The Best Things to Do in Goa

No matter why you come to Goa, you’ll leave with a new angle on India. Catholic and Hindu, modern and ancient, decadent and sacred, distinctly Indian yet once a Portuguese colony, this state is full of contradictions, culture and spectacular beaches.

Baina Beach, Goa
GoBananas on Baina Beach is India’s first and only facility offering underwater sea walking, the latest trend in aquatic adventure sports. After some brief instruction and a crash course in sign language, a boat ferries participants to Piccanye, an uninhabited island offering tame and clear waters. Walkers are set up with equipment that includes a fiberglass helmet and a four-kilogram lead waist belt before sinking three meters below the surface and effortlessly walking along the seabed, exploring coral colonies, schools of fish, and other marine life. Sessions last 20 minutes and no swimming experience is required! Note: Though considered zero-risk, underwater sea walking is not recommended for those suffering from claustrophobia.
Dayanand Bandodkar Marg, Campal, Panaji, Goa 403001, India
Beat the heat and get to the Kala Academy, an organization that promotes the cultural unity of Goa. From festivals to exhibitions, Kala offers a diverse and distinctive menu of events and performances. Take your time to peruse the displays or grab a seat for a classical-music concert. Past affairs have included kathak dance training, international fashion shows, and National Geographic lectures. The open-air auditorium showcases regional plays—and lets in the cool evening breezes. Events run less frequently during monsoon season (June to September), but the well-manicured campus offers tranquil sunsets all year round. The academy itself is located on the Mandovi River, so head out back for the best views.
Valpoi, Goa 403505, India
Head north of Valpoi to reconnect with nature in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The 80-square-mile preserve, nestled in the Western Ghats, is considered an area of high biodiversity, with wildlife ranging from black panthers and leopards to sloth bears and Bengal tigers. In fact, it was recently proposed that Mhadei become a part of Project Tiger, a government initiative to conserve a viable tiger population. Look high! The sanctuary is also an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (an official designation by BirdLife International and the Audubon Society), with 255 recorded species. Besides wildlife, the preserve is dotted with dozens of waterfalls, most notably the dual Vazra Sakla and Virdi Falls. There are no public tourist facilities; allow yourself three hours for a self-guided exploration of the sanctuary.
115 Borvanwado, Nachinola, Bardez, Goa 403508, India
From June to September, enjoy the lush jungle scenery on Class II and III rapids through the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, organized by Goa Rafting in the nearby village of Nachinola. The Mandovi River (also called the Mhadei) springs to life during monsoon season, creating the perfect scenario for white-water rafting. Feeling the effects of the Goa social scene? With two departure times (9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.), even late risers can brave the three-hour adventure. The more than six-mile runs also offer chances to spot residents of the sanctuary, including bears, panthers, leopards, and Bengal tigers. Bonus: The meeting point is a charming and unexpectedly delicious restaurant famous with bikers and road-trippers. Post-rafting, book a table and share a thali.
Board a ferry from Old Goa for the short crossing to Divar Island. With its single-lane roads that are virtually empty, the island is ideal for independent exploration. For years the government tried to persuade the residents of Divar to approve a bridge from the mainland. The locals resisted, however, and the island remains a quaint and traditional step back in time. Divar Island is not a typical tourist spot: There is one guest house, a few pubs, two bakeries, and a handful of restaurants that mostly cater to workers. The one exception to this tranquility comes in late summer, when Divar hosts Bonderam, a cultural festival that resembles Carnival. Otherwise, the island is an idyllic day trip overflowing with mangroves, grasslands, and old-world charm.
Mapusa Market Area, Mapusa Municipal Market, Panaji, Goa 403507, India
Polish your bargaining skills for the Mapusa Market in North Goa. Though operational every day of the week, the market is particularly lively on Fridays. Shoppers can peruse textiles, antiques, clothing, spices, handicrafts, pottery, carpets, jewelry, fruits, vegetables, and regional delicacies. Luckily, most stalls are grouped by category. During peak season, merchants from other Indian states, particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan, also descend on Mapusa to sell handmade bags and shawls. The food stalls are always a favorite among both locals and tourists. Try the dried fish, seedless tamarind, and Goan chouriço, a spicy marinated pork sausage brought over by Portuguese settlers.
Pomburpa, Goa 403101, India
Pack a picnic and take a dip at Pomburpa Spring, a natural freshwater source less than six miles from Panjim (also known as Panaji). Set among betel palm trees on landscaped grounds, the waters are believed to have medicinal properties for ailments including arthritis, bone fractures, and circulatory disease. Pomburpa used to belong to the church, but is now under the authority of the Goa Tourism Department. More than 1 crore (US$150,000) was spent on renovations to drastically improve the facility, and visitors can now enjoy changing rooms, public toilets, and even a performance stage. Weekends can get busy with locals, so try and plan your trip during weekday work hours when crowds subside.
Vagator Beach, Goa 403519
Vagator Beach has long appealed to the trance-loving crowd of foreigners seeking overnight rave parties on Goa‘s shores, but the beach has also become known for its spectacular sunset views from the surrounding red cliffs. Backpackers and Goans can now be seen here in the evening hours with various camera lenses, hoping to capture the perfect shot of the sun’s rays beaming through the dramatic cliffs. Vagator Beach is actually split in two sections, each flanked by the cliffs: North Vagator (Big Vagator) and Ozran Beach (Little Vagator). Before sunset, taste the local catch at one of the many seaside eateries and then take a dip at one of two natural freshwater springs adjacent to the shore.
H.No. A-14 , Arla Bazar Keri, Ponda, Kerim, Goa 403401, India
With its rich soil and tropical climate, Goa is an ideal setting for growing spices. Several plantations in the area offer guided tours, elephant rides, and lunches served on banana leaves but Sai Organic Farm and Herbarium goes beyond traditional spice tourism. Managed by an Ayurvedic doctor, the plantation also includes herbal gardens with aromatic and medicinal flora. Should you be suffering from a common cold, rash, asthma, or even kidney stones, the staff is quick to recommend Ayurvedic remedies. After walking the grounds, visitors can enjoy a Goan lunch prepared with freshly cultivated herbs and spices. Here, organic-farming methods reign supreme to assure the purity and quality of the plants (and also to preserve the site’s ecotourism designation). Sai Herbarium is welcoming and educational, and leaves a smaller footprint on the important spice zones of Goa.
Aryatan Bhavan 3rd Floor, Pattoo Plaza, Electricity Colony, Altinho, Panaji, Goa 403001, India
Up, up, and away! Catering to romantics and adventure seekers alike, the Tiger Balloon Safaris company offers private hot-air balloon rides over Goa. Though the state has numerous picturesque spots that you can enjoy from the ground, nothing compares to viewing Goa’s spice plantations, multicolored coastline, and Western Ghats mountain range from above. There are several points available around central Goa to meet before transferring to the launch site, which varies according to weather conditions (but is generally in South Goa). Once in the air, the pilot will vary your altitude, generally ranging between 400 and 900 feet. Transportation is ready and waiting when you land, as experienced ground crews track the balloon during flight. Balloons fly throughout daylight hours in the winter, and in the morning and early evening during spring and fall; weather limitations ground flights during monsoon season.
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