(This blog has an invisible board saying ‘Men at Work’, but the depth is still good enough for someone to explore the caves underneath. Go on, read it)
I and my wife – Neha went to Goa in February 2017 for the first time, and had a elaborate 8 day long itinerary, with stay in four different hotels, from North to South.
I shall discuss about the various aspects of Goa in this extremely long blog. Sorry about that. But I have some section headlines which you can use to find relevant information.
All the given information should be read in the context that I am an adventurous guy who loves challenges and is willing to go a little further to enjoy that adrenaline rush.
Waves, Beaches, Sweet Water Lake
Waves are different on each beach in Goa w.r.t. frequency, strength, height and play-worthiness, and this nature also depends on steepness of beach. Of course, high tide and low tide are also stakeholders here.
Among the beaches we saw, least steep beaches were Arambol, Querim, Palolem, Varca while the most steep beaches were Calangute, Anjuna.
At Querim, waves were highly frequent in evening. Anjuna too has frequent waves, but the steep beach reduces the beach area, as its already a crowded party beach.
Play-worthiness: At Arambol beach, you could go into the sea upto 30-50 metres and even then you are covered just upto neck at the most. With most of the foreigners going far into the sea, you feel confident of going further, also because of the fact that people far inside can save you, if you go till their distance.
So, you have a huge scope of challenging the waves. Up north of Arambol, till the sweet water lake, it is the same.
Ah, here comes the sweet water lake. It’s a hidden surprise of North Goa accessible after walking 20 minutes on beach and rocks up north and only those who know about it come here. It’s an approx. 5 feet deep lake surrounded by lush green palm trees and is great for swimming. It’s a wonder that being hardly 100 metre away from the sea, it has sweet water. It’s a must visit, especially when you have only the salty water of the sea around you in the whole of Goa.
A vendor has some beach beds here and charges Rs. 100 for 2 beds if you want to lie down and relax after swimming. There are no eating shops here. We tried to go further north, but the beach ended with rocks and some naked foreigners. Some operators also have some really nice exotic style sheds here between the sea and the lake.
Arambol also has a huge sandy area. So, it’s a great playground for the foreign guests and Indians alike. You can find people playing football, volleyball, frisbee, badminton with ball, juggling, running, exercising and so on. Looked like they were in their own abode.
At Anjuna, you can’t go more than 10-20 metres into the sea. Waves are strong and frequent. But they were good to play with in the evening.
At Ashwem, waves were very low and very infrequent. I didn’t like playing with the waves there.
There’s another sweet water lake – Sarzora, in Dramapur/ Dharampur, about 12 km from Varca beach. It’s a non-commercialized place as not many people have found it. Even our driver who lived in Goa in last 60 years didn’t know about it. At the time we went there, there were ZERO people there, and the entrance gate is closed. You have to use a side gate which is difficult to be used by very old or very unfit people.
A local person told us that decent number of people do come here in evenings, though the gate remains closed. Again, there are no shops around. There’s no swimming there.
Peaceful beaches: Galgibaga is a non-commercialized beach, so it was least crowded/ almost empty. Querim and Arambol have decent number of people, and 90% of crowd comprises guests from Russia, who I didn’t find very sociable. Even the guest house lady said that they are very rude. Is it because ‘All things bi are Russian’. These beaches being very spacious don’t look crowded. You don’t bump into walking people, but only into the playing ones.
PHOTO – galgibaga
Anjuna is a party beach and there being little sandy area in front of some of the hotels, looks more crowded. There are more Indians here. Few of the sea-front hotels are too awesome and rooms are constructed very creatively and look plush. These are sold for as high as INR 17000 on New year eve. They was available for 4-5000 INR in February and would cost about INR 2500 after May-June for 2-3 months.
We stayed in Liliput Cafe which was one of the most happening places, was bang on the beach and had beautiful lights projecting in sea at night.
PHOTO – galgibaga
If you want beach location, its better if you reach the beach and then book, since its difficult to find out the exact location of a hotel.
I have seen number of awesome properties online in Goa. Only some of them are bang on beach, some are in old city, and in various kinds of locations.
