We had heard so many wonderful things about Goa, that we had very high expectations. We had trouble deciding which town to stay in because there were a lot of choices with seemingly beautiful beaches. Ultimately, we decided to stay in north Goa because it was an area where we could potentially surf (the likelihood of good surf was low, but the potential appealed to us). We stayed in a town called Arambol, in a guest house we booked through Airbnb. As such, some of our recommendations are based on input from people we met who had stayed in other areas as well.
I had originally anticipated a relaxing trip and entitling this post “Go ahhhh!” However, our experience was not as expected. We had no idea what to expect after our taxi driver dropped us off with these parting words: “I hope you like hippies. And Russians.” (I looked out the window before getting out to see a dreadlock-haired man smoking a joint.)
We ended up finding some very small waves for surfing, but hear we missed out on some really great beaches in the south. We’d definitely visit those if we went back. Recommendations for the south (below) are from various other well-seasoned travelers.
What you might expect:
The north and south are very different.
Beaches, people, activities and food all vary from beach to beach. As a general rule, expect more luxury in the south and more backpackers up north; however, there’s room for both in either location..
Red carpet is (literally) rolled out onto the beaches
If sand in your toes isn’t your thing, never fret. Goa rolls out carpet so you can access a cabana. While I presume the purpose is really to help our sensitive feet avoid exposure to the hot sand, it adds a nice element of luxury. Drinks are also served to cabanas on the sand, which is such a luxury for travelers from our area in the US, where alcohol isn’t served on the beach.
Taxis are inexpensive
But always be willing to negotiate.
Lots of (aggressive) hawkers
Everyone is selling something. Everyone is pushy about it. Is culturally normal and it’s the way they survive. They will grab you to try to pull you over to see their goods, they will start massaging you, they will hand your things or try to put stuff on you. Everyone is trying to make a rupee. Be assertive in saying no (it doesn’t have to be rude) and don’t expect ANYTHING for free. If someone tries to have you hold something or is performing and and you want to take a photo, expect to pay. If you don’t want to pay, don’t let them put things on you and don’t take photos of them or their stuff. We carried small bills and asked how much before touching anything. We also tipped everyone who did anything for us (showed us a trick, watched our shoes, etc.). In general, we’ve heard that not tipping is a recipe for having your stuff messed with, so we don’t do anythign we aren’t willing to pay for.
It was common everywhere, of course with some places being worse than others. Bigger hotels tend to have backup generators, so the power outages don’t also affect the wifi. In general, it’s hit or miss here.
We experience several, which was only really an issue when we were trying to get something done on wifi or when it cause the A/C to shut off while we were sleeping. Again, some larger hotels may have backup generators to ease the pain.
Watch your stuff
The worst of Goa for us was that this was where we had a bag stolen. We only had a little money to use for surfboard rentals and food, but we had our clothes, shoes and quazlity (read expensive) sunglasses in a bag that we sat on the beach while we surfed. We tried to keep an eye on it, but they stole the bag while we were preoccupied, but left towels so that we couldn’t easily see from the water that anything was missing. The beach wasn’t crowded, and it really was our fault, but we would suggest extra precaution in Goa as there are a lot of young people and hawkers on the beach.
See your food while it’s alive
Seafood is caught fresh daily and can be found on ice along the beaches in front of the restaurants for your selection. Moreover, we saw chicken being killed curbside, right outside one of the chicken restaurants. While it wasn’t a common site, don’t be surprised if you see it.
What not to miss:
Yoga or Tai Chi on the beach
It’s offered all over the place (you’ll see signs) and is a great way to enjoy the lovely beaches and work on your pracitce.
Beaches and cheap eats
In the North
If you’re in the North: visit Arambol for cheap eats, shopping and activities but Mandarem for the beach. Arambol had lots of shops and inexpensive restaurants, as well as guest houses for really cheap. If you can afford it, stay elsewhere (Mandarem or Keri), but take a taxi for a couple of bucks to surf, eat or shop in Arambol. Keri is.pretty (and north of Arambol – the northmost beach in Goa); however, we were told it is not a good beach for swimming – someone said “unsafe” but I cannot confirm.
In the South
Although we cannot attest to this personally, we heard from multiple people that Agonda is one of the most pristine beaches in Goa. Though there are calmer-water beaches elsewhere, this is the place to relax and take in the beauty. This site also has some suggestions for cheap eats.
Surf in India!
Ok, perhaps it isn’t the most quality of surf, but if you’re looking jonesing to catch a wave, Arambol may help scratch that itch.
Try the Fenny
Fenny (or Feni) is an alcohol produced exclusively in Goa. There are two types, cashew or coconut. Cashew fenny is made by fermenting the juice from cashew apples/fruit. Coconut fenny is distilled toddy. Juice from the palm tree flower is collected, manually processed and fermented in a clay or porcelin pot for a few days.
Rent a scooter (if you’re comfortable) or take taxis to get around cheaply
If you’re comfortable on a scooter, this is a good place to rent one. If not, no worries – the taxis are inexpensive. Either option provides the flexibility to see other beaches (which is a must in Goa!).
Try paragliding and/or visit Sweet Water Lake (the lake is in the north)
Sweet water lake was a nice walk from Arambol, offering a beach and lake. There was also a paragliding option here, which was much more scenic than some of those offered in other beaches of India.
If you still have time:
Visit the north and south
Do what we didn’t have time to do and let us know what you think!
- If you are going to try to surf, check out Surf Wala. We couldn’t find much online, but were able to walk right up to rent boards. They also offer lessons. However, out in front of their spot is where we sat our bag and it was stolen, so leave valuables at your hotel or with someone while you’re surfing.