Goa might be India’s smallest state, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty, culture and personality. Home to the country’s best beaches, nightlife and rainforests, the long coastal region sits south of Mumbai and is neighbored by the state of Karnataka (of which Bengaluru a.k.a. Bangalore is the capital) to the east and south. This makes it a very popular holiday destination for city-dwelling young professional Indians who are ready to party, or relax, or both.
Aside from the beaches and nightclubs, Goa has a fascinating history and is dotted with pockets of baroque and colonial architecture, as the state was a Portuguese outpost for 450 years, being ceded to India in 1961. The Fontainhas neighborhood in state capital Panaji is so much like being in Portugal, you’ll pinch yourself to make sure you’re awake. Many Goans of the older generation still consider themselves Portuguese and are holders of Portuguese passports.
Goa is the wealthiest state in India, in terms of GDP, so you rarely see any poverty. It’s a majority Hindu state, but still has a high Christian headcount at 25% of its population so you’ll see churches in every village and town, harmoniously co-existing alongside the temples and mosques, as unlike other regions of India, there’s little civil unrest here in terms of religious differences.
A visit or extended stay in Goa is best from October to March, known as ‘season’ time. Goan businesses mark their years from season to season and very few businesses outside of capital Panaji stay open through the off season. Cafes, restaurants, and most accommodation closing due to the heavy monsoon conditions experienced in the area.
Before you go, there are some practical realities to be in the know about. Power cuts and WiFi outages are common across Goa and most areas are villages and don’t have the strongest infrastructure. The upside though is you’ll be living near some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. When choosing your accommodation, North Goa is more lively, busy and party-focused while the more relaxed and less developed environs of South Goa are generally pretty idyllic and peaceful, being the state’s yoga and wellness hub.
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One of the most popular villages in North Goa, Anjuna was a major stop on the hippie trail of the 1960s and 70s, so it has seen backpackers and travelers passing through for generations. The beatniks are long gone but the parties and nightclubs are going strong—if you’re a night owl or dance floor devotee, this is the destination for you. It’s one of the most developed areas on the state’s coast, so it has a world class range of cafes, restaurants, and accommodation, but at a price. It’s certainly one of the most expensive corners of the state but if you’re up for a party, Anjuna is the place to be.
Anjuna became so popular that its hosteling and clubbing scene has spread north into the adjacent village of Vagator and the two are thought of as twins or the same entity now. The Anjuna/Vagator area is also one of the few corners of Goa to have bonafide coworking spaces. The front runner is Clay Cafe & Coworking, who are located at a prime beachside location in Anjuna and offer reasonable weekly rates. Green Space Bistro & coworking hostel is a hostel first and foremost but also has a great workspace. The NomadGao sites, NomadGao Vila Nova and NomadGao Assagao both offer the best co-living and coworking spaces in Goa with good monthly rates of stay and work.
While predominantly known for partying, there’s plenty to do in the daytime, such as popping into the Anjuna Flea Market every Wednesday for a dig through the thrift store-esque stalls. Nearby, Morjim is one of Goa’s prime surfing destinations and kayaking in neighboring Chapora is lots of fun in the early morning or sunset hours—just avoid the heat of the middle of the day. Artjuna is an Anjuna institution, selling excellent healthy food for over ten years in their sprawling garden cafe. Artjuna also hosts some top quality yoga teachers in their sizable yoga shala as well as having a dedicated marketplace for designers to sell their clothing, leather goods and jewelry. The other unmissable spot for wellness is Aum Yoga Studio; Yogi Om Prakash is one of the best teachers in Goa, with a real expertise in Hatha and Iyengar and the uncanny ability to improve your practice with his insightful adjustments after just one class.
There are excellent cafes in Anjuna, who generally don’t mind you working away so long as you’re grazing and dining. Baba Au Rhum is a favorite, with an extensive European menu that includes an impressive and delicious variety of eggs. Prana Anjuna is an upmarket spot with beautiful views over the surrounding farms and a menu of Asian fusion that will have you salivating for days after. Humble little spot Nata Goa is a lovely, family run spot to get incredible coffee and Portuguese pastries.
As the sun begins to set you’ll want to head to Eva Cafe or Good Place for the best sunset views. As the festivities begin be sure to check out the famous Curlies Beach Shack, top spot for late nights and good food, or pre-game at Candy Shot Bar, where the barstaff are part of India’s only all women and LGBTQ+ bartending crew Mr Bartender, serving shots, alongside Pan Asian food prepared by a female chef. Romeo Lane Goa and 11 Eleven Beach Club & Resort typically host the best club nights and OHM Anjuna is the spot for after parties and watching the sunrise.
Undoubtedly home to one of Goa’s most beautiful stretches of beach, the village of Palolem in South Goa has been a popular spot for over a decade now. It’s not as built up as North Goa and there’s little in the way of late night partying. The area was full of international backpackers before the pandemic, but times have changed and it’s much quieter now. However, the quality of accommodation and cafes remain high.
The beach and the main drag are separated by a lush forest of palm trees and the main road has an excellent calibre of cafes to work in. The Mill is based in a lovely period property and serves healthy dishes alongside New Zealand-style burgers (for non Kiwis, that means you get a slice of pineapple inside) as well as fantastic home baked goods made by the lovely owner Louise. Zest is a big name in South Goa, having popular branches in neighboring Agonda as well as the Palolem, and is the yogis' favorite for its salads, soups and fantastic falafels. Nireas is another healthy cafe with a European fusion menu and a jungle of plants for decor. If you’re feeling like a sweet treat here, the nutella-stuffed momos are pretty special. Little World Cafe has one of the most beautiful interiors full of classic Indian design and as well as being the best brunch spot in Palolem, is the only place that serves vegan lassi. They also host fantastic musicians for satsang when Hindu festivities are on.
