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Goa | © bipinbargal / Pixabay
Goa | © bipinbargal / Pixabay

10 Tips For First-Time Visitors to Goa

Picture of Poonam Binayak
Updated: 24 November 2017

India boasts countless tourist destinations, but for millions of travellers each year, Goa is the favourite. This smallest state of India has a bit of everything – architectural landmarks, sun-kissed beaches, water sports, bustling flea markets, lively nightlife, delicious food and laidback vibe. So, if you’re heading to India’s sunshine state for the first-time, here are a few tips.

Do not stick to the popular beaches

With a huge coastline spanning 105 kilometres (65.2 miles), Goa is blessed with a plethora of beaches. Baga, Vagator, Candolim and Calangute are the popular beaches and crowded to boot, while there are plenty of unspoilt and unexplored beaches, where you can relax in peace and solitude. Some of them include Kakolem beach, Galgibaga, Hollant beach, Velsao, Ashwem beach, Mobar beach and Butterfly beach.

Palolem Beach Goa | © Nico Crisafulli / Flickr

Practice caution at the Goa beaches

While the beaches are the topmost attractions of Goa, they also pose a few risks. The most common are sunburn and sunstroke. So, in order to avoid these risks, apply high SPF sunscreen, do your sun bathing in small increments, and carry sunglasses and hat.

Point to remember: Goa is quite relaxed when it comes to bathing suits and it’s common to see people with bikinis on the beaches. However, it is important to note that nudity on beaches is not allowed and even punishable under the law.

Also, some of the beaches in Goa (mainly, North Goa) have strong rip currents, especially during monsoons. Such beaches are marked with red flags, which mean that swimming in these can be dangerous, as the high tide can sweep you out to sea. So, heed the warnings and signs, and do not venture into the sea without consulting the lifeguards.

Savour Goan cuisine

Through years of colonisation, many cultures have influenced the cuisine of Goa, creating a fusion of Portuguese, Brazilian, Arab, French, African, Konkan, Chinese, Malaysian and Malabar flavours to tantalise the tastebuds. So, on your trip to this enchanting beach town, do savour the Goan cuisine: Goan fish curry, pork vindaloo, bebinca (Goan dessert), sorpotel, etc. Do not leave without trying the local liqueur, Feni, a spirit made of coconut or cashew nuts. Sample this local specialty in limited quantity, as it is a strong liquor that will get you high real quick.

Goan Cuisine | © Praveen / Flickr

Explore on two-wheels

The best way to see the sights and soak up everything India’s smallest state has to offer is on a bike/scooter. The roads in the state are well-maintained and safe, so biking around won’t be a hassle. Bikes are easy and cheap to rent, at around INR 250 ($3.83) – INR 800 ($12.27) per day, depending upon the season (off-season or peak) and type of bike (Honda Activa, Bajaj Pulsar or high-end ones, like Royal Enfield). However, rates can drop considerably if you’re renting for more days. Before finalizing a bike, do take it for a test run – check if it is in good condition, brakes are functional, etc.

Point to remember: Always carry your driving permit with you. Helmets are mandatory, so make sure to get one along with your bike. And, no need to pay extra for it, as it’s already included in your daily rent.

Get active

Go scuba diving, jet skiing, kayaking, windsurfing, parasailing, banana ride, power-scooter riding, knee-wakeboarding etc, or take some yoga experiences from one of the many yoga retreats available up and down the coast. Goa is a perfect spot for trying all this stuff and do not leave without ticking a few of them off the list.

Water Sports at Calangute Beach © devcr / Flickr

Go beyond the sea and sand

While many visitors are drawn to the beaches, this certainly doesn’t represent the state in its entirety. There’s lots more to see and do here than just that – centuries-old churches and temples, museums, forts, spice plantations, caves, wildlife sanctuaries, and more. Here’s our list of things to do and see in Goa that will help you plan your itinerary.

Also, Goa is home to a truly spectacular countryside that is worth taking time to explore. Goan villages dotted with old Portuguese-style houses, lush paddy fields, spice plantations, waterfalls and quaint environment can be found at the countryside. The best way to explore it is by bike – take a ride along the lush vegetation and the scenic Portuguese houses, and watch a typical day in the countryside unfold.

Basilica of Bom Jesus Old Goa | © P.S.SUJAY / Wikimedia Commons

Explore both North Goa and South Goa

Both North and South Goa have their own appeal. It is highly recommended to explore both the regions as they have plenty to offer visitors. We recommend you move your way north to south. Tick off all the North Goa attractions, and then further move to the peaceful South Goa and make a trip to Vasco Da Gama and Old Goa that are home to centuries-old monuments, churches, temples, museums and islands. Check out this guide on what to expect in North Goa and South Goa.

You might also like: How to escape tourist crowds in Goa

Play the bargaining game right

Goa has some of the best flea markets and haggling is a part of the experience at these markets. The first price point offered is definitely not the last, so play the bargaining game right. You can find some real bargains here, such as handicrafts, spices, wooden artefacts, carpets, etc. which make for a perfect souvenir.

Say ‘No’ to drugs and do not drink on beaches

There’s a good chance you’ll be invited to beach parties and raves. Keep in mind that many such parties have drugs in circulation. It is worth noting that, by law, possession, consumption or trade of drugs in the state is illegal. And, if caught, you’re sure to land up in jail for nearly 10 years, along with a hefty fine. So, say NO to any such invitation and drugs. Err on the side of caution.

Also, drinking in public places in Goa, especially on the beaches is banned and may land you in jail. So, do not indulge in such an activity.

Remember some basics

Pack wisely

Yes, it’s sun, sea and sand – so pack beachwear, flip-flops, crocs, hats, shades, sunscreen and lightweight clothes. Avoid too much bling and pack some conservative clothing for your temple and church visits. For some more packing tips, click here.

Keep an eye on personal stuff

This may seem like common sense, but it’s a tip which needs to be highlighted. While you’re relaxing on the beach or shopping, keep an eye on your items, as pickpockets lurk here.

Cash is king

Many small shacks, bars, restaurants and shops do not have credit card machines. So, always have some cash on you (but not too much, though!), or familiarise yourself with the ATMs in your area, so that you can withdraw money easily.

Book accommodation in advance

There are plenty of backpacker hostels and hotels (both budget and luxury) in Goa, it is better to book them in advance, especially during the long weekends and winter months, as things can get more crowded and expensive.

Courtesy of Siolim House – historic boutique hotel