Goa which is geographically divided into the North and South districts offers a wide range of places to visit.
The small and charming state capital, Panaji, lies on the southern bank of the Mandovi River in North Goa. A lot of its Portuguese heritage still survives in the oldest part of the town – Fontain has and Sao Tome, with old villas with wrought iron balconies looking down upon narrow cobbled streets and white washed churches in village squares. Dominating the square on which it stands, is the Church of Immaculate Conception (1541 AD), Panaji’s main place of worship for the Catholics and one of the places to see in Goa. In medieval times, all sailors arriving from Portugal congregated here for thanksgiving mass for their safe passage.
Nine kilometres east along the river is the town of Old Goa – what once was the hub of Portugal’s empire in the East and Far East. Virtually abandoned after the river silted up and the new capital was set up at Panaji in 1843, all that remains of this once grand city are half a dozen churches, cathedrals, a monastery and convent that make for the interesting places to see in Goa. Do visit the imposing Se Cathedral of St. Catherine, the largest church in Asia, which has 14 altars, an 80m long aisle, and five bells including the Golden Bell, said to be one of the best in the world.
The late 16th century Basilica of Bom Jesus with its richly gilded altars is famous throughout the Catholic world. Take a sightseeing tour to this church as it is the venue for a pilgrimage for both Christians and Hindus who come to pay homage to the embalmed mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier enshrined in a silver casket since 1553. Also worth seeing, up on Holy Hill, are the Church of our Lady of the Rosary (one of the oldest in Goa), and Church and Convent of Santa Monica, reputed to be amongst the largest convents in the Portuguese empire.
This is the land of the magical trinity of sun, sea, and sand, and is most sought after for its captivating beaches. The turquoise blue water is shallow and safe for swimming, except during the monsoon months. Most five star hotels and resorts have their properties overlooking the beach but fortunately Goa does not have any private beaches – all beaches are open to the public.
Goa carnival is going to happen in February. You can get more information on Goa Carnival 2013 party and other activities to do in Goa.
Miramar Beach, closest to the capital Panaji (3 km), is conveniently located in the heart of the state capital which is also why it is rather crowded and often dirty, though you can watch some spectacular sunsets, as the sun sets at the confluence of the River Mandovi as it flows into the Arabian Sea.
A small, idyllic beach with the Dona Paula Beach Resort, and neighbouring Piranha cottages, Caranzalem is situated at a distance of nine kilometres southwest of Panaji. Though not very pretty, Caranzalem (between Miramar and Dona Paula) is quiet and safe for swimming, it has water scooters and other water sports facilities as there is no undercurrent, which makes it an ideal sightseeing place in Goa. The Vaniguinim beach overlooks the Mormugao Bay but is accessible only from the Cidade de Goa Hotel.
The entire coast from Fort Aguada all the way to Goa’s border with Maharashtra is a virtually unbroken 30 km stretch of beach, some rocky, hazardous and hidden in secluded coves and others that are long stretches of golden sand.
Calangute is the busiest resort in Goa and now the centre of the ‘package’ tourist trade and has a long beach of coarse golden sand but there is a dangerous undertow that restricts swimming time. There is plenty of accommodation available here and lots of fellow tourists for company.
Palm-fringed Sinquerim beach lies at the foot of Fort Aguada and is popular with tourist groups. So also is the nearby Candolim beach. All the beaches have beach umbrellas, loungers and plenty of shacks selling beer, feni, and aerated drinks and freshly caught fish right out of the fisherman’s net.
A little further north along the coast is crescent-shaped Baga, a more picturesque beach, with better swimming. This beach is popular for the various water sports - among them are parasailing, jet skiing, body boarding and even surfing, though the waves aren’t good enough for the professional surfers. Another hit amongst the tourists are the "dolphin rides" where a boat takes you out into the sea where one can see the lovely creatures gliding along the surface. The flea market at Baga has recently sprung up (Saturdays from around 4 pm), north of the tiny river that joins the sea, where you could strike some fancy bargains in Kashmiri and other Indian handicrafts.
