Heading to Goa’s beaches, I was loaded with images and expectations of what was to come
Whenever I thought of Goa, I would picture trance music and neon disco lights. I would think of beaches full of international neo-hippies exploring their minds through yoga and meditation during daytime and through”magic mushrooms” during nighttime. The beaches – I expected them to be okay, but perhaps not too clean. Locals? Probably some tourism industry employees and middle-class youngsters joining the party.
Oh my Ganesha that image would soon be shattered
Our sleeper bus arrived in North Goa at Mapusa Bus Stand early morning. Calling it a sleeper bus is actually a stretch. There are nice and relatively spacious beds, but forget about the sleeping part. The road was bumpy, the driver was imitating a wild car chase, and when he hit the brakes, we would all slide feet first towards the front of the bus. From the bus station we wanted to rent motorbikes and aim straight for the beach. My embarrassingly long list of shattered assumptions of Goa started somewhere between the last footstep on the bus (left foot) and the first landing of my right foot on the asphalt.
Goa Lesson #1: No “helpful” crowds
Those scammers, touts, thieves, beggars, and Saddhus with magical powers all waiting for a bite of you as soon as you step off the bus – they weren’t there. We stepped out of the bus and into a calm morning. People were still only half awake and took no notice of us. We almost had to beg the motorcycle rental shops to open up and do business with us. This was a welcoming experience though, as we had braced ourselves for crowds of people wanting to share advice and sell us tours, transfers, and food.
We headed for the beach, first on bigger roads, then turning to smaller village roads. On those first kilometres, a number of drivers coming from the opposite direction would flash their lights at us. I wasn’t sure if something was wrong with the bike or the way I rode it, or if this was just a local way of greeting a foreigner. I soon learned, it was because I was driving with my lights on during day time. In my home country it is required by law, in India it is just silly. Hence the friendly signal that I was wasting lights.
I soon ran into my second lesson. I thought we were heading for Goa Beach, well…
Goa Lesson #2: Goa is not just Goa
Goa is not a beach, Goa is an Indian state with a coastline spanning just over 100 km (63 mi). The coastline is a mix of rocky cliffs, small bays, and beach stretches. There are more than 30 named beaches, and just like the Southeast Asian beaches, each of them have different features, options, and clients – even the ones located next to each other. This map will give you an idea of the long stretch of Goa’s beaches. Not all of the beach sections are mentioned on the map, and there is overlap between many of Goa’s beaches, since some of them cover long stretches.
Goa’s Beaches – a lot to explore!
Map provided by goa-tourism.com.
We passed through small Goan towns on our way to the beaches. Goa was a Portuguese colony up until 1961, and the influences are evident in the colourful houses, churches, and old forts. If it wasn’t for the urge to reach the sea, we would have stopped in every single village to take photos and take in the village atmosphere.
View from the Reis Magos Church in Goa
The first stop was Small Vagator. It’s not a pre-historic dinosaur, but a beach also known as Ozran Beach. When we arrived there was a Bollywood film shooting going on at the beach. Something else grabbed my attention…
Goa Lesson #3: Free-roaming cows also enjoy beaches
There were cows walking freely on the beach. Quite an interesting sight. What you thought was your partner putting suncream on you, could be a cow licking the salt off your sweaty back.
It’s not uncommon to see beach cows in Goa
We decided to move further south and search for a place to spend the night. We went to Anjuna Beach, supposedly the second most popular of Goa’s beaches after Baga Beach. Arjuna beach is 3-4 km (2-3 mi) long and is actually divided into three sections. This is where the hippies of the 60s and 70s experimented with alternative lifestyles. Today, it is still the party centre of Goa, and the accommodation and markets bear witness to this era. We wanted to find accommodation for the evening and leave our belongings, so we followed the advice of a friend.
