Goa the smallest state of India is one of the top tourist destinations in India. The state though small is packed to its brim with unique attractions, historical forts, touristic and hidden beaches, a plethora of shopping opportunities, mouthwatering cuisine and much more. You will need days to explore the best of what this tiny state has to offer. Here we have an extensive though not exhaustive list of best places to visit in Goa – the party capital of India.
Fontainhas is the old Latin quarters located in the Panjim City of Goa. The colorful neighborhood has numerous mansions and old villas built during the Portuguese colonial era. A walk through the narrow picturesque alleys winding through the colorful buildings will transport you into a time warp.
You will also find a wall decorated with colorful mosaic, the peacock stairs, a painted well and much more. Some of these buildings have been occupied by restaurants and cafes. Make sure to try some local Goan dishes and desserts for a unique experience.
The Salaulim Dam is located on the Salaulim River near the near Netravali wildlife sanctuary. The Salaulim is unlike other dams with a unique design of semi-circular channel which forms a waterfall of water which flows into the Salaulim river creating a magnificent sight. You can also walk along the dam and take in the views of the lush surrounding and the serene waters in the catchment area of the dam.
The access to the dam is located in the botanical garden which has a variety of plants and trees, play area for kids, a rock garden and a small hotel where you can buy something to eat or drink. The gardens have lawns where you can sit and relax making it a popular picnic spot. The dam can be reached by a set of stairs which is not wheelchair accessible. The best time to visit when you can see the waters cascading into the dam is the monsoon months of June, July, and August, other months its dry.
Netravali Bubbling Lake
Netravali Bubbling Lake also known as Budbudyachi Tali in the local language is an unusual lake. It is very small and looks more like a pond or tank with steps descending into it. The lake is located in the peaceful and village of Netravali amidst the lush surroundings. The interesting feature of the lake is that if you stand on the edge of the lake and clap or make a tap or pop noise you will see bubbles being released from the bottom of the lake.
It is said that this unusual phenomenon is due to the release of gas. Next to the lake is a Gopinath Temple enshrining Lord Krishna which can also be visited. The interior of the temple has pillars with detailed carvings and motifs.
The Divar Island lies in the Mandovi river is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Goa. The Divar Island comprises three villages named Piedade, Malar, and Naroa. The major point of interest on the island is the magnificent ‘Church of Our Lady of Compassion’. The terrace of the church offers remarkable views of the winding Mandovi river, Old Goa and the surrounding countryside. The island is home to some of the ancient villas tucked into the lush countryside, rambling around the island is the best way to explore the island.
There are several ways to reach the Divar Island. If you are in Old Goa a ferry connects the southern end of the island starting from the ferry point near the Viceroy Arch at Old Goa. Ferries also connect Divar Island from Naroa in the Bicholim and Ribandar.
Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most important church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Old Goa (Velha Goa). The church is dedicated to ‘Bom Jesus’ meaning ‘good Jesus’ or ‘infant Jesus’.
The basilica is a fine example of Baroque architecture featuring a simple yet magnificent facade decorated with sculptures and columns. The interior of the church has a richly gilded altar which holds the figure of infant Jesus and a large statue of St. Ignatius Loyola above it.
The basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier which is kept for Public viewing in the Se Cathedral every 10 years. The body is kept in a silver casket atop a mausoleum inside the church. There is also a small gallery inside the church displaying pictures and portraits on life on St. Francis Xavier.
Se Cathedral de Santa Catarina or popularly known as Se Cathedral is 17th-century cathedral located in Old Goa (Velha Goa). The Se Cathedral was built to commemorate the Portuguese victory over a Muslim army under Afonso de Albuquerque. And as the day of victory coincided with the feast of St Catherine, the cathedral was dedicated to St Catherine.
The cathedral built in Portuguese-Manueline architecture style has an imposing whitewashed facade with a single tower. It originally had two towers but one of the towers collapsed in 1776 and was never built again.
The interior is simple, above the main altar is the gilded reredos which depicts scenes from the life of St Catherine in its 6 panels.
Note: You need to dress modestly when entering the church. You are not allowed if you are wearing shorts, skirts above knees or even sleeveless dress.
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi church is a 17th-century church located next to the Se Cathedral. The white facade of the church features two twin towers and a belfry to the north of the main altar.
The interior of the church is a rib-vaulted nave with chapels on either side and a Baroque main altar. The magnificent interior of the church is decorated with beautiful frescoes of floral designs.
The church convent which connects St. Francis and the Se Cathedral houses an archaeological museum. The archaeological museum houses numerous sculptures and archaeological findings on the ground floor. The first floor has portraits of the past governors. You can find more sculptures and artifacts on the history of Goa through paintings in the museum.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church is one of the most beautiful churches in Goa and an iconic landmark of the city of Panaji. Originally built as a chapel in 1541 it was rebuilt into a present-day church in the 17th century.
