Where: Goa, India.
First I spent a couple of days in Vagator, a small resort in north Goa. Whilst here I went on day trips to Old Goa and Anjuna.
Next I moved on to the port city of Vasco da Gama. I only stayed in Vasco da Gama for one night as I was only there to catch an early train to Hampi, an ancient city in the Indian interior.
After my trip to Hampi, I returned to Goa and stayed for two nights in the cute village of Bogmalo, which is on he edge of Vasco da Gama, tucked behind Dabolim airport; before catching a flight from Dabolim airport up to Delhi and then home.
When: October 2011.
Why: I visited Goa on my Himalayan adventure and Indian back packing trip. On this trip I visited Delhi, Dharamsala, Bir and the Himalayas, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa and Hampi.
I was so looking forward to Goa. All through the Himalaya Trek and my dusty backpack adventure I’d been dreaming of tropical beaches, palm trees, a cool pool and huge (I mean seriously big) cocktails. In my mind, Goa was going to be like the Thai islands – but not quite so resorty. I couldn’t wait…
I found my pool and I found my white sandy beach. I also found my huge (seriously big) cocktail – but in truth, Goa was lovely, but it didn’t quite live up to my dream Goa. Like many places in India, Goa didn’t have a huge amount of infrastructure and it was quite run down. On the one hand, Goa was exactly what I was looking for (tranquil and undeveloped), but I would have liked it to be a little bit more developed and to have had better infrastructure and more facilities. (I know, I sound really contrary and demanding – sorry Goa).
Goa is a small state, located on the west coast of India, south of Mumbai, on the Indian Ocean. Goa is mostly made up of tropical, coastal jungle – with a few resorts strung along the coast line. The main city is Vasco da Gama, a port city located about half way down the state; a key major interchange is Panjim, a large town located inland from Vasco da Gama.
Goa is an ex-Portuguese colony. Up until 1961 Goa was a part of the Portuguese empire but not India; but then Nehru came and took it back for India.
I thought that the Portuguese history, plus the huge influx of tourists, would mean that Goa would be slightly more developed than the rest of India – but that is not the case. Though many beautiful relics of the old Portuguese Goa remain, many seem to be uncared for and rotting in the wet heat – and though Goa has okay infrastructure that works, it is still very Indian and quite slap dash and rickety.
It probably didn’t help that I visited Goa right after the monsoon season, and the resorts and villages were trying to patch themselves up after the rains, before the tourists arrived. Most of the hotels were not quite ready. All of the rooms I looked at smelt of damp, the roads were washed away in places, and the villages were quite quiet – which again, on the one hand was great, but I was looking for some friends to play with and a bit of a party …
And I think that is why I didn’t enjoy Goa quite so much as I could have done. I think I was hoping for a friendly, fun place like Thailand – but actually I didn’t really get to meet many people and so I spent a lot of my time just hanging about, on my own, waiting to move on.
Goa itself was gorgeous. The beaches were lovely, the landscape was pretty, there were some interesting places to visit. The local people I met were friendly and there were lots of interesting old churches and houses to see.
I stayed in three places in Goa:
Vagator is a small village in North Goa, just to the north of Anjuna. Vagator is a very quiet resort with two lovely beaches and an old fort, which you can go and explore (I didn’t, sadly).
Vagator is spread out along country lanes and is a very rural place. It is very pretty and quiet, though it does have its fair share of shops, bars and restaurants (including a very good book shop). There are a few pretty churches in town and an ATM on the Anjuna Road. The bus stops at the cross-roads about once an hour.
Vasco Da Gama
Vasco da Gama is a port city and the largest city in Goa. I went here as I had to catch an early train to Hampi the next morning, and I decided it would be easier to stay in the city the night before. There is no reason to go to VdG unless you are here for transport (Dabolim Airport is just south of the city). The city is a run down dump and not pretty, although it did have a very good sandwich shop on the road in front of the station.
Not wanting to stay in VdG again, when I got back to Goa after my Hampi trip, I decided to stay in the village of Bogmalo, which is a small village tucked between Dabolim Airport and the coast, on the edge of the city of Vasco da Gama. There is a cluster of houses, restaurants, shops and bars by Bogmalo Beach – and the rest of the resort is scattered about the bay and on the hill running up to the airport.
The beach is nice; this bay is much more sheltered than Vagator, so though the sea was still rough, I was able to splash about in it and it was yum.
I was in Bogmalo for Diwali and it was wonderful to watch all the fireworks from the beach and see the houses lit up with fairy lights.
