The quintessential impression about Goa as a beach destination needs to be redefined. Goa is not only about the cliched sand, sun, and sea. Goa is a fascinating destination that can surprise you with a bundle of non-clichéd things. Rated as one of the highly visited states in India, Goa is a melting pot of cultures.
With its heritage buildings, old Portuguese-styled houses, local fishermen’s villages, adventure sports, Islands, wildlife, gushing waterfalls, flea markets, and delectable delicacies, colorful festivals, and carnival, Goa has a lot more to offer to the world than just the beaches. If you decide to explore the other side of Goa rather than only walking on the beaches, Goa can be quite a promising destination for travelers. Goa is a land of never-ending contrasts.
I was in Goa on an invitation by Goa Tourism, to attend the Goa International Travel Mart 2019, held at Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium from 23rd to 25th October 2019. The mart was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Goa, Dr. Pramod Sawant by lighting the lamp. Later, the Chief Minister addressed the delegates, Media Persons, and buyers, announcing a few new initiatives to boost tourism in Goa in the coming days.
In an elaborate presentation by Mr. Nikhil Desai, the Managing Director of GTDC, he talked largely about Goa as a complete destination and also how the government and especially the Tourism Ministry of Goa is doing incredible work in introducing a lot of new upcoming travel projects, facilities, and Initiatives. The Government of Goa is also working and endorsing the move to develop Goa as Medical Tourism Destination in the near future. They are also working rapidly to promote cruise tourism in Goa in the coming days.
Goa can be overwhelming when it comes to varied experiences. It has something for everyone. If you are not a typical beach lover and like to travel extra miles to explore something unique and offbeat, Goa can never disappoint you. Whether you are a heritage lover, culture enthusiast, adventure junkie, culinary expert, bird watcher, local expert, or just a wandering soul, Goa can take you on a beautiful expedition. Let’s find out what you can do in Goa if you are not just beach hopping and partying at night.
The best way to explore Goa is to hire a car and plan your own itinerary to explore. It has some of the best car rentals in Goa that make your life hassle-free on vacation.
Wander in the Colorful Alleys of Fontainhas
One of the most colorful neighborhoods in Panjim is Fontainhas. Also known as the Latin Quarter, a visit to these beautiful alleys is worth your time. Located below Altinho, an affluent hilltop area in the center of the city, Fontainhas is like a separate world in itself. Fontainhas is best explored on foot.
The moment I walked in there, I was literary in awe of the most vibrant Portuguese houses located on both sides of the winding lanes. It took me back to the bygone era when this place used to be the residential area for Portuguese administrative officers and rulers. Prior to that, Fontainhas was used as a coconut plantation by an affluent Portuguese Antonio Joao de Sequeira.
The striking colors of the houses, the distinctive architectural styles, and the names of the narrow cobbled streets trace back to the Portuguese time in Goa. Spend as much time as you can there to observe and absorb the vibes of the place. Don’t miss the White Chapel of Saint Sebastian, built-in 1800, located at the southern end of Fontainhas. One can also experience a stay-cation in heritage houses and luxury GoaVilla there.
There are cafes and bakeries which are more than 100 years old. You can also opt for a lavish lunch at the café and restaurants. Fontainhas is definitely one of the most picturesque areas in the midst of Panjim and definitely a place for a photo shoot. Fontainhas was declared a UNESCO Heritage Zone in 1984.
Stand in Awe of Old Churches
If you ask me what was the one thing that completely spellbound me in Goa, I would say the old Churches. Standing tall with its history and stunning architectural marvels, the Churches in Goa are a delight to explore. They are part of the iconic landscape of the Goa and you can’t miss them in the coastal state. The Church hopping can be quite thrilling in Goa.
The most remarkable of all is the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in the middle of a busy street in Panjim. The giant captivating white church is frequented by travelers. This is one of the prominent landmarks of Goa. Apart from that, I was completely blown away by the giant architectural treasures like Se Cathedral. This is the biggest of all churches and convents in Goa.
The oldest church, Basilica of Bom Jesus is another popular church in Old Goa, dating back to 1594. It is also one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture. It has the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. Another famous church is the Church of our Lady of the Mount which offers spectacular views of Chorao islands and the Mandovi River.
The Church of St. Cajetan in south Goa is surely a stunner when it comes to architectural designs. Another most visited one is the Nossa Senhora de Penha de Franca, an architectural spectacle. Located in Panjim, the church flaunts extravagant interiors with high ceilings and stained glass windows. Apart from these churches, Goa has numerous churches in every nook and corner. Below are the few must-visit ones on your next visit….
- Rachol Seminary
- Church of St. Francis of Assisi
- Church of St. Ana
- Church of Mae de Deus (Saligao)
- Reis Magos Church
- Church of Our Lady of Rosary
- Nunnery of Santa Monica
Go On a Bird Watching Tour
Bird watching in Goa is another exciting activity that many are not aware of. If you are a naturalist or a nature lover, you can happily indulge in Goa’s Wildlife, especially bird watching in Goa as it provides quite a few places for bird watchers. In recent times, birding trails in Goa have started gaining popularity and a lot of tourists are opting for bird-watching tours in the beach capital of India. Goa has more than 420 species of birds and many are endangered.
