Arambol, Anjuna Beach, Mapusa, Calangute, Int. Airport, Panjim, Ponda, Old Goa, Colva, Benaulim, Margao, Hampi, Palolem, Gokarna
India, Goa, Karnataka
Arambol (Mandrem Beach, Ashwem Beach)
Beautiful magic place, not yet completely devastated by tourism (so far), 12-hour train ride away from Mumbai (330 INR, sleeper class).
Get off at Pernem Railway Station, then take a rickshaw ride to the village of Pernem (60 INR for two). Bus to Arambol (15 INR per person) regularly runs from the main intersection in Pernem or the bus station.
In Arambol you will find a beautiful wide and endless beach stretch, consisting of three beaches - Madrem Beach, Arambol Beach, Harmal Beach. As opposed to other beach towns in Goa, Arambol offers a unique relaxed and intense vibe. Arambol is especially popular among foreign clients, mostly Israelis and Russians. While during the main season, Madrem Beach gets pretty hectic - the two-story beach bars resonate with electric music, and on the beach, perfumed Russian girls sunbathing laying on the sunbeds with a drink in hand, Arambol Beach is significantly more about serenity and peace. Later in the afternoon, on Arambol Beach and Harmal Beach, groups of alternatively looking people gather to watch the sunset together. They practice yoga, meditate, play on the drums and, after the dark, sing in the light of flaming fire under the starry sky.
The more you advance to the northern end of Harmal beach, the more the density of beach shacks and restaurants increases. They sell a lot of fast food like fish and chips, Indian cuisine and seafood. The quality of the food is mostly doubtful, and the prices reach European (higher) levels. All kinds of drinks you can get here as well.
If you are looking for a quieter accommodation for a few bucks, I recommend you to look around the southern tip of Arambol Beach, further from the center. There are plenty of huts and bungalows right at the beach. I can recommend the huts Vailankani (map), where we rented a solid cabin for 400 INR per day (after some bargaining).
Accommodation prices in Arambol, as in all Goa, are increasing every year. For a basic hut that cost 400 INR per day in 2013, you would pay twice today, if not 1,000 INR.
Whoever wishes to stay longer in Arambol may consider an alternative of renting an apartment right in the center of Arambol at a discounted price.
Excellent and inexpensive meals you can get right in the center of Arambol. I strongly recommend the China Garden (good Chinese and Indian cuisine - a huge portion of chicken with sauce and rice for 220 INR, momo for 130 INR, map), Red Cabin (a very cheap homestead with friendly service and sitting outdoors, map), good Tandoori chicken or an Italian breakfast with fresh bruschetta, you will get at the Blue Sea View restaurant overlooking the sea - (breakfast 130 INR - 180 INR, half a chicken tandoori 200 INR, map).
ATM, shops selling sim cards and a photocopy shop can be found at the Bustand Market.
Although Mapusa is not any exciting city, it is a significant transport hub connecting many surrounding cities
(Arambol 20-25 INR, Panjim 15 INR, Calangute 15 INR). During the transfer, at the main bus station, you can buy some goods in the ancient communist store and buy some sweets at the nearby Mapusa Market.
Calangute - Panjim 20 INR
From Anjuna, you can reach Calangute via Mapusa for 20 INR. In 2013, we quite enjoyed our visit to Calangute (except for health complications), in 2015 we hated it. It is one of many seaside towns purely focused on tourism. You can find there a beautiful long beach with plenty of beach bars and canteens.
Calangute is very popular among Indian tourists arriving from all over India to enjoy the beach and sea. As many of wealthy Indian tourists spend their vacation here, the prices grow at fast pace accordingly.
In 2013, after a short search, we encountered a newly renovated family hotel where we were offered a spacious and bright top-floor room for 600 INR. When we came back two years later, in 2015, willing to pay 600 INR, the same landlady arrogantly laughed in our face, saying that for 1,800 INR we can start having some conversation. We continued searching and were offered rooms in various guesthouses, but the price never went below 1,000 INR. Then we came across an intrusive young man who promised us a perfect room at an affordable price. He walked us through dirty narrow alleys into a patio with a horribly looking house in the front. The cunning landlady started right away with her selling tactic. After we demanded the cheapest accommodation, the lady raised her eyebrow and led us up to the rooftop terrace. There she had a couple of temporary sheds made of a few plastic sheets. The quality was awful and the price of 600 INR after hard bargaining even funnier.
