One doesn’t need a reason or season to travel to Goa. India’s beloved sunshine state is a hit with every kind of traveller — from party-lovers and foodies to families, couples and singletons who would like to soak up some sun, surf and sand.
But there’s more to this beautiful coastal land than just sun-kissed beaches, great seafood and cheap alcohol. From hidden waterfalls and ancient caves to under-the-radar heritage sites, Goa is a treasure trove of unusual experiences
Here are 10 offbeat destinations that will show you a different yet equally refreshing side of India’s favourite vacation getaway!
1. Arvalem Caves
Referred to as Sunaparant (or the Golden Land) in ancient literature, Goa is home to several caves and ruins that have slipped into oblivion with the passage of time and the vagaries of nature. The most prominent among these once-hallowed abodes are the Arvalem caves.
Protected by the Archaeological Society of India, the rock-cut chambers (carved into a laterite hill) are also known as the Pandava Caves — folklore has it that these caves once sheltered the Pandavas during their twelve-year exile. Nearby is the picturesque Arvalem Waterfall which cascades over slippery rocks into a lake.
2. Big Foot
The brainchild of local artist Maendra Jocelino Araujo Alvares, ‘Big Foot’ is the more popular name of Ancestral Goa, a unique museum that showcases the intangible heritage of Goa. Conglomerations of handmade artefacts and clay mannequins display the state’s traditional occupations (like sea salt making, feni distillation etc) and culture (folk dances, crafts etc.)
However, what takes your breath away at Big Foot is the 14-feet-long rock carving of Sant Mirabai created by the curator himself, single-handedly, in just one month. This has won many accolades from national and international institutions, including the record for being the longest laterite sculpture in India by the Limca Book of Records.
3. Bamanbudo Waterfall
A gem of a waterfall, the enchanting Bamanbudo spring lies nestled deep inside the lush forests of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary in Canacona. According to locals, the waterfall acquired its name after an elderly person belonging to the Saraswat community was drowned while taking a bath in the waterfall.
With the exception of regular trekkers and hikers from Goa, very few people are aware of the existence of this perennial waterfall. Interestingly, just 500 metres away from the waterfall, lies a sacred grove with a small shrine known as Paika Pann where the local forest-dwelling communities pay obeisance.
4. Mayem Lake
If you are tired of beach hopping and would like to see a different kind of watery wonder, then Mayem Lake is where you should be. Cuddled in the lap of Bicholim’s hilly countryside, this emerald-hued lake offers a relaxed encounter with nature at its prettiest. The Champions Yacht Club here also offers an array of watersports to indulge in.
Pedal across the placid waters in Bumper Boats equipped with water guns, play Kayak Polo or if you’re hungry, dine onboard a barbecue leisure boat called BBQ Donut! You can also try your hand at bird watching or take a quick detour to the nearby village of Kumbharwado (where most of the state’s terracotta Ganesha idols are made).
5. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Just upriver from Panjim, this wildly overgrown mangrove forest on the Chorao island is home to a small number of crocodiles and over 100 species of birds from the ubiquitous egrets and herons to the colourful kingfishers and drongos. Remember to visit the headquarters of Wild Otters, the only NGO in India devoted to “the well-being of otters”.
While its possible to drive directly to the riverine island, its more enjoyable to take the ferry to cross the Mandovi river, free for pedestrians and perhaps the most charming of all the commuter boat rides in the state. Interestingly, Chorao is also famous for korgut rice, a robust variety that flourishes in the brackish waters of the mangrove forest.
6. Fort Tiracol
Surrounded by the Arabian sea and lush coastal greenery, Fort Tiracol was constructed in the 17th century by Raja Bahadur Khem Sawant Bhonsle. It was later an armed fortress of the Portuguese rulers. Today, the restored fort is home to a heritage hotel, a Baroque-style church, and centuries-old history.
Tiracol fort also played a part in the Goan freedom movement. Freedom fighter Hirve Guruji and other satyagrahis were killed in this fort by the Portuguese on August 5, 1955 for hoisting the Indian flag. A memorial dedicated to them stands at the entrance to the fort.
7. Netravali Bubble Lake
The drive through the verdant rainforests of Western Ghats brings one to the charming Netravali village in Sanguem taluka. Located in this village is Goa’s bubble lake, popularly known as Budbus or Budbudyachi Tali. This name is derived from the bubbles that rise continuously to the surface in various places in the lake. Strangely enough, they also appear to respond to certain sounds and rise faster if you clap!
Budbudyachi Tali is also considered sacred by the locals and is located in the compound of the village’s old Gopinath temple. Interestingly, the original idol of Lord Krishna that was present in this temple since the 14th century AD has been moved to the Goa State Museum at Patto, Panaji.
8. Chorla Ghat
Located on the north-eastern side of the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra border, Chorla is a beguilingly beautiful region of the Western Ghats carpeted with lush greenery and cascading waterfalls in full flow. Extremely rich in biodiversity of both flora and fauna, this region has also been declared an important bird area by BirdLife International.
Another must-do experience is a trek through the wilderness of Chorla Ghat’s Swapnagandha Valley to see the crystal-like water of the magnificent Vazra Sakla Falls cascade into the valley from a height of 150m. Interestingly, in the monsoon season, a walk through the same forest trails on inky black nights will reveal glowing Mycena (bioluminescent mushrooms) on rotting twigs, logs and stumps.
9. Cumbarjua Canal
If you would like to explore the backwaters of Goa, there’s nothing like a boat ride through the Cumbarjua Canal — a 15 km crocodile-inhabited canal that connects the two main rivers of Goa, the Mandovi and the Zuari. It’s lush, peaceful, and far removed from the crowd.
Interestingly, the crocodiles that can be seen are Marsh Muggars, a unique freshwater species that has adapted to the salt water habitat in Goa. Most of these crocs are so used to human presence that if anybody ventures too close, they just jump into the water and move away.
The local children even swim in the canal with crocodiles nearby. In fact, in the village of Durbhatwadi on the canal, the crocs are worshipped as the guardian spirit of the community. There is even a crocodile worship festival (called Maange Thapnee in Konkani) which is celebrated on the day of the new moon in January!
10. Tambdi Surla
A 12th century Shiva temple tucked away in the forested folds of the Bhagwan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary, Tambdi Surla is an architectural marvel — it has been built without any binding between the stones, that have been cut to a specific shape, and in a unique manner that maintains cool interiors even when temperatures outside are scorching.
Tambdi Surla is also the state’s oldest shrine, believed to be the sole surviving specimen of Kadamba-Yadava architecture in Goa. Not too far away from the iconic temple lies Barabhoomi, an idyllically located nook in the woods that is home to a tiny 400-year-old temple dedicated to Betal and Vetal.
TBI Tip: In addition to the 10 little-known gems above, here are three exciting things you can sign up for to see a different side of Goa:
- A Hot Air Balloon ride at Assolda: Let the winds literally sweep you off your feet in South Goa as you embark on this 1-hour hot air balloon ride!
- Cashew apple harvesting at Valpoi: March to May is the cashew-apple harvesting season in Goa. This is also the time when people can visit cashew farms (such as Madame Rosa Distillery’s farm in Valpoi) to pick cashew apples, stomp the fruit, watch fresh feni (Goa’s heritage drink) be brewed in copper pots sealed with anthill clay.
- Whitewater rafting in Sattari: The months between June to October (the tourist off-season in Goa) are the perfect time to soak in the rain-drenched beauty of the wilderness and ride the waves of the gorgeously moody Mhadei River in Sattari district.