I caught the train from Mumbai to Goa. The journey should have taken eleven and a half hours, but it actually took thirteen and a half. We set off from Central Victoria Terminus (CVT) station in Mumbai, at 6.55am; we arrived at Thivim station at 20.30. Thivim is the station for resorts in north Goa.
The journey cost me 800 rupees (£11) for a reserved seat in a third class, air-conditioned carriage, and I booked my tickets through Cleartrip.
The train was quite comfortable. I was lucky enough to get a side bunk, so I had two chairs to myself and a window. There was lots of food and drink available on the train. Sellers regularly walked up and down selling things such as chai, curry-tomato soup (yum), sandwiches, snacks and cold drinks. I was also able to buy a full on meal from the train staff: a biriyani in a tiffin tin, which they brought to my seat.
It was a loooooong journey though. In the light, we travelled past some interesting places, including a gorgeous waterfall and an interesting shaped mountain – but the closer we got to Goa the more empty the landscape became, until we were just travelling through endless jungle; then at night – through pitch darkness. It was interesting and sad to see how many villages seemed to not have electric lights – so even if there were towns here, they couldn’t be seen from the train. The darkness just went on and on and on.
When I arrived at Thivim, I caught a pre-paid taxi from Thivim station to Vagator. I was going to get a bus, but I was sick and tired and we got in quite late, so I decided to just take the easy route. The taxi cost me 450 rupees (about £6.50) for the eleven mile journey – which I think was well worth the cost.
Goa is located on the main train line which runs down the west coast of India. There is also a train line which runs from Kolkata, which terminates in Vasco da Gama. This is the train line that I travelled on to get to the ancient city of Hampi. There are direct trains to Goa from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Channai and Hyderabad (and more).
Thivim is the station for north Goa; Madgaon the station for south Goa.
You can get train times and book tickets on the Cleartrip website.
Dabolim Airport is the main airport for Goa. This is located just to the south of Vasco da Gama, in the middle of Goa. I flew from here to Delhi, at the end of my trip. I seem to remember the airport being basic but clean and quick to navigate. I don’t remember there being many/any shops or food options when I was there, but this no longer matters as they have built a brand-spanking new, snazzy terminal since my visit. You can find out more at the airport website: www.goanairport.com. Wikipedia’s page on the airport has a list of the companies that fly out of Dabolim and their destinations.
There is a pre-paid taxi booth at international arrivals. There is a direct bus to Vasco da Gama.
I caught a pre-paid taxi from Thivim station to Vagator. This took about half an hour and cost 450 rupees (£6.50).
Around Vagator, I just got around on foot as it’s a very, pretty walkable resort. At night though, some of the roads were a little too quiet and isolated for me and I did feel a bit nervous being out on my own – especially as there were quite a few strange men hanging around on bikes and big scary cows.
To get to Old Goa I got a bus from Vagator to Mapusa (10 rupees), then a bus from Mapusa bus station to Panjim (10 rupees) and then a bus from Panjim bus station to Old Goa (10 rupees). The whole journey took me about an hour and a half. The bus in Vagator stopped at the main cross roads in the centre of town, and went past about once an hour. The buses were rickety but fun.
I caught a taxi from Vagator to Anjuna (150 rupees, £2) and then a bike taxi back (50 rupees, but I gave him 100, £1.20). The bike taxi was scary, but exciting and fun.
Later on, to get to Vasco de Gama, I followed the same bus route to Panjim and then caught a bus from Panjim bus station to Vasco da Gama. This cost me 25 rupees (40p).
After my visit to Hampi, I returned to Vasco de Gama train station. This time I was staying in the resort of Bogmalo, which is next to Goa airport, on the edge of VdG town. I caught a rickshaw to Bogmalo from Vasco da Gama.
When I left, I caught the bus from Bogmalo to the airport. (Bogmalo is by the back door to the airport and the bus took me round the site to the front door). This cost me 10 rupees (about 12p).
The bus stations in the major towns are big, busy and bustling and people were very helpful when I asked them to direct me to the correct bus. I was able to navigate my way quite quickly and easily, without too much bother and with very little hassle.
The transport system is quite rickety and slapdash – but it is there and it’s cheap and pretty easy to navigate.
What I did on my holiday
I spent much of my time in Vagator just relaxing at the Mango Tree Inn, eating breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, reading, relaxing, drinking cold beers and using their wifi to have long conversations with my love. The rest of the time, I pottered about the resort, did chores, wandered the country roads and searched out bookshops. I was trying to have a ‘holiday’, within the middle of this Indian adventure.
