The Ultimate Beach Guide For Your Goa Trip

The ultimate Goa beach guide that you must bookmark before your trip, helping you choose what to skip when in the sunshine state
Beautiful Arambol Beach in Goa
Beautiful Arambol Beach in GoaShutterstock

Goa's 105-km-long coastline is an almost contiguous stretch of beach, interrupted occasionally by tree-covered cliffs that reach out to kiss the sea. While the state's lush forested interiors have in recent years found a dedicated set of devotees, most of us still troop into Goa for its golden sand and deep blue waters. But each of Goa's nearly 33 beaches are distinct and it is quite possible that you might land at a beach expecting peace and quiet and end up in the middle of a raucous party. This December I travelled from the southernmost beach of Goa to the northernmost - a full 27 of them - sampling the beach food, hanging with the hippies, working out the Goa beach guide you've always wanted.

Extreme South - Palolem to Polem

When I visited Palolem in August, just one beachside guesthouse was functioning on this lovely crescent-shaped beach and there were exactly two other tourists. Dogs yapped about on the sand, cows lounged around and a handful of locals sat and stared at me. This time around I found a string of beach shacks and huts hugging the outer edge of the beach. At night, candlelit tables spilled out onto the beach. Tourists sat alone in silence watching the waves or were sprawled around in small groups talking quietly. There are live music performances, mostly by tourists who move from beach to beach earning their board by performing at these shacks. The huts at Palolem (starting as low as INR 400 for basic single-room huts with common showers and loos) are mostly flimsy and the food unremarkable. In the morning the tables on the beach disappear to make way for motorised fishermen's boats that do no fishing but instead take tourists for dolphin-spotting rides (INR 150 onwards). Santosh Pagi (contact 98812-99998) is just one of the many boat operators who will try to entice you with boat rides into the sunset or sunrise.

Palolem Beach, Goa
Palolem Beach, GoaShutterstock

Palolem is the southernmost of Goa's "developed" beaches. This is a good base to see the other quieter beaches further south, such as Polem, located close to the Goa-Karnataka border. I visited this short beach, bounded by two low cliffs, early one morning as the village, hidden among the palm trees at the edge of the beach, slowly roused itself. A lone boat was out at sea and an old woman sat cleaning wooden boards waiting for the boat to return with the day's catch. I found a small teashop with a room at the rear that is sometimes let out to tourists (INR 200, contact-0832-2640145). The teashop owner, Laxman, told us of his plans to start boat trips in April to a nearby island. But right now there's only the cawing of crows to distract you from the gentle sea.

More or less midway between Palolem and Polem is Galgibaga, one of Goa's two turtle nesting sites. There are no tourist facilities here the beach, though, is clean and long. For a bit more action go to Palolem's sister beach, Patnem. The beach huts here are fewer compared to Palolem but are sturdier. Patnem also has a bit of water sports activity kayaks can be hired by the hour at Tantra Café (from INR 150, contact-9923488491). Or you could go sailing with an instructor on a catamaran ( starts from INR 750 Website).

Agonda to Cola

Cola beach is a hidden paradise in South Goa
Cola beach is a hidden paradise in South GoaMichael Scalet/Flickr

Roughly 10km north of Palolem is Agonda. On the road parallel to the beach are the Dunhill Beach Resort and Dercy's Hotel. On the beach are a few huts, all pretty sturdy, each set cordoned off by wooden fencing. The best of the lot is the Mahanamahnas (from INR 1,000 264-7864, The double-storeyed white and blue huts, called "tree houses" for some reason, each have a hall and wash area on the ground floor and a sleeping area on the first. The large balconies strewn with hammocks and chairs are attractive. Few tourists come to this three-kilometre-long beach and those who do are looking for solitude. Further north is Cola. You need to drive down a dirt track that drops sharply down towards the sea. After this spine-cracking drive, walk down for a few minutes till you reach the secluded cove with a strip of beach. You can spend days and nights almost undisturbed contemplating the meaning of life here. The Blue Lagoon Paradise Resort (INR 1,000 for tents and INR 800 for huts 2647842) is Cola's only place to stay. More camp than resort, it's located just above the beach.

