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The best way to learn about what to see, eat, and do in a place is from the locals and expats who live there! That’s why we’re excited to share these tips from Akshata, a Mumbai native who now lives and works in Goa, India as a Divemaster. Her tips make us want to hop on a plane back to India and delve deeper into the coastal hippie paradise we only scratched the surface of in 2014. Read on for Akshata’s tips for the best places to visit in Goa and the best things to do in Goa all while getting off the beaten path.
Getting Off the Beaten Path in Goa, India
This year, I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to live and work in the beautiful coastal state of Goa. I’m someone who thrives by the sea and particularly enjoys the beach life. So hearing that I’d be relocating to Goa from the busy bustling city life of Mumbai was music to my ears.
Goa is so much more than just a sunny haven that people frequent to escape the cold winter months. In fact, the activities I’ve enjoyed the most so far don’t even involve the beach or the ocean. Instead, they are focused on the cultural aspects of Goa that often go unnoticed. Here are five of the not-so-common things to do in Goa.
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1. Discover the Capital, Panjim
Yes, the beaches and ocean are beautiful. But there are also so many more beautiful places to visit in Goa! Especially the old parts of the state capital Panjim (also known as Panaji). Goa was formerly a Portuguese territory and still retains some colonial influences. The unique mix of Indian and Portuguese culture that envelopes so many Goa destinations is on display in Panjim. Ancient basilicas stand beside colorful Indian homes for some of the best in Goa sightseeing.
One of the most serene places to visit in Goa is Fontainhas, the old Latin Quarter that is reminiscent of a hybridized Mediterranean city. The small winding streets of Fontainhas are lined with Portuguese villas that have been turned into boutique hotels, cafes, and galleries, resplendent in their original colors of pale blues, greens, and yellows. Showcasing the mix of cultures, these Goa destinations have been well maintained in their Portuguese architectural forms on the outside. Inside, they boast the influence of Goa’s local culture. Prints of famous local artist Mario Miranda adorn the walls and traditional food is served in cafes.
As an amateur, Fontainhas is easily my favorite place to take pictures in Panjim. It’s an amazing setting for some of my more “artsy” clicks.
2. Whisk Yourself Away to Chorao Island
Even though Chorao island is only five kilometers from the capital, it is one of those places to visit in Goa that is rarely frequented by tourists. Getting to Chorao is easy enough, the local ferry from Ribandar village is the quickest way. And you can appreciate the serene Mandovi river along the way.
In my opinion, the best way to explore this island is by foot so that you can fully appreciate the Goa sightseeing with colonial Portuguese churches, graveyards and tiny whitewashed houses that makeup Chorao village. If you’re looking for a place to visit in Goa that still has a vintage sleepy town vibe, Chorao is for you. Spending a day here will leave you with an appreciation for the simple life. The bird sanctuary that can be navigated by canoe on the tip of this island is a heaven for bird lovers like me and houses many different species of birds. Even though I didn’t see one, the locals promised me there were Goan crocodiles lurking about!
3. Explore Grande Island – Underwater!
If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Goa, there are plenty of water sports like jet-skiing and parasailing. But what most people don’t know is that some of the best Goa sightseeing can be done underwater! As a Divemaster at Dive Goa myself (and the reason I moved here), I think experiencing scuba diving in Goa, or better yet, getting certified as an open water diver is a great way to spend a few days of your Goa trip. Most of the diving in Goa happens off the coast of Grande island, a Portuguese island that is no longer inhabited. Its coast is dotted with palm trees on land, a variety of dive sites in the ocean, and is one of Goa’s best places to scuba dive.
Tourists often frequent the island for “half-day picnics” or snorkeling tours. Diving is often overlooked as a thing to do in Goa and it shouldn’t be! It is undoubtedly the best way to explore the treasures around the island! From shipwrecks to reef life, Goa’s shallow waters make for long uninterrupted dives without too much worry about decompression sickness. If you’re looking for more places to visit in Goa, try under the waves!
4. Skip the Two-Wheelers, Ride the Bus!
Most tourists rent a scooter or bike at the beginning of their Goa trips. I admit it’s convenient to have a scooter and zip around to all of the beautiful places to visit in Goa. However, the abundance of two-wheelers in the streets of Goa comes with its own set of problems. Problems like drunk driving, lack-of-balance accidents, getting stopped by the cops for not having a two-wheeler license and more. That can put a real damper on your Goa sightseeing!
With this in mind, I decided to try and travel around like a true local. Considering I’d be spending a good amount of time in Goa, I took the bus. To my surprise, I found that Goa has a great local bus system. Buses connect most of Goa’s places, run very frequently, and are not as crowded as the ones in Bombay! An added benefit of traveling by bus was the insight I got into the lives of local Goans, many of whom I would have never interacted with if it weren’t for my trips.
Using the bus system will also allow you to explore smaller neighborhoods and tiny villages thanks to traveling on the road less taken, aka some places to visit in Goa that you’d never have the chance to see by motorbike. So even if it doesn’t sound like the thing to do in Goa, give the buses a try! You can hop on and off as you please since the bus fare is a mere 10 rupees (15 cents)!
5. Eat Some Serradura
There’s nothing like a tasty dessert to round out a day of Goa sightseeing. Serradura is that dessert. Serradura is a Portuguese word that translates into “sawdust pudding”, but trust me, it tastes nothing like sawdust. Made of condensed milk, cream and topped with crushed biscuits, this cooling dessert is like biting into a piece of heaven. A lot of restaurants don’t make it, as it needs to be consumed fresh and doesn’t keep well. I suggest befriending a local restaurateur and asking them to make it for you a day in advance. Any true Goan cafe should be able to, as it’s actually quite easy. It may seem odd to go to all this trouble for dessert, but once you’ve tried serradura, you’ll learn that eating serradura is one of the most delicious things to do in Goa.
Speaking of food, I have to mention Bhatti, one of the best places to visit in Goa. It’s a small restaurant in Nerul that is also the home of the couple that runs it. There are no menus, only the freshest catch of the day and staple Goan dishes like xacuti and cafreal. Run by husband and wife, this is a true Goan experience, with authentic local food and just about as close as you can get to eating at a local’s home.
So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed living the alternative life in Goa. If you have any specific questions or are visiting this side of the world, shoot me a line in the comments section and I’d be happy to help!
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About the Author
Akshata has a passion for traveling and exploring the world-especially its oceans. She loves to write and is interested in entrepreneurship and sustainability. She sometimes jots down random musings and tales from her scuba diving adventures on www.withlovefromakshata.wordpress.com.
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