If you have luggage with you which is difficult to drag/ carry, you should book in advance as the roads are missing here. You will have to convince a taxi owner to go till the end of the road as it’s a maze of missing roads & broken narrow lanes.
Arambol is about 60 km from Airport.
Cactus Guest House is a basic option almost at the end of the beach. The owner- Helenda charges Rs. 1500 per room. There are 3 floors there and rooms are mostly occupied by Russians. The location is bang on the beach, though with the canopy of trees in front, there’s not much view. The beach is within two minutes’ reach. Helen can be reached on 9923640102.
After 2 nights at Arambol, we went to Anjuna where there was no booking. We had a trolly bag and a backpack. We reached the beach region and had to drag the bags on beach and a broken road to find a rightly priced hotel. We ended up in Liliput Café which was bang on the happening area of beach.
We reach there on 3rd Feb, 4th February saw elections in Goa and we saw the banners that said 5th February was birthday of Bob Marley who was the god in all parties on Anjuna. Bad for us as we had planned to leave on 5th February morning. We were there
Bikes/ Scooters are the most preferred vehicles in Goa. Police couldn’t be seen on majority of roads. Rates differ from beach to beach. Rates for scooters (Dio, Activa etc.) start from 250-350 on commercial beaches. On Varca it was as high as Rs. 300 for 4 hours, Rs. 400 for 8 hours. They didn’t give for 24 hours or for full day. At Palolem, one operator was charging as high as Rs. 600 per day, though another one gave us for Rs.400. Motorcycles/ Enfield Bullets (Indian counterpart of Harley Davidson) start at Rs. 500/800 per day. Hardly anyone was found using helmet. Only some of the bike owners keep helmet.
They will keep your photo ID as mortgage. So, make sure you have a spare photo ID other you’re your Driving License (DL). Even your spouse’/ friend’s ID will do. You will need the DL while driving).
Fuel is available on a lot of shops on roads who sell it for Rs. 70-80 against the Rs.60/ litre rate at petrol pump. Bike owners will give you bikes with least amount of petrol. So, petrol is on you. Make sure you have enough petrol if you want to drive during or till midnight.
Cars – Self drive cars/ jeeps and others are also common there. Rates start from Rs. 1000 per day, excluding petrol, of course.
Taxis are the most expensive medium of transport after self-drive cars. The rates are very high as there’s no regulation. There are no app based taxi operators (Ola/ Uber/ Meru etc.) as state government/ taxi unions haven’t allowed them for the sake of tourism /domestic employment.
But taxis are inevitable when you have to change hotels, as public transport is very poor. We couldn’t see much buses in whole of Goa. Even the existing ones stop operating after about 6 -7 pm.
According to the locals, it’s a safe place to roam around at night, though due precaution and standard safety protocols must be followed. You must demand a helmet from the bike owners.
If you are near Candolim, Calangute or Baga, I highly recommend you to take services from this taxi company run by Mr. Sanjeev Kamat. He was previously front desk manager with Taj Vivanta in Goa and retired as Taj veteran, highly desired by the hotel group. Looking very much like Viru Sahastrabuddhe (Dean in 3 Idiots), he was extremely good gentleman. I sat with him in front seat out of respect when he picked up from Anjuna. He might help you with practically everything you might need, as a good samaritan. His phone no. is +91 9850047149.
Bicycles: We could rarely find tourists using bicycles. However, after some digging around, I could find a good enough MTB bicycle in Palolem for Rs. 150 per day. And most locals don’t know this. On the road to beach, at the T-point where the road to beach turns left, on right side of road, go straight deeper into the locality and you will find the cycle owner (not the ones listed on Facebook).
Otherwise, ask the 2 cycling groups on Facebook about the cycles in advance, and you know where and how to get them).
Cycles are not allowed on beaches, and you cant even ride there. Sand won’t allow. I tried but failed. This picture below remains that only and not a proof of ride. (Honesty is the best policy!).
The owners also refuse as the sand dirties the cycle chain and other parts which get difficult to clean. You can definitely ride on roads. However roads in beach towns are not as scenic as they show in movies (remember the scene in Dear Zindagi where Alia and SRK are cycling and Alia falls down, and gets no help from SRK).