Colva to Benaulim

Colva beach can be a bit crowded now
Colva beach can be a bit crowded nowSandra Cohen/Flickr

Colva, located just 6km from Margao, is a busy little town with a multitude of hotels, restaurants and chic stores. The beach is a typical Indian beach, crowded with families and extremely noisy. The tourists here are mostly Indian too- clinging honeymooners, families with infants, children running wild on the beach and grandparents flopped about. You will also find packs of young men, stripped to their undies, whooping and screaming and ogling at women. Stay clear of them and Colva is a fun place - it's Goa's best beach for water sports. There's parasailing, water-scooter rides, banana-boat rides, motorboat rides and speedboat rides. Rides start at Rs 400 per person. The best time to try the rides is late afternoon and early evening. If you can watch the sun go down with equanimity while hanging from a parachute attached to a zigzagging speedboat, go for it. There are no beach huts at Colva, but there are several hotels close to the beach. Longuinhos is one of the better ones (Rs 4000 doubles A cheaper option is Vailankanni Cottages (Rs 500 2788584) with plain but clean rooms. The road leading to the beach has a number of restaurants, most of them with live bands and overflowing with patrons. But eat at the beach shacks. The seafood is fresh and the Goan fish curry rice is very good.

Colva, Sernabatim and Benaulim are together really a single long stretch of beach with three separate entry points. Colva is the star, and Benaulim and Sernabatim the supporting cast. The Taj Exotica lurks at the southern end of Benaulim and the main stretch of beach has a few shacks. Here you will find Pedro's and Johncy's, both popular restaurants. Pedro's (9822389177) also organises boat rides. Sernabatim, in the middle, is the most tranquil of the three.

No beach shacks here, just one teashop with a Kannadiga making Malabari parottas for breakfast. Stay on the beach at Furtado's Beach House (from Rs 1,500 2770396).

The Hub - Candolim to Baga

Parasailing off Baga beach, Goa
Parasailing off Baga beach, GoaGetty Images

Calangute (48km from Dabolim airport) in the north is similar to Colva, but much more bustling. Here too you'll find large families shrieking in the water. And this too is a good spot for parasailing, water-scooter rides and motorboat rides. Beach shacks serve the typical shack mix of North Indian, Continental, Chinese and Goan dishes. But move on from Calangute quickly, as just to the north is Baga. Until a few years back Baga was the sleepy backwater of Calangute, but now it is always buzzing with activity. The beach used to be cleaner here ending at the Baga river but over tourism is a peril Goa lives with. By day it is crowded with families trying out the water rides. By night the beach shacks are packed to the gills. But the action is not limited to the beach as the area around Baga is a busy hive of activity, with designer stores, restaurants and nightclubs. The famous Tito's and Café Mambo are here and are still very happening. The Saturday night market is also close by at Arpora. I missed it, but was told that it is more exciting than Anjuna's popular Wednesday-night flea market. Homes near the beach let out rooms from Rs 500. Ask at the beach shacks, they'll take you to the homes. A plethora of resorts, hotels, homestays and villas are available in this area.

Candolim and Sinquerim are located just south of Calangute. Candolim's beach is long and crowded with shacks and tourists. Taj Aguada and Holiday Village overlook Sinquerim. But the beach has almost disappeared. Nevertheless there are some water sports options, notably water-scooter rides for Rs 200 upwards. On the road to Sinquerim is the charmingly old- world Ludovici Tourist Home (Rs 840 with breakfast 2479684), a villa set in a large garden. The four rooms that are let out are all large and airy.

