I initially wanted to name this post “The Best of Goa” but then I realized calling my post that would make most of you feel as if it’s just another journal of some tourist blabbering about the booze and beaches of Goa, and it of course lessens any chances of you to read my post beyond the title. Though I can’t deny that I loved those too, but this is sort of my way of surprising you and the rest of the world with a secret mantra of surviving the land of free flowing booze, unstoppable partying which may even remind you of Mardi Gras at times, and a paradise for tattoo lovers and shopaholics, totally cheap and unconventionally.
Let me say this well in advance – the point of going to such a place (as per me) is that you spend most of your time outdoors doing various things and seeing different places and not stay tucked inside your comfortable bed in your hotel room/resort room, whichever it is that you have decided to choose as your accommodation arrangement.
Since we started talking about accommodation arrangements, here’s my EXPERT TIP#1:
NEVER EVER book a hotel or resort near Calangute or Baga. It’s not a secret that these two places are the tourist hub of Goa and attract the maximum number of national and international tourists. But, this also makes the property owners charge as they like for simplistic accommodation options because they know that you or someone else would be ignorant enough to not have surfed through other options, or unaware about other options, or simply too exhausted of a long train/air journey to look around.
INSTEAD try to stay at Candolim or Anjuna or even near Fort Aguada. The accommodation options available at these places are cheaper, better, and hell! It’s only 10 min from Calangute/Baga and other popular touristy spots.
AVOID the star-rated hotels and go for the simple guest houses and bed and breakfasts, preferably not on the beach but maybe 5-7 min away. They normally cost 1000INR a day ($16 approx.). BUT, if you book it for a month at once, you get it for 12-15000INR ($197-$245 approx.) depending upon the season time (it could be cheaper off season i.e. May-Sept/Oct). They never ask you to pay all that at once but you can try to do so and negotiate further (up to $20-50) on the room tariff using the lump sum payment at your advantage.
At this price, you can look forward to a decent sized room with a double bed, TV, refrigerator, clean and hygienic linen, bathroom, a balcony, and a kitchen space if you are lucky.
I personally never paid anything for my stay as I was volunteering at a B&B. You can find some of these opportunities through HelpX, only if you are interested
Speaking of Kitchen let me give my EXPERT TIP#2:
As much as those fancy restaurants and bars seem tempting to you (and me), trust me if you really want to experience actual Goan cuisine and genuine sea food, look for the small shops which are mostly like a house verandah or porch turned into an eating joint and is operated by the family living in that house. If you are really the traveller type and not just a tourist, indulge yourself into a nice little chat with the owners and ask around about the state’s history and culture and places to see, and you would be surprised how friendly Goans are. Psst! You might as well earn yourself a free beer or a few extra shrimps in the curry or an invite to a party or an upcoming festival.
During my time in Goa, I went to this restaurant everyday (almost) Cactus (on the Candolim Main road just a minutes’ walk from Café Coffee Day). If you visit this place, you may feel at first that I am contradicting my own rule/tip here but then, if you are a regular (3-4 visits) here you will see your bills reducing by 10% (yeah loyalty discount), and food being served faster and better. Besides, it’s really cheap too. You can enjoy a dish of lemon pork chops with mashed potato for one at $3. Ask for the restaurant owner/manager if you have to talk about discounts (but only after 3-4 visits and only if you are going to be regular). His name’s Raj – a nice and friendly Bengali guy. Now, please keep in mind that these discounts are not like a rule or something but purely out of hospitality and goodwill, and they may or may not choose to offer the discount to you. So, don’t get offensive but just ask politely (refer my name if you have to. Raj and I are both from Kolkata. The Bong Connection if you know what I mean).
BEST THING TO DO will be to shop your own groceries and if you have a kitchen/kitchenette at disposal you may as well cook your own meals. Staying at a place for 1 month, you can’t not want to cook your own meals and stop eating at restaurants thrice a day, every day.
IF YOU ARE A FOREIGNER or even an Indian who doesn’t know anything about the grocery rates, AVOID the local shops and go to a supermarket. There are plenty of those in Goa. There’s a huge supermarket called Newton’s on the Candolim road. The rates are as per the state laws and are mentioned against the items. Also, if you are planning to shop for more than just groceries, this is your place. Understand, for the local shop owners the only way to generate income is by selling what they have to offer and they may charge extra only to earn a bit extra, and you as a tourist will look like a lost puppy to them so they may try to pawn you. Don’t fall for it.
Also, if you are planning to stay for a month and think it’s a good idea to buy groceries once a week for the entire week, then take a bus to Mapusa Market and buy your groceries from there. It’s a wholesale market and is much cheaper than other shops.
Shopping brings me to my EXPERT TIP#3:
The moment you step out on Goa streets, you are bound to notice that the majority of people there are driving scooty (it’s a two-wheeler like a motor bike but a different version – Google it). Hiring them is easy. Almost every second/third shop has them available to rent for $2-$3 for 10-12 hours. You can buy petrol off of any shop. They are available in plastic bottles for $1.31/liter approximately. BUY ONLY 1 BOTTLE and then drive to a nearby gas station and fill the remaining fuel from here as the rates are less (approx. $0.90). Of course, the rate of petrol varies and depends on the current rate fixed by the state government. If you plan to hire it for the whole month, NEGOTIATE.
Now, I know this seems like a cool option and you would see just about everybody doing that but my personal opinion: skip the scooty drama and hop on a local bus. Cheaper, better, and saves you from a backache (my main worry). Also, you won’t have to bother about complying with the traffic rules and can meet some interesting people on the way.