As soon as we began to lose hope, we discovered the luxurious Caith's Comfy Villa for 900 INR (map), which I can really recommend.
In the town there's no good restaurant I could sincerely highlight. Our favorite places from 2013 either went bankrupt or food quality worsened considerably, and prices rose sharply (Punjabi Family Dhaba).
Goa International Airport in Dabolim
We arrived at the international airport in Goa (from Kuala Lumpur) late at night. It was around 10 PM, and we didn't want to spend lots of money on expensive taxis with a nightly surcharge. We decided to wait at the airport instead. We spent the night in the arrivals section (the airport is so small that the entrance hall is operationally divided into two sections - arrivals and departures). During the whole time, we were under the constant supervision of the soldiers on duty, who here and there asked us random questions. They did not like the fact that some foreigners occupied a spot in their raion, but our lie that we were waiting for the morning flight worked out.
Be aware that once you exit the hall, you will be denied re-entry without a valid ticket. The soldiers also do not let anyone from the arrival to the departure section without a ticket. Whoever chooses to stay overnight must, therefore, remain in one place at all times. There are a few rows of seats available, dirty toilets, and a "drinking water" fountain (water smelled of chlorine, but strangely we did not get sick). You can also use the free WiFi connection. Limited to 30 minutes.
Our night was sleepless and endless. When the soldiers did not sit on our heads, then it was mosquitoes at least. But we saved! Instead of the nightly taxi fare to Arambol of 1,850 INR, the next day we paid for the local transport 126 INR for two (article here).
As if that were not enough, in the morning we were all eager to go to the ATM to get the first rupees. Soon we found out that the only ATM at the airport is located in the departure hall. We got into a discussion with the soldiers guarding at the entrance since they absolutely did not care that we needed to withdraw money (important - order a taxi or change the money before exiting the hall). Unlike in Mumbai, this time we did not give up and even more vehemently demanded entry. The whole thing ended up on the desk of the airport manager, who, after long consideration and delays, finally allowed one of us to enter the departure hall accompanied by a military escort. Magda decided to go on this mission. While Magda was trying to withdraw money, I was impatiently waiting outside, hoping the ATM would work.
Guess how the whole theater ended up? The ATM did not accept the international card, and we left the airport without a dime. Honestly, India in many ways really trains your self-control and patience.
If you decide to use local transport, read more here. Use the nearest ATM in Chicalim, a small village one kilometer away. There are three ATM there.
Panjim - Margao 40 INR
Panjim or Panaji is the capital and largest city of Goa. A picturesque town with an unmistakable architectural style of the original Portuguese colonizers. The bright red roofs of architecturally interesting villas with a colorful façade, wooden elements, and balconies, the narrow streets of the historic center and the promenade along the river give the city an impressive Mediterranean character.
While exploring the city, do not miss the baroque white-glowing Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Praça da Igreja, Mahalaxmi Temple, Jama Masjid Mosque and essentially the old Portuguese quarter Fontainhas.
After a long search, we found affordable accommodation in a small room at A Pousada Guest House (map) for 600 INR. The owners, a lovely couple with ancestors from Portugal, welcomed us and offered this room at a half price. According to their words, they preferred to offer this room for less to us (Europeans) rather than to the messy wealthy Indians.
Accommodation prices are astronomical in Panjim. The standard guesthouse price for a double bed started at 1,200 INR in 2015.
Yeah, and beware of rickshaw drivers. They have absolutely no self-control, and they easily charge up to ten times the standard tariff (200 INR for 2 km).
Panjim - Ponda 40 INR, Margao - Ponda 15 INR
We stayed in Ponda due to the planned visit to nearby Old Goa and exotic spice plantations (420 INR, lunch included, website). We took a rickshaw (25 INR) to go to the plantations located a few kilometers away from the city, and on the way back to Ponda we waived down a local on the motorbike. He took us both at once.
