India’s smallest state is also one of its most famous, with a justifiable reputation for carefree, sun-soaked fun. Yet the beaches and parties that dominate the headlines are far from the full story. From the Goan-Portuguese heritage sites and inland areas of extraordinary natural beauty to the wonderfully varied restaurant scene and the plethora of health and wellness services that have evolved from the days of hippy hedonism, Goa has an astounding array of experiences on offer that can cater to every taste and desire.
The state is typically split into North and South, with Dabolim airport being a rough divider between the two.
The north is a more cosmopolitan and developed affair, befitting its status as the place where tourism began back in the hippy days, with its epicentre being the long Bardez stretch that includes Calangute, Anjuna and Vagator, before the natural punctuation of the Siolim-Morjim river that leads to the less developed but increasingly cool Morjim, Asvem and Mandrem belt. At the very north there’s Arambol beach, which is still something of a hippy enclave and a great town for a spot of shopping, before Tiracol Fort leads into Maharashtra. The capital city of Panjim, the market town of Mapusa and the ancient capital, Old Goa, all lie in this northern region.
The south tends to be a slower paced, more bucolic region, dominated at first by a long range of five star hotels before the tail-end of the Aravalli hill range rises up to provide a natural barrier for Canacona, where Palolem, Patnem and Agonda sit in a world of their own. Inland in the south, between the ocean and the Zuari River, there are heritage homes, Portuguese mansions and towns that haven’t much changed in a century. Goa’s second town, Margao, an important railway junction, is also in the south. Beyond the Zuari, in and around Ponda, where the Portuguese influence was never strongly felt, there are spice farms, temples and waterfalls and increasingly rugged hills that lead out into Karnataka, the next state to the south.