Last year, in 2016, I visited the state of Goa in India for the first time. It wasn’t a part of the country I’d even heard of until I was invited to accompany my friend Prachi and a group of media she was putting together for the purposes of promoting responsible travel to the region. I didn’t look up what to know about Goa before I left.
My lack of knowledge was an opportunity to learn without foregone conclusions. My mind was a blank slate. And before I blog more in-depth about Goa, I thought I’d share some of the things that helped me understand it better.
- What to Know about Goa should start with, where is it?
- What to know about Goa, in terms of its size:
- What is the capital of Goa?
- What is the culture like in Goa?
- When did Goa achieve independence from Portugal?
- What to know about Goa in terms of religion:
- Yoga is important in Goa
- But is Goa that different from other states in India?
- What is there to do in Goa?
- What is the food like in Goa?
- What is the accommodation like in Goa?
- What are the people like in Goa?
- What language do they speak in Goa?
What to Know about Goa should start with, where is it?
Can you see it on the far left in the map above? Goa is located on the west side of the country of India, on the Arabian Sea. Britannica states that,
It is located about 250 miles (400 km) south of Mumbai (Bombay). One of India’s smallest states, it is bounded by the states of Maharashtra on the north and Karnataka on the east and south and by the Arabian Sea on the west.
You can drive to it from other areas of India. But it’s probably easier and quicker to fly there.
What to know about Goa, in terms of its size:
Goa is small! It is so small that it is India’s smallest state by area and its fourth-smallest by population. It is only 1,429 square miles or 3,702 square km. The current size of the population at the time of publishing is a bit over 1,500,000.
What is the capital of Goa?
It is the city of Panaji (Panjim), on the north-central coast of the state of Goa. It is not a large city. There were less than 200,000 residents when I visited. And perhaps because of its size compared to other capital cities in India, it feels more intimate. And not in a bad way. There’s an absence of the type of massive skyscrapers one can find in – just for example – parts of Mumbai.
With cobblestone streets and colorful villas that date from the Portuguese colonial period, a Latin quarter, and floating casinos on the river, the capital of the state of Goa offers a variety of experiences…
And I agree with that assessment.
What is the culture like in Goa?
It feels very different from the other parts of India that I had been to before. In fact, it was apparent from my first glimpses of the buildings and homes that make up Panaji which was my first stop in Goa. That could be due to a variety of factors. But I think the most apparent factor is that Goa was once a Portuguese colony.
Here was my view on the first morning I woke up in Goa, from my window at a guest house in Panaji (Panjim).
When did Goa achieve independence from Portugal?
Most of India gained its independence from colonial powers – like the British – in 1947. But Goa was not liberated from the Portuguese until almost 15 years later. The official date is December 19, 1961.
What to know about Goa in terms of religion:
While I don’t know official numbers, Goa seemed to me to have more Catholic churches than Hindu temples. In fact, one of my favorite places to stay in Goa has a still-operational Catholic church in the center of it. I am referring to Fort Tiracol Hotel.
This mix of religions that’s not as apparent in the other parts of India I have been to, made for a fascinating experience.
Yoga is important in Goa
Yoga is important in India, period. But it’s particularly important to Goa. While it is Rishikesh that was put on the map of the world’s yoga consciousness because of visits like that of The Beatles, it is Goa that often comes up as the number two most visited place in India for those seeking a yoga retreat.
Fittingly, we incorporated yoga into our visit to Goa. And every time we did, I enjoyed it immensely. There seemed to be a purity of experience in Goa that I hadn’t found when I have practiced yoga outside India. A humility, that’s sometimes lacking in other places. Even, a simplicity.
Where can you practice yoga in Goa?
All over! But I particularly adored practicing yoga near the beach in Madrem at Ashiyana Yoga Center. This is my friend Erin at practice in one of the indoor spaces. But there were outdoor spaces as well.
But is Goa that different from other states in India?
Yes, and no. No, it is not in any of the ways that would make you enjoy it. There is still incredible food. Women still dress in saris. Colorful buildings abound. The architecture, while different, is still fascinating and beautiful.
And yes, in the sense there’s an added dimension that can be difficult to put into words. In the ways Goa is different, it’s not a bad thing. It makes for a wonderful visit.
What is there to do in Goa?
Almost all of the usual things you’d expect when you visit India are available. But add more beach activities, more yoga, and my favorite: hot air ballooning. We took a ride with one of India’s premier women hot air balloon pilots and I highly recommend the experience. She was amazing!
>> More on where to hot air balloon around the world in my post. <<
What is the food like in Goa?
Food can be more international in composition but is every bit as flavorful and multidimensional as elsewhere in India. You can still get curry. You can also get dishes that seem more international in flavor than they are purely Indian.
The meal we had with Chef Christopher Saleem Agha Bee in Pernem in the north of Goa is a really great example. It’s not the only meal we had like this but it was the best one. [Edited to add: in 2019, I found this article that tells you more about his life and work.] Here are two photos:
What is the accommodation like in Goa?
There is a lot of variety. It ranges from small, family-run guesthouses like Casa Menezes Heritage Homestay [below] to larger resort-style properties like Alila Diwa Goa.
What are the people like in Goa?
Warm! Friendly! Welcoming! Just like elsewhere in India. In fact as a state, it has some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet in India. In my opinion! In terms of how they approach visitors.
What to know about Goa as a potential Expat
One of the most apparent differences to me is that I noticed a lot more expats in Goa. We met more people who had visited and then loved it so much they had stayed than I have in other parts of India. I don’t know if Goa makes it easier for expats to build lives there than other states in India do. Or if expats just see the appeal of Goa more than they do other states. Either way, if you’re thinking of that then you would have a good community to join.
What language do they speak in Goa?
People speak great English, Portuguese, Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, and other languages that you might find spoken less in other states. There’s a diversity to Goa that can be less obvious elsewhere in India.
Now that I’ve shared some of the basics…
What more do you still want to know about Goa? Contact me. I can add to this guide!