Described by Lonely Planet as a cocktail of sun, sand and spices, it breaks my heart to say that I was somewhat disappointed by Goa. I think that the reason for this was not necessarily due to Goa itself, rather it was just a run of bad luck for us (a combination of not enough time, atrocious traffic and poor accommodation choices being the main factors). Although we absolutely tried to make the best of a bad situation, I still don’t think I’ll be rushing back there anytime soon.
We were told that Goa International Airport was about an hour from Goa. We must have struck hideous traffic, because it took us well over an hour and a half to reach our accommodation. Our hotel, Alor Holiday Resort, was subpar, and you had to pay for wifi. We were staying near Calangute Beach, so we headed down there for sunset. Now people say that Goa’s golden sand beaches are the best for miles around. There are many different beaches stretching along the coast, each with its own reputation. Calangute (where we stayed), along with Baga, is famed for its cashed-up tourists (just what I wanted to hear!). It is supposedly a party area and by night the markets are very vibrant and a mass of colour, with vendors selling almost everything you can think of. The beach itself was (surprisingly) lovely though, a great place to watch the sun go down. The night was completed by an absolutely mouth-watering meal at Souza Lobo (the kadai chicken I ordered was fantastic, and the desserts were even better).
Unfortunately for me, our full day in Goa was not spent worshipping the sun at a series of glorious beaches. Rather it was spent sight-seeing. It turned out to be pretty interesting – we visited Old Goa, which is full of rich history and impressive architecture. As the former colonial capital of the state (colloquially known as ‘Rome of the East’), the convents and churches are stunning. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Portugese influence remains hugely prominent in the buildings today. I would recommend about 1.5 hours to explore the area (there are vendors and shops selling ice-cream and coconuts etc) and make sure you check out the St. Augustine ruins – they were superb.
Goa was annexed by the Portugese in 1510 and remained under their rule for 450 years. The rise of Old Goa under the Portugese was astonishing, but the city was abandoned in the 1600s following cholera and malaria outbreaks. From Old Goa we drove maybe half an hour more to do a tour of a spice plantation. You pay 400R and get a tour of the area (it only lasts about 20 minutes, but this is enough in the heat and humidity) and then you get a free buffet lunch. As a regular user of herbs and spices, I like knowing about their origins, but if you don’t care the tour might not be for you.
If I were to go back to Goa I would definitely stay somewhere that was right on the beach, and preferably one of the nicer ones! Unfortunately for Goa, I think there is going to be a fair few places I visit before it gets its second chance.