What to do in Goa

With a spectacular coastline, intriguing cultural heritage (both Indian and colonial) and an abundance of natural wonders, Goa has a wealth of activities to keep holiday-makers busy. From discovering Portuguese ruins to shopping at flea markets to doing absolutely nothing on one of the region’s picturesque stretches of sand the activities are as countless as your imagination. For the active there are a huge number of water sports, for the health conscious you can try reiki, yoga or a wealth of vegetarian cuisine, for the cultural-addicts there are cooking courses, Indian music and Sanskrit lessons, and for the shop-aholic there are an abundance of markets and stalls offering anything your heart desires. So whether you are in Goa to embrace the cultural heritage, indulge your body or have the ultimate action packed (or lazy) beach holiday, here are some of the top things to do when visiting Goa.

1. Get active with an array of water sports.

If you have had enough lying on the beach, then take to the water and participate in one of Goa’s multitude of water sports. Banana boating is a great option for the kids and you can hear the wild screams of the riders before you see these inflatable yellow devices. Windsurfing is also available, depending on conditions, and instruction can be provided if you have never tried it before. Parasailing is another fun option that will have you flying high above Goa’s beaches offering spectacular views. Water skiing and Wakeboarding are both offered that will have you gliding along the water while jet skiing (locally known as water scooters) can be hired with or without a driver.

There are some locations along Goa’s coastline with good snorkeling and scuba diving, and certification is offered if you have never dived before. Stop in at one of the dive shops to ask about their daily itineraries and snorkeling trips.

A number of catamaran and boat trips are also available, including sunset and moonlight cruises and island hopping trips that allow you to explore the surrounding coastline.

Most watersports are run by private operators and it is possible to bargain down to an agreeable price. During the monsoon season seas are rough and most water sports shut down during this period.

2. Party ‘til you drop

Goa is famed for its nightlife with each beach offering a different atmosphere and level of partying. Whether you want to sing karaoke, dance to Bollywood or go crazy to electronic music Goa has you covered. There are open-air beachside bars, luxurious lounges and nightclubs, and beach or jungle raves that go all through the night. Anjuna Beach is the liveliest spot with trance parties going well into the early hours of the morning, and Tito’s on Baga Beach is a reliable party option. New places open and close with the seasons, so it is a good idea to check the party posters and flyers that are pinned up around the beaches to see what is happening. For a more relaxed atmosphere, Arambol offers live music and jam sessions most nights of the week and you are guaranteed a good night's sleep.

3. Explore the nature

Goa has some beautiful natural areas inland from the beach including waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries.

Head to Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary near Molem where you can spot panthers, sloth bears, mouse deer, barking deer, and an estimated 200 species of birds, including Indian great black woodpeckers, Malabar pied hornbill, fairy bluebird, emerald dove, and the paradise flycatcher. The sanctuary offers camping trips, yoga, as well as the chance to ride and bathe elephants. It is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats and open from 8:30am to 5:30pm daily.

Bondla Wildllfe Sanctuary is another place where you can get up close and personal with a number of furry creatures, or you can watch ferocious crocodiles in their natural habitat in the Cumbarjua Canal at Quepem, Chorao or Thivim. Guides will take you out in canoes or boats to explore the thick mangroves where the crocodiles live and offer expert insight into these ancient creatures.

The Dudhsagar Waterfalls, known as ‘The Sea of Milk’ cascade dramatically down the cliff face are a stunning spot to experience the might of Mother Nature, particularly in the monsoon season. They are located on the border of Goa and Karnataka states, around 60 kilometers from Panaji and are the highest waterfalls in Goa. There are short treks around the waterfall and a number of vantage points of these 600 meter tall cascades.

There are also a number of caves in the area, including the Arvalem, Lamgau and Rivona Caves that are worth visiting for their spectacular views over the sea. Take a guide to educate you on their prehistoric existence and the legendary stories of their formation.

4. Discover the colonial history

With a unique and rich Portuguese colonial history, Goa is abundant in historical landmarks and elegant churches. Twenty minutes west of Panjim you will be transported back to Old Goa with its churches, convents, museums, art galleries and government buildings that were built by the Portuguese. The magnificent Basilica of Bom Jesus exhibits the ornate architecture of the period and is one of the area’s most stunning colonial buildings. In addition the Se de Santa Catarina is another church worth visiting as an excellent example of colonial infrastructure and the largest church in Old Goa. The Archaeological Museum of Old Goa is an informative exhibition detailing the region's history with lots of old relics, and the Naval Aviation Museum is another interesting stop. Old Goa is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing its historical importance.

