Goa provides travelers with a scenic beach experience. // © 2017 Getty Images
Feature image (above): Alila Diwa offers a luxe stay with tremendous value. // © 2017 David DiGregorio
In a destination as eclectic and frenetic as India, it’s easy for travelers to feel overwhelmed. But that’s where Goa comes in. Typically considered a beach destination for backpackers and wandering nomads, Goa is a great two- to three-day extension to any traveler’s more traditional India itinerary. Indeed, after the crowds of Mumbai and Delhi, relaxation in a surprisingly peaceful coastal city will prove to be a welcome respite.
Goa’s coastal location has historically made it a key player in global trade. It was colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century and remained under their control until 1961. Along with lucrative trade routes, the Portuguese brought along their people, language, food and religion. Travelers will encounter the same shrimp peri peri that they would order off a menu in Lisbon, often served by a waiter whose relatives hail from both Europe and the Indian subcontinent. Although India is diverse by definition, visitors to Goa and the surrounding area are struck by how “different” the city feels when compared to the rest of the country.
Air From Delhi and Mumbai
From Delhi, the flight time to Goa is just under three hours. The route is serviced by Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara. Mumbai is serviced by all these airlines as well as Jet Airways, with a flight time of just over an hour.
Where to Stay
For a luxurious experience, Alila Diwa offers tremendous value. A serene and elegant lobby will impress even the most discerning guest, and spa services are sure to round out any itinerary.
For a beachfront accommodation option, Heritage Village Club offers access to one of Goa’s largest beaches. The property also provides a range of children’s activities.
What to Do
Goa is first and foremost a beach destination, so be sure to leave at least an entire day for sun and sand. Despite the more relaxed atmosphere, Indian entrepreneurship is alive and well, and peddlers are more than happy to provide visitors with local food and drink so they don’t have to leave the comfort of their beach towels.
With Portuguese influences everywhere, many of the key sites in Goa are reflective of the city’s history as a hub for Catholic missionaries. Travelers can visit the Convent and Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, built in 1521, and the Basilica of Bom Jesus. While the architecture of these churches is similar to those in Europe, the cultural clash of more “traditional” Indian styles can be seen in the colorful dress of local parishioners.
Travelers new to the Indian subcontinent and those interested in culinary tours will enjoy a guided visit to a spice plantation. Spices such as black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom grow in Goa and the surrounding areas. Thanks to the diversity of India, guests can observe how each spice is harvested and smell the flavors that the world has come to enjoy. Exotic fruits such as star fruit and jackfruit are also on display, as well as more familiar bananas, papayas and pineapples.
What to Eat
While most Indian cuisine has gone mainstream, Goan dishes are rarely found on typical Western menus. Be sure to enjoy a traditional banana leaf lunch, which consists of rice, fish curry, fried fish and potatoes. Chicken xacuti is a more tropical
Indian curry, thanks to the addition of coconut and slightly more spice, while peri peri prawns are a must. Visitors should round out any meal with a bebinca, a traditional Goan dessert.
How to Book
Many suppliers offer trips that include Goa. Sacred Dot Tours can arrange any and all of the above experiences, complete with transfers to and from Goa International Airport.