8 Great Things to do in Palolem, Goa

This post is a travel guide with the best things to do in Palolem in Southern Goa. Goa is the most famous 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 I should go. How could I have been to India so many times without visiting Goa?

Palolem Beach goa
Palolem beach

Why visit Palolem 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 do.

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 South 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 there were enough things to do in Palolem besides the famous Palolem beach or Patnem beach.

Palolem Beach Goa
Lodges in Palolem

Is Palolem in Goa India’s best beach destination?

Was Palolem in 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 are enough things to do in Palolem for a wonderful holiday that is not just sunbathing on the beach.

Jungles, wildlife parks and spice farms are waiting inlands for you to explore. So let’s continue this post with the best things to do in Palolem.

Cotigao wildlife sanctuary Palolem
Cotigao wildlife sanctuary

The best things to do in Palolem

1. Palolem’s backwaters and birdwatching

Kerala’s backwaters are famous and little did I know that Goa has its own maze of canals. Behind Palolem beach is also a small network of waterways and canals heading inland. The backwaters are some of the best things to do in Palolem for nature lovers.

Palolem’ s backwaters are the perfect spot for birdwatching, especially in the evening right before sunset. We saw plenty of birds, including kingfishers, Brahminy kites, Herons and Parakeets.

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).

Birdwatching in Palolem Goa
A common kingfisher in the backwaters of Palolem

2. Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary

Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary was one of my favourite things to do in Palolem. It’s Goa’s second largest nature sanctuary. Citigao is 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 easy 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.

Cotigao Wildlife sanctuary Palolem
Water hole in Cotigao

3. Dolphin cruise to honeymoon beach

Palolem beach and Patnem beach are not the only beaches you can visit in Palolem. There are more isolated beaches around where you’ll meet few other Tourists.

Honeymoon beach is only accesible by boat. In the early morning plenty of boats are waiting for tourists to go to honeymoon beach and watch dolphins on the way.

Logistics: Early morning there are several boat men 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.

Sustainable Travel: Make sure your boat driver respects the dolphins and speak up when they come too close.

Things to do in Palolem: Honeymoon beach
Going on a dolphin safari in Palolem

4. Butterfly beach

Butterfly beach is another secluded beach where you can get away from the crowds at Palolem beach. It either requires a short trip by boat or a nice hike through the forest.

Again, dolphin sightings are very common near the shores of butterfly beach. As the name suggests, different species of butterflies are also present.

Things to do in Palolem: butterfly beach
Butterfly beach

5. Patnem beach

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.

6. Visit a Spice farm

We didn’t make it to see one of the spicefarms, but we talked to others who thought it was one of the best things to do in Palolem. You will come across spice farm advertisements throughout town and many tuk tuk drivers know some spicefarms they can bring you too.

Depending on the recommendations of tuk tuk drivers can be a hit or miss and you are likely to pay more for his commision so it is good to do your own research.

There is for example the Tanshikar spice farm that has good reviews. I heard that Sahakari farms is to be avoided because they offer elephant rides as you can read in the experience from Jessie on a journey.

7. Taking a cooking class

Are you falling in love with the Goan and Indian cuisine and wondering how to make it at home? It is possible to refine your culinary skills with one of the cooking classess that will teach you how to make your favourite Goan recipies. Try Masala kitchen.

8. Yoga and meditation

There are plenty of places in Palolem that offer yoga and meditation classess. From drop in sessions in the morning to retreats and proffesional courses to become a yoga teacher yourself.

Earth yoga village at Palolem beach has good reviews and is a good place to stay if you are into yoga and meditation whether you are a beginner or professional. They offer a range of activities and I am sure they have something that fits your needs.

The best things to do near Palolem

Palolem is a great place to explore Southern Goa. Beyond Palolem is much more beauty to be seen.

The portal cities of Margao and Vasco de Gama are at the heart of South Goa and make for a great trip. Explore the old Portuguese colonial architecture and buy souvenirs at the local market.

Beyond the cities, nature is waiting for you in Southern Goa. For example, you can see the Dudh Sagar waterfalls. One of the tallest in India. For more nature the Netravalli wildlife sanctuary is also a great place to visit.

