Looking for a new beach destination? About 250 miles south of Mumbai lies the Indian state of Goa, a unique vacation destination that boasts historical influences from the far east to Europe, cultural diversity, a thriving nightlife – and miles of to-die-for beaches. You’ve done the Med’s top shores and the Caribbean island life, so why not set your towel down on the most beautiful sand this side of the Taj Mahal? Get your flipflops; the beaches in Goa await!
A bit of background on Goa
Goa is one of India’s smallest states but is mighty in its economy and quality of life. Workers in tourism, mining, pharmaceuticals, and bio-tech keep the area humming with activity and demand high for good food, culture, and fun. The cities in Goa’s north line the natural harbor, where you’ll find Mormugao Port, part of a busy shipping route to Asia. Nearby capital city Panjim (or Panaji), meanwhile, beams with colorful architecture, cobblestone streets, and resplendent Catholic churches from the Portuguese colonial era. The city of Vasco da Gama, Goa’s largest city situated about 19 miles to the south of the harbor, focuses its economy largely on ship building and mineral exports.
South Goa tends to be quieter, with lush green scenery, fewer people, and smaller villages. Margao is the center of cultural and commercial life in the south and includes Hindu mathas (colleges or institutes), Catholic churches, and vibrant, open-air markets.
Beaches abound along the entire Goan coast, though differ in character from north to south. Beaches in the south tend to have a more relaxed vibe, while northern beaches are generally known for their festive – albeit more crowded – atmosphere, with resorts, bars, and restaurants playing a big part in the beach scene.
Getting there and getting around
Goa International Airport in Dabolim is served by a number of international carriers, including Air India, Qatar Airways, and British Airways, and is a 25-minute ride from Vasco da Gama.
Goa has a wealth of private and public transportation options for getting around, all at very reasonable prices. There is a vast network of private bus lines (Vijayanand Travels and Paulo Travels, among others) that connect major towns and villages, as well as taxis and chauffeured cars. We recommend contacting your hotel for local recommendations or arranging transport at the airport.
If you’re on a budget, there are also decent public bus options that go from the airport to Vasco da Gama. Buses tend to be ramshackle, but they are reliable and will get you to where you want to go. From Vasco you can transfer to the Panjim bus to get to the northern beaches or the Margao bus if you’re heading to the southern beaches. And while renting a car from the airport is possible, driving in India can get pretty hairy and we frankly don’t recommend it; best to leave it to the locals.
Best time to go
The winter months (November through March) are the best times to visit Goa thanks to balmy weather and cool off-shore breezes. Early summer months can be exceedingly hot, and the wet and windy monsoons tend to make their annual appearance in mid to late summer (June through September).
The beaches in Goa – a quick primer
Happily, digging those toes in the beach sand is free across Goa, as is a dip in the sea. Some of the bigger beaches have parking, though parking lots tend to get full quickly — another reason to avoid car rentals. “Beach shack” is the term used for eateries that line most beaches. Some of them actually look like shacks and typically include seating on the beach, while others are more like restaurants with seating inside as well as on the sand.
Most beaches have an ample supply of lounge chairs, beach beds, and umbrellas which are owned by the beach shacks. If you order a drink or some food, use of the beach furniture is generally free. Some offer free use regardless of whether you buy anything.
Okay, let’s get to our picks.
Best Beaches in Goa – North
1: Sinquerium Beach
Just outside Panjim, this peaceful spot is known for its golden sands, lush palm borders, and nearby Fort Aguada, a well-preserved 17th-century Portuguese fort and lighthouse. When you’ve had enough of the surf and sand, get a quick dose of colonial history with a meander atop the fort – aside from its defensive posture, the fort was famous for its internal freshwater spring which was used to replenish the water supplies of passing ships. Stop by Doms Beach Shack for a late lunch of tandoori-spiced fresh fish and a cold King Fisher. Once the sun sets, however, things liven up considerably. Doms is the go-to spot for nightlife including food, drinks, and live entertainment that lasts well into the morning hours.