Further north from Baga is the safe, though somewhat infamous Anjuna beach, which still has a little hangover of the ‘hippy’ culture of the 70s. However, don’t miss the Wednesday flea market, which Anjuna is famous for throughout Goa. It is a fascinating blend of Kashmiri and Tibetan traders, tribals from Gujarat, Karnataka, and Andhra, and local traders selling a delightful range of handicrafts from all across India. So you could pick up mirror-work from Rajasthan, exquisite embroidery from Kutch or woodcarvings from Kerala. Also available are a huge range of furnishings in psychedelic, glow in the dark fabric, along with a wide selection of the famous Goa "Trance" music.
Another attraction of the flea market is the "Mehndi" or henna applications done by tribal women. These tribal women keep pace with contemporary tastes with very lifelike replication of a range of tattoos, made with a paste of henna leaves available in the green or black. These designs stay on for a good week before gradually fading off.
Travel a couple of kilometres onwards and you come to Vagator beach near Chapora fort. This is among the best sightseeing places in Goa, far more picturesque beach, empty and unspoilt as compared to the beaches close to Panaji and ideal for those in quest of a less commercialised atmosphere, greater seclusion, and better swimming. Little Vagator, towards Anjuna, tends to be a bit more crowded.
If you are looking for peace and quiet, and don’t mind living with basic amenities, then the Arambol (also called Harmal) would be an ideal place for you. Located far north near the border with Maharashtra, it has stretches of soft white sand that will soothe your senses and give you the peace of mind. It is also the paradise for the ''hippies'', as there are regular trance parties and even "full moon" parties.
You could even walk on from there to Querim beach (pronounced ‘Keri’) lying closest to the Maharashtra border, for perfect peace but with barely any facilities or supplies available there, so you’d have to carry them. Equally peaceful and bereft of logistics are Mandrem (just south of Arambol) and Morjim (Morji), on the Chapora estuary and particularly a great sightseeing place for bird watching. Mandrem is a lonely stretch of white sandy beach with one a couple of beach shacks, and is frequented mostly by tourists who want to get a full body tan, away from prying eyes of interested locals.
This area is quieter than North Goa and has several beaches as well as up-market resorts. Between Mormugao and Cape Rama lies a 20 km stretch of white sand with calm sea, starting from Velsao and ending at Mobor. Just 4km from the airport is the small cove at Bogmalo, not easily accessible, and, therefore, fairly empty. Good for swimming. Velsao is quiet and clean. Majorda is wider and dotted with beach shacks against a backdrop of resort complexes.
Colva, further south, is highly commercialised with resort complexes, large holiday crowds, trinket stalls, and discos. However, you could walk along the beach in either direction to reach quieter spots with greater privacy. Going south you would reach Benaulim (2km), relatively peaceful and empty, shallow and safe.
Further south is a seemingly never-ending stretch around the up-market resorts at Varca, Cavelossim, and Mobor, with pristine sands, wide beach, and shallow sea. If you are mobile (car or motor bike), you might like to venture south beyond Cape Rama to explore the isolated beaches there, which are among the good places to see in Goa. However, you’d need to carry your supplies for the day. This extra effort is well rewarded by the lovely drive, the peace, and beauty of the beaches at Palolem and Galgibaga. Agonda and Rajbag beaches lack shelter from the sun, making them rather isolated and inconvenient.
For some excitement, you can skim over the River Mandovi on hovercraft, or try the pedal boats and aqua bikes at the Dona Paula jetty (Panaji), Ourem Creek at Patto, Panaji and at the Mayem Lake.
If that sounds too tiring, take a leisurely river cruise on the Santa Monica luxury yacht that includes a cultural programme of Goan folk songs and dances. You can choose a cruise to suit your schedule -- an hour-long cruise at sunset (6 pm) or sundown (7.15 pm); two-hour island pleasure cruise; the 5-hour pleasure cruise starting at ten in the morning along the course of the Mandovi and Zuari rivers, or, if you are lucky to be there, the enchanting full moon cruise!
Also available are the range of water sports at the Baga beach. There is a lot of variety to choose from - para-sailing, jet skiing, motorboat, water scooters and so on. The latest attraction is the bungee jump!