I’ve been to Goa twice in the past. For my first visit, I was mostly based in the southern part of Goa. Colva was lovely, with its pristine beaches and less commercial buzz (well, compared to Calangute). Our hotel booking was made over the phone based on prior recommendations and it was a nice budget hotel right by the beachside.
For my second visit, I stayed in Panjim but spent most of our time relaxing in Goa’s popular beaches up north. You know, the usual Baga, Anjuna and a visit to Fort Aguada. Both trips were lovely, no doubt, but at the same time, I felt I hadn’t seen what else Goa tourism had to offer besides the seaside views and the beach shacks.
Panjim, the state capital is a quaint little city with its Portuguese past very much still intact.
A short drive from Panjim city and you get two of the most popular non-beach attractions of Goa.
Goa isn’t all churches though. This is India after all, and contrary to perception you may get seeing churches all over, Goa’s population is predominantly Hindu. Some of the most popular places of worship for Goa’s Hindus are the Shantadurga Temple in Kavalem, Mangueshi Temple in Pirol, and Shri Rudreshwar Temple, situated close to the famous “Pandava Caves” of Aravalem. If these temples don’t appear ancient enough, it’s because many Hindu places of worship were destroyed under Portuguese occupation to make way for catholicism. One among the few that was spared is the Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla, officially the oldest Hindu temple in Goa. This 12th century structure is a display of exquisite Jain architecture. It survived the Portuguese occupation only because the temple rests inside what was once a lush jungle centuries ago.
Another popular attraction is the Sant Mirabai sculpture — India’s longest laterite sculpture. It’s one of the attractions at Ancestral Goa, a venue that aims to showcase Goa’s traditions. Ancestral Goa also shows visitors how Feni, a popular Goan distilled alcohol, is made from the cashew apple fruit.
Sticking to inner Goa, if you wish to ‘spice’ things up, a visit to Sahakari Spice Farm is a must. Goa’s tropical climate makes it an ideal region to grow a variety of spices. Also on offer at Sahakari is the wonderful opportunity to wash domesticated elephants by the river (Subject to Availability).
The natural wonders of Goa’s geography reach new heights with the amazing Dudhsagar Waterfalls. Situated along the Goa-Karnataka border, Dudhsagar literally translates to “sea of milk,” because from a distance the water looks like milk flowing down rocks. Time your visit right, and you will get the opportunity to capture the exact moment a train passes in front of these majestic waterfalls.
Panjim city is situated on the banks of Mandovi river, which flows out into the Arabian sea. Mandovi river passes through much of interior Goa, and capitalizing on this are the many river cruises that ply through these routes. Most cruise boats pick up their passengers from Panjim jetty. The most popular are the sunset and sundown river cruises which feature on-board live entertainment (usually traditional Goan music and dance) and dinner. But if you would like a bit of variety, the morning trips offer exciting dolphin sighting cruises and journeys across the backwaters of Goa.
So next time you plan a Goa holiday, consider visiting the above attractions besides just relaxing by the beaches. Some tour packages will allow you customize your itinerary. It never hurts to take a detour from the norm and gain experiences not many other visitors to Goa often explore.