Goa may be famous for its beaches, but it does offer a lot more than that. I love the beaches but I love to mix them up with other things. Most of the time the hype of beaches overshow the other places. To understand the culture and to get the feel of Goa, I strongly recommend visiting some of the less touristy places. Here are 10 must-visit places and offbeat places in Goa.
This small island in the middle of Mandovi river is a must visit to enjoy peace and serenity in Goa. Divar island can be reached by ferry from Panaji. There are multiple ferry points and if you are without any vehicle then ferry ride is free of cost (For a car you have to pay 10 INR). The ferries leave quite frequently throughout the day.
Divar island’s quaint little winding roads transport you back in time and life seems to have been unchanged for hundreds of years. Before the arrival of Portuguese Divar island was a much-revered pilgrim site for Hindus, it housed many temples dedicated to gods and goddesses. Later on, Portuguese settled on this cute little island and native people shifted to other places in Goa. The village of Piedade in Divar island is surrounded by forested hills. There is a Church of Our Lady of Compassion and the overview from the top of the hill is serene. There are quaint villas, old Portuguese homes and Portuguese families are still living in these houses. Portuguese houses have a rooster on the top of the roof, which is the national symbol of Portugal. There are very few eating joints in Divar island, where they serve fresh seafood and Urak (a mild version of Cashew Feni). Diver island is still a sleepy island that is why it a perfect place to unwind.
There is a different charm for Goa’s flea markets and night bazaars. The shopping experience in these markets is different from shopping in malls. Some of the popular flea markets are Anjuna flea market at Anjuna beach, Mapusa market, and Calangute & Baga market.
Anjuna market is a shopper’s paradise, here you can find handicrafts, artificial jewelry, souvenirs, beachwear, t-shirts, footwear, bed covers, musical instruments, decorative items, wooden crafts and carvings, and anything everything funky.
Mapusa is the local Goan market and is the best place to buy traditional flavors like chorizo sausages, spices, pickle, vinegar, dried fishes, and Goan pottery.
Calangute and Baga street market is on road running parallel to the beach, there are rows of stalls and shops on both sides of the road. In this market, you can buy beachwear, fashion clothing, artificial jewelry, footwear and handicraft items.
Saturday night market at Baga beach is another place to be if you are in North Goa.
Bargain hard to get best deals.
There are old Portuguese Houses all over Goa and some of these have existed here for the last four centuries. Portuguese started building houses as soon they conquest the Goa in the 16th Century and built till they left in1960. Most of these houses have ceilings as high as 30 feet, with a fireplace in every room and a big backyard. Portuguese houses have an interesting fusion of Indian and European architecture. The window designs and interiors of these are beautifully designed and that’s what makes them unique. The furniture of these houses is mostly made of intricately carved rosewood and mahogany.
Forts of Goa
The forts in Goa are located at strategic locations near seashores. These forts are mostly built on High cliffs and scenic beauty that surrounds these forts is one of the main attractions for the visitors. Goan forts were built by Mughal and Portuguese rulers in last few centuries. These forts are spread from north to south of Goa on the coastline. Though most of the forts are now in ruins still they reflect the glory of the bygone era. Some of the important forts are as mentioned below.
Chapora fort was made in 17th century by Portuguese rulers and it yields the panoramic views after a steep climb near Vagator beach.
Fort Aguada is one of the most popular forts in north Goa. The lighthouse and jail in this fort are still in very good condition.
In south Goa Cabo de Rama fort was built in 18th century by Portuguese and its strategic location also gives the most iconic view from the top.
Reis Magos Fort near Mandovi river is on top of a hill, this fort is now restored and also have a museum dedicated to great cartoonist Mario Miranda.
Other forts in Goa are Tiracol Fort, Sinquerim Fort, and Mormugao Fort.