5. Shop ‘til you drop

Most beaches have local marketplaces that sell jewelry, bags, clothes and souvenirs and are a great place to practice your bargaining skills. Vendors also walk along many of the beaches (where they are permitted to), allowing you to shop without even having to leave your beach lounge! Remember to always bargain, it is part of the culture and part of the fun.

Every Wednesday Anjuna comes to life with its weekly flea market that has the best selection of the areas handicrafts and traveler favorites, including paint and canvas for the artists out there. The market was started by the hippies who traded their old wares to buy new things and has evolved into one of Goa’s most popular attractions. Located on the beach it offers a beautiful setting and when the market finishes for the day everyone parties on at the nearby beach shacks.

On Saturday night a bazaar is also held in Arpora, known as Ingo’s Saturday Night Bazaar, that is popular with tourists and bargain hunters. Here you can find anything your heart desires with hundreds of stalls and items from across the world. From Bohemian clothing and jewelry, to music, bikes, and handicrafts, the Bazaar also hosts a lot of entertainment, like fire jugglers and eaters, poi dancers, live music, DJs and lots of stalls serving great food from across the globe.

6. Indulge in the cuisine

Goa has a huge selection of food from all your Indian favorites to International cuisine. Make sure you try some of the local Goan specialties that are often coconut milk based, rich and spicy with seafood a major feature (understandable considering the abundance of coastline). Indian food can be found in most establishments and at shacks along the beach and it is generally hard to find bad food in Goa.

Some recommendations include the king crabs, prawn vindaloo and grilled seafood at Martin’s Corner, the breakfast at Infantaria in Calangute that features bakery goods prepared on site, and Curly’s on Anjuna Beach that is a lively shack offering waffles and healthy limonata juice and usually parties on well into the night. Souza Lobo is another well-established favorite, set up in 1932 and still going strong. Try their local Goan specialties!

Vegetarians will have no shorter of delectable options in Goa, not only because of the Hindu preference to go meat-free, but also the alternative and hippy cultures that have made Goa home. Vegans should head to Bean Me Up, a soya-station and health food café located in Anjuna that does great dairy-free, meat-free options.

7. Hire a moped

The small winding roads of inland Goa are fantastic to explore with emerald fields of rice paddies and tiny villages dotted throughout the countryside. Jump on a moped and head off exploring away from the beach. Either decide on a destination and pick the most scenic route to get there, or make no plan and allow yourself to get lost in the Goan country (and see what you find along the way). Roads are generally in good condition but you can’t ensure the driving of others is safe to be highly aware. In India you are often not only sharing the road with cars and trucks, but also rickshaws, horse and cat, cows, children and goats, and there are no strict rules as to who has right of way.

8. Visit the Casino

Surprisingly, gambling is legal in Goa and there are a number of casinos located in some of the larger hotels and even out on boats. The atmosphere is definitely not Vegas-style and most of the clientele are men, but it can make for a fun night out if you want to try your luck. Casino Royale, Casino Carnival and Casino Caravela are all popular spots or casino cruises are a unique and scenic way to try your hand at the tables.

9. Celebrate Christmas

While India is predominantly Hindu, Goa actually has a large Christian population, meaning that Christmas is a big celebration here. So if you want to celebrate the festive season with an Indian flavor, head to Goa where the streets come alive with decorations, feasting and merry-making.

10. Explore the Spice Trails

With its warm tropical climate and dense forests, Goa is the ideal place to grow spices and the Sahakari Spice Farm in Ponda is a great place to learn more about these all important ingredients in Goan cuisine. Tours are offered where you learn about and taste the different spices and produce that are grown using organic methods. They produce black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cashew and betel nut palm, among other spices, and you can watch the men climbing the tall betel nut palms with relative ease. Other spice farms in Goa include Savoi Spice Plantation, Abyss Spice Farm, and Parvati Madav Park Plantation and in addition to learning about spices you can do everything from watch folk dances to bathe and ride elephants, to swing on hanging ropes like Tarzan!

11. Holistic Healing

Goa has no shortage of places to either indulge in or learn about different methods of healing. Ayurvedic treatments can be found almost everywhere in Goa although the quality can be varied. It is best to ask for recommendations from local expats or do some research online before you decide where to go. Keri Village is usually a good option with experienced Ayurvedic doctors of all ages running an old practice.