We stayed at Hotel Padmavi (map) in the cheapest room at 560 INR. Do not expect much from this classic Indian class. Nevertheless, the rooms are spacious and equipped with a TV.
Velha Goa (Old Goa)
Ponda or Panjim - Old Goa 15 INR
If you are visiting the state of Goa, then Old Goa should be on top of the list of places to be seen. Old Goa is indeed a unique place with preserved historical remains from colonial times. Se Cathedral, The Chapel of St. Catherine and the Baroque Basilica of Bom Jesus (UNESCO) will take your breath away. Visiting Old Goa will take about 2 to 3 hours.
Margao - Colva 15 INR
Colva is another of the touristy towns on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Very popular among Indian and Russian visitors. There is nothing to see here, perhaps only crowded beach with semi-nude Indians romping in the waves (the intensity of people is the highest at the entrance to the beach at the so-called Colva Beach Circle).
Along the beach and in the adjoining streets there is an abundance of various restaurants and beach shacks. I can't recommend eating there. You get overpriced, disgusting food of poor quality. This is how we tried a fish in one of the beach canteens, which after a few minutes Magda was forced to throw up behind a vegetable stall during our afternoon walk.
Accommodation is expensive here. The cheapest cottage (garden colony standards) we found for 600 INR at Serjo Cottages - otherwise 1,300 INR and more. Food is overpriced, local people see tourists just as walking wallets. Most definitely I would avoid Colva next time.
Colva - Benaulim 10 INR
One of our favorite places in 2013. But over last two years, has changed a lot. The formerly deserted, large and white beach has been little by little filled with different restaurants, bungalows, parasols, plastic sunbeds, garbage, and the original feeling of isolation and privacy is gone. Despite the booming tourism, the village of Benaulim continues to keep its charm, though it is increasingly difficult to find cheap accommodation and a decent restaurant. In 2013, we stayed in a bamboo hut right on the beach for 500 INR and to our surprise, now we found this place in a desolate condition. With some luck, you can find a cheap cottage for 600 - 700 INR or a guest house for 1,400 INR.
Regularly we were coming from nearby Colva to the local German Bakery (map) for a perfect breakfast, crisp croissants and great coffee. Next to the German Bakery, you can buy everything you need in a two-story shop on the corner.
We enjoyed as well a walk through Vasvaddo Beach Rd towards Benaulim Beach and then on the beach way back to Colva.
Colva - Margao 15 INR
You might visit this dirty town full of homeless, addicted people, only when you transferring to the next destination. The second largest city of the state of Goa, Margao is a major railway and transport hub, as well as a major cultural and commercial center.
The easiest way to one of India's most ancient places, to the phenomenal Hampi, is by train - from the Madgaon Station (Madgaon - Hosapete 336 INR, sleeper). If you continue south, like Palolem, take the bus at Margao Municipal Garden (35-40 INR, map).
If you still decide to stay in Margao for a few days, just like us, you can stop by the Inox Theater (map), relax in Municipal Garden, walk around the Holy Spirit Church, and grab a bite at Royal Only Chicken (map) where you can get a very affordable chicken menu and burgers. Not far from Royal Only Chicken, you can buy some necessary items and groceries at the BIG G department store. In its basement, you will find a simple and very cheap eatery.
Getting a room in Margao can sometimes be a huge problem, especially during holidays and festivals. Thanks to the convenient railway location, many travelers from the region come to the city. They overnight and take the train the next day. A relatively luxurious room for 800 INR we got at the Om Shiv Hotel, as opposed to the price online of 2,200 INR. On our second visit, the receptionist did not want to go below 1,200 INR. I can also recommend a bit worse quality accommodation at Poonam Hotel (2015, 650 INR without AC double, 900 INR triple, 1,000 INR "Deluxe" Room). There is another cheap but always fully occupied Hotel Duttraj (double 840 INR). The online price for a double room starts at 1,300 INR.
