By Pamela Fernandes, Epicure & Culture Contributor
When tourists consider top things to do in Goa, they undoubtedly picture white slippery sand, cashew fenny and crispy prawns by the beach.
Which makes sense, as the Indian state’s 63-mile coastline — hemming in the west of the country — is blessed with 54 beaches.
These Goa beaches serve as hubs for tourists — both local and international — with an entire industry of hotels, water sports, shacks, restaurants and bars, all crammed in and around the bustling towns that hug the sandy shores.
Now, this is all well and good; but we’ve got a secret to let you in on:
There is so much more to do on a Goa trip beyond visiting the beach.
Let us show you the other side of the what to do in Goa coin, written by a native from the state.
Without further adieu, don’t miss these eight unforgettable things to do in Goa (beyond the beach).
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1. See A Tiatr
Tiatr’s — or dramas — are Konkani plays filled with music, dance, comedy and political satire.
They are an integral part of the Goan fabric. Honestly, you won’t truly experience Goa unless you watch one.
Essentially, a tiatr is to Goa what Broadway is to New York.
With a live band and air-conditioned auditoriums, you’ll still enjoy the music and dancing even if you don’t understand the drama — though note you may want to bring a local Indian tour guide to translate the comedic sections.
These plays take place at select Goa attractions, namely:
- Hanuman Theatre in Mapuca
- Kala Academy in Panjim
- Ravindra Bhavan in Margao
Tickets sell out fast, so it’s recommended to visit the theater in advance to book your seat.
2. Visit The Body Of St. Francis Xavier
Whether you’re visiting on a luxury trip or backpacking India, this is a must-visit.
Considered the patron saint of Goa, St. Francis Xavier’s mortal remains are still preserved at the beautiful baroque Basilica of Bom Jesus, a must-visit during a trip to Goa.
This rustic church has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Considered incorruptible, St. Francis Xavier’s body has been encased in a glass container and a silver casket.
A short walk from the basilica is the Museum of Christian Art, explaining all about Goa’s Christian history.
Goa was ruled by the Portuguese after its conquest by Alfonso de Albuquerque. Goans converted from Hinduism to Roman Catholicism, with most present day Goan Catholics being descendants from these local converts.
Now, because it’s a free Goa attraction, lines get long.
You can prepare by bringing water and dressing modestly. It would be sad to wait to get in just to be turned away because your shoulders and knees are showing.
3. Trek To Beautiful Goa Waterfalls
There are 10 Goa waterfalls in total, of which Hivre and Sada are great for trekking, especially for hardcore adventure enthusiasts.
I’ve made the short hike to Aravalem waterfalls in Sanquelim, and its absolutely breathtaking to feel the spray on your face.
At 1,017 feet, the Dudh Sagar Waterfall is Goa’s most famous; the fifth highest waterfall in India.
It is perched atop the Mandovi river, located on the Madgaon Belavi road.
You can enter through the Mollem National Park, where you will be give lifejackets if you want to swim at the foot of the falls.
Another Goa waterfall of note:
Kesarval Waterfalls, known for its medicinal waters.
I’ve been to the foot of these falls, where you can take a quick shower in the sparkling water surrounded by lush green. In this setting, it’s easy to see why people believe the falls have healing powers.
Most of Goa’s waterfalls are located within forests or maintained by the forestry department with a small entry fee.
Prepare to get drenched in the mist of the waterfalls, as the viewing staircases tend to be close to the spray of the water.
If you have bad knees or have trouble climbing this may not be for you.
4. Go On Wildlife Sanctuary Expeditions
There are seven wildlife sanctuaries in Goa, though the most popular are Bondla, Cotigao, Mhadei and Netraveli as they feature numerous activities.
My personal favorite is Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary due to the ecotourist cottages.
These are eco-lodges built with conversation in mind, crafted from local materials in a way that blends into the surrounding landscape.
While they may be remote, it’s worth the journey to experience the pristine natural jungle and mountain environments.
Many of Goa’s sanctuaries open early and have tropical evergreen forests on display. Jungle guides accompany groups on Indian safaris and camping trips.
So, what can you spot on an Indian safari in Goa, exactly?
If you’re lucky, sightings might include panthers, leopards, Bengal tigers, macaque monkeys and a variety of birds, making this a must for nature enthusiasts.
5. Enjoy Delicious Local Feasts
There are hundreds of chapels in Goa, offering year-round celebrations.
And with celebrations, come feasts.
