It’s rightly said, ‘Good things come in small packages’. And what when things get as good as Goa?! With its name matching up to its size, we very well know how big on holiday fun is this smallest state in India. With 365 days on a holiday, Goa is always a good idea. However, unlike the common stereotype, Goa isn’t just for beer guzzlers, beach bums and party animals. Remember the opening scene of the movie ‘Finding Fanny’? A quaint pristine village, straight out of a story book, nestled in the lap of nature…. While we wonder whether this place is actually in Goa, we hear Deepika Padukone in the background, asking us not even to attempt finding it on the map, for we’ll never ever find it there. Finding Fanny was shot in various villages across Goa, like, Aldona, Assagao, Cortalim, Parra, Saligao and Socorro. Yes, although sounding foreign, all these villages are very much in India. Goa has many such best kept secrets, which are enough to take you by surprise. So post-lockdown, whenever you look for Goa tour packages, just give Candolim, Baga, booze and bash a break and head to taste a piece of peace and serenity. Here’s where and how…
1. Go Island Hopping
What? All these days you thought, it can be only done in Thailand? Hold on! The next time you make your *Goa plan with friends *or family, don’t give this one a miss. Scattered across North and South Goa, the islands of Divar and Chorao (around Panaji), Butterfly Beach (near Palolem Beach in South Goa – the one which is famous for its silent discos), San Jacinto Island and Conco Island (again both in South Goa) – all adorned with old Portuguese-style houses and a lush environment are just perfect for taking a taste of some authentic local confectionaries and interacting with the warm and friendly locals.
2. A walk in the Mystic Woods
Who isn’t enchanted by the divinely coloured butterflies! While they seldom flutter past us in the cities, did you know they are waiting for us in Goa?! Located in Ponda, North Goa, Mystic Woods by the Butterfly Conservatory of Goa is a park that was established as an effort to conserve the native butterfly species and is currently home to over 133 species. Unveiling this cute colourful secret for yourself is sure to captivate and delight.
3. Get high on serenity
Escape the popular and crowded on your next Goa trip. Choose to get high on nature’s bliss and serenity at Chorla Ghats, on the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra border. With lush valleys and tropical jungles adorning the Ghats, you can go bird watching, trekking, hiking or simply revel in the abundant natural beauty.
4. Let’s meet our feathered friends
A visit to Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is definitely not to be missed in Goa. Located on the island of Chorao (mentioned above under island hopping), your experience begins right at the onset, aboard a fun ferry ride you take to reach the island. It’s truly an untouched and unspoilt haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers. It’s here that you get to spot a number of migratory birds, especially Siberian, during winter, along with a lot of kingfishers, large egrets, cormorants, sandpipers, and more, as you enjoy a pleasant boat ride through picturesque mangrove swamps in the sanctuary.
5. Old Goa is Gold Goa
Back in the 16th century, when the Portuguese had their headquarters in Old Goa, it was apparently so vibrant, that it was common for people to say, ‘He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon’. Visit the awe-inspiring Se Cathedral, say a silent prayer at the iconic Basilica of Bom Jesus (which houses the relics of Saint Francis Xavier) and marvel at the Archaeological Museum and the Christian Art Museum in the convent of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi and the convent of Santa Monica, respectively. Yet another must-see for history enthusiasts is the ruined entrance to the Palace of Yusuf Adil Shah beside the Church of St Cajetan – the only remains that exist of the Bijapur Sultanate, whose ruler founded Old Goa in the 15th century before the Portuguese took over.
6. Catch the Latino vibes
Fontainhas in Panjim was developed into an aristocratic residential neighbourhood, when the Portuguese happened to shift their headquarters from Old Goa to Panjim in the late 18th century. Catch the Latino vibes as you walk past and fall in love with the colourful old Portuguese houses, belonging to the last surviving Portuguese families of Goa. This UNESCO World Heritage Zone makes for an adorable atmosphere; you can’t get enough of. What’s more, you can also choose to stay at some of the mansions, now converted into chic hotels and guesthouses. And of course, there are boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, dotting the neighbourhood.
7. Spice it up
Savoi Plantations and Sahakari Spice Farm located in Ponda, are among the most offbeat places to visit in Goa. Walking past the plants laden with spices from our kitchen is indeed a delight like no other. As you take this aromatic walk and enjoy the natural beauty, you also get to learn about various spices. The resident elephants are yet another highlight of the plantations. Give them a bath or sit on their back while they splash you with water.
8. Blend Heritage with Luxury
Ever fantasised staying at a fort? Make it a reality at Fort Tiracol in Goa. Located in Pernem, the northernmost tip of Goa, Fort Tiracol which was once an armed Portuguese fortress is located picturesquely on a cliff overlooking the sea and the estuary of the Tiracol River. Staying at a 17th century fort in splendid isolation is indeed an experience of a lifetime. Now converted into a marvellous heritage hotel, Fort Tiracol offers you seven rooms and suites, named after the seven days of the week and adorned with unique Portuguese and contemporary interiors. On your next trip, choose to be a weekend royal and discover this hidden gem, before anyone else does!
9. Fall in Love with the Falls
Probably you have visited Dudhsagar before, but on your next trip, visit Harvalem Waterfall – one of the most scenic and beautiful falls in Goa. Harvalem is located near Sanquelim village in North Goa. Tucked away in lush forests, the waterfall remains concealed from the eyes of the world, allowing explorers complete privacy. Other lesser known places nearby are Rudreshwar temple and Arvalem caves.
10. Good life with the wildlife
Well, you must have partied wild in Goa, several times before, but the next time you visit, treat your senses to the real soulful wildlife at Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary & Mollem National Park and Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary – both located in South Goa. While the former is a haven for wildlife lovers and reptile enthusiasts, it is also famous for hiking and trekking trails, facilitating sightings of wildlife such as leopards, gaurs, sloth bears and more. The latter one, although not offering as much sightings, its tall trees, rare plants, rocks, marshes, and ponds let you be one with nature. If lucky enough, you’ll spot sloth bears, Indian bison, monkeys, laughing hyenas, Malabar crested eagle and more.
With India starting its Unlock 2.0, let’s hope and pray, things get back to normal at the earliest. Finding Fanny gave us a message, ‘Love never dies… It’s always there, somewhere…. Sometimes you just have to find it!’ Similarly, our spirit to travel, explore and celebrate life will never ever die too… It’ll always be there! And the next time we set out on our travels, I’m pretty sure, it’ll make us find our slice of paradise.