An Insider’s Guide To The Best of Goa

India’s smallest state, but perhaps with the biggest personality, Goa is a dream destination for many travelers. With pristine white sandy beaches, bustling towns with Portuguese architecture and a cuisine that deserves an article all of its own, a vacation in Goa is one that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Depending on the length of your stay, you might be able to visit most of the major tourist landmarks in Goa, but if you’re pressed for time, these are the places that you really must make a beeline for.

Experience the Hustle and Bustle of Panaji

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Start your trip in Panaji, the state capital. It is likely where likely where you’ll fly to and the hotels here are bright, clean and cheap enough to allow you some extra spending money for the couple of days ahead. Start your adventure by heading straight for the Latin Quarter, known as Fontainhas. This part of the town is made up of winding cobbled streets that are lined by sunshine-coloured houses with deep jewel-toned doors. Whilst many tourists understandably enjoy discovering the less picture-postcard parts of cities, in Fontainhas it is simply too beautiful to not spend a day exploring.

Once you’ve sat and enjoyed a cold drink at one of the squares begin the hike up to the church which overlooks the city. It is known as Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church and was built when Goa was under Portuguese rule. The church itself is incredibly beautiful, but really the view over the town is the most special thing about this spot. This is a particularly good location to enjoy a sunset, but really at any time of day it is something special to look out at the Mandovi river and the sprawl of the city below.

Visit Goa’s Floating Casinos

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Whilst you’re still staying in Panaji, you should make the most of one of the unique aspects of the state of Goa. Unlike across most of India, gambling is legal here, as long as the casino is attached to a 5-star resort, or if the casino is offshore. The brilliant entrepreneurs of Goa have found the perfect way to adhere to the rules, by building enormous offshore casinos in the form of ships.

Entry to the ships is reasonably priced and usually includes refreshments, so you can make a proper evening of it. If you’d like to make the very most of your visit to one of the offshore casinos then there are some websites that can help you. As well as offering run-throughs of mobile casino apps and websites, PokerNews also offers information about live events happening across the world. If you feel like embracing the best that the Mandovi river has to offer then check out the website and see if there’s a tournament running on one of the enormous casino ships during your stay.

Party at Palolem Beach

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Once you’ve taken some time to enjoy the busy little city of Panaji, you should take a little time to see some more of Goa’s coastline. Whilst the buzz of city life is still in your head, make your way to Palolem Beach. This strip of beach is absolutely beautiful white sand and crystal clear sea, so it is perfect for a beach day, but is best known for its nightlife. The silent discos on Palolem Beach are famous across India and are something of a right of passage for tourists here. The Silent Noise club is the most famous of them and whilst it’s a little more expensive at Rs. 800 per person, it is worth the extra money. Head to the south end of the beach when the sun goes down on a Saturday and prepare yourself to dance the night away until the early hours.

Of course, for those who fancy making a whole weekend of their visit to Palolem beach, there is plenty to do. This stretch of beach is set up for tourists and whilst we’ll get to some more ‘off the beaten track’ options later, a great time can be had in Palolem. For sporty types there are numerous water activities which are super cheap and great fun, you can choose surfing, canoeing, kayaking or just slip on a mask and snorkel and explore some of Goa’s marine life.  Once you’ve had enough splashing around, take full advantage of the beach bars’ happy hours, which tend to last for far longer than an hour and will serve up delicious cocktails at 2 for the price of 1.

Take a Boat Ride

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One of the most beautiful parts of Goa is exploring the surrounding waters. Swimming and snorkeling from the beach is a wonderful experience, you’re guaranteed to see exotic tropical fish, and if you’re lucky you might even spot sea turtles. If you have your heart set on catching sight of some larger marine animals though, then you might be best to take a boat trip.

Boat trips to Butterfly Beach and Honeymoon Bay are not only great for their destinations, they also offer you the chance to spot wild dolphins en route. Although the people running the service can’t guarantee that you’ll see dolphins, the thrill is often in the chase, so it is simply a breathtaking bonus if you do get to. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of 500 to 1000 Rs per person, depending on how many are traveling and how busy the boat owners seem to be. Bartering is totally acceptable in Goa, so if you feel like you’re getting a bad deal, you can respectfully ask for a small discount.

Unleash Your Inner Attenborough at the Cotigoa Wildlife Sanctuary

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If you’re looking to experience the wilder side of Goa then a place where you can do that in safety is Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary has been running since 1968 and in that time they’ve managed to save an area of almost 100 square kilometres. This area is made up of dense woodland, which is home to not only some ancient trees, but also lots of indigenous wildlife.

As with any wild animals, you aren’t guaranteed to spot anything, but if you take your time and stay quiet you have a good chance of spotting lizards, flying squirrels, sloths and birds. For those who are incredibly patient you might even spot gazelles and porcupines. Depending on how you look at it, you might be lucky or unlucky to spot hyenas or panthers, which are known to frequent the area, but thankfully pose little risk to humans who stay out of their way.