For a winter escape with guaranteed sun, soft sand between your toes, good food, legendary hospitality and a taste of Eastern mysticism look no further than Goa, India. It may be the smallest of India’s 36 states and territories but it is certainly one of the brightest jewels in its crown.
Goa’s many beaches are getting busier though and it is also infamous for high rise resorts, crowded beaches and all night trance parties. So where can you go to find the perfect peaceful getaway?
North Goa’s beaches have long since been havens for western tourists and it can be difficult to find a quiet spot. Anjuna, Baga, Candolim and Calangute are some of the best known to western tourists with their array of resorts and vibrant nightlife but if you want to find a more relaxed vibe then head a little further north.
Arambol & Mandrem Beaches
Arambol and Mandrem beaches are situated at the very top of Goa, near the border with Maharashtra. They are a 1.5 hour – 2hr taxi ride (around ₹2,000 or £25) from Dabolim Airport and are worth the extra few miles and rupees.
Arambol was once a small fishing village but was discovered in the 1960s by western hippies looking to keep flower power going. Many never left and you can’t blame them. It is an almost endless sweeping length of palm fringed beach with calm waters and no high rise resorts. The northern end is marked by a rocky headland and the southern end leads straight onto the even quieter Mandrem beach.
Since the 1960s locals and tourists alike have maintained its peace loving vibe and it is packed full of yoga schools as well as meditation, tantric training, large nightly drum circles and live music. Big parties are rare but that’s not to say you can’t have a good night out if you want one – there’s a huge range of bars/restaurants, there just aren’t any of the big clubs like on other beaches.
The vast majority of accommodation comprises bamboo beach huts with palm leaf roofs. There is also a large range of accommodation between the beach and the village and whilst you pay a little more to stay on the beach the difference can be very reasonable especially out of peak season over Christmas and New Year.
At the southern end just as you cross over to Mandrem beach there is a new area which almost sits apart from the bustling northern end. There are a handful of places to stay and eat and a plethora of sun loungers on the beach – all are free to use if you buy a drink or food from one of the excellent restaurants there (Freedom, Ave Maria and People are all recommended and Ave Maria serves some of the best vegetable pakoras around). In the heat of the afternoon move slightly back from the beach and enjoy a warm welcome and sensational food at Shanti Gossip Tree. Run by super friendly Kuldeep, Shanti Gossip Tree serves a range of Indian and Western dishes all cooked with love while you lay down on the cushions and enjoy the breeze.
For accommodation there are a range of options. Shanti Gossip Tree has huts behind and charges around ₹1000 per night depending on the season. Next door is the Sky Rainbow Inn which specialises in yoga teacher training but also offers very well built bamboo huts with bathrooms and hot water for between €18 and €50 per night depending on season. A little further along brings you to Mandrem with its wide, relaxed, beach and higher end accommodation options.
What to do in Arambol:
Courses and Yoga – You are spoilt for choice in Arambol and you can take your pick from drumming lessons, yoga teacher training, drop in yoga, meditation, tantric training, guitar, cooking…and a whole lot more besides. Upaya Yoga between Arambol and Mandrem is a great morning drop in yoga class and has a spectacular view of the beach.
Shopping – At the northern end of the beach take a right and spend the day weaving your way up the shopping street and it’s many stalls. Clothes, jewellery, shoes, ornaments and handicrafts spill over into the street and you can be sure to pick up a bargain or two. You also shouldn’t shoo off the sellers on the beach because they are often selling quality scarves, clothes and trousers for as little as ₹100 or £1.20 and they desperately need the money.
Sweet Lake – Sweet Lake is a large freshwater lake set just back from
the beach just up from Arambol. Walk around the beaches northern rocky headland and through the market to reach it. Relax on sun loungers enjoy the ocean to one side and the tranquill lake to the other…get there early for a good spot and enjoy the day people watching.
The Banyan Tree – Walk around the path at the northern edge of Sweet Lake to reach the famous Banyan Tree where the Beatles apparently visited. It is a 20 minute walk down a rich forested track and leads to one of the most beautiful trees. It’s branches cut through the sunlight and create a magical atmosphere. The only thing to challenge this is the hash smoking, rum and coke drinking baba who lives underneath it over Christmas. Rumour has it he is more drug dealer than sage but it is still worth a visit to see the tree and hear his crazy tales. Drop a few rupees in the stone by the stream as you leave.
Watersports – Arambol has perfect winds for paragliding and other similar activities and these can all be rented out on the northern end of the beach.
Eating – Arambol offers such a great selection of restaurants you will be spoilt for choice. There is also a good range of vegetarian, ayurvedic and raw food places to enjoy.
Pamper – There are massage places galore on Arambol beach and if you can’t quite get up from your sun lounger, just ask for the massage to happen where you are!
