With its 60 miles of coast, Goa in India has a beach (and a hotel) to suit every taste, from budget to super-luxury. It's not quite like the old days, but there are spots where you can truly chill out
It all began in the early 1960s when a BOAC calendar featured the fabulous beaches of Goa, sparking a great overland trek from Europe by the young in search of a tropical paradise. The search continues – but now chartered jets fly into Dabolim airport, disgorging hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. Goa is firmly on the tourist map. Here is your guide to its beaches, hotels and attractions, starting in the north of the state:
You can reach here quite easily by bus from the town of Mapusa and Panaji, the state capital. There are few hotels on the beach itself, but plenty of beach shacks and local places to lodge if you are backpacking. Behind the beach is a freshwater lake which makes for a refreshing change. It is possible to take a boat from here to the world-famous flea market in Anjuna, held every Wednesday from eight till late. Arambol is the closest you can get, these days, to the undeveloped Goa of the past where you could commune with nature undisturbed.
Again reached from the nearby town of Mapusa, Vagator Beach offers a dramatic headland with superb views of the sunset from any of the local cafés or bars. This rocky cove has a secluded feel to it; here, you can take in a leisurely day of swimming and sunbathing among a pretty laid-back crowd. Come the evening, you will find that this is also the area where the semi-secret beach parties and full moon gatherings take place. Though officially frowned upon, they still happen.
You can walk around the headland from Vagator to reach Anjuna (scene of the famous flea market – see above), if you are feeling active. It is just over a mile, and there you will find a much more active scene. There are places to rent, as well as hotels and guesthouses.
If you are after a little more sophistication in these stunning surroundings, relax at the Country Club de Goa – based some 500 yards from the main beach at Anjuna. Here you will find the appropriately named Sunset View rooms, which offer truly spectacular vistas over the ocean and its daily drama of the sun dipping into the Arabian Sea.
Also on offer are all manner of water sports – windsurfing, paragliding, water skiing, scuba diving, jet skiing. There is also a gym and a pool with a very handy bar right beside it.
Baga and Calangute
Continuing southwards, you arrive at the very heart of the Goa tourist industry – offering something for everyone, from luxury hotels to basic b&bs around Calangute. The great sweeping beaches still impress with their sheer scale. Baga Beach – at the northern end, just across the Baga River from Anjuna – is the quieter and more restful end, complete with its own a fishing village.
In Calangute itself there are night clubs, markets, water sports such as paragliding, banana boat rides, water skiing – and boat trips out on to the ocean for panoramic views that help you work out exactly where you are.
Located at Calangute, the tour company Day Tripper (+91 832 227 6726, www.daytrippergoa.com) offers an amazing variety of tours to such Goan delights as the wildlife sanctuaries in the south of the state, as well as the spectacular 1,500ft Dudhsagar Falls,
Colva and Benaulim
Colva Beach is 15 miles long from headland to headland, the fourth-longest beach in the world – and the village of Colva lies close to where the buses arrive from Margao, some four miles away.
Right on the beach is the Longuinhos Beach Resort, where all 50 rooms face the sea. It is as close as you can get to the elemental beat and rhythm of the surf – albeit with a choice of three restaurants, lovingly tended grounds, a pool and the occasional night-time party at the poolside.
Here you can get in touch with the sights and sounds of the beach, or adopt one of the wandering beach dogs – as we did during our stay. Our adopted dog was back every morning, regular as clockwork, for his breakfast.
Right at the southern end of Colva Beach, by the mouth of the Sal River, is a super-luxury complex comprising 75 acres of cultivated tropical gardens and the Leela Palace, a five-star hotel which has won awards for being one of the most luxurious in southern Asia. The location is superb, and various trips are available for those who wish to encounter local wildlife.
Benaulim, two miles to the south of Colva, is a quieter spot for travellers contemplating a longer stay. Full facilities are available.
In the very south of the state is the spectacular crescent-shaped beach of Palolem, still largely unspoilt by development – but for how much longer? This place is very popular with backpackers, the accommodation being more of the beach shack variety.
The fishermen here may let you go out fishing with them, and will certainly take you on boat trips. You are only five miles from the Cotigao Wildlife Reserve, which is well worth a visit. At the gates, there is a cottage you can stay in.
Within its 60 miles of beaches, Goa really does have something for everyone. Give it a try, and you could find yourself drawn back again and again – just like me.