Goa has also started hosting Bird Festival for bird lovers. There are a few prominent places in Goa for the Birding tours. One of the top places is Carambolim Lake. This is a quiet lake and is considered a paradise for birds as you can see herds of birds in the colder months. Another exciting place for bird watching in Goa is Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to numerous species that flock here to nest in the marshy mangroves. The best way to spot the birds is to take a canoe ride through the terrain and spot them on the edges of the river.
Soccorro Plateau is a haven for bird watchers. Another favorite spot for bird watchers is Cotigao. Known for the tall trees, some of which reach 100 ft in height, this sanctuary is the preferred choice for wildlife lovers. You can spot birds like the white-bellied woodpecker, velvet-fronted nuthatch, white-eyed eagle, heart-spotted woodpecker, rufous woodpecker, etc., easily here.
Apart from these prominent places in Goa, you can also visit the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, and Moira Backwaters, Verna Plateau, Divar Island, etc., for bird watching in Goa. You can also watch migratory birds on Morjim Beach.
Go on a Waterfalls Trail
If you are a nature lover and enjoy cascading waterfalls, Goa can charm you with a few popular and hidden waterfalls. If you are a trekker, it’s even better as some of the waterfalls are located on offbeat terrains that require advanced trekking skills. The most popular one is the iconic Dudhsagar waterfall which is one of the most picturesque waterfalls located on the border of Goa and Karnataka.
The Hivre Waterfalls in Valpoi attract a lot of tourists and nature lovers throughout the year. To reach the waterfalls, one needs to go through Thane village. It requires moderate-level trekking as well. The Tambadi Surla Waterfalls require you to trek through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary to reach this offbeat waterfall. But your effort to reach this mystical waterfall is worth it once you reach there. Not many people know about it due to its location exclusivity. Located within Madai wildlife sanctuary, Netravali waterfall is a sight to behold.
Around 172 km from Panjim, this waterfall is quite popular among tourists. One of the most scenic waterfalls in Goa would definitely be the Charavane Waterfalls. Situated in Charavane village, the lush greenery around the waterfalls makes it spectacular. It also requires travelers to trek through the forest and the village. There are numerous waterfalls hidden in the deep forest in Goa. However, find out a few popular ones for your next waterfall trail in Goa here
- Kesarval Waterfalls, Verna Plateau
- Karmalya Waterfalls
- Arvalem Waterfalls
- Sada Waterfalls
- Kuskem Waterfalls
Before you go on a waterfall trail in Goa, you need to keep in mind a few things. Since the waterfalls are not located on a motorable road always, one needs to trek through jungles, wildlife sanctuaries, rocky patches, and villages. So, make sure that you wear comfortable trekking shoes. Always carry water bottles and enough food with you. Avoid trekking on a dangerous slippery path during monsoon as it gets really scary at times. Do make sure that you carry an extra pair of clothing, and a first-aid kit with you during your waterfalls trail in Goa.
Spend Some Quiet Time on Divar Island
Away from the touristy beaches, if you wish to spend some quiet and quality time with your loved one or your friends, Divar Island is the perfect choice for you. With the leisurely walk, languid exploration, and soaking in the virgin beauty of the lush green surroundings, Divar Island has everything you wanted for a relaxing vacation far away from routine life.
Located on the banks of the Mandovi River, the Divar Island was once home to a large section of the Hindu population in Goa. But after the Portuguese started religious prosecution, the villagers left the island to settle in other parts of Goa. It made the entire village empty and now only the remnants of temples and other monuments are seen here. Also, the spread of the dangerous plague epidemics was another reason for the villagers to leave Divar Island at that time.
Divar Island is not the preferred destination in Goa for beach party-goers. So, the visitors to the serene island are peace-loving wanderers who like to travel a few extra miles for unique experiences. With some high-end Resorts, Cottages, and Home-stays, Divar Island has become ideal for people who are looking for unique expeditions. The island is divided into three villages, namely, Divar Piedade, Malar, and Naroa. The island is accessible by ferries on the Mandovi River from Old Goa.
Don’t miss the famous Bonderam festival, which is celebrated during the monsoon on Divar Island. It attracts lots of locals and tourists from all across the globe. The villagers organize a lavish feast on the last Saturday of August, which is also known as the feast of the harvest. Apart from that, you can also visit the 16th-century Church called Our Lady of Compassion Church which was the first Christian church in Divar.
It is located on the hilltop of the picturesque Piedade village. Beside the church, you can see the ruins of the Kadamba Dynasty. There was an ancient Ganesha temple once, destroyed later by the Portuguese. Saptkoteshwar Temple is another attraction in Naroa village. It used to be one of the popular religious sites which were destroyed by the Muslim rulers in the 14th century.
The temple was re-constructed again, but the deity was moved during Portuguese rule. Don’t miss the 400 years old Sao Mathias Church in Sao Matia. This is the village from where the Portuguese started their mass religious conversions on the Divar Island.
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