Getting Oriented

Goa is best described as short (just 105 km [65 miles] long) and sweet (full of friendly locals). The capital city, Panaji, divides the northern beaches from those in the south, and is the regional transportation and cultural center. Although Goa is India’s smallest state (in area), its terrain manages to include sandy beaches, lazy backwaters, acres of emerald-green rice paddies, and thick palm forests, as well as steep, jungle-covered mountains. Its immense popularity means that it has much better tourist infrastructure than elsewhere in India, with plenty of hotel rooms, an increasing number of excellent, and very affordable, restaurants, decent roads, and fairly reliable cell-phone connectivity and electricity.

Most of the country's development is along its coastline, where visitors will find all the resorts that have made Goa famous, as well as in its two major towns—Panaji in the center and Margao in the south.

  • North Goa. For many visitors the heart and soul of Goa is in the bustling beaches and villages north of Panaji. You can find classic Goan beach life in many towns and villages dotting the coast, such as Candolim, Calangute, Baga, and Anjuna. And hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, and water sports are plentiful during the tourist season. Quieter beaches are north of the Chapora River in and around Mandrem; inland villages such as Siolim are lovely alternatives for experiencing Goa's less touristy, rural side.
  • Panaji and Central Goa. Whitewashed Catholic churches, palm-lined plazas, and the narrow streets of Panaji's historic Fontainhas—the Latin Quarter—feel decidedly more European than Indian. The grandiose churches of Old Goa and the temples in Ponda are best accessed from here.
  • South Goa. There are a few historic sights in and around Margao, but most people come to the south for the swanky upscale resorts that offer much quieter beaches. Colva and Palolem are catching up to the party trail of the northern beaches, and the area now has a slew of beachfront bars and restaurants. Loutulim, one of Goa's prettiest villages, is a charming alternative to go off the beaten path.

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