Such roads can be found away from beaches.
If someone has seen scenic roads in coastal Goa, please let me know.
Taxi from Airport:
Don’t take taxi immediately where you arrive outside airport. Walk a bit outside the airport on right side. You can find taxis who have dropped guests at the airport and will charge you lesser amount as they have to otherwise go back empty. Thanks to my friend Kavita, who gave this tip after we came back from Goa 😀 ).
For Arambol, the taxi charged us Rs. 1600 (without AC). AC is not required much in Goa as even its hot, there’s no loo or pollution like in cities. The air is mix of warm and cool currents.
From Palolem, the nice taxi guy charged us Rs. 1500 (+100 for late night). He had lost his wife in last 1.5 years and was relating his story to us as to how life become irrelevant without a spouse and all dreams become meaningless. He had 2 small kids also. While it’s a human phenomenon, I hadn’t met anyone in a place like Goa, who could have so bad circumstances in life.
Pure Vegetarian: If you are pure veg (like we were, rather my wife), you will have difficulty eating in Goa. Though most restaurants serve veg food also, of course being Goa, they done keep things separate.
Vegetarian: If you don’t have problem eating veg from a non-veg restaurant, then its not a problem. You can still easily get food items without onion/ garlic.
In Arambol, we ate from German Bakery (There are 2 GBs there), from Kinara (at beginning of beach entrance/ parking), and from another South Indian restaurant (on way to the beach road). I don’t know if its specific to Goa or to the whole coastal India, that there are restaurants on whole Goa’s coastal area, which have a ‘kinara’ (edge/ sea shore in English) in their name.
If you have issues with smell and visuals of sea food, you need to choose your path carefully here, as unlike other beaches, Arambol has shacks that have sea food in open stalls (like Halwai in north India during festivals) where you can choose and eat.
Non-vegetarian food: Sea food is the way of life in Goa. If you are game, you must go the whole hog for it. You can find it everywhere easily. Just like we prefer fresh vegetables in cities, you will love the fresh fish, crabs, prawns, and squids there.
Anjuna didnt have open sea food stalls, but restaurants here have great food variety of all kinds. We stayed in Liliput Café, but didn’t eat there.
At Anjuna, we ate at Dominos and also found a small café which served South Indian, without any non-veg in menu.
Calangute / Baga have loads of pure vegetarian restaurants as the majority of Indian crowd gets restricted to here only. It’s the ‘haridwar’ of Goa where the whole world comes. We went to the main beach area in evening and couldn’t tolerate the heavy crowd. RIP Peace! Of course, there are hotels there where they have relatively peaceful front areas, as shared by friends.
In Varca, we found Garden restaurant who was ready to give us our desired food. In Palolem, we could find a vegetarian restaurant (Ganesh) easily. The curd rice was pathetic, but customized (read: pure vegetarian) breakfast and lunch the next day were quite satisfactory.
There was another vegan café in front of that which served dishes and shakes with entirely new / non-traditional recipes. The shake cost Rs. 190 to begin with.
No other place had the stuff that Arambol had. You can only have it in Rishikesh, other than that. It owes to the fact that 90% are foreigners/ 80% Russians. The exotic clothes there reminded of hippie era, and were extremely colourful, varied sizes (Only strings and oversized harem pants included) and definitely not something normal Indian would buy. Of course, some normal nice clothes were also there, which we bought.
On the shops selling Bob Marley/ Che Guevara / embroidered T-shirts, you can get the embroidery customized. Cost: Approx Rs. 450.
We got 2 T-shirts with a scenery of Goa and with the text “Nimesh/ Neha was here: Goa India”, and they looked awesome.
You can get great fridge magnets all over in Goa. We bought from multiple shops. Every other shop had new designs. We had to stop buying at a point. A shop in Arambol, in front of our massage shop had few varieties of fridge magnets that we could not elsewhere.
