Like the beaches on its western shore, Goa's history is long and colorful. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and ruled for more than four centuries. In 1961, Goa joined the Indian union, but Portugal's influence remains. Geographically, Goa is divided into districts: North Goa, which is known for its vibrant beaches and party culture; and South Goa, a more relaxed affair. The state is one of India's wealthiest, and tourism is its prime industry. Be sure to visit one of the numerous bird and wildlife sanctuaries and walk through the churches of Old Goa, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Goa isn't a hop-on-hop-off-bus-tour kind of place. The local landmarks are best seen as you walk around the neighborhoods and beaches. In Panaji—the capital city, more often known in English as Panjim—join the worshipers, tourists, and Bollywood crews at the Our Lady Immaculate Conception church, a baroque structure completed in the 1500s. Fontainhas, the city's Latin Quarter, has a number of heritage villas, artsy cafés, and galleries; for a more historic feel, visit Old Goa, just east of Panaji. The erstwhile Portuguese state capital is now a World Heritage site, and is best known for the 15th-century Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Goa lies along the Arabian Sea, and has a coastline dotted with palm-fringed sandy beaches. Along the more popular, commercial beaches—like Calangute, Baga, and Anjuna—expect to see folks lounging around, sipping on beers or munching snacks made at one of the beach shacks. Beachside massages are readily available, as are Jet Skis, paddleboards, and other water sports equipment. After sundown, these beaches become party central, with restaurants, bars, and clubs operating close to the water. If you want a quieter, more relaxed experience, head south to beaches like Agonda, Patnem, or Benaulim.
A coastal culinary culture, many Goan meals include seafood. Try coconut milk–infused fish curry, fish ambot tik (a sour and spicy curry), or crab xacuti (curry made with a mix of spices that includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin). Pork is popular, appearing in dishes like vindaloo (a hot, tangy curry) and sorpotel (a spicy curry), which are often served with rice or sanna (a dry rice cake) and a spoonful of seafood pickle. There are also abundant vegetarian options, such as udid methi (a hog plum and mango curry) or bhajji (a fritter-like snack). Pair your food with a glass of Sula (an Indian wine), a pint of King’s beer, or with the local spirit, feni.
The best time to visit Goa is between November and February when the weather is pleasant and clement, though the period between Christmas and New Year tends to be busy. Flights arrive at the Goa International Airport in Dabolim, which is well connected by road and rail. Private taxis, scooters, and bikes are easily available to get around—and between—towns in the state. Konkani is the official language, though English is spoken widely. The currency is the Indian rupee (INR); credit cards are accepted at most hotels, stores, and restaurants, though market stalls and beach shacks might require cash—if so, ATMs are easy to find. It's usual to tip 10 percent. The voltage in Goa is 220 so bring an adapter if necessary.