area is home to black panthers, leopards, sloth bears, and Bengal tigers. It's also an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, with 255 recorded species.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Panjim's Latin Quarter
    Panjim's Latin Quarter
    Fontainhas, Panjim's Latin Quarter, is a charming and historic Mediterranean enclave bordered on the east by Ourem Creek and on the west by the Altinho Hill, an elite residential area. The city's Portuguese influence can be seen in the area's architecture—brightly colored heritage villas share space with cafés and restaurants, giving a glimpse of how Goa might have looked hundreds of years ago. A superb walking area (it's a UNESCO World Heritage site), the normally tranquil Latin Quarter is especially lively during the annual Carnival celebrations in February.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Village Pilgrimage
    Village Pilgrimage
    When you're ready to get away from the beach, consider visiting a Goan town, where you'll get the chance to see how locals actually live. Keri, a village just outside of the capital city of Panjim, is a great choice for those who are curious about Ayurveda—it's where the tradition started in Goa. It's also home to the Tropical Spice Plantation and numerous houses of worship. Those on a devotional trip might be interested in the village of Mangeshi in the North Goa district, where the temple of Shri Mangesh (dedicated to an aspect of Shiva) is visited by hundreds of pilgrims annually. The temple of Shri Shantadurga, in nearby Kavale, honors Durga, the other deity most revered here in Goa.
    Photo by Jordi Camí/age fotostock
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    Beachside Yoga
    Beachside Yoga
    Goa is an excellent place to book a yoga getaway. Yogamagic Eco Retreat, near Anjuna Beach, offers instruction in several types of yoga, including Iyengar, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. In Assagao, Purple Valley Yoga Retreat focuses on Ashtanga, while, at Ashwem Beach, YogaGypsys features a menu of classes every day as well as yoga workshops. Most retreats run from October to May, and provide specialized courses, teacher training, daily classes, or a combination thereof. Many yoga centers also offer traditional Ayurvedic treatments and serve vegetarian meals on the premises.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Must-Try Restaurants
    Must-Try Restaurants
    Follow the locals for the most iconic eateries in Goa. La Plage, tucked away in North Goa, mimics a Parisian bistro with a chic, laid-back atmosphere and stellar French menu, featuring crispy sardines in lime zest, prawn lollipops on sugarcane, grilled calamari with eggplant, beefsteak, and fresh fish soufflé. At Noronha’s Corner, three brothers dish out traditional Goan fare from a food truck decorated in cartoon characters. The menu is separated into four sections: beef, chicken, pork, and fish; if you can't decide, the brothers will happily suggest their favorites, including beef croquettes, Goan sausages, chicken cafreal, fish cutlets, and sorpatel. For beloved dishes like sorpotel, lobster piri-piri, and chicken xacuti, head to Martin's Corner. The family-run restaurant has come a long way from its start as a corner shop; it now features outdoor dining, live music, and one of the better bar menus around.
    Photo courtesy of 196Sheena