Goa is the beach destination of India that everyone is raving about. Indians and foreigners alike talk about the beautiful palm fringed beaches and the relaxed hippy atmosphere that makes this a backpackers heaven.
On my fifth trip to India I decided that now i should go. How could I have been to India so many times without visiting Goa?
Where to go in Goa
Because everybody was always talking about Goa I thought it was a single place. I was wrong. Goa is a whole state with a variety of things to offer.
North Goa is famous for its parties and South Goa for its relaxed atmosphere. Then there are the cities of Panaji and Vasco de Gama to see the old Portuguese colonial architecture. Add jungle, waterfalls and spice farms and I knew I had to make some though choices with the limited time I had.
I am an explorer, so my ideal beach destination is a place where there is enough to do besides sunbathing. After some research I decided on Palolem in the south of Goa.
According to the Lonely Planet one of the most postcard-perfect beaches with its curve of palm fringed sand. More important for me was that nearby there was enough to do such as backwaters and wildlife parks.
Goa and Palolem: India’s best beach destination?
Now was Goa really the best beach destination in India? Maybe my expectations were set too high by all the Bollywood movies filmed there and all the newly married couples that make Goa their honeymoon destination. In my honest opinion it is overhyped and there are other places with equal appeal such as Varkala in Kerala or Gokarna in Karnataka.
That said, Palolem is a great place to relax for a few days. The beach is beautiful, no doubt. The seafood is amazing and there is enough to explore if you travel to the jungle and spice farms inlands.
Travel Guide to the best things to do in Palolem
Kerala’s backwaters are famous and little did I know that Goa has its own maze of canals. They are the perfect spot for birdwatching, especially in the evening right before sunset.
Goa has much more excellent places to see birds. I found this post on Inditales from a Goan travelblogger with more secret tips on the best spots to go birdwatching in Goa
Logistics: North of the beach there are boats that will guide you for a one hour tour through the area (300-400 rupees).
Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary
Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary is a great day trip from Palolem. It’s Goa’s second largest sanctuary and home to deers, wild boars and leopards, although you would be extremely lucky to see them.
We did see some wild boar that wanted to come and drink from the small water hole. They changed their minds when they saw us and ran back into the forest.
Logistics: Cotigao is 9 kilometers south-east from Palolem. It is not so east to reach the sanctuary by bus and it is better to negotiate a taxi to the sanctuary with waiting time. There are some interesting hiking trails and if you are serious about getting there early you can sleep in the forest department cottages behind the reception.
Dolphin cruise to honeymoon beach
In the early morning you can take a small boat out to the sea to watch the dolphins and to visit honeymoon beach. The secluded beach is only accessible by boat. On our short boat trip we saw several dolphins that came pretty close to the boat.
Logistics: Early morning there are several boat men waiting near the main entrance to the beach. They charge around 1200-1500 rupees per boat. We found another couple that wanted to go and shared the costs. Expect the trip to be around 1 – 2 hours.
Butterfly beach is another secluded beach that can only be reached by boat. Recommended if you want to get away from the crowds.
We were lucky that our accommodation was in between Palolem and Patnem beach. The latter was my favourite, because it was way more quiet. Every morning we went there to swim and sometimes we were the only people around.
Where to eat in Palolem
One thing I really liked about Goa and what is lacking in some of India’s other beach destinations, is the food scene. The seafood is amazing and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. The Goan fish curry that appears on almost every menu is a must try.
Besides a basic hut on the road side with no name that had the best fried fish, one of our favourites was Art resort Goa. It was right on the beach with an amazing view. Their mixed sea food platter was delicious.
Where to sleep in Palolem
Along the beach there are hundreds of beach huts opening up during the high season (October – February). They vary in price and quality. Unfortunately it is necessary to book things beforehand during that time, especially in December and January when prices soar alongside the number of tourists.
Once low season starts around March things quiet down again and you are probably fine with just turning up and negotiating a good deal.
We stayed in the Secret garden resort. Not at the beach, but in walking distance from both Palolem and the more quiet Patnem beach. Very friendly owners and professionally run. I had a good time there and was happy with my stay. They serve delicious breakfasts. Try the Kashmiri Kawa. It’s some kind of tea with an interesting mix of spices. I loved it.
How to get to Palolem
The nearest train station is Canacona which is on the Konkan railway.
From Madgao & Panaji there are frequent buses to Canacona that take about 2 hours.
From Mumbai there is the convenient daily Mumbai Mangaluru express night train (number 12133) that leaves Mumbai at 22:04 and arrives in Karwar (27 km from Canacona) at 09:58 the next day. From Karwar you can take a bus to Canacona.
The other way around the train (number 12134) leaves Karwar at 20:48 and arrives at Mumbai at 10:33
Karnataka: Hampi & Gokarna
For Hampi the train times are not that convenient and often fully booked. However, there are several night buses (8 – 10 hours) that offer a bumpy but ok experience. They can be booked online if you have an Indian sim at Redbus, Yatra or Travelyaari.
Bus tickets are between 700 – 900 rupees depending on whether you take a reclining seat or a sleeper. In high season it is better to make a reservation a few days before.
If Hampi is your next destination you can read my post on the best of Hampi in 3 days.
To Gokarna there are frequent buses (2 hours) and one train at 14:36 (number 56641) leaving from Canacona.
Further south to Cochin in Kerala you have the Mangala Lakshadweep express (12618) that leaves Karwar at 21:38 and arrives in Ernakulam/Cochin at 12:30
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.