Beyond the beaches, crowds and cut-copy-paste lists, my unique Goa travel guide with surprising, incredible, responsible travel experiences across Goa. Updated 2020.
Ever since I gave up my home to embrace a life of travel, Goa has become my ‘digital nomad refuge’ in the monsoon.
That liberating feeling of driving a scooter along the endless rice paddies and palm-fringed interiors. Working out of quaint cafes with decent Wifi. Indulging my taste buds in authentic Goan curries and at organic cafes. Calling charming old Portuguese houses ‘home’ for a few weeks. It’s everything I need to recharge my batteries, catch up on work and retreat into susagade (contentment) mode.
Away from the grey beaches and boisterous crowds, this is my guide to a lesser-known side of Goa. Where peacocks dance in open meadows in the rains and locals gather at neighbourhood churches to pray and socialise. Where long-term dwellers embrace an organic way of life, and creative types find abundant inspiration.
Slow down, stay a while and discover Goa through responsible travel and sustainable living experiences. Behold, my alternative travel guide to Goa:
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO EAT AUTHENTIC GOAN FOOD
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: BEST CAFES AND WIFI
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: OFFBEAT EXPERIENCES
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: HOW TO GET AROUND
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: TRIP ESSENTIALS
- GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: OTHER RESOURCES
- Got any tips / questions for slow travel or digital nomad life that I should add to this Goa travel guide?
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY
Soulful family-run homestays
To be honest, I had never really experienced Goa until I stayed at Cancio’s House with the Amaral family in the quintessential Goan village of Aldona. Their 500+ year old Portuguese era home is full of untold stories and their drinking water still comes from an ancient well. In the outhouse cottage surrounded by trees, there is plenty of privacy. Yet chances are, you won’t leave without feeling like a part of the 3 generations of this family.
Experiential eco-friendly B&Bs
Helene and Derek refurbished their 150+ year old ancestral home – the The Secret Garden – so beautifully that it’s hard not to fall in love the moment you enter its little blue gate. This Portuguese-style home is nestled in one of Saligao’s villages with cobbled streets, home to stunning rice paddies. I felt totally pampered by Helene’s famous breakfasts – home-baked sourdough bread, hummus, vegan sourdough pancakes and Goan savories. And those late night dips in a naturally cleaned pool under a moonlit sky were something else!
Minimalist hipster Airbnbs
Bungalow 598 is an old Goan home turned into a cluster of chic, minimally designed rooms and common living spaces. Glass walls overlook the green Assagao neighborhood in this low-energy, low-waste, hipster space. I loved the creativity of the space and the easy access it offers to North Goa’s best hangout spots. But I sorely missed being able to open my windows to the salty breeze and natural elements.
If you’re not on Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral to get 40$ off your first booking.
It takes a while to manoeuvre through the long list of characterless hotels in Goa. But a little bit of research could land you amid the sunny courtyards of the uniquely designed Alila Diwa and its infinity pool overlooking endless rice paddies. Its restaurant Spice Studio serves delicious curries and offers a ‘Dine in the Dark’ experience every month. When you browse through hotels in Goa, the trick is to focus as much on the Goan authenticity as on your budget.
Volunteer for free accommodation
The rustic eco-huts and vegan-friendly cafe at Saraya operate on a cool concept. You work for a few hours daily, managing the cafe or working in the organic garden, and get food and lodging in exchange. A pretty sweet deal!
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO EAT AUTHENTIC GOAN FOOD
Restaurants like Britto’s and Susa Lobo were once considered food institutions in Goa. But now serve average, ‘nothing like real Goan’ food. Ditch those, and head to small, lesser-known, family-run restaurants for an authentic taste of Goa.
Royal Fantacy (Ponda)
On a desperate afternoon of quiet hunger, while driving from North Goa towards a spice plantation stay near Dudhsagar, we decided to take our chances and stop for lunch at the decrepit Royal Fantacy (yes, fantasy with a “c”). Oh what seredipity it was! Given its vicinity to the spice plantations, my slow-cooked mushroom xacuti was made with aromatic, freshly-ground spices, lending it a flavor so delicious that I still salivate at the thought of it. Totally worth a detour.
Nostalgia by Chef Fernando (Salcete)
Hugely popular among locals, Nostalgia by Chef Fernando, is set in an old Portuguese house full of character. They’ve dug out Goan recipes that are obsolete or otherwise hard to find in other restaurants. The big vegetarian (also vegan, since there’s no dairy in traditional Goan food) section is a delight for plant-based eaters. I love their seasonal Goan curries with sana (a small round bread with a tinge of sweetness), along with a refreshing glass of urrak (a local cashew-based alcohol, lighter than feni) mixed with Limca.
Right across the Mandovi River, Voltaire focusses on Hindu-influenced Goan cuisine. It’s the only haunt I’ve found yet that can do a vegetarian / vegan version of udamethi and tonak – both deliciously flavorful curries, served up with une, a local bread similar to pao.
