A relaxing abode for vacationers or a sensuous haven for honeymooners, Goa woos 2.5 million tourists to India's smallest state every year - known for it's spicy seafood, dreamy beaches and wild carnivals. With postcard pretty palm-fringed shores, warm blue waters, fresh-caught seafood and a unique mix of native and Portuguese culture, Goa is also India's richest state and is ranked at the top for its infrastructure and quality of life.
About 125 km of the coastline is dotted with beaches, a major attraction. From the unspoiled Palolem with its mile-long crescent beach (featured in The Bourne Identity) and the popular Baga, famous for water sports, dolphin cruises, rows of shacks and fishing boats or heavily populated Calangute known for its Chrismas festivities, to the smaller Anjuna with its hippy trance parties and Vagator with its red cliffs and fresh water springs, Goan beaches boast a beautiful mix of local tradition and international flavor.
Goa is also known for its places of worship and world heritage buildings. Old Goa, the former colonial capital of Goa is full of history and home to some scenic churches and convents (the Sé Cathedral is a neat example of the Portuguese influence)and is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site.
Ponda in North Goa is surrounded by scenic green villages, filled with grand temples rather different from the more crowded coast. It is located 29 kms from the state capital Panaji or Panjim and is called the cultural city of Goa. Located on the left bank of the Mandovi River, it is piled up against terraced hills, buildings with whimsical balconies and red-tiled roofs, bleached white churches and a riverside promenade that create a unique Portuguese ambience. Also find the Shantadurga temple, a large temple complex at the foothill of Kavalem village in Ponda Taluka.
Goa also boasts rich flora and fauna in the Western Ghats, a mountain range is classified as a biodiversity hotspot. Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, 52 km from Panaji is only 8 sq. km and includes a mini zoo, deer safari park, botanic gardens and some ecotourism cottages. The second- largest wildlife sanctuary is at Cotigao which is covered with dense forests with some of Goa's loftiest trees. About 200 species of birds can be spotted, as well as foxes, wild boar and tigers. The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is located on western tip of the Island of Chorao along the river Mandovi.The area is covered with a thick layer of mangrove forests where one can find several species of birds and animals, including the mudskipper and the black drongo.
One of the highest waterfalls lies in the southern part of Goa at Mollem, towards the border with Karnataka state. Dudh Sagar (meaning Sea of Milk in Konknni language) and appears like an overflowing sea of milk with a height of 306 meters and a width of 30 meters. Agonda beach is famous as the endangered Ridley turtle nesting site. Stop for a romantic sunset at the mystical Dona Paula with a fine view of Marmugao Harbour, where two of Goa’s famous rivers meet at the Arabian Sea.
Prominent Goan architect Gerard Da Cunha has argued that Goans mostly live in the villages and travel to work and the villages of Goa which hold out both charm and character. Living in Goa can be tough and slow, but holidaying there is just fine. Unlike urban areas, the villages tend to be neat and clean, friendly and good value-for-money.
Rice with Konkani fish curry is the staple diet along with other seafood. Coconut and coconut oil are widely used along with chili peppers, spices and vinegar giving the food a unique flavour. Pork dishes such as Vindaloo, Xacuti and Sorpotel are cooked for major Goan Catholic occasions while Khatkhate, an exotic vegetable stew, is a popular dish at Hindu and Christian festivals. A rich egg-based multi-layered sweet dish known as bebinca is a favourite at Christmas.
While you can get beer and wine all over Goa, do try the two popular local brews -- cashew feni and coconut feni. If it's too strong don't be afraid to aske for feni in a cocktail. Goa also hosts the "Grape Escape", a festival of wines, between February and May.
The best time of the year for Westerners to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant. You could also catch the annual Carnival, celebrated at the begining of Lent. The three-day festival of music and dancing in the streets culminates in a parade on Fat Tuesday. Crowds follow their partying with a buffet dinner of Goan cuisine.