There’s so much more to Goa than the much-touted susegad shack life. Here are ways to make for a fulfilling and fun holiday.
There’s a wondrous side to Goa that remains relatively unexplored. The spectacular hinterlands and backwaters, the coastal biodiversity, the local communities and cuisine, the architecture and cultural heritage, the forests and wildlife and so much more. Promoting these unique aspects of Goa is important, yet it also comes hand in hand with the responsibility of protecting them. Fortunately, there are a number of inspiring travel companies and enterprises that are striking the balance and providing a diverse range of exhilarating travel experiences.
This carefully selected list will help you find them and to connect with Goa in more meaningful and memorable ways. It’s a great feeling to know that with each responsible travel experience you choose, you are making Goa a better place for everyone!
Get carried away by low-footprint water adventures
Konkan Explorers, based in Morjim, offers peaceful yacht cruises in the Chapora river area. Climb aboard an elegant, 10.5-metre vessel for a few hours, and jump off for some kayaking through mangroves along the way. Their two yachts are thoughtfully designed, with smaller engine capacities and solar power to reduce their overall environmental impact.
Indulge in sports that support the sea
Try a leg at surfing at Vaayu Village on Ashwem beach. This diverse and eco-friendly community space is home to Goa’s first surf shop, as well as a surf school and a dedicated water sports centre. They have certified instructors to teach you the basics, and courses range from one to five days. There’s also paddle boarding and wakeboarding — all great ways to deepen your connection with the ocean. Alternatively, if you are in the south, Sahasea is based at Hollant beach in a small cove with calm waters ideal for a range on non-motorised watersports. They also arrange beach camping and barbeques.
Meet humpback dolphins. Politely!
Terra Conscious is a marine conservation organisation that conducts Goa’s only ethical dolphin watching trips. Venture out to sea on a traditional fishing boat for a two-hour fun and informative experience as you wait excitedly for glimpses of the elusive humpback dolphin. This is a happy alternative to participating in Goa’s extremely unethical dolphin-watching industry, in which large numbers of tourist-filled boats surround and chase these endangered creatures to the point of extreme distress.
Explore trails rich in birds and wildlife
Unknown to many, Goa is a global biodiversity hotspot owing to the foothills of the Western Ghats in the east of the state combined with the coastal ecosystems in the west. In total, there are almost 500 species of resident and migratory birds, and other rich and varied flora and fauna. If you want to learn more, Mrugaya Xpeditions will take you on professional birdwatching tours led by experienced naturalists in and around Goa’s main wildlife sanctuaries and wetlands.
Camp out to reconnect with nature
Try overnight camping with Khoj-aao! Adventures and get totally immersed in the wilderness under the stars. Set up camp around a fire, take a morning dip in the stream, and leave feeling totally re-energised. Everything is taken care of such as equipment, food, safety and first aid. If you don’t have a night to spare, try their backyard nature trails or a day in the forests of Mollem instead.
Experience the real Goa
There’s a side of Goa that would be almost inaccessible if it were not for The Local Beat, who will take you straight into the susegad and soul of this land! They custom-design trips that whisk you away into lesser-known villages, to river islands, hidden waterfalls, jungle pools, forest cabins and old taverns. There are no set itineraries and the locations remain unrevealed until you get there. But one thing is for certain, you will eat, drink, walk, talk and feel like a local.
Discover plants to develop your green thumb
If you would like to develop some green fingers while in Goa then stop by Green Essentials near Porvorim. They offer workshops that teach folks how to grow their own food organically and they also have a seed bank, nursery and gardening store. Or try out an edible plant walk through forest cover around the villages of Sangolda and Assagoa with Plant Walks Goa, to discover medicinal and mysterious properties of some of Goa’s long-lost greens.
Walk to understand Goa
Certain aspects of Goa are best experienced on foot. Like strolling through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, sauntering down affluent village by-lanes past Portuguese-era mansions, or sampling local delicacies as you munch your way through a food trail. Soul Travelling and Make It Happen both offer a range of thoughtfully curated walks across Goa, focused on culture, art, heritage, local cuisine and nature. Led by ambassadors and storytellers who know the localities like the back of their hands, there’s no better way to step off the beaten path.
Take cycle tours to make connections
If you prefer to see the sights on two wheels rather than on foot, then hop on to a bright yellow e-bike with BLive. They offer around 18 different cycling routes in the north, south and across the picturesque islands of Chorao and Divar. It’s a great option if you want to cover some ground and get the feel of a particular area, while listening to quirky anecdotes from you local ‘pilot’ guide as you breeze along.
Try some responsible retail therapy
Stop by these stores for planet-friendly pantry essentials: Saukhyam in Porvorim and Green Chokrees in Siolim. If you are looking to take home some of Goa’s famous cashewnuts, then choose Gai Kajus in Pilerne, where sales go towards caring for injured cows and calves at the premises. Visit the No Nasties store in Assagao to pick up some 100 per cent cotton and fair trade clothing, or the Good Karma Treasure Shop in Anjuna where proceeds go towards charities and good causes.
Plump for plant-based food
Luckily Goa has quite a few plant-based cafes to choose from. Try Bean Me Up (the oldest vegan eatery in Goa) or Gratitude Café. More recent additions are Earth Mama for great smoothie bowls (gluten free), and Okapi Vegan Kitchen that makes delicious desserts. In the south, there is Zest Café in Agonda. Also, don’t miss out on the vegan pizza at Saraya.
Get your fill of art and culture
Visit the Museum of Goa, a contemporary art space dedicated to celebrating Goa’s history and people. Look around their exhibition showcasing local artwork and installations and find out what workshops, art courses, talks and musical performances they have on. If you are in Panjim, stop by the Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts housed within a purple Portuguese mansion with a charming courtyard café inside, pick up some traditional handmade Azulejo tiles at Velha Goa Galeria and/or stop by Thomas the Potter in Fontainhas.
Find peace at homestays
Stay at one of these eco-conscious family homestays and enjoy unparalleled warmth and hospitality. Olaulim Backyards is situated on a serene river not far from the touristy areas, yet is totally secluded. The azure-blue pool and sprawling lawns stretch down to the water’s edge, from where you can canoe, kayak or fish. Capella Homestay is on a steep forested hill in the centre of north Goa. The house is impeccable, with high-ceilings, homely collections of books, photographs and antique furniture, a wide verandah overlooking the sparkling pool and an abundance of wildlife.
Soak in sustainable luxury
If you are looking for some eco-luxury, then stay at one of The Postcard Hotel properties in Goa. Each of their hotels embraces Goan heritage, from a carefully restored 214-year old ancestral home in Moira, to a 20-acre nature hideaway at Netravali. Venture further south for a stay in a luxury tent or cottage at Cabo Serai, spread over 14-acres of lush native trees with panoramic views of the Arabian Sea. Both hotels have sustainable hospitality as their central ethos.
Retreat into nature
If you are looking to immerse yourself in nature, then choose from one of these eco-villages or nature retreats. Khaama Kethna in Agonda is a 12-acre holistic and sustainable living centre that offers long term residencies. Or head north to Mojigao to sleep in a wooden eco-cottage nestled in the forests of Assagao. You could even stay in a mud-hut or tree-house at Saraya Eco Stay in Sangolda. If you want to venture further into the wild, consider Wildnernest or Nature’s Nest in the foothills of the Western Ghats, both committed to conservation and offering a range of adventurous outdoor activities.