For drop-in yoga, Palm Forest Palolem is the best of the bunch. A gorgeous boutique hotel at the north end of the beach, the owners are very happy to have non-guests attend the yoga classes which are led by South Goa’s finest instructors. Kayaking is also very popular on Palolem Beach, you can find kayaks dotted along the shore. Similarly, you’ll find fishing boats offering a boat ride to Butterfly Beach, which is worthwhile as you’ll likely spot dolphins on your voyage. If you’re in need of new threads, boutique vendor Bunti sells local textiles and elegant styles.
If you fancy going for a day trip, drive up to Mangaal Farmstay in Mangal village, the eco-stay serves hearty food to non-guests but it’s a lovely space to stay for a few nights. Additionally, if you get to South Goa early enough in the season there are some beautiful waterfalls and in October and November still sees the waters flowing. Go on some inland hikes to find the likes of Kuske Waterfall. There are some beauties in Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary too, like Mainapi Waterfall Netravali, and Chapoli Falls.
Palolem has some great venues for live music in the evening. Combine the music with dinner at Art Resort, a gallery and restaurant that has the best tandoor in the area, as well as great bar staff. The Monday night jams at Rococo Pelton are a lot of fun and there’s often music at Ciarans or Cheeky Chilli.
The state’s capital and one of the few bonafide cities in Goa, Panaji, or Panjim as it was known until the 1980s (you’ll see signage for both), is located just north of Vasco da Gama Airport and is classed as North Goa, despite it’s rather central location in the state. The city has a rich history and a vintage feel; fans of Havana in Cuba or Valletta in Malta will enjoy the 60s signage and architecture here that inspires an authentically retro feel to this unspoilt coastal municipality. Panaji truly has buckets of character. From the colorful colonial Portuguese architecture in Fontainhas to the seaside vibes of Miramar by the beach, it’s an enjoyable and safe city to explore.
Panaji is one of the main shopping hubs in the state so even if you’re not staying there, you’ll likely visit for a day here and there to restock on toiletries or gear. There are some good places to work in, although not everywhere allows you to rock up with your laptop as they need the space for their diners. The ones that do welcome you are Bombay Coffee Roasters in Fontainhas and Cremeux on the NG Road, both large spaces with good coffee and baked goods.
There’s good coworking options in Panaji too. MeWo - Meetings, Co-Working & Kaffe pride themselves on supporting local start ups as well as being a snazzy workspace for nomads, and Timebox Co-working Space is a forward thinking, female led space with excellent design and facilities. Grab your refreshments from charming hole in the wall Mohan Cold Drinks, run by sweet old gent proprietor Mohan, or for a late night sesh don’t miss Joseph Bar Panjim, a not so hidden gem in Fontainhas. Caravela Cafe And Bistro and Geeta Bakery are excellent for snacks, as is Kokni Kanteen Goa for seafood dinner.
While based in Panaji you’ll want to take a day trip to Old Town Goa, just 20 minutes away by car. This area is full of mind-blowing baroque churches and basilicas from the 16th and 17th centuries. That’s not before taking a Panjim Walking Tour, which covers most of the city’s churches, including the illustrious Immaculate Conception Church, which was built in 1609 right on top of a hill so that the newly arriving sailors couldn’t miss it.
Patnem & Colomb Bay
Arguably the quietest corner of South Goa, just below Palolem sits the tiniest of nooks, Colomb Bay then cascading Patnem Beach. The two flow into one another so are worth discussing together. Patnem was a relatively untouched paradise until a few years ago but even with the introduction of beachside bars, the area remains one of the most relaxing corners of the state to spend your days in. There isn’t a great deal to do other than enjoy the beach and cafe hop but there are occasional yoga classes, jazz shows, and film nights to look forward to.
Colomb Bay’s sands are completely unspoiled, with the odd fisherman’s boat, palm trees, and not much else. It’s a tiny bay and very tranquil, so bring your own snacks if you plan to spend the day here. Overlooking the waters, the classy, family run garden restaurant Kala Bahia has a divine menu and often hosts great parties on a Sunday night, playing gentle electronica as the sun sets. There’s not much in the way of shade here so it’s not the spot for working but you’ll enjoy the ambiance during your downtime.
At the Colomb junction, Karma Cafe is a great place to work and watch the world go by, while neighboring Bhakti Kutir, a long established jungle-based resort, is an excellent place to join a yoga class or enjoy some music at one of the live jazz nights. One of the first spots on Patnem Beach as you’re leaving Colomb behind you is Nada Brahma Resort. Not only does Nada Brahma have an excellent menu and welcome remote workers, they also host a weekly movie night, which is well attended by local families and visitors alike.
A veritable Patnem stalwart, Cow Corner is a much loved garden restaurant (so named as it’s located on the corner where the cows gather) where you’re welcome to work all day and enjoy live music at the weekly open mic night. The vegan meatballs are not to be missed here. If you’re more of a dancer than a head-bobber, Jaali Boutique and Cafe host DJs a couple of nights a week who play anything from house to garage and back again. Their seaside sister branch, Casa Jaali is the better of the two for working, as the latter boasts sea views and a great daytime lunch menu.
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