Goa Regions

Goa's reputation as a hangout for hippies during the '60s and '70s was made on the northern beaches of Calangute, Baga, and Anjuna. Along with the relaxed lifestyle and good times came busloads of Indian men keen to observe free-spirited foreigners and, finally, a crackdown by local government. This forced fun-loving hippies to head to more remote tracts of coastline, leaving the door open for backpackers and package tourists. Thus were the north's most famous beaches transformed into tanning lots for the masses -- even Anjuna has become an Ibiza-like experience -- and today no card-carrying hippie would deign to set foot on the beach that stretches between Calangute and Baga (defined by resort-centered Sinquerim in the south to Vagator in the north). That said, you can't deny the beauty of the beaches (in south Vagator, Ozran Beach is peaceful and beautiful, with relaxed swimming in a bay at its southernmost end) -- certainly this is where you'll want to be if you're here to party during the season. Baga is the smaller, slightly less-developed area of activity. Beach shacks-turned-establishment hangouts like Britto's (Baga) and Fisherman's Paradise (Calangute) are crowded with beer-quaffing visitors recovering from the previous night's adventure at the legendary bar-cum-nightclub, Tito's, now a veritable strip-mall of entertainment outlets. Still, beach shacks are very much a part of Goan culture, and if you can track down those that haven't gone commercial (a la sponsorship by major drinks conglomerates), you may just sample some of the old life.

Panjim & Old Goa
Located at the mouth of the Mandovi River, the state capital (also known as Panaji) relocated here from Old Goa in 1759, when bubonic plague finally wiped out the once-spectacular trade city. Panjim is today a breezy, laid-back town that lends itself to easy exploration. The chief attraction is the wonderful colonial Portuguese architecture, particularly in the eastern neighborhoods of Fontainhas and Sao Tome, where the atmospheric cobbled streets are lined with old mansions and churches dating as far back as the mid-1700s -- look for Fontainhas's Chapel of St. Sebastian, where the crucifix from Old Goa's "Palace of the Inquisition" is now kept. With head upright and eyes wide open, the figure of Christ on the crucifix here is quite unlike the usual figures, which feature lowered head and eyes.

Dominating Panjim's town center is the imposing Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in the Portuguese baroque style in 1541. Nearer the water's edge is the Secretariat; an old palace of Adil Shah of Bijapur, this became the Portuguese viceroy's residence when the colonial administration moved here.

The Central Coast
Compared with the beach playgrounds of north Goa, the beaches south of Panjim are more about solitude and stretches of virgin sand (with the north only a short ride away). For the most part, you'll be sunning yourself on whatever beach is slap-bang in front of your resort hotel -- each with its own idyllic setting, these stretches of largely untouched beaches are paradise. Nearest of the beach resorts to the airport, and one of the quietest of south Goa's more popular beaches, Bogmalo has quaint shacks (as well as a number of ugly concrete buildings), fishing boats, and a view of two small islands some distance out to sea -- ask about trips to the islands at the Watersports Goa shack, which also has equipment for activities like windsurfing and water-skiing. As you move down the coast, you'll discover that you're on a seemingly endless stretch of beach until you reach the headland at Mobor; with the exception of development-mutilated Colva, much of this is pristine, practically untouched by the sort of commercial mayhem that has besieged Baga-Calangute in the north. You can unfurl your beach towel and cozy up to a friendly beach shack almost anywhere here -- just be sure to check that you only swim in areas where lifeguards are stationed, or ask about the local swimming conditions at your hotel.

The Far South
If you're on a tighter budget and looking for a party atmosphere that's a little more reminiscent of the scene in north Goa (yet without the same commercial intensity), head farther south to the picturesque stretch of coast that stretches south from Agonda to the protected Olive Ridley turtle breeding beach of Galgibaga, another remote haven with eucalyptus trees and empty stretches of sand. The most famous beach -- unfortunately now also increasingly overstocked with tourists and day-trippers -- is Palolem. Until just a few years back, this was a thoroughly remote and tranquil hideaway; thankfully, though, despite the intrusion of shacks, trinket-peddlers, and human traffic, it remains one of India's most beautiful stretches of coastline, a gorgeous sandy crescent cove lined with coconut palms and manned by fishermen with their outrigger boats that line the northern end of the beach. It remains relatively free of day-trippers, but if you find the crowds too much, simply walk until you find a quieter spot, even if you need to end up on neighboring Patnem. Accommodations in Palolem and Patnem, as well as still-lovely Agonda (just 7km/4 1/2 miles north of Palolem) were once limited to thatched tree houses or wooden houses on stilts, but now there are even semismart guesthouses available -- some with hot water. At sunset, Palolem becomes a natural meditation spot; the sun disappearing slowly behind the beach's northernmost promontory casts a shadow over local fishing boats, swimmers, joggers, cavorting dogs, and pockets of befuddled-looking cows, as the bars and restaurants come to life with pleasant lounge music. Palolem is also the birthplace of Goa's enterprising new "silent party" scene.