If, by now, you know where to stay, what to eat, and how to commute, let me come to the more interesting bits like my EXPERT TIP#4:
Buy all your booze form supermarkets or wine stores and choose to drink them either at your room or by the beach. Explore your area more as almost all areas in Goa have those terrace/roof top common sitting café/bar areas for travellers and backpackers to sit and relax and meet other travellers. Drinking at a pub or a beach shack will cost you a bill which will be three to four times more than what it should be if you bought your liquor from the store (trust me or learn it the harder way). For example, a pint of Budweiser from the store will cost $0.49-$0.57 and the same pint at a shack or restaurant-bar will cost you about a dollar plus taxes. And, of course there is food or side dish that you may order at the restaurant when you breathe in the mouthwatering food being cooked at the restaurant kitchen next to your table.
I would personally not recommend drinking everyday (not more than a pint or two) if you plan to last a month in Goa without damaging your lever. Alcohol is really cheap and readily available in this state and it is bloody duty-free!!! All the more reasons I know. Maybe buy a carton and stock it in the refrigerator.
And, Oh! I personally hate Feni (the local Goan drink). Smelly, bitter, leaves a foul after-taste. But, try it if you want to at your own risk).
Also, EXPERT TIP#5:
If you are tourist, you won’t mind paying extra for a sunset ferry ride or an evening at Tito’s (the most famous club in all of Goa), but if you are the traveller types, then here are a list of some of the places you can see almost for free (of course it will cost you the bus ticket or scooty fuel and if you decide to eat something or buy a bottle of water):
1. Of course, the beaches. Start at a beach like Candolim and start walking by the shore towards North and you will easily be walking into the beach line of Calangute. Though if you ask me, I would never go to Calangute/Baga for a relaxed evening even if I were paid $1000. There is no relaxation there. Just lots and lots of crowd, shops, hawkers, and just about anybody and everybody who would not let you breathe in peace even for a minute. Go to Candolim or Anjuna or even Vagator for a relaxed evening or morning or afternoon.
2. Avoid the clubs that charge entry fee. Shiva Valley, located next to the famous Curlies Beach Shack at Anjuna, is famous for its trance parties. There were certain news about the government shutting it down but it didn’t stop the tourists from coming here and neither the owners did much to comply with the law. So, in short it’s still open and it’s nice for those who like this type of atmosphere.
3. Fort Aguada is not only an amazing architectural site in Goa but is also one amongst the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites and yippee it’s free to enter! The Portuguese fort built in 1613 as a guard to protect the Marathas from the Dutch is not only popular amongst travellers but also the locals who come here to spend a family outing. And Oh! There is a lighthouse and a fortress. All this for free. Isn’t it totally cool? By the way, the Fort Aguada Jail can be seen just below the fort but if you want to save yourself the effort of leaning against the fort walls or jumping like a frog (if you are as short as I am), just take a walk till the jail (only if you are fascinated by these stuffs you know).
4. The Churches. Goa is not only famous for its beaches and booze but also the churches. Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the one of the oldest churches in Goa and was built in 1541. Another interesting church is Se Cathedral built in 1619 and one of the largest churches in Asia. As per popular legend, the Golden bell of this Cathedral can be heard all over Goa. Last but not the least, if you are into this thing, then don’t skip Bom Jesus Basilica. Built in 1605, this church holds on display the body of St. Francis Xavier in a silver casket once every 10 years. 2014 is one of those lucky years.
5. Just when you thought the free visit had nothing to cater to the party animal within you, I am going to let you on in the secret (not really)- Night flea market at Anjuna. No entry fee. No money spent if you refrain from shopping, eating, or drinking there. There is a stage with awesome live performances almost every evening but Saturday is the best! There are interactive party gigs performed by the groups. Stand in the front by the stage and you may as well get invited to be involved in one (I was – to a hat juggling thing… Phew!).
Okay! Enough of it I guess. To sum it all. Let me give you snippets of some useful information:
• If you have the money to splurge, try out adventure sports like diving, paragliding, and even Jet-Ski. Bargain!
• Carry mosquito repellents pleeeeeaaase.
• Prefer to walk. The places in Goa are not really hard to find and unless Google map says otherwise, every other place is pretty walk-able.
• If you are travelling solo and suddenly start to feel lonely, search for the volunteer organizations in Goa and volunteer. People for Animals and Educators Trust India are two of them. But, be aware of the rules and regulations in doing so based upon what your visa allows.
• Take up a yoga class. If you want to skip the hustle and bustle totally, then I suggest you stay in South Goa. Patnem, Palolem, and Agonda are some of the quiet beaches in South Goa where you can find many Yoga retreats and training centers. Either enroll in one or attend the drop-in classes for a nominal fee.
• As much as I love Goa and as nice as it is, drug trafficking still remains a major issue. Stay as far away as possible from any and everything that looks even remotely suspicious. Trust me you don’t want to end up in one of those smelly dungeons-like prisons with fat belly Police-jerk-men.
• If you have time in hand, do take a trip to the nearby Dudhsagar Falls. You can reserve (or not reserve but take a running ticket) a train from Madgao till Collem. Don’t miss The Dudhsagar Trek and staying in one of the three abandoned shelters (it’s meant for trekkers and its first-come-first-served basis).
Gawd! There I go again. I have been to this state like seven times and I still can’t get enough of this place. And if you get me started talking about it, then … Lord save you, you might as well wake up 4 hours after from your deep slumber and still find me talking about it. Anyway, enjoy your time in Goa. Cheers! Oh, Oh, before I forget one last thing, don’t forget to taste the really cheap ($1.97 approx.) and famous Goan Port Wine and the English breakfast at Britto’s (the most famous beach shack in North Goa – Baga).
Okay Okay! I am going to stop now.