All the city parts can be easily reached by public buses (10 INR).
Hampi was one of the reasons why we wanted to return to India. It is an absolutely beautiful ancient place abandoned somewhere in the middle of the state of Karnataka. Hampi famous for its tranquil and relaxed atmosphere is a perfect escape from everyday Indian chaos and noise. Here you will find countless vast ruins of temple complexes of - back in time one of the most powerful empires of the world, unforgettable views of the river flowing through the hard stone bed of valley covered with boulders, you will meet many friendly local people and open-minded foreign tourists, and you will fill your stomach with proper homemade food (International and local cuisine).
In the morning, get up early. Climb up the Hemakuta Hill, just behind Hampi Bazaar St. The hill is steep, but the view of the rising sun accompanied by music coming from the Virupaksha temple (2 INR entry, 5 INR shoes) immediately encourages you to start your morning meditation. From the summit of Hemakuta Hill, you will have a breathtaking view of the landscape covered with boulders and numerous temples, with the dominant Virupaksha Temple in the front. If you are lucky, local cheeky monkeys will keep you company during the sunrise and sunset.
Get your breakfast at one of the many family Bazaar restaurants (Moonlight Restaurant) or observe the routine morning bath of the sacred temple elephant in the Tungabhadra River. From the same place, take a shaky boat to the other side of the river (10 INR) and enjoy even more relaxed vibe (compared to the sacred and strict atmosphere at Hampi Bazaar) for instance at the German Bakery. On the other side of the river, you can drink alcohol, perhaps that's why this place is popular among foreign tourists, mostly from Israel.
The boat ends its service at 5 PM, after that, the only way how to get to the other shore is to pay a fisherman for his bamboo boat in the shape of a disc. That can be quite expensive (300 INR).
If you have time and energy, rent a bike at Bazaar (50-80 INR per day) and explore the surrounding temples on your own. The trip is pleasant and does not take longer than one afternoon.
Try the excellent homemade pasta with tomato sauce at Raja's Roof - very cozy restaurant run by a local teacher.
Hampi can be reached by train from Madgaon via Hosapete (sleeper, 200 - 336 INR). In Hosapete, prepare yourself for hordes of desperate rickshaw drivers. You will have room for bargaining and for a 13 km ride to Hampi you can pay as low as 100 INR. If you go back to Hosapete, especially in the early morning hours, expect to pay double the fare.
If you want to save, definitely do not buy a train ticket at the Bazaar Travel Agency. You might end up paying up to 500 INR per person (Hosapete - Madgaon, at least 120 INR commissions). Instead buy a cheap return ticket directly at the train station or via ClearTrip in advance.
Margao - Palolem 35 - 40 INR
Back in time, this was a pleasant beach village hidden in palm tree groves surrounded by a romantic bay - the right place designed for carefree relaxation. In March 2013, we rented a simple but cozy cabin for 300 INR (we just had to help the toilet to flush the stuff a few times) and enjoyed the whole stay. The season was slowly over, tourists were scarce, and the prices for accommodation and meals were very good. As soon as we got off the bus, we were attacked by a group of teenage guys who were shouting all at once to offer better prices. It was easy to get accommodation for 300-400 INR in a matter of minutes (cottage, guest house).
We enjoyed long walks on a half-empty beach at sunset, ate as much as we could for 100-180 INR per person and played with the kayak (100 INR) in the mild waves of the warm Arabian Sea.
So, full of enthusiasm and expectations, we came back to Palolem in 2015. I did not believe my own eyes, how in just 2 years, massive tourism could completely devastate such a beautiful place. There was no one desperately offering us cheap huts on our arrival. The cottages from 2013 were shut down, and so we went out to look for new accommodation in the considerably more touristy beach area of Palolem. Two unsympathetic local thugs spotted us on the way and started offering a guest house and beach hut for 600 INR. Finally, when we agreed to take the hut, the guy suddenly raised the price to 800 INR which we hardly bargained back to 600 INR. The huts stood in a narrow strip of the access road to the beach, surrounded by tens of other huts from all sides. For the primitive, two-story, wobbly hut standing on a few pillars with sea view, local businessmen charged a minimum of 1,200 INR.
