In February, James and I spent 10 days in Southern Goa in the region of Canacona. Stepping off the sleeper train after a 43-hour journey from Delhi, we were tired, hot, and thoroughly looking forward to relaxing in the sun. I absolutely fell in love with Goa – here’s why.
I am a big foodie – one of my favourite things about travelling is trying new and different delicacies. India is a country famous for its curries, not necessarily because of their spice, but because of their flavour. Indian dishes vary in spice: a butter masala (one of my favourites) is very mild, whilst a jalfrezi is generally much hotter. Chefs are normally very happy to change the hotness of dishes at your request. I could write a whole blog post about the food in Goa, but for now, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet with three points:
Firstly, there really is just so much choice of food in Goa! There is Indian food and traditional Goan food as well as many Western favourites. Because of the influx of tourists, the Western food is really, really good – I had an amazing beef burrito (with a side of nachos!) at Neptune Point on Palolem beach. Chicken Sizzlers, something neither of us had heard of, consist of four elements which are served in cabbage leaves: soft, juicy chicken in a smoky barbeque sauce, lemon flavoured rice, vegetables fried in butter, and finally thickly sliced chips. The chicken is set on fire at your table!
Secondly, we enjoyed trying the traditional Goan food. James loves spicy food, so he confidently ordered an authentic Goan curry. The waiter warned him it would be spicy, and explained to us how much Goans love spicy food: ‘In England, you take a coffee to wake up. In Goa, we get out of bed and take a raw chilli!’ In James’ words, the dish was “similar to a Thai curry, but with a thin yellow sauce and served with chunks of fish, potato and onion.” He admits it was the spiciest meal he has ever eaten.
Thirdly, ‘Hello to the Queen’ is a dessert that seems to have appeared out of nowhere in Goa, but is perhaps so popular as a result of the tourism. Many restaurants have their own take on this delicious treat, but it’s generally a layer of biscuit as a base, then bananas, serviced with ice cream and a rich chocolate sauce. Heaven!
Southern Goa is an absolute paradise for any beach lover, and it really does look like the pictures in the holiday brochures! Many of the beaches are almost completely untouched by tourism – James and I were lucky enough to see quite a few during our stay. Here are a few we recommend:
Rightly nicknamed ‘Turtle Beach’ because you can often see the Olive Ridley turtles that are bred here during January and February. To protect the turtles, the beach is completely unspoilt by commerce and very few tourists come here. Whilst we didn’t see any turtles, we appreciated relaxing in the sun, the only sound being the waves as they washed up the shore.
Relatively quiet and more central to beach huts, Patnem is a lovely place to go for dinner or to relax on the sand. You can also surf here.
To get here, you have to take a dirt track for around 3km towards the coast, which many tourists completely miss, or are put off by. But it is well worth the bumpy ride. A strip of sand separates the ocean from a beautiful fresh-water river, which is surrounded by luscious palm trees. There are a handful of beach huts and only two bars. It’s little known by tourists, making it the perfect place to relax in peace.
A large, clean beach with very few tourists, Agonda is a peaceful place to spend an afternoon in the sun, and there are a few restaurants in the lovely slow-paced village.
The liveliest of the beaches we saw while in South Goa, Palolem is unfortunately becoming something of a tourist hotspot, with rows of sunbeds tightly packed along a too-thin stretch of sand, and hawkers ensuring you look in their shop. But, you can sunbathe all day long, with most bars allowing you to use a bed for free if you buy a drink, and it is possible to take a kayak out to Honeymoon beach on Monkey Island. It’s a nice place to go for dinner, but we preferred the quieter beaches during the day.
There is an abundance of places to stay in South Goa, many of which are beach huts, some on the beaches themselves and others a short walk inland, amongst the trees.
James and I stayed at the Secret Garden, situated between Palolem and Patnem – a lovely, relaxing resort of just 10 eco-huts surrounded by nature. We still had everything we could need: a flushing toilet, a large bed with a mosquito net, a fan, wifi, and hot running water. We had our own space, without being completely secluded from civilisation. On a couple of occasions I found some friendly wildlife beside me in the shower… but it certainly put my mind at ease to know that the lizards ate the bugs!
You can rent a moped for as little as 250R per day, and you won’t need to sign any paperwork or even show your license before you speed off into the distance (at 40km/h!) Travelling by moped gives you the freedom to explore the sights you want to see at your own pace. I loved visiting other beaches, as well as driving through Chaudi, a small but busy Indian town, and stopping off at the Cabo de Rama fort. The highlight for me was speeding through the beautiful Goan countryside.
On a serious note, you should probably take your license with you (just in case you need it!) and always wear a helmet!
The only way I can describe this market is like a miniature music festival, with hundreds of stalls selling beautiful trinkets, clothes and jewellery, as well as a food-court are with cuisine from around the world, and a stage with live bands. It’s an incredible place to spend a Saturday evening and gives you a good opportunity to test your haggling skills! It’s open from around 5pm till midnight and admission is free.
After being greeted with a glass of lemongrass tea, a bindi and a flower garland, visitors are given a guided tour of a tiny part of the 130-hectare farm, learning how the various spices are grown and used. We were shown (and taught!) how to climb a coconut tree to collect coconuts. When the tour finished, we were invited to a buffet-style lunch of a traditional Indian thali, with shots of fenny that is brewed on the farm. An amazing morning, and totally worth the 400R entry fee.
On the taxi journey from the train station to the resort, we noticed many big, brightly coloured houses, in vibrant shades of blue, yellow, purple… We soon learned that the houses in Goa are traditionally painted in bright colours as a result of the region’s historical ties with Portugal. Very briefly, the Portuguese ruled Goa and many other states from the 16th century right up until 1961. It was the ideal place to incite the trade of spices back to Europe. Christianity became increasingly practiced, with many beautiful churches built across the region, particularly in Old Goa – one of the highlights of our trip!
There were so many more things about Goa that I loved, but I’ll leave it with these few recommendations:
Drink: a fruit lassie, so many flavours to choose from!
Try: yoga! There are loads of places to practise yoga or meditation, a quick search online will find you somewhere suitable to any ability.
Relax: with a massage on Palolem beach
Buy: beautiful keepsakes at the many markets around the towns
Party: at Cleo’s (Cleopatra Resort) Silent Disco / Headphone Party on a Wednesday evening. Ladies get headphones for free before 11am (normal price is 500R).
Eat: at the Little World café in Palolem. Chai tea is only 10R. The pancake below (150R) was delicious!
Thanks for reading,