Where to Beach in Goa, India

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Over the past decade, India’s Goa state has emerged as one of the pre-eminent backpacker beach destinations, offering otherworldly scenery, delectable regional cuisine and charming, bungalow-style accommodation at dirt cheap prices.  Although Portuguese-colonial Goa is only a fraction of the size of neighboring states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, its coastline is long enough — and time consuming enough to navigate — that you should have an idea of where you want to go before you get there.

Calangute and Candolim

Candolim’s palm coverage is spotty at best.

The northermost beaches in Goa state, Calangute and Candolim beaches have long been popular with foreign tourists. This manifests itself not only in terms of generally higher prices, but also in terms of increased development. Whereas beaches in the southern part of Goa feature primarily bungalow accommodation and huts selling local food, massive resorts and proper restaurant dominate Goa’s northern beaches, both on the busy main road that runs through the towns of Calangute and Candolim, as well as at points several blocks inland.

Another potential reason you might want to avoid north Goa’s beaches is that they simply aren’t picturesque. The north Goan coastline is decidedly straight — and much of the vegetation that once existed on the beach has been clear cut, leaving a barren, unbroken stretch of sand its primary natural scenery. When I was there in March 2009, several rusty tankers were floating in the waters just off Candolim, providing a less than tranquil view as I sunned myself.

Charming or deal-breaking? You decide.

If you’re looking for a party, north Goa isn’t the best place to be. Visitors to north Goa’s beaches are generally older and the crowds you encounter visiting restaurants and bars are probably less rowdy than you are. Price are once again higher here, so you’ll be paying more than you would elsewhere — and probably not enjoying yourself to the fullest extent possible.

One upside of the development is that Western amenities like air-conditioning and wireless Internet are plentiful — just be prepared to pay for them. Practically-speaking, Candolim is one hour by taxi from Goa’s Dabolim Airport and an hour and a half from Magdaon Railway Station, with Calangute being about 15 to 20 minutes further. Cab fares vary, but don’t pay more than Rs. 1000 to either, regardless of where your journey originates.


You see what I’m talking about?

For my money, Palolem Beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in my life — and trust me when I tell you the similarity in sound to “palm” is no coincidence. A literal forest of palm trees encloses the entire half-moon shaped beach, which is crowned by a large, mountainous island at its northermost extent and several smaller, rockier ones in the south.

The Indian government requires business owners to take down their structures during the country’s June to October monsoon season, and as a result, development here has been limited to shacks and huts — the “town” of Palolem is but a single dirt road that runs through the aforementioned jungle. Moreso than other places in Goa, cattle, chickens, pigs and other animals roam free around the beach, largely thanks to the fact that most of the town’s residents are locals rather than visiting foreigners.

The cliff face that overlooks Palolem provides an out-of-this-world view.

Accommodation-wise, Palolem is dominated by beach bungalows, which rent for as little as Rs. 350 per night in the low season and Rs. 500 in the high season. If you don’t like the price you’re offered, be firm and insist that the manager honor the price you want. If he doesn’t, one of the literal dozens of others on the beach will.

Also at Palolem’s northern extent is a high — but easy-t0-climb — cliff face which affords you a bird’s eye view of the beach. For easiest access, head there just before night fall, when the tide is low enough that you don’t have to wade through deep water to get there. This also ensures you the perfect sunset shot, which is great if you’re a sucker for sunsets — and I am.

If you’re in search of some modernity, the Cafe Inn sits just north of the path that connects the beach to the town’s main road and in addition to a selection of fresh sandwiches and salads, offers complimentary high-speed Internet to all its customers. Need caffeine near the southern end of the beach? Hit up “Titanic,” a coffee shop mysteriously devoid of kitsch from either the 1997 movie or the 1985 wreck discovery.

Sunset at north Palolem Beach

A taxi from the railway station takes about 30 minutes — add 30 more if you flew in to Goa — and should cost you no more than Rs. 1100 from the airport or Rs. 500 from the railway station if you order one at the official, government taxi stand — and you actually should


Agonda is located just a few miles north of Palolem and many of the earthier backpackers I met while chilling in Palolem were insistent that it was better than its (slightly) more popular cousin. Although Agonda is certain more private and secluded than Palolem, I don’t particularly find it interesting or beautiful enough to recommend you stay there. Rather, rent bikes from any shop along Palolem’s main beach road and enjoy the relaxing ride through the jungle to get there. But watch out — you can get killed quite easily if you aren’t paying attention.

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