Vagator is a very spread out village and many of the resorts and hotels are away from the centre of the conurbation. In the centre there was a bank, some restaurants, the Mango Tree and Rainbow bookshop. There was a pretty little, yellow church in the middle of the road, close to the beach; and by the beach there were a number of market stalls.
Relaxed by the pool, in the sunshine
It’s what I had been dreaming about and what I was here for. I think I spent two days just lolling by the pool, soaking up the sun, gently turning brown and relaxing…. It was my reward for climbing the Himalaya for charity and raising all that money – and I think my tired, little legs deserved it.
There’s two beaches in Vagator: Little Vagator Beach and Big Vagator Beach. My second hotel was right by Little Vagator Beach, so I went for walks on the beach a few times. It was a nice, isolated beach, but very rough and rocky, and there were cows on the beach too! (Maybe they had been corralled there?).
I watched the sun set here, and that was pretty, but it was a bit too rough to swim – so I went back to the pool at my hotel.
There were one or two bars by the beach and I was approached by touts once or twice, but mostly I had the beach to myself and it was fun and wild and interesting.
Old Goa (UNESCO)
Old Goa used to be the capital of Goa in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was a huge city, that used to be larger than Lisbon or London. Sadly, due to a series of cholera and malaria epidemics, the city was abandoned, the churches left to crumble and the jungle crept back.
Old Goa is located about six miles upriver from Panaji. Panaji is a major town, located about half way down Goa state.
I visited Old Goa as a day-trip from Vagator. I could have booked a guided tour to take me to the site, but I decided to try to navigate this on my own. I travelled from Vagator to Old Goa on local buses. I caught the bus from Vagator to Mapusa, then caught a bus from Mapusa to Panaji, and then I caught a bus from Panaji to Old Goa. Each bus connected to the next very easily, and they only cost 10 rupees each (so, 60 rupees for the return journey, or 80p). The journey to Old Goa took me about an hour and a half each way.
The remains of Old Goa consist of many beautiful, old churches and cathedrals, the archaeological museum in the archdeacons house, and some archways and walls – all surrounded by lush jungle.
The first building I visited was Bom Jesus, which is the cathedral where St Francis Xavier is kept. It was Francis Xavier who bought Christianity to India, Japan and Malaysia.
St Francis Xavier was a missionary from Navarre; born and raised just up the road from where I live now. Francisco co-founded the Jesuits, then travelled to the far east to spread his missionary message. He had an amazing life; travelling to places no Christian had been before. You can find out more about this on his Wikipedia page.
St Xavier actually died in China. His body was first taken and buried in Malacca (where an empty grave plot now stands, to mark the site); then he was moved to Bom Jesus in Old Goa.
Today, his crystal urn sits high up in a silver casket in one of the chapels. Apparently they get him down every ten years or so, to take him for a bit of a walk about. The last time they did this was in 2014 – 2015.
Sadly for St Francis, not all of his body parts are in the crystal urn: soon after his body was returned to Goa, a Portuguese noble woman bit off his little toe (this is now owned by the Count of Nova Goa’s family); his arm is in Rome, a shoulder blade is in Macau and another church in Goa has one of his fingernails, now encrusted in jewels. It’s all very macabre and The Times of India can tell you more about it all.
Bom Jesus Cathedral was built in 1605. It is very ornate, grand and impressive.
After visiting Bon Jesus, I walked down to the river to see the ferry, and so that I could approach the city from the old entrance. In the olden days, the main route into the city was from the river, through the Viceroy’s Arch. The arch is decorated with a statue of St Xavier crushing the Hindu infidel underfoot (that’s not kind).
I liked this area as it was quiet and peaceful (there were no other visitors down here) and it was nice to be by the slow moving river.
Next stop was the Church of St Cajetan, built in 1700, then I went to have a look in the beautiful, huge, white Se Cathedral. This was built in 1652, is one of the largest churches in Asia, and apparently the Spanish inquisition used to operate in front of the cathedral (I didn’t expect that). They were invited to come here by St Xavier (that’s not kind either). Se Cathedral has fourteen alters and a bell so loud that when it is rung, it can be heard over the whole of Goa. Wowzer.
Behind the Se cathedral is the very ruined, but gorgeously decorated Church of St Francis of Assisi, and then next to that is the archaeological museum, which contained exhibits about the city and some nice toilets. The museum was also lovely and cool, so I spent quite a bit of time here, learning about what the city used to be like.
My last two stops were the tiny Chapel of St Catherine, and then the Augustinian monastery and the tower of St Augustine – which were up on a hill to the back of the city. The monastery and tower were very ruined – but still interesting to see.