Reiki is also practiced throughout the region and you can also take lessons to learn how to do it yourself. Again, ask around, although Neo Yoga Center receives good reviews.

Yoga and Meditation abound in Goa and are taught on almost every corner. Check the posters and flyers that are stuck up around town for daily class times if you just want a taste of yoga or Yah Hum, Yoga Magic and Ashiyana all offer yoga-inclusive holidays where days are organized around your practice. Goa is also a great place to base yourself if you want to undertake yoga teacher training with many professional teachers resident who are accredited to train you.

If you just want a quick massage without the hassle of finding a good place to go, there are masseuses who patrol the beach looking for clients and will massage you right on your sun lounger using oils and, generally, for a good price. You determine the strength of the massage and they will usually oblige!

12. Dolphin Trips

A number of beaches across Goa offer dolphin trips out to explore the waters and spot these beautiful creatures in action. While dolphins can be illusive, more often than not they are happy to play in the waters around the boat and will often frolic alongside. Most trips last a couple of hours, or you can combine it with a Grand Island Tour, and while you are not guaranteed to see dolphins your captain will do his best to find them for you.

13. Learn an instrument

Goan beaches have plenty of jam sessions throughout the season and if you want to be a part of the action, but don’t know how, there are instrumental teachers that offer their services. From drumming to flute to the evocative table, you never know what you could become an expert in! Look for teachers advertising on posters and flyers around the towns or you can ask directly if you see them in action!

14. Adorn your body

You will see plenty of people with black henna tattoos and beaded hair in Goa and you can do the same at many of the beaches. Artists in the markets and tribal women on the beach often offer to embroider your hair with colorful threads and beads or apply henna tattoos. There are plenty of artistic designs to choose from and they normally wash off with a couple of weeks.

15. Do a book exchange

With plenty of long-term travelers passing through, Goa has lots of book exchanges, located in restaurants, beach shacks or accommodations, where you can trade in your old book for somebody else’s old book. This saves you having to transport an entire holiday’s worth of reading material with you and often features a lot of books set in and around India. Look out for the every-popular (and hefty) Shantaram, a firm traveler favorite, or Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things, that captures the essence of growing up in India.

16. Take a cooking class

Goan cuisine is mouthwatering, as you will soon discover, so what better activity to participate in than a traditional cooking course, allowing you to recreate these spicy dishes at home. Courses often include a trip to the market to source your ingredients and spices, as well as some historical background, followed by detailed instruction on how to make some of the region’s favorite foods. There are often posters or leaflets around town advertising cooking classes and don’t be afraid to go with a less-professional looking operator – you never know what cooking secrets they might divulge!

17. Volunteer

By western standards, India is a relatively poor country and if you want to make a difference while you are on holiday there are a number of ways you can offer physical and financial support to those in need. There is the opportunity to do long-stay placements in orphanages where you can assist in the daily chores of the institution or offer donations to help with its upkeep. Try and do some research beforehand to ensure it is a reputable operation. Alternatively, there are a number of cooperatives from which you can buy produce that support the sustainability of different industries – from women’s handicrafts to small-scale farming practices. A little help can go a long, long way.

18. Learn Sanskrit

You will see this beautiful script on signs and posters all across India and if you fancy trying your hand there are usually a number of people each season who will advertise their services on posters or flyers around the more popular beach resorts of Palolem and Anjuna. For a small fee they will teach you some simple words and phrases and how to write them yourself in this artistic script.

19. Spend the night at a home stay

Whether you have opted for a basic beach bungalow or a more luxurious all-inclusive resort, spending the night at a local homestay is a great way to learn more about Goan culture and the warm hospitality of the local people. While conditions are usually basic, you will gain a rich insight into family life and perhaps learn to cook a dish or two! Homestays can be organized through a number of tour operators within the bigger towns, such as Palolem and Anjuna.

20. Do absolutely nothing

Perhaps you are coming through Goa to discover the culture or embrace the holistic healing it offers, or perhaps you are just on a two week vacation from work and want to relax and do very little. The good news is that doing absolutely nothing is a completely valid activity in Goa. With plenty of beautiful beaches lined with sun loungers, this is a great place to sit back, relax and take it all in. And if you don’t want to leave the lounge the food, drinks and shopping will all come to you as vendors of all sorts walk up and down the beaches selling their wares and produce.