As a vegan traveller, I’ve watched friends relish their fish thalis at Ritz Classic with an empty plate. So imagine my delight when my hosts at The Secret Garden first recommended a neighborhood joint for a vegetarian/vegan thali. Thus began my long, on-going search for Goa’s best thalis!
Some of my current favorites are Wood’s Inn in Porvorim, Manisha’s Home Food and Kokni Canteen in Panjim. The Goan thali experience begins with squeezing alongside locals into a hole-in-the-wall space. A typical vegan thali consists of a mound of rice, seasonal veggies, Goan curries, coconut-flavored daal, grated papad-coconut mix and a spicy kokum to round up the meal. Go hungry!
Other authentic Goan restaurants
I’ve written in greater detail about my favorite Goan food restaurants over the years. The food at Andron in Nachinola is still among the best I’ve had in Goa yet, but call Anthony in advance if you want to eat vegetarian/vegan.
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: BEST CAFES AND WIFI
All the cafes I’ve included in my Goa travel guide are vegan/vegetarian friendly, offer free wifi and remain open even during the monsoon months:
Bean Me Up (Anjuna)
It took me forever to try the food at Bean Me Up, because I typically land up in Goa during the rainy season when it used to be closed. But I guess I finally got beaned up in 2019 – both during a spring trip and their decision to open part of the resto during monsoon. I now know what the hype is all about – for Bean Me Up serves up an incredibly diverse plant-based menu. I love their ‘taste of the middle east’, Buddha Bowl and southeast Asian options. Oh and it would be a travesty to leave without trying their insanely good chocolate mousse cake!
I’m almost embarrassed by how often I’ve shown up at Saraya over the years – thanks to their farm-to-table food from their own organic garden! My favorites are the Summertime Sandwich with minced mushrooms and vegan cashew cheese, the homemade hummus and toasted pita bread, and the wood-fired vegan pizza (served only at night). Don’t miss the lemongrass and mint iced tea!
Ruta’s Roadhouse (Assagao)
Ruta’s Roadhouse is one of my favorite cafes to work from in Goa. I can see myself sitting by the dome shaped windows overlooking the wilderness on a rainy day, while indulging in homemade hummus and Moroccan style chickpea curry and couscous.
Café Bodega (Panjim)
While running errands around Panjim, I make it a point to grab an eggplant-hummus sandwich at Café Bodega. Built around a sunny, green courtyard, it offers respite from the city and would’ve been my hangout of choice if they had more vegan options.
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: OFFBEAT EXPERIENCES
Sunday mornings at Museum of Goa
Something we would’ve never known had our hostess at Secret Garden not tipped us off. Every Sunday morning, locals and expats meet up at Museum of Goa (MOG) in Bardez for a talk / discussion by Goans doing something unique. We saw a short play by a theatre startup, followed by an interesting discussion on Konkan vs international theatre. The following week was a documentary screening by a local artist. I think it’s a great way to connect with the creative side of Goa.
Have a beach to yourself in the rains
Truth be told, the grey beaches of Goa don’t do much for me. But I’d take the coast in the monsoon over the December crowds anyday – with grey skies, roaring waves and beaches like Little Vagator and Ashwem almost entirely to myself.
Kayak on the backwaters
Back in the day, I had no idea Goa even had backwaters, let along kayaking on them. Scratching the surface slowly, I learnt from my hosts at Cancio’s House about discovering Goa’s secret mangroves on kayak. So on a rainy July afternoon, we set out rowing into the untouched backwaters of northern Goa. Amid the mangroves, we heard peacock cries and spotted eagles on barren trees – all while getting drenched in the rain. What an experience!
Lady M charters organizes kayaking trips (for up to 2 people at a time) in these backwaters.
Go on sunrise heritage walk
I’m not a morning person, but I made a vow to be awake for more sunrises, and managed it on my last day in Goa this monsoon. I’m glad I did, because seeing those rice paddies shrouded in mist is totally worth it. You can do it yourself, or join a heritage walk (complete with offbeat locations and quirky stories) with Subodh Kerkar, the founder of MOG.
Show up for a jazz night
It’s one thing to hit the discotheques in Goa with other travellers, quite another to dance with locals to jazz music at a neighborhood joint (Cantare in Saligao for example) till the wee hours of the morning – it’s not my thing, but it could become yours!
Attend a talk on sustainability at 6 Assagao
Typically every Monday, the outdoor space of the popular Gunpowder restaurant at 6 Assagao transforms into a space for talks and screenings on a wide range of subjects. I’ve attended multiple talks by environmentalists and NGOs on India’s – and Goa’s – impending water crisis and ecological challenges. It was here that I watched a rare screening of the Konkani film on life in a typical Goan village – an eye-opener for an outsider like me.