The quality of the huts at the beach is beyond miserable. These dusty huts smelling like an old raincoat provide minimal comfort in the form of home-made double beds with a thin mattress and a micro fan that is not powerful enough to cool down the hot beach air in the room. The plastic chairs and table will make your stay a little more enjoyable on the shaky veranda while watching crowds of tourists heading to the beach. Occasionally, you can smell the burning plastics stink coming from the neighbors, or early in the morning, you'll be awakened by hammer slamming originating at the ongoing hut construction just next door.
Outages of electricity and running water expect on a daily basis.
On the beach, over the last two years, there have been built more chalets than the healthy limit would be. Free space on the beach is getting scarce and less private, prices have grown sharply, and formerly peaceful Palolem Bay has now become a place of parties, drugs, and scams (touts offering overpriced fishing boat trips).
The former romantic walk along the beach is somewhat different nowadays. Right from the beginning while entering the beach, a bartender from the nearby beach shack shouts at you trying to convince you to get an expensive drink. On the beach itself, every five minutes stops by a shady drug dealer, a fat mum offering massages, a party boy inviting you to have some snack, and an elderly fisherman offering an exclusive dolphin boat trip. Walking on the beach is now not as enjoyable as it used to be. Every now and then you bypassing standing boats, sunbeds, and umbrellas, or active foreign tourists wearing sneakers running through flowing water of the early evening high tide.
We were also surprised by the fact that due to the new developments, random free beach accesses from the palm tree groves disappeared.
Palolem is a clear example of the negative consequences of uncontrolled mass tourism. The area is full of dirt, drugs and the greedy entrepreneurs who work on a "rent, exploit, leave" basis.
For good pizza, pasta and daily fresh pastries, definitely go to the Nepali German Bakery (map). Choose your restaurant carefully - in Palolem, I experienced the worst food poisoning in my life.
Palolem - Canacona Bus Stand 6 INR
Canacona - Gokarna 80 INR
Another highlight in 2013. In Gokarna, you will feel like in the middle of nowhere. This is the place of total relaxation and tranquility. I have no idea whether this place has changed as much as Palolem, but Gokarna was the absolute winner for us. Gokarna itself is a very traditional village, respecting its customs and traditions. The local inhabitants dressed up traditionally, and the Western style has not reached this place yet.
The best scenery and numerous accommodation options can be found on Kudle Beach. A walk from the center to the Kudle Beach takes about half an hour. Rickshaw drivers parasitizing on human laziness will ask for 150 INR (instead of 50 INR). Prices on Kudle Beach were truly low. We paid for our basic hut with the sand floor 150 INR, and in the beach bars, we did not spend much for food either (breakfast 110 - 170 INR, lunch 150 INR).
Like in Arambol, crowds of alternative backpackers gather every day to watch the sunset, practice yoga, meditate, play the instruments, and enjoy the perfect view of the sunset over the stunning Kudle Beach lagoon.
Go for a hike over the rocks to the neighboring Om Beach, which is more popular among Indian tourists. You can also find lots of accommodation options here.
If you are physically fit and not afraid of heights, continue west across the cliffs to the forgotten Half Moon and Paradise hippie beaches.
After strenuous climbing on the rocks, you can pay the fishermen for a boat ride from Om Beach back to Kudle Beach (50 INR per person).
From Arambol you can get to Anjuna via Mapusa (30 INR in total per person).
Anjuna Beach did not amaze us at all. Besides the average beach, there is a small bazaar, numerous restaurants with sea views (Indian meals starting at 180 INR) and beach shacks. Many tourists visit Anjuna for the one and only reason - parties and drugs. Fans of techno and electro music will have a great time here.
There are many accommodation options. However, the price is continually rising. In 2013, we slept in a tent on the guest house rooftop for 100 INR and had a bunch of screaming drunk Russians around the corner. That time prices for a double room were starting at 400 INR. Today expect the cheapest double room for 800 INR, rather 1,000 INR.