2: Candolim Beach
Popular with European tourists, Candolim is a wide sandy beach with all manner of water sports and eateries available. Whether it’s jet skiing, catamaran sailing, banana rides, or parasailing, Candolim is thrill central. By all accounts Monica’s Shack is THE eatery to hit here for food, drink, and top-notch service. Be sure to order the Garlic Prawns or Sweet & Sour Chicken, paired with an iced Nimbu Pani.
3: Ashwem Beach
Ashwem is something of a hidden gem among the north Goa beaches. The fine white sand and soothing sounds of lapping waves make it the perfect location to crack open that bestseller, take a stroll along the shoreline, or luxuriate in the blue sea. Crowds tend to be smaller here, and thanks to an evening noise curfew, partiers tend to go elsewhere. While there are plenty of restaurants and beach shacks, they tend to be slightly more upscale. Try La Plage restaurant for a civilized sit-down experience with beautiful views and a French-Thai-Indian infusion menu. Our pick is the Seared Tuna with Sweet Onion Chutney alongside a Beetroot and Mango Salad with Chèvre.
4: Baga Beach
If you’re after a party-esque atmosphere, head to Baga Beach. Here, crowds sun, indulge in water sports, and enjoy the plethora of restaurants and bars that line the beach. While not quite as commercial or crowded as nearby Calangute, Baga still buzzes with activity and well-known night club Tito’s is steps from the water. Tito’s is a full-on par-tay with two floors and three themed dance floors: Club Tito’s, Café Mambo, and Bollywood Discotheque. If you’re up for some dancing, DJs, light shows, and plenty of food and drink, this is the beach scene for you.
5: Keri or Querim Beach
Keri or Querim Beach is also on the quieter side for north Goa. Crystal clear waters, swaying palms, and mountainous rock formations provide just the spot for a relaxed day on the sand. One of the longer beaches in Goa, Querim is also ideal for a leisurely ramble down the coast. Beach shacks are significantly less evident here – and on the expensive side. We recommend bringing a picnic ahead of time and enjoying a serene meal alfresco, instead.
Best Beaches in Goa – South
1: Colva Beach
Colva, one of South Goa’s most well-known beaches, is a wide and generous swath of white sand bordered with swaying coconut palms that plays host to families, couples, and singles alike. The shallow pitch of the sea and adjacent stream make for safe swimming for the little ones, while others can indulge in a host of water sports just a bit farther out. This is where you want to go for wind surfing, parasailing, jet skiing, and more. The shoreline is dotted with small restaurants and snack bars for refreshments after a few hours in the sun. Head to the Piña Coloada Beach Café for a fish curry and a well, piña colada, served in a freshly harvested coconut shell.
2: Benaulim Beach
Relaxing by day, bubbling with nightlife after dark, Banaulim Beach is also a popular South Goa beach destination. Lush verdant scenery surrounds wide sandy beaches dotted with sun beds for the perfect luxe lounge experience. Start off your evening at Johncy’s, a beachfront eatery with gorgeous views, locally sourced seafood, and regional Goan favorites. We like the tangy Goan Pork Vindaloo with green chili, ginger, and vinegar. Delish.
3: Palolem Beach
Palolem Beach is known for its golden sands, tranquil waters, and scenic views. While there are water sports available (canoeing, kayaking, and scuba), that’s not the main event here. The vibe tends to be slightly more chill, so set up camp on the beach and just soak in some rays. Later on, check out Café Del Mar for a cold beer and a perfect sunset. Be sure and check out the Saturday beach market for a taste of the region’s local wares and foods.
4: Agonda Beach
Agonda Beach is a lesser traveled destination than Palolem, but a notch up on the relaxation scale. Stretch out on a lounge chair under the Palm and Casuarina trees and listen as gentle waves lap at the white sand shore. Agonda is also a turtle nesting site, which gives you a sense of the quieter mood that pervades these shores. No shouting tourist throngs here.
5: Butterfly Beach
Want something even more untouched? Butterfly Beach can only be reached by boat from either Agonda or Palolem. This hidden gem boasts crystal-clear turquoise waters, a white sandy bay, and thousands of butterflies fluttering in the adjacent hillsides. A roundtrip ticket costs about $20. Sheer bliss.
Do you have a favorite Goa beach? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to the list.