The Best Things to Do in Goa Beyond the Beaches

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa | © Anupamg/Wikimedia Commons
Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa | © Anupamg/Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Poonam Binayak
India Writer24 January 2018

Goa conjures up images of beaches and parties. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that there’s a lot more to the smallest state of India. This list shows the best things you can do in the sunshine state, beyond the beaches.

Wander through Fontainhas, Goa’s Latin Quarter

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fontainhas is a charming town that exudes a colonial-era vibe at every nook and corner. Visitors can wander through the cobbled streets and gaze at the traditional, colorful Portuguese houses and structures. Two of the most beautiful attractions are the Chapel of St. Sebastian, which is known for its pristine white facade, and the Maruti temple that rests on Altinho hill and offers an unbeatable view of the town. The other sight that makes quite the impression is the Gitanjali Art Gallery that houses impressive artwork from the 1950s to ’90s. It’s recommended to stay at least for a day in one of the many Portuguese mansions-turned-boutique hotels and experience authentic Goan hospitality.

Fontainhas, Altinho, Panaji, Goa, India

Fontainhas 4

Houses painted in yellow, blue, and red in Fontainhas | © Navin Sigamany/Flickr

Explore the Old Goa

Founded in the 15th century, Old Goa is one of the most historic cities in Goa. The city was abandoned in the 18th century due to a widespread plague in the area. However, what stands today are the beautiful churches that were developed in the 16th century under the Portuguese rule, and are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the most impressive ones are the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is a true archetype of Baroque architecture and holds remains of St. Francis Xavier (well-known Spanish missionary); the 16th century Se Cathedral that stands out with its giant bell, called the “Golden Bell;” and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. To stroll around Old Goa is to enjoy a mix of Baroque and Portuguese styles of architecture.

Marvel at the historical forts

Goa is home to several forts that play a crucial role in its history. Some of the most prominent ones are the 17th century Chapora Fort that offers panoramic vistas of the sea and beaches nearby; the Aguada Fort, which was established in 1612 by the Portuguese, and its highlight is the 19th century lighthouse within it; the Terekhol Fort, which now functions as a heritage hotel and also houses a 100-year-old church; and the 16th century Reis Magos fort that is famed for its breathtakingly beautiful views of the Arabian Sea and Mandovi river, as well as the gallery that display works of the famous cartoonist, the late Mario Miranda.

Fort Aguada | © Gaurav.gawand/Wikimedia Commons

Stand in awe of the Portuguese Mansions

Goa was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s and they brought with them a unique style of architecture, which is evident in every nook of the state. A visual reminder of the same are the majestic Portuguese mansions, which have retained their old-world charm. Some of the notable ones that are open to the public include Casa Araujo Alvares, which is an 18th century mansion complete with European antiques and photos; Palácio do Deão that stands out with its Hindu and Portuguese architecture; and the Menezes Braganza Pereira House, which is a 17th century mansion adorned with antiques, Italian marble floors, Belgian crystal chandeliers, and several other relics.

Trek to Dudhsagar Falls

There are several waterfalls near Goa that make for a wonderful daytime excursion. One of the must-visits is Dudhsagar falls, which is a four-tiered cascade situated in the middle of a deciduous forest. This exquisite waterfall falls from a height of 310 meters, forming a milky froth down below that will leave you awestruck. To admire the beauty of the fall, you need to trek to its summit. It isn’t an easy trek, but it’s brimming with abundant beauty, which makes it worth the effort. You can also reach the falls via jeep that is run by local travel agencies.

Dudhsagar Falls, Sonaulim, Goa, India

Dudhsagar Falls | © Samson Joseph/Wikimedia Commons

Go wildlife watching

Goa boasts incredible wildlife, and you can catch a glimpse of the stunning creatures at the many national parks and sanctuaries sprinkled throughout the area. Some of the must-visits include the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary, and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. Animal safari and treks are available in these parks, which create perfect opportunities to get up-close with the diverse flora and fauna and experience nature at its rawest.

Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary | © Subin Sebastian/Wikimedia Commons

Take a crocodile tour

Goa has a small population of crocodiles that dwell in the swampy mangroves of Cumbharjua Canals. You can catch a glimpse of these aquatic predators by taking a boat ride to Cumbharjua Canals. Some of the local boat tour operators organize “crocodile tours” for visitors—the best ones include John’s Crocodile Dundee Tour, Atlantis Watersports, and Thrillophilia.

Tour the spice plantations

One of the best-known items produced in India are spices. And to learn about the different spices produced here, it is best to take a tour of the spice plantations. You can do just that in Goa, which is home to numerous spice plantations. The must-visits include Tropical Spice Plantation, Sahakari Spice Farm, Savoi Plantation, and Pascoal Spice Village. These plantations have spices like vanilla, cardamom, and black pepper, among others. Taking a tour of these plantations also provides an insight into the Goan culture.

Spice Plantation Goa

Tropical Spice Plantation in Goa | © bcawston/Flickr

Cave exploration

For many, Goa brings to mind beaches and parties, but it is also home to some of the country’s most spectacular caves that await exploration. Some of the best one to explore include the Harvalem Caves that date back to the 6th century; the Lamgao Buddhist Caves that stand out with their elaborate rock-cut carvings; the Khandepar Caves that date back to the 10th century; and the Rivona Caves that are rich in historical and religious vibes.

Arvalem Caves | © Hemant192 / Wikimedia Commons

Visit Divar Island

Divar Island fits the bill for travelers looking for less touristy experiences. Nestled on the Mandovi River, the island exudes a countryside vibe. Beautiful churches and temples, colorful Portuguese houses, and lush paddy fields await travelers ready to go off the beaten path.

Divar Island, Goa, India

Kayak in the Goan backwaters

With so many rivers running through the sunshine state, such as the Mandovi, the Zuari, the Nerul, and the Sal backwaters, Goa has a well-earned reputation as the paradise for kayaking. It’s one thing to experience and explore Goa by land, but it’s a whole other level when you get to take in all that it has to offer from the sea. So, paddle your way through the charming waters of the bustling rivers and soak in the beauty of the sunshine state like never before. Some of the best kayaking tours that you can opt for include Goa Kayaking, Adventure Nation, and Adventure Breaks.

Goan backwaters | © Bagade009/Wikimedia Commons

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