I loved visiting Old Goa. The site wasn’t too big, it wasn’t at all crowded and there were lots of drink stalls etc. I spent about three hours there and that was enough for me because of the heat. I saw all of the major sites, though I did miss a lot of peripheral sites.
I probably should have gone to have a look at Panjim or Mapusa after Old Goa but it was so hot, the kind of moist heat which saps your energy away, so I went back to the hotel for a swim.
Entrance to Old Goa was free, though the archaeological museum cost 5 rupees (about 8p). The bus stopped at the cross road in town. Buses ran from Old Goa to to Pajim about every ten minutes.
Anjuna, including the night market
Anjuna is a quiet resort, located to the south of Vagator. It’s much bigger and busier than Vagator, though still not a big, busy place. The resort stretches for a long way, along the country roads behind Anjuna beach.
I went to Anjuna primarily to visit the night market, but also to see this larger resort. Anjuna was much more resorty than Vagator; it was more developed and it had many more shops, bars, hostels and restaurants. It reminded me of a Thai beach resort, which was what I was hoping to find in Goa. If I ever return, which I’m not sure I will, this is where I’d stay.
Anjuna beach itself was nice; it had gentle waves, white sand, palm trees and beach bars with huge Cuba Libres. I spent a lovely few hours here, chilling on the sand, watching the misty sun-set with a huge, cold drink in my hand, listening to the waves and the music.
The Anjuna night market takes place in Anjuna on a Wednesday. It was actually more of a day market when I was there, as I arrived at about 5 p.m. and the marketeers were already packing up all of the stalls.
The market ran along the back of the resort and there were loads of stalls selling interesting trinkets, clothes etc. Luckily for me, I had no space in my back pack for any more shopping, so I just had a nice potter about and looked at all the wares.
After Vagator, I travelled inland to visit the ancient city of Hampi. When I returned to Goa, I stayed in the village of Bogmalo for two nights, before flying out of Dabolim Airport. Bogmalo is located at the back of the airport.
On my last morning in Goa, I went for a swim in the Indian Ocean, at Bogmalo Beach. Bogmalo Beach was more of a village beach than a rural beach; there were hotels, cafes and restaurants by the main beach area, though I seem to remember there were also some areas of trees further around the bay. The sea here was quite rough, but the water was crystal clear and as warm as a bath. I spent ages just watching the waves, thinking about my trip, enjoying the sun on my skin and talking to the friendly locals. It was a nice, peaceful end to a crazy adventure.
Bogmalo Beach is nice as not many people know it is there, but it is a pretty swathe of golden sand. Even though it’s right by the airport I didn’t see or hear any planes from the beach (although I could occasionally hear the tannoy announcements from my hotel, which was funny).
Although Bogmalo wasn’t stunningly beautiful, it was a nice, unpretentious resort, very Indian, very friendly and I’m glad that I stayed here.
My last day in India happened to coincide with the start of Diwali. This Hindu holiday is celebrated all over India with colourful lights and fireworks.
In Bogmalo, I went for one last curry in a restaurant by the sea side, and then I watched the fireworks. People were sat on the beach, watching the fireworks exploding over the surf. Some of the fireworks were a little bit too close for comfort for me (there were a lot of fire crackers), but most were very pretty and it was a great way to spend my last night.
Incidentally, the next day when I flew from Goa to Delhi, there were fireworks below me for my whole flight. India was sparkling at me – it was so pretty and just magic.
Where I stayed
Bean Me Up, Vagator
I stayed in two places in Vagator. The first place was Bean Me Up, a vegetarian cafe/bar with a few rooms for rent. Online, they looked fun. the rooms looked good and they were within my budget – so I booked them.
When I arrived though, I found that they hadn’t actually opened yet for the season. There was building work taking place to fix the damage from the monsoon, and they didn’t have food or a bar available at the hotel. Also, the rooms were very damp after the monsoon humidity.
I probably should have been quite annoyed with the hotel for not telling me they weren’t really open and that none of the facilities were available – but the host Shawn, was such a nice, sweet guy – and the rooms were good, so I didn’t want to complain.
My room with shared bathroom cost me 350 rupees per night (£5). My room was comfortable with a double, mosquito net draped bed. The shared facilities were basic, but okay. One night I went to the loo and there was a bright red, spiky frog in the toilet bowl! You don’t get that in a Hilton.
