Fiery sunsets, sandy beaches, and hidden jungle temples – holidays to South Goa showcase a tranquil side of India’s smallest state.
Goa’s peaceful south
South Goa offers up a stark contrast to the lively north. Forget what you’ve heard about Goa’s full moon parties and all-night raves, because this half of the region is decidedly peaceful. It’s really scenic, too. Areas of jungle are broken up by white-sand beaches and sleepy villages.
In places like Panaji, the state’s capital, it’s easy to spot reminders of Goa’s past as an important Portuguese colony. The city has plenty in the way of Mediterranean churches, leafy avenues and warm, sunny squares. And the restaurants are just as likely to serve spicy Portuguese sausages as they are fiery curries.
Cavelossim and Arossim Beach
Cavelossim and Arossim Beach are the front-runners when it comes to choosing where to stay. Tranquil Cavelossim is dominated by a white sandy beach and a quiet main square, and is edged by paddy fields and the winding Sal River. Arossim Beach is home to one of South Goa’s best stretches of sand, not to mention a great line-up of thatched beach bars and restaurants specialising in sunset dinners.
When it comes to exploring, Ponda is a good place to start. This region, about a 40-minute drive from Arossim Beach, is blanketed in thick forests, which hide age-old religious temples. Trek through the trees and you’ll stumble across the likes of the Shantadurga Temple, Goa’s largest Hindu sanctuary.
Things to See and Do in South Goa
The beaches of South Goa take inspiration from the same look book. All along the coast, the sand comes accessorised with ramshackle beach shacks and fruit-peddling locals. Lots of them also have Punjabi-playing refreshment kiosks and a string of market stalls, but they all still manage to retain a chilled-out, peaceful atmosphere.
The big beach
Cavelossim’s 10-kilometre white-sand beach is backed by an army of palms. Cafés and bars peek out between the greenery, churning out coconut-laced fish curries and cold beers in the shade of thatched pergolas. If you get bored of sunbathing, you can hire a bike from a little hut behind the beach and cycle along the shoreline.
The secret beach
Few tourists make the journey to Cola Beach. It’s about an hour from Cavelossim and isn’t easy to find, but it’s well worth it when you get there. Faded signposts point the way from the main coastal road, then there’s a hike over a headland to reach it. Eventually, the trees give way to a picturesque cove split into 3 sandy bays.
Fashion designer, Malini Ramani, is Goa’s answer to Vivienne Westwood. She creates floaty, jewelled pieces with a hippy edge, which are a huge hit with the Bollywood crowd. It’s around a 20-minute drive from Arossim Beach to Calangute, where you’ll find her store. Elsewhere, some of the luxury hotels in South Goa – like the Park Hyatt Goa Resort – have onsite shopping arcades where you can buy silk garments and gold and silver jewellery.
In Candolim, about 40 minutes’ drive from Arossim Beach, you’ll find Fort Aguada Road. This place is home to lots of big-name Western brands like Levi, Adidas and Hugo Boss. Plus, because some of the brands produce a lot of their stock in India, you can pick things up for the fraction of the price you’d pay at home. There’s an art gallery along here, too, showcasing colourful tribal pieces.
Day and night, stalls line up along the beachside roads in Cavelossim and Arossim Beach. Tie-dye T-shirts, tribal wood carvings and heavy gold costume jewellery clutter the silk tablecloths. And locals offer henna-painting and hair-braiding. It’s worth heading up north to the Arpora Saturday Night Market, too. It’s about half an hour from Arossim Beach and stays open until around 2am.
In Arossim Beach and Cavelossim, thatched beachfront bars specialise in sunset dinners and multi-page cocktail menus. For something a bit different, head for Panaji, the capital, where you’ll find a multiplex cinema showing Bollywood and Hollywood specials. You can also try your luck in the boat casinos that anchor in the city’s river. They’re the only places in Goa where you can gamble legally.
Cavelossim has a few bars where you can dance until the early hours. The best are near the beachfront. The Jazz Inn, in particular, is usually packed with locals who come for the good food and live music, and you’ll find English favourites like shepherd’s pie on the menu, alongside the likes of fresh kingfish, red snapper and shark. There’s a reggae singer on Saturday and Wednesday nights, while a rock band takes to the stage on Tuesdays.
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 served with exotic herbs that give them a spicy kick.
Seek out any of Goa’s traditional café-like eateries – known locally as ‘dhabas’ or ‘bhojanalyas’ – and you’ll often be served a portion of dhal, a mushy lentil dish spiced with curry, for free. 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 traditionally baked in 16 layers, and is usually enjoyed at Christmas time. Try it with strawberries or a couple of scoops 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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Arossim Beach is close to the village of Cansaulim in South Goa. It’s a small slice of unspoilt beauty that nestles in a landscape of rice paddies and palm groves. The picture-perfect white sands, rustic beach shacks and low-key vibe make this a real R&R hang-out.
Benaulim plays things just right. This South Goan fishing village set between palm groves and paddy fields comes with a laid-back vibe without being too off-the-radar. Its star attraction is the long, white-sand beach, though there are intriguing churches and fantastic seafood restaurants here, too.
Cavelossim is a relaxed seaside village in southern Goa. It comes with a few shack restaurants along the water, while the main road is dotted with market stalls and is home to the charming cream-and-yellow Church of the Holy Cross. The place is cushioned by a long white sand beach, with the sweeping Sal River running past it to the sea. Although the pace of life is unhurried, it’s just half-an-hour’s drive from the hustle-and-bustle of historic Margao
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