One of the striking features of Baroque style church is the symmetric zig-zag design staircase which needs to be climbed to access the church. The whitewashed facade of the church has two twin towers with a central tall belfry which houses the bell from the Augustinian Monastery. In the interior of the church is the main altar dedicated to Mary Immaculate flanked by two altars dedicated to Jesus Crucified and Our Lady of the Rosary. There is a chapel dedicated to the St. Francis Xavier in the church.
Dudhsagar Falls is a four-tiered spectacular waterfall, one of the highest waterfalls in the world located on the Mandovi River in Goa. The best time to visit the falls is during the monsoons or the month of August and September which are the months just after the monsoons.
If you are traveling by car you can reach the Castle Rock station and board a train towards the falls. The trains usually stop at the waterfalls stop for a couple minutes for you to get down. When we visited the trains were overcrowded which made it difficult to get in and even disembark at the stations. We walked all the way from the Castle Rock Station to the falls along the railway track.
The other easier option is to do a jeep safari from the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife sanctuary near Molem to the falls. You get to hike to the base of the falls and enjoy the majestic views of the falls cascading down the hills amidst the lush green surrounding. More details here.
Reis Magos Fort
Reis Magos Fort is a 16th-century fort located in the Reis Magos Village on the banks of the Mandovi River in Bardez. The top of the fort is easy 5 minutes walk from the entrance and you would need 30-45 minutes to explore the fort grounds and the galleries. The ramparts and the terraces of the fort offer magnificent views of the sea, the city of Panjim and the surrounding countryside.
The most fascinating part of the fort for us was the freedom fighters gallery which displayed pictures and names of the freedom fighters in the liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule. You can learn about numerous historical stories and facts about events of the freedom struggle.
The art gallery displays artworks by various Goan artists. Also worth a visit are the Gunloops at the end of the tour which displays pictures of Goa from 16th-century to the recent present. The fort is open from 9:30 AM to 5 PM and is closed on Monday.
Next to the fort is the imposing 16th century Reis Magos Church dedicated to St Jerome which is also worth a visit.
Cabo de Rama Fort
Cabo de Rama Fort is an ancient fort in the Canacona City of Goa. The fort is mostly in ruins with nothing much to see here except a church – Church of St. Anthony. There are few stairs and steps here are there leading to the ramparts. You can walk along the ramparts which offer breathtaking views of the sea and the surrounding coastline.
There are a couple of restaurants on the way to the fort else its a desolate road leading to the fort with no buildings or houses on either side.
Chapora Fort popular for the iconic poster from the Dil Chahta Hai Bollywood movie located in Bardez, Goa. The present-day 18th-century fort is in ruins with no structures but the ramparts dotted with a couple of turrets. You can walk along the ramparts which offer impressive views of the sea and the surrounding Vagator beach, Morjim Beach and Chapora Beach.
To reach the fort premises one needs to hike for about 10 minutes. There is a parking space at the base of the fort. The route to the fort is lined with small shops selling bottled water, fruits, and coconut water.
SANCTUARIES AND GARDENS
Sahakari Spice Garden
Sahakari Spice Farm located in Ponda in Goa is one of the must-visit places in Goa. The farm is spread over an area of 130 acres of which 1 acre is accessible to the public for the tours.
The tour of the spice garden walks you through some of the important spices where guide provides insight into the cultivation and species of the spices, its usage and health benefits. A walk through the dense lush garden amidst the aroma of a variety of spices and fresh air is a rejuvenating experience.
The entry ticket to the garden also includes a sumptuous traditional Goan style lunch which is an unlimited buffet. You can also buy their organic products from the small shop located in the garden.
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, which is named after the eminent Indian ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali is located on the island of Chorao along the Mandovi River. The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is a bird watchers paradise with over 400 varieties of local and migratory birds. Boats can be hired in the sanctuary to take you around for bird spotting.
A visit to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary can be combined with exploring the quaint Chorao Island. The island of Chorao like Divar Island is home to ancient villas and imposing churches.
To reach the sanctuary one has to take a ferry from Ribandar to the island of Chorao and then a few minutes walk to the sanctuary.
Make sure to spend a few days in Goa and explore the places around Goa which have some of the gorgeous hidden beaches, quaint villages, and mouthwatering seafood.
Things to do in Temple Town of Gokarna – Gokarna is about 150 km from Goa
Karwar – The Pristine untouched beaches and the Scrumptious Sea Food – 85 Km from Goa
Murudeshwar Temple – A Visit to the World’s Second Tallest Shiva Statue – 200 km from Goa