Other than these, you can find lot of touristy stuff (from Rajasthan, Kashmir and other states) practically in whole Goa). Cashew (kaju in hindi) can be bought at any place. Just do some research on few shops and you will get the min. rate. Don’t buy from showroom-like shops on road sides as they are definitely expensive. You can buy from shops mentioning ‘wholesale shops’. Rates vary from 300 for 500 gms for unpeeled cashews to 500 for 500 grams for peeled cashews.
I lapped up the Sky, the Land & the Water in Goa.
Parasailing at double the normal height = Feeling of being on top of the world. You only see that in Hollywood movies. (They charged Rs. 300 extra for that and 200 more for some nice dipping / wave trashing in the sea). They don’t have camera men there (atleast on Ajuna) who shoot you and sell you the photos, because crowds don’t like to pay there, as the boatman said). Its better you take your own phone – definitely in a water proof cover. You can safely ask someone to shoot you while you are on top. Without the cover, a couple’s phone conked off due to flying water.
Parasailing looked safe here with decent equipments (Me being a pusher for safety and adventure at the same time).
Anjuna and Calangute had a single token system for water sports (so different operators don’t disturb you repeatedly. For a package comprising of parasailing, jet ski ride, banana ride, bumper ride (2 ppl in a raft driven by motorboat), boat ride to the parasailing boat (which is 10 minutes away into the sea, away from crowds), Anjuna beach charged Rs. 1300, and Calangute was charging Rs. 1500.
There are separate charges, if you want to ride jet ski yourself (Rs. 100), Rs. 200 and 300 for (double height and sea-dip) and others that we didn’t try.
I had heard that Kayaking in calm waters happens in lot of places but could find any till our last hotel in Palolem. On beach, they offer it for Rs. 200-300 for an hour when the sea is calm (Remember, waves are only on shore, not in mid of the sea; so, it issafe to paddle a kayak there especially in low tide).
After we were disappointed after not having seen the turtle on Galgibaga beach, we were planning to go to Butterfly Island (Rs. 900 pp for a boat trip of 1 hour to 3 islands; we didn’t find it worth), Agonda beach and Cola beach. While Google map was showing Cola as afar 9 km, someone told us it is 28 km. We felt bad. We had checked out of hotel in morning and now at 1 pm, we had the whole day to spend outside. We trusted our gut and went towards Cola asking others. It was not that far, with the winding clean roads and sunny weather adding to our ride pleasure.
The last 2 km was a very bad road with highly varying altitude and absolutely missing, broken and highly bumpy roads full of red sand. We wanted to go back, but persisted since we had come a long way.
What lied ahead of us after we parked the scooter was nature’s handcrafted piece of landscape. Cola beach was in our plans, but I hadn’t imagined it to be as shockingly beautiful as it was. The beach was between the sea and a seriously sexy and beautiful backwaters/ lagoons. And guess what I found there – Kayaking in a picturesque wallpaper. Yeah! It was that beautiful. To someone, it would remind of Kerala.
We did some walk around to find the kayak point and as I found it, I leapt it up. After my 3 day kayaking course in Rishikesh in 2015, this was my first individual opportunity for kayaking. And they charged just Rs. 300 for an hour.
I took a couple’s kayak and had a highly exciting feeling as I sat on it. My wife sat with me for about 10 minutes and then went back. And of course, I used that opportunity to ask her to click me. And she went the whole hog – did she had another option? Greedy me!
This place again had a lot of foreigners relaxing on backwater side of the beach. I did the paddling on Kayak for about an hour to my heart’s satisfaction, till my thighs ached (yes, because of the sitting position in kayak, for me it was the thighs that ached and not the back). And yes, Neha clicked so many videos and photos as ‘requested’ by me!
Cycling: As mentioned above, I found a cycle in Palolem, and cycled for about 13 km in the morning. Its definitely a worthwhile activity in Goa especially if you are a couple or, in a group.
If I had cycling company and time with me, I would have cycled for another 20-30 km.
Running: Normally, one wouldn’t think of not relaxing in Goa, but of a strenuous activity such as running. However, if done in a group, along the wet side of beach in morning hours, it can really be a fun activity interspersed with wet-moments.