Bean Me Up is located on the edge of Vagator, not in the centre of the village and although it’s not far to walk, the restaurant is a little isolated. One night I was followed home by a guy on a scooter, which was a bit scary.
In high season this place is probably bumpin: it looks amazing and the staff are lovely.
Alcove Resort, Vagator
I moved out of Bean Me Up after two nights as I wanted a hotel with more facilities. I was looking for people and a pool; I wanted a treat, rather than just somewhere to stay. I popped into a few of the hotels in Vagator to have a look see, and I got my options down to two hotels: the Looney Resort (actually the Leony Resort) and Alcove Resort.
I had actually chosen to stay at, and had even checked in to, the Looney, because they had a better library and a nicer pool; but I quickly checked out again as they tried to put me in a dark, damp room hidden at the back of the resort; I was followed to my room by a very sleezy guest; I heard them being really rude to their maid, and there was no atmosphere. Nobody was smiling, there was no music playing by the pool – and I just thought ‘I don’t want to be here’. I quickly realised that I’d made a terrible mistake and luckily I hadn’t paid yet, so I went to my number two choice – which was the Alcove Resort.
The Alcove Resort was lovely. I had a large room by the pool, they had sun loungers, the restaurant overlooked Little Vagator Beach, they did great food, had a nice bar and the staff were lovely.
I had my best ever meal here: tiger-prawns straight out of the sea and onto the BBQ, drizzled in garlic butter, served with chips and salad, with an orange peel candle on my plate. I ate it overlooking the sunset and Vagator beach. It was magic.
My double room, en-suite, pool view cost me 1,200 rupees per night (about £18).
Just a quick note, the hotel is located by 9 Bar, which is the big party place in Vagator. This was quite loud at times, although they seemed to always turn the music off by midnight. I didn’t mind the music, though this might put some people off staying here.
La Paz Garden Hotel, Vasco da Gama
I hadn’t prebooked anywhere for Vasco da Gama, and this was probably a mistake as there were not a lot of hotels in VdG. The hotels that were there seemed to be business and transit hotels and they were all quite pricey. Walking round with my backpack, in the heat, trying to negotiate a decent room rate wasn’t fun. I learnt my lesson from this though and now I always pre-book if I can, as reserving ahead, and knowing where you’re going to stay when you arrive somewhere just takes away so much hassle and uncertainty.
After walking around for an hour or two, I finally managed to get a standard room at the La Paz Garden Hotel. It cost me 2,000 rupees for the night (about £28), which was a lot more than my budget – but the room was nice and they had a pool and a Chinese restaurant in the hotel.
I did get annoyed with La Paz though, as originally they said they had no standard rooms available (in a virtually empty hotel), and it was only when I went to walk away that they found they did have a room after all. And then, the porter wanted a tip, even though I carried my own heavy bag to the room.
But, like I say, the room was nice and the hotel was very central, close to the station which is what I needed, so it was okay for the one night.
Raj Resorts, Bogmalo
In Bogmalo, I stayed in a hotel near to the airport called the Raj Resorts. I booked it because of its location and because it had a pool (though this was empty when I was there). My room here was huge and very comfortable, and the hosts were lovely – they even invited me to join their Diwali celebrations.
At £24/night the hotel was a little over my budget, but it was a nice place to stay and very convenient for the airport (the bus to the airport stopped just down the road from the hotel).
The hotel had free wi-fi. I booked it through hostelbookers.
Where I wish I’d stayed
Hotel Bouganvilla/Grandpa’s Inn, Anjuna
Grandpa’s Inn is a resort based in an old Portuguese mansion, on the edge of Anjuna. It has a gorgeous swimming pool, great gardens and lovely rooms. It is light, airy, sunny and colourful – and just looks like a nice place to be.
I kept dreaming over Grandpa’s Inn before I got to Goa – but sadly, I decided it was out of my budget and so I stayed elsewhere. I really wish I’d paid the extra though to stay here. I think it would have been worth it.
If I go back, this is where I’ll stay.
Where I ate and drank
Mango Tree Inn, Vagator
I spent a lot of time at the Mango Tree Inn. I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner here, drank here, and used their wi-fi to book train tickets or to Skype my boyfriend (now husband).
The Mango Tree is a lovely, open air bar in the centre of Vagator, located between the cross roads and the beach. It felt like the centre of the village to me. It is called the Mango Tree because there is a Mango Tree growing out of it.
The staff were friendly and the food was great. They had the best breakfasts: for 175 rupees (about £2.20) I had coffee, big juice, eggs, toast and jam, yoghurt, fruit and muesli. They also did amazing curries and good pizza.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.