The Goan villages and countryside have a lot of greenery and there is a number of ancestral houses with large fields stretched on both sides of roads. To experience the rural Goa, travel away from the beaches and drive to the interiors of Goa. These rural houses have few coconut and cashew trees and have some or the other pet animals or roasters. The roads in villages may be narrow but the condition of the roads are good.
To experience the real Goan way of life drive around into villages, eat at small eateries in villages, go a bakery and experience the baking of Poi bread and if possible stay in a rural homestay.
Sports fishing is one of the interesting activities in Goa. It is different from professional fishing and it is more like a recreational activity. You can do it alone also in peaceful and quiet surroundings without doing a party or by going somewhere. There are some areas in Goa, which are best for sports fishing because they have cordoned off these places and dedicated these for fishing.
You can try techniques of angling onshore or go for offshore fishing. There are some operators who organize the sports fishing, they provide instruments and also guide with technique required for sports fishing.
Panaji and Candolim beach are two most popular places for shore sports fishing.
Offshore fishing is done in deep blue waters of Goa and should be done with the help of professionals. They arrange the boats, angles and the crew of 2-3 people to guide with technique and places best for fishing. In order to conserve the biodiversity, it is requested that tourists adopt the notion of ‘catch and release’.
Join a cookery class and learn the art of Indian cooking in Goa. There are many cooking schools and classes in Goa. Here they organize Cookery Workshops and Culinary tours apart from regular classes for the traveler visiting Goa. These classes introduce you to the different spices used in Indian food, also take you to local farmer’s and fish markets, teach the art of making Indian Masala and curries, and making of Indian bread. These cooking classes are available for the different duration depending upon the interest.
You can do a few hours class with a visit to the local market or it can be for 3 to 4 days.
Bigfoot – Ancestral Goa Museum
It is also known as the Ancestral Goa museum. The museum is situated in the small village of Loutolim. This private museum depicts the day-to-day life of native Goans in earlier days with the help of statues and models. There is an entry ticket to it and a guide will take you around to the different places in the museum. The museum is situated in open with models of huts depicting different workmanship. There is a handicraft shop selling products made by local women and children. The Fruit and Spice Garden in Bigfoot compound are very informative.
The biggest attraction of Bigfoot is the sculpture of Saint Mirabai measuring 14 meters by 5 meters. It was done by Maendra Jocelino Araujo Alvares in just 30 days and is considered India’s Longest Laterite Sculpture.
Take a Backwater Tour
Yes, you read it right. When someone says backwaters we always think of Kerala backwaters but Goa also have backwaters though comparatively much smaller. There are few backwaters tours available in Goa, one of the tour is run by Goa Tourism and there are others tours by private operators. I personally did Goa tourism’s tour, it starts cruising from Mandovi river and goes along the riverine tip of Islands of Chorao, Divar, and Old Goa. It is very peaceful and on sides of the backwaters, you can see old house or churches. There are endless thick mangroves on the side of Mandovi. These cruises run along the Goan countryside and finally takes you the Spice gardens of Goa.
The private tours in backwaters can be customized as per requirements.
Read my experince at Spice Gardens of Goa.
A backwaters tour is another good way to unwind and relax.
Paddle-boat on Mayem Lake
It is a beautiful freshwater lake near Bicholim in North Goa. Mayem lake is one of the few places where you can enjoy the paddle boat in Goa. The Mayem lake is surrounded by thick plantation and there are plenty of trees around it. The lake is a popular spot for birdwatching as many birds have nested on the shores of the lake. There is a tourism board’s resort and some food shops around lake otherwise, it is still a sleepy village around the lake.
The Mayam lake and its surrounding area are very peaceful. Take a paddle boat in the idle lake and enjoy the calmness.
There are some spectacular waterfalls in Goa and Dudhsagar is on top of that list, here is my experience at Dudhsagar waterfall in Goa.
These are some of the offbeat activities one must indulge in after spending time on Goa’s beaches or doing sightseeing.
Here are my guide and itinerary for First-time travelers to Goa.