We ran-walked from Arambol to Madrem beach (About 2.5 km and back) in the morning, and it was at that time, we could witness this foreign land called- Arambol. Numerous foreign tourists could be seen spending time as if they were at home. They were playing with balls, practising juggling, using hoola-hoops, learning judo/ kung fu, doing Yoga – Surya Namaskar (sun salutation poses) without thinking how others would think about them. (Log kya kahenge aka What would people think/ say? – probably is an Indian phenomenon and doesn’t have any place on this beach).
Goa doesn’t have violent rivers with much rapids. So, while there are operators offering rafting, someone like me who has rafted on river Ganges won’t find it even half the fun.
Still, you can try. There are few operators you can find online.
Water Activities (No, not the commercial water sports)
I could witness on Arambol and other beaches that Indians are not the ones who love playing in water even when its in neighbourhood, while others from outside come and make the best use of it.
Apparently, we have been fed on a diet of water-fear (me included) and not enjoying the nature.
While I could not spot the serious wave surfers (there were no worthy waves on any of the beaches), the fearlessness or rather love for water was clearly visible in the foreign tourists. Even the tiniest kids played in water without any fear, but with encouragement and push from the parents.
On the contrary, I saw an Indian family in Anjuna who did not let their kid leave their shack/ bed for fear of water. Most of us don’t even know swimming and show no interest either. Sad for us!
Scuba diving is an activity which must be done with certified divers. There are two PADI certified Dive shops in Goa. We went with the one near Candolim beach run by Ashwini Joglekar and Ajey Patil. Their office is at SinQ Club. They were really nice people and looked every bit the professional.
I enquired from them before going to Goa and then from Anjuna got an appointment on short notice. They took my pool session when I went for enquiry. So, next day I could come 1.5 hours later – at 8:30 am. Try negotiating if you can.
The boat started for Grande Island
Goa is a heaven for massage/ spa, just like Kerala. Go to any authentic shop, ask them details of massage, and the masseur and negotiate hard. Ask for the best/ head masseur. Ask for same room with a divider in between or adjacent room.
We got a couple massage (with masseurs of same gender as us) done within Rs. 2000, from a shop that was recommended by Helenda (Cactus) and the person looked authentic. The oil massage was quite good as the masseur put a lot of effort, had done his ayurveda education from a college and also worked for some years before this job.
Grande Island tour:
Ajey from Dive Shop told me that the Grande Island boat tour is actually a hoax as the boats can’t land on Grande Island as its quite rocky.
Far in the sea, the tourists don’t know that which island is which one. Going via the sea, which takes about an hour on a roofed motorboat, a part of Vasco looks like an island. The boats land there and the tourists are happy that they have done island holiday.
So, do it with this knowledge in your memory. John Boat Tour looks like the most popular but their people in their office near Calangute didn’t even speak to us properly when we went there.
Must Visit Places (which you may end up avoiding if you don’t know about them):
Spice Plantation– Beware of spice plantation just at the Dudhsagar jeep point. It’s not a spice plantation – just a cover for it. DO NOT go there.
Out of the numerous spice plantations, in Goa we went to Sahyadri, on recommendation of our driver. It cost Rs. 400 pp for a 25 minute guided tour of the garden with knowledge dissemination about the spices, and a Goan lunch (both veg and non-veg), including vanilla ice cream. You can buy organic spices from their shop. The guys look professional to the extent that many of the staff members know multiple languages (atleast the relevant words for the plants/ spices/ food with some fluent explanations) such as French, Russian, Polish.
Sweet Water Lake
Sarzora Lake (definitely, if you are passing from nearby in South Goa)
General Goa Wisdom:
- If you have seen beaches enough, its better to book your hotel in market area now as it will be cheaper, easier and less-time taking to go to any other place from there.
- If you have a sense of adventure, better book cheaper rooms and spend that money on experiences such as Scuba Diving, Parasailing (at double height: costs INR 300 more), cruise (if you haven’t done ever), Casino
- Book hotel after reaching Goa, if its not peak season, and if you have luggage which can be carried around with ease.
- After coming out of airport, walk a bit outside the airport on right side. You can find taxis who have dropped guests at the airport and will charge you lesser amount.
- Negotiate everywhere.