Goa has been a destination and home to hippies and partygoers for decades – but here’s how to see much more than the raves
I’ve been lucky to call Goa home for the past four years. If you haven’t heard of Goa, it’s a small state on the Southwest coast of India. Known for hippies and parties, it’s been a place that travellers flock to since the sixties.
Rock and roll gods like the Beatles made India cool and the hippie trail led travellers through Europe, the Middle East, and eventually they ended in Goa where many hippies burnt their passports, took off their clothes, lived in caves, and of course tripped on acid.
This is what it’s famous for, but some people don’t look past this notorious part of Goa. In fact, because of this some people will say that Goa “isn’t the real India”. Now, people come here to chase this idea of hippie freedom even though things have changed quite a bit.
In reality, Goa is very much like the rest of India, although it is freer in terms of partying and how you can dress as a woman. The culture is rich and the customs are unique, like each state in the subcontinent.
I urge people who visit Goa to try and see a little more than beaches and partying and I want to share what else Goa has to offer to have a perfect week. Don’t get me wrong, partying is a huge part of this state and something you’ll want to explore, as are the beaches – but there is so much more.
If you only have a week in Goa, it’s best to choose the north or south of the state and stay in that region rather than shift around. In general, the south is more laid back – there are fewer parties and more staying in your five-star hotel to eat (because there are no other nice restaurants).
The north is booming but there are many areas you can stay to avoid crowds. Because the north offers so much, it is best to start here on your first trip to Goa.
Anjuna and Vagator are beach villages that don’t get too crowded but still have that coveted hippie vibe. Sioliom, Assagao, Saligao, and Parra aren’t right on the water and are more jungle life than anything else – I’m talking monkeys in your trees and pythons on your driveway. This is the real deal for me and I love this area; it’s where I live.
Then you have the most northerly area, which holds Ashwem, Morjim, Mandrem, and Arambol. Ashwem is quite possibly the most beautiful beach in this area of Goa, and Arambol is the hippiest of all places with beach drum circles each sunset and many eclectic festivals.
Food is a priority if you are like me. Some of the best Indian food you’ll get here in Goa is served at little shacks you wouldn’t even think to try. Anand Bar and Starlight are very inexpensive and offer great butter garlic prawns, rava fry kingfish, tandoori, vindaloo, and local chicken xacuti. If you want something a little fancier, do not miss Gunpowder in Assagao. They serve dishes from all over South India and the Andrah prawns, Pandi curry from Coorg, and chilli pork ribs are some of the best dishes in the state.
For a taste of some foreign food – we all do when we miss home – you can eat French at La Plage in Ashwem, Italian at Ciao Bella in Assagao, Japanese at Sakana in Chapora, and Greek at Thalassa in Vagator. There are so many different foreigners living here and running restaurants you can find almost any type of food.
My favourite activity is wakeboarding with Vaayu Watermans Village in Ashwem. They also offer SUP and surfing lessons. There is surf here in peak season (December/Jan) and a smaller swell at other times of the year.
Hot air ballooning is a new adventure that is offered by Tiger Balloons here in Goa and gives a crazy view over the palms. If you have the budget, definitely fit this in. You can also try canyoning and whitewater rafting further inland.
Spend some time in the Western Ghats. Goa is in the jungle, on its Eastern side. In fact, a tiger was spotted just last week. You can do tours in the jungle to learn about the fauna and animals. You can also take the easier way and visit a spice plantation. There are two, both in Ponda, and I like Sahakari the best. They offer a local lunch with the tour. Be aware that both have elephants who give rides to guests which are unethical and not recommended.
If you want to stay in that area, check out Wildnernest. It’s a fantastic boutique eco-resort.
Speaking of where to stay, there are so many boutique heritage hotels here. It is best to try these instead of a five-star hotel. The Portuguese were in control of Goa for many years until 1961 and they built most of the architecture here.
In fact, Old Goa is full of Catholic churches built in the 1400s and many Goans are Catholic. Panjim, the capital has little winding one-way roads and almost entirely Portuguese architecture. Goans have turned these old mansions into hotels all over Goa, and these are where you want to stay. India is known for spoiling its guests when it comes to hospitality and these heritage homes are pure luxury. Some of my favourites are Siolim House, Noi Varo and Shanti Morada.
As you can see there is a lot to do without even getting to the beaches and parties, but they are also important. Psytrance music is believed to have been first created here in Goa and people don’t just listen to it, but live the trance lifestyle. They dress differently and, as you can imagine, some take psychedelic drugs.
But it’s not just foreigners. I was recently at a two-year-old’s birthday party in a village nearby and the locals rented speakers to play trance. The parties are epic – Shiva Valley, Hilltop, 9 Bar, and more. You will want to see what parties are good the days you are there and plan accordingly. You won’t find a lot of rock music here but there are some live gigs (very rarely).
If you are familiar with Goa, you might have noticed that I didn’t talk about Baga, Calangute, and Candolim areas. This is because while there are some decent restaurants here, it’s a crowded area and with only one week in Goa, I don’t recommend this area.
Goa has a lot to offer. It’s affordable, so you can eat well, stay in a really cool place, and try some adventure activities while you are here. Spend some time in Panjim and Old Goa learning about the history and get into the jungle, not just the beach!