If these are subjects that interest you, this is a great opportunity to meet like-minded locals too.
Drive your bike on the inner roads
For me, one of the biggest charms of Goa is driving a scooter along the palm-fringed inner roads and the vast rice paddies, through truly susegade Goan villages, away from the traffic and the crowds. The point is not to get anywhere, but to just let my hair down, set my thoughts free, and experience that ‘Goa is a state of mind’ feeling!
Shop at a unique fair trade clothing boutique
No Nasties is the newest kid on Goa’s shopping block. And even for someone like me, who hardly ever shops, I was sold by their organic, fair-trade, vegan clothing. They use no harmful chemicals or animal dyes in their entire supply chain. The clothes range from trendy dresses to cotton t-shirts with trendy slogans. My “who invited the vegan?” t-shirt from No Nasties always draws eyeballs!
See 12 mind-blowing experiences I’ve discovered in Goa over the years. These include visiting one of Goa’s last remaining traditional bakeries and joining a local festival that involves jumping in old irrigation wells!
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: HOW TO GET AROUND
Automatic bikes / scooters
Seriously, rent an automatic scooter and feel the wind in your hair as you whizz around Goa! Look for inner routes on Google maps so you can ditch the crowded highways and main roads. I love Honda’s new 125cc bikes, but the more easily available Activa is good enough too. Ask your hosts to get you a good deal – usually INR 300 a day for short term rentals, and INR 250 a day for longer stays.
Self drive cars
A convenient option to get around on rainy days, or when you need to go a long distance, like from north to south Goa. A basic car like Maruti or Indigo costs around INR 1200 a day.
My least preferred option, but for rides to/from the airport or if you’re not too keen to drive yourself, go with a Goan driver who can also share stories of living there. Ask your host to arrange a local driver for you.
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL
Time and again, I’ve heard Goans lament about (and seen for myself) how mass tourism is slowly destroying the beauty of Goa. As travellers, it is upon us to make more informed travel choices and be more aware of our surroundings.
My recommendations in this Goa travel guide are all based on responsible travel elements. We can further do our bit to travel responsibly in Goa in these simple ways:
Refer to the Goa Responsible Tourism Collective for travel ideas
The Goa Responsible Tourism Collective is a collection of accommodations, restaurants, tour providers and adventure outfits with a common vision to protect the environment while offering incredible experiences. It has seriously grown my Goa travel wishlist!
Live and buy local
While deciding where to stay and what to eat, choose places owned or run by Goans, that are mindful of the environment. These tend to be more authentic experiences, ensure that tourism money goes back to the locals and are kinder to the beauty of the state.
Say no to plastic bags and bottles
I picked up a nifty cloth bag that folds into the size of a fist, at the boutique shop at Gunpowder. Although plastic bags are banned in Goa, many small shops still give them freely, and you just have to say no – better still, remind them about the ban. And like anywhere else, carry your own water bottle to refill fresh spring/well water and save money (and trash) on plastic mineral water bottles. Every time you see trash lining the beaches and hillsides, you’ll remember why.
Be mindful of your surroundings
It’s quite awful to see beaches, forts or stretches of rice paddies made popular by Bollywood movies overrun by Instagrammers or groups of boisterous drunk tourists. Be mindful that you’re in someone else’s home. Perhaps drink at home, and go to Goa to savor its natural beauty and unique culture instead?
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: TRIP ESSENTIALS
Best time to visit Goa
The winter months (October to March) are the most popular time to visit Goa, but if you ask me, there is nothing like Goa in the rains. The cloudy weather makes it much more pleasant to be outdoors than the otherwise hot sun, the rice paddies paint the countryside lush green, and everywhere is relatively less crowded.
Phone connectivity in Goa
Airtel and Vodafone tend to work well (with 3G/4G) in North Goa, but I remember Airtel giving me trouble the one time I stayed at Agonda in South Goa.
Must pack for Goa
I love that you can walk into a fancy resto or a street market in flip-flops, a casual dress, harem pants or anything you fancy – without being judged. Pack for tropical weather; carry sunscreen, shades and a cap.
GOA TRAVEL GUIDE: OTHER RESOURCES
What’s Up Goa
Their events calendar is a handy way to find out what’s happening in Goa while you’re around.
Goan food critic, Odette Mascarenhas
I’ve discovered many of my favorite eats in Goa, thanks to Odette’s candid food reviews in Goa!
Hippie in Heels
A travel blog written by Rachel, who moved to Goa from the US a while ago. Her list of places to volunteer in Goa is especially helpful.
Run by travel blogger Anna, who quit her job in the UK and is now based out of Goa. Her recommendations of books on Goa’s hippie past have expanded my reading list.
Noticeboards in cafes
There is always something happening in Goa – yoga classes, discussions, movie screenings, live music. Look out for event posters in cafes like Saraya.