1.5 hours south of Dabolim Airport and through dense jungle lies Agonda Beach. It is 2 miles of blissful calm, palm fringed beach with a road full of stalls and restaurants set just behind it. Neighbouring Palolem and Patnem beaches have long since been the places tourists have raved about but as they now become increasingly busy more people are seeking the sanctuary of Agonda.
Agonda has a distinct charm. It is never crowded, there are no sellers on the beach, there is no pressure to buy anything when you walk down the road behind and there are a number of herds of cows who lazily potter along the beach before plonking themselves down under a palm tree (just watch your where you tread at night when walking barefoot along the beach!). There is also a population of turtles who lay their eggs here and Agonda is protected from beach parties, loud music, watersports, fireworks and fires because of this. Whilst some of the owners of accommodation dispute whether the turtles exist it certainly protects Agonda’s peaceful magic.
Accommodation is all beach huts of varying quality and price. There are
more high end places opening up but you can still find a good value beach hut – we recommend Duck & Chill at the northern end for its laid back vibe, excellent food, range of hut options (sea view, standard and economy) and how the staff make you feel a part of the family. They work long hours but are the happiest people and you can’t leave without taking some of their infectious zest for life with you. At night they create the perfect atmosphere by smoothing out the sand and dotting lanterns around the beach in front. Just beautiful.
What to do in Agonda:
Agonda is the perfect place to walk on the beach, rest and watch the sunset but if you have the urge to venture out….
Yoga – There are plenty of places offering drop in yoga sessions at different times through the week.
Shopping – Slowly meander down the road behind the beach for a laid back shopping experience. Shopping involves a lot of chatting and making friends in Agonda so take your time and be sure to stop off for a few refreshing lemon sodas on the way.
Eating – Agonda has great food much like Arambol. Try Madhu’s, Manveer’s Kitchen and Duck & Chill for excellent and affordable Indian treats. Zest is also a new addition specialising in vegetarian and vegan food as well as amazing juices and smoothies. Zest also sell reusable water bottles, so important as you see empty plastic bottles stacked up day after day. Try the Thali and Dosa House for a ridiculously cheap special masala dosa, fish thali or one of their specials.
Pampering – Take up a cheap massage, facial or choose from one of the huge range of treatments on offer at one of the many massage centres. A wet shave and massage also comes with this strange vibrating contraption which is apparently very relaxing and worth a go!
Butterfly Beach, dolphin watching, river tours – Along the beach there are a few guys offering boat trips to one or all of these sights. They are all worth a visit and the guys will be happy to create a bespoke trip just for you.
Palolem – Take a tuk tuk around the headland or ask the guys on the beach to ferry you round in one of their boats. Palolem may be busier but it is a stunning beach and with more shops and restaurants to try it is a nice trip out. It is also home to Neptune’s, a silent disco which is worth a visit. Coming back to the peace of Agonda allows you to feel that initial bliss all over again as well!
Leopard Valley – Dubbed at South Goa’s premier nightclub Leopard Valley is an open air club in between Agonda and Palolem.
THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND
When to go: late October to early April – Temperatures and humidity are high the closer you get to April
How to get there: Fly from a range of UK airports and connect to Goa’s Dabolim Airport via either Delhi or Mumbai. Thomas Cook also flies direct from London and Manchester between October and March and fares s tart at £539 return. Consider offsetting the carbon used in your flight with climatecare.org.
Money: Currency is rupees (₹) and at the time of writing £1 = ₹84 but you will get more like ₹76 in the currency conversion shops. You cannot buy these in England so must withdraw or exchange when you arrive. Over Christmas and New Year there has been a limit of ₹2,000 to ₹2,500 per card per day but the Government has said this will be increased soon. There has also been a supply issue so it is worth taking pounds to change as a back up. You will be able to pay some accommodation by bank transfer so check with them first.
Health: Don’t expect to get any nasty bugs in Goa, it is well versed in catering for tourists and most places will use bottled water for washing vegetables, making ice, smoothies etc. Both beaches also have a health centre and dentist surgeries.
Water: Plastic water bottles are a scar on Goa’s landscape. There are so many used that not all are disposed of. Take a refill cup with a filter and you will be fine filling it with local water. More and more places are offering free water but this will take time to disseminate.
Sky lanterns: Sky lanterns are widely sold and much of the packaging states it is 100% biodegradable and wire free. This is not the case and as large amounts of lanterns are being sent up from the beaches every day. All this wire is ultimately ending up in the ocean and is a danger to marine life so try to avoid using these.
Goa is just the perfect escape not just for the beaches but for the feeling it leaves you with – to see how happy people are, how accommodating, sharing, peace loving and filled with hope they are leaves you with such a warm feeling. You’ll be guaranteed to want to go back again and again!