Goa Lesson #4: Anjuna is Goa’s best beach… for some people
Friends don’t always know what type of beach experience you are looking for, and friends are likely to have their own idea of a great beach. Being a mantra of Beachmeter.com, we should know. A friend had recommended Curlies in the south part of Anjuna Beach – part restaurant, part psychedelic party house, and part accommodation. We followed the advise, although the beach was not overly impressive and the place looked too big for our liking. To be honest, we didn’t like the place, but we were tired after a bumpy night, so lying down a bit before exploring was needed. The accommodation was dirt cheap, but even though we had paid for private rooms, we had to share with the rats that night.
We explored Anjuna Beach and had to stop at the fascinating Tantra Beach Shack & Huts, which is a great reminder of the free-spirited hippie days at Anjuna Beach. Here you can eat, sleep and forever chill in a section of their decorated wooden scaffolding type structure. You can rent a “scaffold cubicle” right beneath the stars and with open views to the sea. They provide you with loads of pillows, blankets, and curtains to close for privacy and shade. Here, you can fit in as many people as you like. Tantra is in one of the quieter sections of the beach, with the parties going on on either side some 2-300 metre away. The beach on this stretch was clean and the sea inviting.
The charming Tantra Beach Shack & Huts
We would have loved to stay here for a night, but we wanted to go further south the next days to explore the South Goan beaches. First we went to Baga Beach. Even in the morning, the sand was too warm to walk on without flip-flops. Baga Beach, we were told, is the most popular among Goa’s beaches. Even this low season morning there were many local Indians at the beach, and this turned out to be another surprise.
Goa Lesson #5: Indian’s like beaching
In general, there were far more Indians enjoying the Goa beaches than expected. I had assumed that because light skin color is of importance in India, people would tend to not swim in the sea. I also though that there could be certain perceptions that swimming in the sea was dirty, could bring about rashes, or that you could be bitten by something. These are perceptions that are rather wide-spread in Southeast Asia at least. What we met was mostly Indian visitors at the beach, playing in the waves, enjoying sunsets, and going parasailing (quite popular at most Goa beaches).
Indians enjoying one of Goa’s Beaches
Baga Beach was rather dirty. There were a lot of old bottle caps, plastic pieces, cigarette buds etc. mixed into the sand, and we were frankly a bit surprised that a lot of Indians had chosen this beach. It did have a number of restaurants directly on the beach, and the beach is very wide.
Baga Beach – pick your spot
We jumped on our motorbikes and rode along a stretch of highway, then on small roads to reach the northern beaches of South Goa. Our first stop was Velsao Beach. The beach was wide with soft light brown sand. This was the first of several beaches, where the absence of beach resorts struck me.
Goa Lesson #6: Are you sure this is Goa?
Especially the beaches of South Goa has long stretches with few or no resorts on or near the beach. There are usually both resorts and people near the small roads leading down to the beach from the villages. But if you walk a few minutes away from these, you will often find yourself with ample space on the beach. I would have thought that by now, Goa would be plastered with resorts laying side by side from north to south. That is not the case. Some areas you can even get the feeling that you have the beach to yourself. Undoubtedly, the tourist season will affect this, but if a near empty beach is what you are looking for, just head to Goa in the low season (April to September), and avoid the 2-3 most popular beaches.
No resorts and no people – yes, this is Goa!
We went for a swim at Velsao Beach. From afar, the waves looked average size – the kind of waves that are fun to swim in for all ages because of a little thrill now and then. Once we got in, the waves and the forces of the currents seemed a lot stronger.
Goa Lesson #7: Brace yourself for those low season waves
You may have heard that Goa has no waves to speak of. If that’s the case, it is probably because your informants went to Goa during the high season months from november to february. We went in the low season, and the waves were awesome! Again and again the powerful waves knocked us off our feet and washed us towards the shore. If you want to avoid tumbling around inside a wave, the trick is to dive below the waves if they break in front of you. You can then swim further out beyond the line where the waves break and enjoy the calm waters, although you may have to keep yourself afloat since the water is deeper here. We decided to stay just where the waves break, so we could body surf on the waves. Exhausting but extremely fun. Interestingly, we did not find any surfboard or bodyboard rentals anywhere, so if I were a restaurant owner at one of these beaches, I would throw in a little board rental service to expand the business.
