The 2018 Season’s Guide to Insider Experiences in Goa
By Sapna Shahani
If you’re not a first-time traveler to Goa, and have one foot out the door of your city life already, here’s a list of insider experiences that will make your visit more meaningful. There are some things you can only do in Goa, and this list of experiences would interest those who already have a ‘Goan state of mind’, no matter where you live right now.
1. Modern Goan Gastronomy: Over the last 20 years, Goa has gone from simple shacks serving Goan food to being recognized as the home of some of India’s finest restaurants. There are many options for traditional Goan food but if you are up for trying world cuisines, you’ll find a variety of restaurants that have something uniquely Goan about them. For a slice of contemporary lifestyle, visit the Black Sheep Bistro in Panjim, Maracas and On the Go in Porvorim, the Rice Mill and Burger Factory in Morjim, and Chi:Noa in Dabolim. Food trucks have also rolled into Goa and the recommended ones are Noronha’s in Anjuna for home-cooked Goan food and Antojitos for juicy Tex Mex in the Taleigao area of Panjim. Desserts are a whole other story, but for gelato, Cream Choc and Hice Cream in Anjuna are outstanding and you even get vegan varieties at Hippies Gusto in Arambol.
2. Experiential Stay: Besides having a stay option for people with every kind of budget from the W hotel in Chapora, to loads of quirky hostels like Prison in Anjuna, Goa also has other unique stay experiences like Saraya, an eco-village in Sangolda. At these themed stays, you can travel solo, meet interesting people and participate in communal activities right in your back yard. At the Hard Rock Hotel, you can borrow a record player and choose from their vinyl collection, and at Mangaal Farmstay in south Goa, you can grow your own organic vegetables!
3. Centre Yourself in Nature: Beyond Goa’s gorgeous beaches, there are also dozens of inland waterways to explore, to shake off the stresses of city life. Kayak in the backwaters of Olaulim or take a boat ride down Siolim river. Ask the nice people at Lazy Goose in Nerul if they will take you along for crab catching or sign yourself up for river rafting in Valpoi. Live like a local by taking a public ferry across the Mandovi river or over to the island of Chorao. As far as waterfalls go, there are many like Netravali, where you can also get a nice trek in. You can even book a dolphin-friendly tour with Terra Conscious.
4. Rave No More: Psy trance parties are passé. Instead, you can check out where locals and expats hang out like Rocket Burger and Café Cotinga in Anjuna or Eldou’s in Siolim to watch eclectic local and traveling bands perform. To get a taste of Goa’s first microbrewery, head to Habanero in Baga, where they also have live music every weekend, along with scrumptious Tex Mex and a hacienda ambience. But if you’re into electronic music, Rockwater in Morjim and Teso in Siolim host interesting DJs on Sunday nights. There are also many more stand-up comedy events organized by the Goan Comedy Club at different venues, which you could look up at AllEvents.In.
5. Culture Vulture It Up: In recent years, Goa’s art scene has gone beyond just high art. New spaces like the HH Art Spaces in Arpora, the Cube Gallery in Moira and the Museum of Goa (MOG) display the work of contemporary artists. You can also check the MOG calendar for art classes, film screenings, theatre and open mic events. Similarly, the Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts in Altinho (Panjim), Gallery Gitanjali in Fontainhas and Carpe Diem in Majorda host art events and workshops. For a little food for thought along with your dose of culture, go to 6 Assagao or the grounds of People Tree and Gunpowder in Assagao on a Monday night. Film clubs have also grown at many of these venues as well as Literati bookstore in Calangute and Alliance Francaise in Panjim.
6. Get the Bohemian Look: You can never have enough accessories for a holiday in Goa, so update your wardrobe at Flame, which has several branches, including a new one at a charming bungalow on the main road in Candolim, where Private Collection used to be. For a rootsy look, head to People Tree, where you will find everything from No Nasties organic cotton T-shirts to handmade jewelry. In Calangute, Rangeela is a hidden gem of a boutique and in south Goa’s Patnem, Jaali is just exquisite. There’s many more special shopping experiences to be had at Rare Republic (Siolim), Artjuna (Anjuna), Tia at Natti’s Naturals (Arpora), Paperboat Collective (Sangolda), White Brick Wall (Verem) and Sacha’s (Panjim).
7. Beach Bum in the Sun: In our opinion, Goa’s southernmost and northernmost beaches are where it’s at. The three-beach stretch of Morjim, Ashvem and Mandrem, have become known to be the hippest in recent times, but further north, Keri is worth exploring, if you really want a sight of what Goa used to be like, before gentrification took hold. Over the river from Keri, you can also visit Fort Tiracol, which is a heritage hotel in a fort. It’s worth the drive on to the ferry boat, just for the café’s view, and munch menu curated by Goa’s famed chef Chris Saleem Agha Bee of Sublime and Elevar fame. Down south, Cola is down a cliff, where a freshwater rivulet reaches into the sea, and makes for a secluded getaway.
8. New Age Healing: People from the world over come to Goa for yoga and meditation. There are loads of wonderful yoga training centres like Purple Valley in Assagao and drop in classes like Artjuna (Anjuna), Yoga Dog (Parra), and Natti’s Naturals ‘Shala’ (Arpora), between Anjuna and Arambol. For ayurveda and naturopathy however, you could go to Devaaya on the beautiful river island of Divar, where a 7-day disconnect from the world, is bound to do you good. For other new age healing methods, head to Arambol and check out the flyers posted up at Double Dutch, for the latest news on travelling healers, and established practitioners.
9. Fiestas Every Month: The real Goan village life revolves around an active festival schedule and the fun is contagious. Look up the calendar before you are planning to get to Goa, and consider adjusting your dates to fit in a festival. Even if you have to travel farther in-land than you had planned, the cultural experience is worth it. Socorro has tasty bread and jackfruit festivals, Siolim hosts a traditional boat festival for Sao Joao, Divar has Bonderam, there’s eco Ganesh idols in Marcel and the colourful Narkasur figures can be seen driving around Goa during Diwali. There’s always music and food at a festival, but the generosity of Goans is what wins you over, if you don’t behave like a tourist. In the non-traditional festival bucket, there’s also the Tattoo Festival, Mouth Harp Festival, Wine and Food Festivals and others that you could find out about on the Whatsupgoa.com calendar.
10. Learning and Evolving: If you can snag a longer holiday away from your boss or your clients, Goa is a great destination for alternative learning. Sujit Sumitran and his wife teach sour dough baking workshops in Britona, and frequently has students coming in from out of town. Similarly, Kunal Arolkar teaches you how to bake desserts at Foody Breaks in Porvorim and there are Goan cuisine classes like Rita’s Gourmet in south Goa as well. You can test your balancing skills while surfing at Surfwala in Arambol, or go scuba diving with Goa Diving; and you can even learn how to be a lifeguard at the Surf Rescue Training Academy by Drishti Lifesaving. There’s a Muay Thai ring at Titos Whitehouse in Arpora and you can train with Mixed Martial Arts champ Nelson Paes. If you love dancing, do the tango at Villa Blanche in Assagao or explore world cultures another way by learning Portuguese at Communicare or Russian at Instituto Camoes in Panjim.
So you can either go with the flow or stray off the beaten path. But the best way to explore Goa to its fullest is to befriend a local, one whose lifestyle and interests are similar to your own. If you do, we’re sure they will point you to the latest, greatest, most innovative and worthy restaurants, hotels, classes, nightlife and retail small businesses to support and enjoy. Remember to leave Goa better than you found it, and you will have a lifetime of memories as your reward. Happy travels!