For example, the Feast of St. John in June is celebrated with much gusto in the local town of Siolim, including carnivals, parades and a compulsory dunk in the well or river by all the young boys.
Picture dancing, music, games, week-long galas (known as fetes), and fairs at all these feasts, where people can participate and immerse themselves in the local Goan culture.
If you get invited to a Goan home, expect lots of pork vindaloo and sorpotel, Goa’s favorite pork curry courtesy of the Portuguese. There will also likely be a wide variety of Goan beef roasts cooked in vinegar and sannas, which are savory fermented rice cakes.
At the Feast of St. John you’ll have the chance to jump into a well while shouting the popular chant, “Viva San Joao!”
6. Cycle Through Fragrant Fields
When looking for incredible things to do in Goa, don’t forget the state’s lush coconut trees and paddy fields crisscrossed by narrow roads and alleys or bylanes.
These features make cycling a must-have Goa trip experience if you like active fun.
In fact, when you get to Goa the first thing you should do is rent a motorbike or a moped so you can easily get around.
All you need is a license from your own country and you’ll be able to rent a bike.
The real Goa lives by these small roads, where you can zip from town to town and take in the locals chatting in the church courtyard, watching a soccer match, eating choris pav — pork sausage stir fry on freshly bakes bread — in the local market, or sipping cashew fenny.
7. Go Wild For Soccer
While India is cricket crazy, you may have figured out by now that Goa is just, well, different.
Its locals are football mad — or as Americans call it, soccer.
Actually, Goa boasts two very famous football clubs that play at the national level, namely FC Salgaoncar and Dempo FC.
Every weekend, local football grounds host matches that attract huge crowds, so you may have the jostle to get a good view. It’s one of the free things to do in Goa, and spectators come in droves, often sitting along the ground’s perimeter wall.
While it may not match the comfort of European football, it does match the intensity.
Get ready to hear some ear-piercing screams when fans cheer a goal!
8. Gain A Deeper Understanding Of Goa History
While the rest of India achieved independence in 1947, Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1965.
And it still clings to its Portuguese ancestry proudly.
Remnants of forts still remain in Aguada. Fort Aguada was a 17th century Portuguese fort. With its well-preserved lighthouse, it’s a reminder of Goa’s history as it sits atop Sinquerim beach overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Goa’s capital of Panaji is Portugal personified, with yellow stone homes and Alentejo-style bungalows.
Much of the harbor, churches, and municipal buildings have a distinctive Portuguese style that is slowly vanishing as it ingratiates itself with a more “Indian” identity.
North Goa seems to be inching closer to this identity — with its many grand temples — while southern Goa still clings to its Portuguese roots. You can visit the Goa State Museum or the Archaeological Museum if you want to delve into its rich history.
Places To Stay In Goa
Goa’s best hotels are located along the beaches.
These areas are not just popular and more affordable, they are well connected with bikes, taxis and buses.
In Goa you’re better off driving a car or bike rental on your own, because there’s no fixed cab tariff and you’re likely to get conned by taxi drivers if you don’t know the local rate.
Hotels located here can arrange transportation, or help you get a rental bike or car for a throwaway price. These areas also cater to your every need, whether that’s restaurants, cuisine, dancing, shopping or sightseeing.
Much of the interior of Goa is rural with farmland and forest; but the beach areas of Calangute, Anjuna, Baga, Candolim, Cavelossim, Vagator, Miramar, Dona Paula, Colva and Benaulim are safe and have some of the best hotels ranging from five star to travel inns.
Best Time To Go To Goa
Goa is high on tourism all year round.
Many international tourists love the Goan sun and prefer going to Goa in the summer, which goes from April to late June. For beach lovers this is a popular time, with the best water sports from jet skis to parasailing.
During monsoon season — which lasts from July to September — Goa sees swarms of Indian travelers who revel in the tropical rainfall. The early autumn and late winter up until January sees a mixture of foreigners and Goan immigrants who return home for Christmas.
Goa’s Christmas celebrations are extremely popular with live bands, late night ballroom dances and party games. The tourist season largely closes out by March, when the Mardi Gras festival brings the annual parade just before Lent.
Until Easter, Goa’s tourism takes a breather before launching into another summer of fun.
Goa has been the home of great music, dance, and food. Its people are hospitable and love to celebrate every day of life.
And while the beaches in Goa form the heartbeat of its tourism industry, make sure to enjoy some of its many other peripheral pleasures on your next trip.
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