Beaches of Goa, India - where to relax and where to party

October 22, 2014

The small southern state of Goa on the west coast of India is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. It may be more famous for its beaches and parties, but Goa offers something for everyone. When not exploring beaches, there is a lot of colonial Portuguese heritage, cathedrals, Goan culture to explore, lush greenery, lip-smacking seafood to sample, and other activities on offer. On the other hand, if you wish to simply lie on a beach and sip on some refreshing coconut water, Goa's many beach shacks offer plenty of that too. But are all Goa's beaches alike?

The beaches of Goa can be classified into two halves - North Goa and South Goa, with the capital Panjim in the middle. Generally speaking, North Goa is where a lot of the party crowd flock to. The beaches of North Goa, such Baga and Anjuna, are where hippies first settled in the 1970s, helping kickstart the beach shack culture and eventually clubs and discotheques. But as North Goa became ever more commercialized, South Goa became where you would go for some relaxation and a quieter beach experience.

No matter which half of Goa one chooses to explore, here is a selection of some of the best beaches in both North and South Goa, and what makes them so special.

North Goa

Anjuna Beach

Anjuna Beach, Goa
Anjuna beach is popular for the flea market and some night clubs like Paradiso.

This beach once saw the largest congregation of hippies and although many have since moved out, traces of hippie culture still remain. The Anjuna beach flea market is the biggest of its kind in Goa and every Wednesday, thousands flock here to bargain over funky attire, souvenirs, and an assortment of goods, some of which may even be items backpackers and hippies sell to make some money for their return ticket home - or to stay longer! (It happens)

Anjuna is also home to popular clubs such as Paradiso and UV Bar, both renowned for playing Goa trance, a sub-genre of music popularized by DJs who frequent Anjuna.

Baga Beach

Baga Beach is the core of nightlife in Goa
Baga is the most popular beach among the younger Indian crowd. Photo by Jason Varghese.

By far the most popular beach among the younger Indian crowd. Baga is the most happening beach in Goa and famous nightspots such as Tito's and Club Cubana are some of the oldest clubs in Goa, keeping the party going late into the night. Mind you, Baga does get awfully crowded in the evenings, so plan how you get here as the roads are narrow and can get congested once the sun goes down.

Vagator Beach

Vagator Beach, Goa
Vagator beach hosts the annual Sunburn Festival.

North of Anjuna is Vagator. The beaches are divided by rock formations, with Big Vagtor being the main stretch of the beach. Past the rocks and by the cliffside is Ozran beach, where you find a heavy European presence along with some Israelis and Japanese. This also means you also find great restaurants serving authentic Mediteranian and Japanese cuisine. Orzan beach is famous for its artisan-carved beach rocks. Nearby is Disco Valley, once a popular open air venue for rave parties. Nowadays though, Vagator plays host to the annual Sunburn Festival, drawing dance music lovers from all over India and abroad.

Sinquerim Beach

Sinquerim Beach, Goa
Sinquerim beach is ideal for water sports and paragliding.

A short drive from Panjim, Sinquerim beach rests at the foot of Fort Aguada's boundary extension. Starting from here, one can walk all the way up to Baga passing Calangute and Candolim beaches along the way, making this stretch one of the longest in north Goa. If you love watersports and paragliding, there is plenty of that on offer here. If not, simply relax on a beach bench with a glass of Feni (a Goan alcohol) and watch the world go by.

South Goa

Colva Beach

Colva Beach, Goa
Colva is one of the most popular beaches in Goa. Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose.

One of the bigger seaside villages in south Goa, Colva is also one of the most popular beaches in the southern half of the state. Plenty of mid-range hotels, services and shops can be found near Colva beach, making it a popular draw for both foreign and Indian tourists alike. Jet ski rentals, paragliding and banana boat rides are some of the fun activities for visitors to try. Despite the seemingly commercial nature of Colva beach, the crowds at Colva never match the sheer number of say Calangute or Baga in the north. A secondary beach known as Sunset beach (for obvious reasons) is a short walk away from the main Colva beach.

Palolem Beach

Palolem Beach, Goa
Palolem beach, a white sand beach, where you can do dolphin spotting tour.

A white sand beach with a few wooded islands a kayak ride away, Palolem beach grew popular after it was featured in The Bourne Supremacy (Matt Damon goes for a morning jog on the sands). Now there are sufficient shacks, beach huts and the local fishermen even offer dolphin spotting tours to tourists. When in Palolem, one of the best things to experience is the Silent Noise dance party. Goa's first headphone party, guests are given headphones to which music is broadcast to, played by the club's DJs. It's quite an experience to behold, even if you just want to watch people dance... to silence.

Agonda Beach

Agonda Beach, Goa
Agonda beach is less crowded than adjoining Palolem beach. Photo by Klaus Nahr.

Adjoining Palolem beach is the (comparatively) less crowded stretch of Agonda beach. Come here for the white sands, cleanliness, and relax at a secluded spot under the swaying coconut trees. Agonda doesn't attract too many people because road access to the beach is limited, so most people have to walk from Palolem beach to get to Agonda. That is not to say you don't have resorts at Agonda beach. Just don't expect luxury amenties, as much of the accomodation here are resorts offering private cabins and beach huts only a few short steps away from the beach.

Cavelossim Beach & Morbor Beach

Cavelossim Beach & Morbor Beach, Goa
Cavelossim beach & Morbor beach are home to many of south Goa's luxury hotels. Photo by Leela Resort.

The stretches of Cavelossim & Morbor are home to many of south Goa's luxury hotels, including the award-winning The Leela Palace resort. Although connected by road, the resorts all lie on a stretch of land separated by Sal River, which flows behind the resorts. This further enhances the sense of seclusion, and therefore the beaches - although not privately owned - attract fewer crowds from nearby.

Is there more?

There are several other beaches in Goa. General rule of thumb is, the more remote a beach is, the fewer the crowd - and the cheaper it gets. On the flipside, there are popular beaches such as Calangute. Several tourist buses drop off hordes of domestic passengers here making it the most crowdest beach in all of Goa. This easily accessible beach has every utility and facility one can need - post office, banks, ATMs, foreign exchange centers, tour companies, souvenir shops, several eateries and hospitals. But avoid Calangute if you can't handle the maddening crowds and the annoying touts.

Tourist season in Goa is usually from October to May, with peak season being November to January. Visitors from across India flock to Goa to usher in the New Year making it the final week of December to the first week of January the busiest (and most expensive) time to visit Goa.

And no matter what the guidebooks say, truth is, Goa has become so popular that there doesn't seem to be anymore 'hidden' beaches or secret spots left to be explored. So explore Goa as you please, and it is sure to please you back.

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