Extreme North - Anjuna to Querim

Anjuna cotinues to be a hub of backpacker and party goers
Anjuna cotinues to be a hub of backpacker and party goersNikhilb239/ Wikimedia Commons

Anjuna and Vagator are to the north of Baga. Both have attracted backpackers and anyone wishing to let their dreadlocks down. Both wear a jaded air. The stalls that line the street leading to Anjuna's beach still sell junk jewellery, psychedelic T-shirts and overpriced mirror work cushion covers. Among the stalls are guesthouses letting out cheap rooms. Both beaches resolutely cling to their "party capital" tag but the music these days stops at 10.30 pm. Curly's Bar at the south end of Anjuna organises parties in season. Paradiso, one of Goa's most popular nightclubs, sits atop a cliff near Anjuna beach. Beach shacks like Boom Shankar will have information on the beach parties at Vagator. Nine Bar, above the beach, is for trance lovers. Today's generation of hippies have moved up - north to Arambol. The quieter beaches of Mandrem, Ashwem and Morjim (Goa's other turtle-nesting site) lie between Vagator and Arambol. All three have cheap huts and guesthouses. Ashwem's Rock Bite Huts and Restaurant (Rs 1,000 in peak season 2247671) has good huts on the beach.

Israelis on their post-draft break favour Arambol and often stay for months. There are stalls for fixing dreadlocks, Internet cafés with Hebrew keyboards and restaurant after open-air restaurant serving Israeli, Bulgarian and every other kind of European food. Beach huts don't get more basic or cheap than the ones at Arambol. Almost none has an attached bath and the huts are priced from Rs 300 in peak season. The atmosphere is laid-back and every jam session threatens to turn into a full-blown party.

Querim or Keri is the northernmost of Goa's beaches. This quiet strand, just a hop, skip and jump from Tiracol Fort, remains unsullied, as the hordes do not venture this far north. The beach also has a steep gradient, dangerous during tides for unprepared visitors. Village homes let out rooms from Rs 200. Entire homes are also available for around Rs 15,000 a month.

The Rest

Majorda beach in Margaon
Majorda beach in MargaonShutterstock

Cavelossim, Mobor, Rajbagh, Majorda, Utorda and Varca in South Goa are essentially resort beaches. All beautiful, they have been claimed by one five-star hotel or another. Unless you are staying at these resorts, the beaches hold little for the visitor. Velsao, south of Vasco and 4km from Verna, is an "undeveloped" beach with just a couple of sand-floored beach shacks. The only excitement you'll find here are the fishing boats bringing in their catch each morning. The storybook sleepy village of Velsao is a good place to walk around. The only place to stay here is the Horizon Beach Resort (from Rs 2,500 2754923/24)

Bogmalo and Miramar are respectively Vasco's and Panaji's beaches. Both are pretty, but go here only if you are staying in these cities, as nothing much happens here. Of the two, Bogmalo has more beach action, with a couple of beachside restaurants, including the incomparable Joet's (2538072). Two diving companies are based on these beaches. Barracuda Diving (6656294, is at Miramar, while Goa Diving (2538204, is at Bogmalo.

Beach-hopping might sound like a grand idea, but will likely only result in beach fatigue. My advice pick one beach - don't say you don't know how to choose now - and spend a few days there. Watch the sunrise from a sun bed on the sands, eat a breakfast of choriz-pao, read a book and relax, watch the sunset from a fishing boat in the evening, eat fish curry rice at a beach shack for dinner, and finally come back and wait for the sun to rise again on another day at the beach.

Top Tips

Stay at a beach hut: for the ultimate beach experience. You need not book these temporary huts on the beach in advance, as you'll easily find accommodation except at the year-end and peak monsoons. Walk around the beach of your choice, investigate a few huts and negotiate the price. Owners reduce rates for longer stays. The best shacks are in Agonda and the cheapest at Arambol.

Eat at beach shacks: These have affordable, good food. The seafood is excellent. Sticking to Goan dishes is wise.

Remember that Goa has two tariffs for everything - one for foreigners and a lower rate for Indians. Incidentally, no prejudice against Indians was on display. Stall owners and other operators welcome Indians and even cheerfully lower rates. But do bargain.

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