Wonderful waves in Goa during low season!
Goa Lesson #8: Surfer kids only
The nature of the powerful low-season waves also means that bathing is not child-friendly on Goa’s beaches. At least not for young kids who are not trained in handling big waves. For surfer kids it’s paradise. Be aware though, that it gets deep quickly, and you can easily be thrown headfirst to the ground if you are not in control. So bathing for children should be under surveillance and only in shallow waters.
With wet swimwear fluttering from our backpacks, we continued south on the motorbikes. We asked for directions to the beach along the way, and ended up at Vaddy Beach. Several colorful fishing boats were decorating the wide beach.
Colorful boats on Vaddy Beach
We checked out a nice resort with circular bungalows, and almost ended up staying there. But we decided to investigate the area a little before making our final decision. We actually backtracked and went a little further north to Benaulim Beach. We were met by a small crowd of people looking at a parasailor. From our days in Goa we quickly found out that parasailing is a very popular activity. For around 10 USD you can get a parasailing experience.
Parasailing – a common sight on Goa’s beaches
We passed a few larger restaurants located near the entry road to the beach. A few hundred meters north along the beach we found our accommodation for the night. A simple bungalow resort with 8-9 bamboo huts laying directly on the beach. We reserved a couple of bungalows and went back to take our motorbikes. Blue Corner & Coco Huts was exactly what we were looking for. Simple, clean, cheap, a good restaurant, and a stunning location. Time for eating, beach chilling, fighting waves, and relaxing.
Our view from the bungalow
Hyped up about our lovely accommodation and refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we continued our journey southward to Cavelossim Beach. As we had done before, we parked our motorbikes, and walked a few minutes down along the beach. Then we had a large beach stretch to ourselves with most other visitors staying near the parking area where there were a few shops and restaurants. But even though we were on a less populated stretch, we were within sight of the coast guards.
Goa Lesson #9: Watchtowers, beach cleaners, and beach flag warnings
With each new beach we visited it became apparent that even during low season, beaches are generally very well kept and serviced. Most beaches have coastguards watching out for visitor safety and setting up beach flags at proper intervals to inform guests of the sea conditions. Some but apparently not all beaches have beach clean up crews. Twice a day they walk the beach and pick up any garbage on the way. As a visitor this is great. Unfortunately cleaning the beach regularly is necessary if you don’t want it covered in sea debris.
Lifeguard post on one of Goa’s Beaches
Lifeguard putting up a yellow flag for safe swimming conditions
Beach cleaners making sure visitors can enjoy a clean beach
We had a few more days at the beach, and since we were so satisfied with our accommodation at Benaulim Beach, we stayed there the next couple of days, and followed a lesson we had learned along our southward journey from the beaches of northern Goa and down to South Goa.
Goa Lesson #10: South Goa is best
We had consistently been told that South Goa was the best. Our informants were locals, visitors, shop owners – everyone. Unless you are up for partying, the general conviction is that South Goa has the most beautiful beaches and the less crowded ones. Based on our short flirtation with Goa, we agree. South Goa impressed us. Nice villages with colorful reminders of the Portuguese era, welcoming and clean beaches with a good mix of people, and a fine selection of restaurants serving tasty local dishes.
Most importantly, South Goa got us sucked into the rhythm of beachlife which goes like this:
breakfast chillax swim snack read lunch swim chillax dinner sunset watching plus cocktails sleep and then repeat.
More on Goa?
If you are looking for a quick overview of Goa’s Beaches? Check out these resources:
If you want to learn what else Goa has to offer outside beaches, a great starting point is “Goa Beyond the Beaches” by sid-thewanderer.com.