Here are thumbnail sketches of nineteen better-known beaches of Goa. We’ll start from the south of Goa, work our way up to the capital, Panaji, then move northwards till we come to the boundary that Goa shares with the neighboring state of Maharashtra.
If you drove in from the southern state of Karnataka and wanted to discover the nearest, reasonably well-known Goan beach, the chances are that you’d be directed to Palolem. It’s a beach of white sand facing a blue bay between two headlands. The little wooded islands on the northern headland are interesting, and if you’re interested, try to persuade one of the fishermen to ferry you across. They do offer to take you out to spot dolphins. Tourists have at last discovered Palolem and so there are a few shacks selling seafood snacks, souvenirs, and clothes of the shapeless, bright, informal kind. Panaji, the capital, is more than 70 km away.
If you continue driving towards Panaji, the next beach is Agonda. It’s long and lonely, fringed with palms and casuarinas and dominated by a large hill to the south. However, it’s not safe to swim out too far here. There are no shops or other facilities on this beach: so carry all you need.
Next, on your journey north, is Mabor: very beautiful, very clean and, in spite of warning notices put up by a luxury beach hotel, it is a public beach. All beaches in India are public beaches. Private enterprise has, however, responded well to the needs of visitors: there are beach umbrellas and chairs and tourists happily broiling themselves in the Goan sun.
If you leave Mabor behind you, you could turn into the casuarina-shaded beach of Cavelossim. It’s a fishing beach which ensures a good supply of fresh seafood and which in turn could account for the fair sprinkling of shacks-on-hire. The beach seems to shelve rather steeply and visitors should be careful of swimming here.
Though Mabor, Cavelossim, and the next three beaches are really a single strand, they are treated as separate beaches because of the villages they were once associated with. Thus the next one north, Varca, may in time develop a character of its own. For the present, it’s really an extension of the others. It does, however, have deep rows of casuarinas and is long, clean, and quite lonely.
Benaulim, next in line, is relatively undiscovered by domestic tourists even though it is a fishing beach. However, it gets fairly crowded during weekends and evenings with local visitors who get off buses about a kilometer away and pour onto the beach. The breaking wave height here is half a meter and the slope is 1 in 30 in September.
Colva is on the northern end of this long, continuous strip of coastline. It’s broad and beautiful, has a stream coursing through it and is backed by palms. Sadly, its beauty has made it popular and its popularity has cheapened it: its off-beach shops and restaurants, brightly lit and crowded, give it the feel of a funfair rather than a serene, unwinding beach. This is essentially our domestic tourists’ paddling beach.
The sands of Majorda, next on your northern drive to Panaji, are not as white as those of Colva but it is popular in a slightly more up-market way. Here people relax under beach umbrellas and recline on pool chairs. There are shacks backed by stands of screw pines and palms and a small stream lost itself in a puddle patronized by flocks of white gulls.
The last southern beach before you get to Panaji is the first southern beach to be discovered by visitors: Bogmolo. This broad beach, backed by palms, is now shared by visitors and fishermen alike. You’d find bathers relaxing on sun beds under bright beach umbrellas. Bogmolo is considered a safe beach for swimmers.
Miramar (Gaspar Dias)
Panaji’s beach, Miramar or Gaspar Dias, is 3 km from the city center and spreads beyond a small forest of casuarinas. This is a popular beach with joggers, strollers, children, and careful paddlers. However, it is not considered safe for swimmers.
Dona Paula Beach
On the other side of this headland is the little bay and tiny beach of Dona Paula. Water scooters and speedboats buzz across the bay and, at the drop of a hat, guides will embroider on the woeful tale of a star-crossed maiden who fell in love with a handsome man below her status. Conventions could not be breached in those distant days and so she leapt into the sea and to her death. If you listen carefully, you will hear her singing forlornly on moonlit nights, they say, but if you claim that it’s only a sea-bird singing, they’d retort back saying you’re not attuned to the spirits of the air!
Driving out of the capital, heading north along the coast, you come across the famed Aguada beach dominated by the battlements of the Old Portuguese Fort Aguada. A luxury hotel spreads here with its more informal clone, the Taj Village, clustering at its feet. It’s a good, clean, swimmers’ beach popular with well-heeled tourists. It is also at the southern end of a very long stretch of beach that goes all the way up to the mouth of the Baga River. Here, too, as in the case of many of the southern beaches, individual segments of this extensive strand have been given separate identities associated with the villages that lie behind them. Their names sound like the strumming of a Goan guitar: Sinquerim, Candolim, Calangute and Baga.
Sinquerim is popular with foreign visitors because it’s broad and not very crowded. One reason why domestic tourists seem to be wary of this beach is possibly that its foreshore slope is a steep 1 in 10.
Candolim is more popular than Sinquerim. Its immediate hinterland gives you the quietly disciplined feel of a coastal village in Spain: warm, friendly, and happy to mind its own business. Its foreshore slope is the same as Sinquerim and the waves break at a meter.
Calangute was the first hippie beach resort at the height of the Flower Children era. The successors to these dropouts have moved on as domestic tourist moved in and converted Calangute into a paddling, snacking, shopping, picnicking, vacationing beach. It is generally crowded and the small resorts and pensions do a thriving business during the holiday season. It is broad, got a good cover of casuarinas and, though it is not what everyone expects of a beach, it is certainly the most popular beach in Goa.
This long beach has a host of facilities to cater to visitors, including beach and water sports. Though well known, its long stretch means you’ll find privacy for yourself on a shelf that isn’t crowded by tourists with cameras and an attitude.
However, Calangute is not everyone’s favorite. Most tourists would prefer the last segment on this stretch: Baga. You’d like it even though it is a fishing beach and fairly crowded with foreigners marinating in the sun and domestic visitors paddling; and in spite of the fact that the sand here isn’t either white or gold but brown. You’d like the grove of palms that comes fairly close to the water’s edge. Most of all, you’d be happy on this beach because the Baga River flows down one side of it offering a pleasant diversion for children and those who love the water but can’t risk the rip currents that must swirl round the mouth. Where the river and the sea meet, and on the far right bank, there is a group of black rocks against which the sea crashes in dramatic explosions of spray.
Across the river, a fair distance away, is a headland that separates the two parts of the most photographed beach in Goa: the beautiful Vagator. Its northern half fronts a bay that curves from the headland to the hillock crowned by the Chapora Fort. Between the headland and the hillock, surf spreads in skirts of white lace and the palms stand far back from the water. At the tip of the headland are groups of sea-washed rocks popular with honeymooners and others who want to be left alone. To the south of the headland are more outcrops of rocks cupping little pockets of sand and interesting tidal pools. And on the headland you’d find snack stalls, coconut sellers, and persuasive peddlers of trinkets and shells.
Close by is Anjuna, once the most celebrated of Goa’s many beaches, for this is where the hippies would hang about. Their departure has done nothing to rob the wide shelf of sand of its beauty, and almost every visitor heads here, for it has gone on to become one of the most photographed of beaches. Which means, rightly, that you’re unlikely to find isolation here.
Arambol (Harmal) Beach
Then there is the beach that is the furthest north: Arambol also called Harmal. The sand is soft and white, there are cottages on the red laterite slopes, rocks in some places, a freshwater pond, and the approach road is lined with shacks offering souvenirs and clothes. At one end of it runs the Tiracol River and beyond rises the Tiracol Fort, now an interesting little hotel.