From houseboats to spice gardens, there’s far more to Goa than its beautiful beaches

Goa is looking to attract more ‘high-quality tourists’ with a new airport and luxury hotels.
Goa is looking to attract more ‘high-quality tourists’ with a new airport and luxury hotels. Copyright Canva
By Portia Jones
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Goa is looking to attract more ‘high-quality tourists’ with a new airport and luxury hotels.

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Tucked into the western coast of India, Goa is renowned for its pristine beaches, vibrant culture, and rich history.

Once a Portuguese colony, this small coastal state has a blend of Indian and European influences, evident in its architecture and cuisine.

The beaches of Goa are its most famous attraction, drawing visitors with their golden sands, azure waters, and thrilling water sports.

From the sandy shores of Calangute and Baga to the secluded coves of Agonda and Palolem, each beach has its own unique vibe.

Beyond its beaches, Goa has a wealth of cultural and historical treasures. The state's capital, Panaji, features Portuguese colonial architecture, winding streets, and spice-filled markets.

Goa is also known for its lively festivals, including Carnival and Shigmo, which showcase traditional music, dance, and cuisine.

Goa is focusing on spiritual and eco-tourism

Explore Goa's ancient temples, each a testament to the region's rich cultural tapestry, to learn more about its spiritual legacy
Explore Goa's ancient temples, each a testament to the region's rich cultural tapestry, to learn more about its spiritual legacyGoa Tourism

After a dip in visitors due to the impact of COVID-19, Goa's Department of Tourism has increased its focus on spiritual tourism, cultural tourism, eco-tourism, and conference tourism. A new airport is opening, and more luxury hotels are also pegged to open.

According to Sanjeev Ahuja, IAS Secretary (Tourism), the department wants to target “high-quality tourists” and encourage them to stay longer.

"We want them [tourists] to experience waterfalls, spice gardens, the temples and the festivals,” Ahuja adds.

Along with sand rakes, beaches, and lush landscapes, Goa has plenty to offer curious visitors. Here are our top picks for unmissable experiences.

Houseboats: Cruising the backwaters of Goa

Houseboat experiences in Goa offer a unique opportunity to explore the region's picturesque backwaters and float past natural beauty.

These traditional wooden boats, known locally as ‘kettuvallams’, have been a part of Goa's cultural heritage for centuries and provide a peaceful retreat away from the busy tourist area.

Step aboard a wooden boat and glide by Goa's lush mangrove forests and small fishing villages, and spot local wildlife.

The Mandovi River, in particular, is a popular destination for houseboat cruises. These cruises offer panoramic views of Goa's verdant landscapes and riverside vistas.

Choose from day cruises, sunset cruises, overnight stays, or multi-day excursions to explore remote and lesser-known areas of the backwaters.

Houseboat experiences in Goa offer a unique opportunity to explore the region's picturesque backwaters
Houseboat experiences in Goa offer a unique opportunity to explore the region's picturesque backwatersCanva

Temples and churches: Discover spiritual sites in Goa

Explore Goa's ancient temples, each a testament to the region's rich cultural tapestry, to learn more about its spiritual legacy.

Visit the UNESCO-listed Bom Jesus Basilica, a 16th-century marvel renowned for its exquisite Baroque architecture and housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a prominent Jesuit missionary.

One of the most revered temples in Goa is the Shree Mangesh temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Situated in the village of Mangeshi in Ponda taluka, this temple is renowned for its exquisite architecture, intricate carvings, and spiritual significance.

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Another must-visit temple in Goa is the Shanta Durga Temple, dedicated to Goddess Shantadurga, the goddess of peace and harmony. Located in the village of Kavalem, this temple is an architectural marvel, with its towering spires, ornate pillars, and beautifully landscaped gardens.

The deity is depicted seated on a lotus flower, flanked by two lions, symbolising strength and courage.

Goa's most beautiful beaches: Stretch out on sandy shorelines

Goa is well known for its laid-back beaches and secluded coves where you can sunbathe, swim, hop on a jet ski, and rip along the waves.

Calangute Beach, often called the ‘Queen of Beaches’, is one of the most popular beaches in Goa.

Stretching for miles along the Arabian Sea, the beach is dotted with shacks, cafes, and water sports operators offering various activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, and banana boat rides.

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Adjacent to Calangute Beach lies Baga Beach, famous for its golden sands, colourful fishing boats and energetic vibe.

It's a hotspot of Goan nightlife and is lined with beachfront clubs, bars, and restaurants where you can feast on traditional cuisine and hit the dancefloor as dusk falls.

Agonda Beach and Palolem Beach are ideal for a more serene beach setting. Located in South Goa, these beaches are renowned for their pristine beauty, soft golden sands, and crystal-clear waters.

Goa is well known for its laid-back beaches and secluded coves
Goa is well known for its laid-back beaches and secluded covesCanva

World Heritage Sites: Discover Goa's rich history

UNESCO has honoured some of the magnificent monuments in Old Goa with world heritage status.

These impressive sites, recognised for their outstanding universal value, spotlight Goa's enduring cultural significance.

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Constructed in the late 16th century, the Basilica of Bom Jesus showcases exquisite Baroque architecture, with intricately carved wooden altars and frescoes depicting scenes from St. Francis Xavier's life.

Adjacent to the basilica stand the Ruins of the Church of St. Augustine, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that echoes the region's colonial past.

Built by Augustinian friars in the 16th century, the church was one of the largest in Goa until it fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned in the 19th century.

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi and Convent, situated in Old Goa, is another architectural gem that forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site ensemble.

Built by Franciscan friars in the 17th century, the church features a striking façade adorned with intricately carved statues and reliefs depicting scenes from St. Francis of Assisi's life.

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Spice gardens offer a fragrant journey through Goa

Goa is famous for its exotic spice plantation farms
Goa is famous for its exotic spice plantation farmsCanva

Goa is famous for its exotic spice plantation farms. India is a world leader in the production and export of spices, and spice farms offer insight into agricultural heritage and spice cultivation practices.

Tropical Spice Plantation provides a sensory journey through its sprawling grounds. Spanning over 100 acres, this plantation is home to diverse spices, herbs, and tropical fruits cultivated using organic and sustainable farming methods.

Guided tours are led by knowledgeable hosts who provide insights into cultivating, harvesting, and processing spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg.

The Sahakari Spice Farm, located in the picturesque village of Curti in Ponda, is another renowned spice destination in Goa. Spread across acres of fertile land, this family-owned farm has cultivated spices for generations, preserving age-old traditions and techniques passed down through the ages.

Guided tours of the farm offer visitors a holistic experience, encompassing spice plantations, herbal gardens, and traditional Goan architecture.

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