You’ll get a unique taste of India on a holiday to North Goa. Full moon parties and night markets were introduced by the region’s hippies in the Sixties, and they’re still alive and kicking today.
Tropical scenery and hippy roots
North Goa, on India’s west coast, was a hippy mecca back in the Sixties and, unlike the south, the north has retained its free spirit, with full moon parties on the shores still a regular occurrence. As far as scenery goes, this is starry-eyed territory, with white-sand beaches and ancient temples hidden among jungle foliage.
The region is dominated by culture-rich towns like Candolim and Baga. Here, lantern-lit cafés tempt you with spiced curry dishes, and locals shout prices from street-side market stalls in a bid to get you to part from your rupees. The Saturday Night Market in Arpora wears the retail crown – sparkly pashminas, jewelled bedspreads and chunky jewellery stack up on the stalls here. And the strong smell of incense fills the air as local bands croon reggae and Punjabi melodies.
Med-style churches, colonial fortresses and afternoon siestas are just a few of the legacies of Goa’s spell as a Portuguese colony. You’ll see this European influence across the region – especially in the east-meets-west cuisine. In fact, in these parts, you’re just as likely to come across Portuguese staples like ‘chourico’ sausages, as you are coconut-infused curries.
Things to See and Do in North Goa
The beaches of North Goa channel the kind of exotic scenery you’d automatically associate with India. The coastline is characterised by porcelain sweeps of sand, which are washed by aquamarine waters and hidden from the roadsides by palms. The beaches in North Goa are livelier than those in the south, and lots come with watersports and beach bars.
The big beach
Baga Beach extends for 19 kilometres. Not only is it one of the biggest stretches of sand in the region, it’s also got the best atmosphere. Sunbeds are lined up like soldiers along the water’s edge, locals sit braiding holidaymakers’ hair under the shade of palms, and Indian music drifts out from thatched beach huts.
The secret beach
Aswem Beach, about a half-hour drive from Arpora, is pin-drop peaceful all year round. It fronts its namesake village, which is little more than a few shacks and a couple of shops, so few visitors pass through. The wide, pale sands are pretty empty, although there are a couple of bars behind the beach where you can grab fish curries at lunchtime.
The town of Calangute is right next to Baga, and it’s where you’ll find India’s answer to Versace and Louis Vuitton. A local designer name to look out for is Malini Ramani, who specialises in floaty, Vivienne Westwood-inspired pieces that are the outfits of choice for Bollywood stars. Some of the 5-star hotels in the area have onsite boutiques, as well, which specialise in silk clothing and gold jewellery.
Over on Candolim’s Fort Aguada Road you’ll spot big-name Western brands like Levi, Adidas and Hugo Boss. Some of the labels produce a lot of their stock in India, too, which means you can pick things up for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home. There’s also an art gallery here, which is worth a look for its interesting tribal pieces.
Arpora’s Saturday Night Market is more like a show than a shopping experience. Fortune-tellers and local musicians mingle with the merchants here. And the stalls overflow with Tibetan jewels, wood carvings and spices sculpted into powder pyramids. The good news is, you can take your time here – this place doesn’t shut up shop until 2 in the morning.
It’s not all about full moon parties – quiet nights are easier to find than you might think in North Goa. Just behind the beaches in Candolim and Arpora, there are clutches of bars where evenings revolve around cold bottles of Kingfisher and platters of freshly-plucked seafood. There’s also a multiplex cinema in the capital, Panaji, where you can watch the latest flicks in English.
Dance into the early hours at Tito’s Lane in Baga. The town’s main street is packed with bars playing thumping music and churning out fishbowl cocktails. The bars tend to get livelier as you head up the strip. Tito’s and Café Mambo sit right at the end, and stay open until the early hours of the morning. Candolim also has a good line of clubs. Don’t miss Vanilla Lounge, a bohemian shack on the beach that lays on belly dancing and themed music nights. Their signature cocktail – Va Va Vanilla – is one not to be missed.
These delicious pastry parcels are Goa’s twist on the traditional Indian samosa. The crispy triangles are stuffed with chicken, pork, beef or vegetables, and laced with exotic spices for a spicy kick.
Head into any of Goa’s traditional café-like eateries – known locally as ‘dhabas’ or ‘bhojanalyas’ – and you’ll often be served a portion of dhal for free. This mushy lentil dish is spiced with curry. Order a side of rice or a chapatti flatbread to go with it, and you’ve got a really cheap and tasty lunch.
Most of the fishing in Goa is done in the winter time, and one of the most popular dishes to cook during the season is baby hammerhead shark. It’s grilled in a tandoor oven, flavoured with spices and served with a mountain of rice. This type of shark only has one bone, too, so it’s really easy to eat.
A popular local dessert, bebinca is a spongy pudding made from flour, sugar, butter and coconut milk. It’s usually enjoyed at Christmas time, and it’s traditionally baked in 16 layers. Try it with strawberries and a scoop of ice-cream.
This liquor is classified as ‘country liquor’, so you can’t get it anywhere but Goa. There are a couple of versions – one is made from the sap of the coconut palm, and the other from the juice of the cashew fruit. Popular brands to look out for include Cashyo and Big Boss.
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Sinquerim is a sleepy beachside village in North Goa. Located at the far end of a breathtaking beach, where the sea meets the Rio de Ourem River, it’s one of the most serene spots in the region, with just a handful of Portuguese-style villas and upmarket resorts set among its tropical palm groves.
Tucked into the hills behind the popular resorts of Baga and Calangute, Arpora is North Goa’s most famous secret. It dishes up a taste of the real India – you’ll still see rickshaws trundling along the leafy village streets and chickens clucking around people’s courtyards. And against a backdrop of paddy fields and palm groves are a scattering of plush hotels and restaurants.
Anjuna has seen it all. In the Sixties, travellers came in droves for its virgin beach and laid-back way of life. Then in the Eighties it became the centre for the Goan trance scene, with full-moon parties that went on for days. And though it’s lost much of its alternative edge – you’re more likely to see people studying their iPads than their I Ching – the infectious energy is still unlike anywhere else in North Goa.
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