Of course Goa is all about the beach and if the different beaches in Palolem are not enough for you or too touristic, consider a visit to the more quiet Cola beach north of Palolem or Galgibagh beach south of Palolem.

For some great itinerary ideas in Goa I can recommend this 3 day Goa itinerary

Birdwatching in Palolem Goa
Backwaters of Palolem

Palolem Travel Tips

The best places to stay in Palolem

Along the beach there are hundreds of beach huts opening up during the high season (October – February). They vary a lot in price and quality so it is good to check some of the reviews on Trip advisor or booking.com.

Unfortunately it is also necessary to book things beforehand during the high season, 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.

I recommend Om Ganesha resort that is in a quiet scenic corner close to the Palolem backwaters.

Goa Palolem
Sunset in Palolem

The best restaurants in Palolem

One thing I really liked about Goa and what is lacking in some of India’s other beach destinations, is the food. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from with amazing seafood and their own unique Goan cuisine. 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.

Palolem beach
Sunset in Palolem

When to visit Palolem

As mentioned before, there is a high season running from October till February. This time indeed offers the best weather with pleasant temperatures and less rain. However, it is also crowded, especially during the christmas holidays when prices go up as well.

March till September gets uncomfortably hot and humid, but you might have Patnem beach all to yourself. Palolem beach will always see visitors and therefore has enough facilities to entertain you, even in the off season.

Most people dismiss the rainy monsoon months from July till September, but this is a time it is really quiet and there are still a lot of off beat things to do in Goa during that time.

How to get to Palolem

The nearest train station from Palolem beach is Canacona which is on the Konkan railway. Not all major trains stop at Canacona so sometimes it is better to use the train station in Madgao, Panaji or Karwar. From Madgao & Panaji there are frequent buses to Canacona that take about 2 hours.

You can check time tables and book your tickets online directly through the Indian railways (IRCTC). Unfortunately this is not always a straightforward process. For a small extra fee you can use 12goAsia or Makemytrip

Mumbai: From Mumbai there is the convenient daily Mumbai Mangaluru express night train (number 12133) that stops in Karwar. From Karwar you can take a bus to Canacona.

Hampi: 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. If Hampi is your next destination you can read my post on the best of Hampi in 3 days.

Gokarna: To Gokarna there are frequent buses (2 hours) and one train (number 56641) leaving from Canacona. There are trains to Bangalore too, but it is a long journey.

Kerala: Further south to Cochin in Kerala you have the Mangala Lakshadweep express (12618) that leaves from Karwar

How to get around Palolem

Uber and Ola: Uber is a good way to get around in Palolem, but India has its own similar business called Ola cabs that is even more popular. The good thing about both Ola and Uber is that it is cheaper than a tuk tuk and you do not need to negotiate the price or explain where you need to go. Both offer a pool option in which you share your ride with others that makes it even more affordable.

Ola also has a tuk tuk option that is one of the best and most affordable way to travel for shorter distances. I never had to wait long for a Ola or Uber to come and most of the time when I ordered the pool option I had no other passengers.

Tuk tuks: There is of course always the option of stopping a tuk tuk on the road, but be prepared to negotiate about the price.

Sustainable Travel in Palolem

Palolem and Goa are beautiful places, but also have its share of problems. Overtourism is one of them. Traveling sustainably to Goa is essential to minimize your environmental impact.

Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors. It is better to try South Indian Cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods. South Indian food is vegetarian friendly and it is very easy to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels.

You can try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights and air conditioning when leaving your accommodation.

Sustainable Tours: If you want to go on a dolphin tour or visit a spice farm, do some homework to make sure you go with a responsible company. Check the reviews online to see if they follow guidelines that take the animals welfare into account and avoid elephant rides at some of the spice farms.

Use public transportation: Goa has a well-developed public transportation system with trains and buses. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of taxis or private cars to reduce carbon emissions.

Leave no trace principle: I encourage you to take all your trash back with you from the beach and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns, it is also important to be sensitive of the community’s way of life. Although Goa is used to tourists, the local culture is still conservative.

People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Konkani or Marathi, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

Disclaimer: This post about the best things to do in Palolem Goa contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

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