Goa is a perfect travel destination. Period. Whether you are travelling solo, with your loved ones, with friends or with your family, there is something to do for everyone there. If you love beaches, Goa is just about perfect, and if you are looking to explore Goa beyond the beaches, there is tons for you as well. Though it used to be a popular tourist destination only during winters, Goa is now a place to visit in all seasons, including monsoon and summers!
I was recently in Goa with my family - my mother, sister and my impossibly impossible nephew and niece. It was a rather varied age group (8 years to 65 years), and each one of us wanted to do different things. However, we also soon realised who was the master decision maker - it was the kids in the family. So though we three adults wanted to visit the churches, and explore the old town, the kids really put their foot down and literally dictated our itinerary. This was certainly new to me as a (so called) seasoned traveller, but frankly I learnt a thing or two about children during this trip, one of which was the fact that looking at the holy remains of the body of Francis Xavier was really not their thing; ice cream certainly was, and so was water adventures.
Anyway, if you are planning a visit to Goa with your family, here are my TEN recommendations for all that you can do together. I had to emit out a few interesting and obvious ones, like a visit to the Spice plantation, as kids didn't think it was fun enough! Enjoy reading the post and if you have more suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
Goa is the land of beaches, and there is no denying that the beaches are the main draw for any traveller coming here. What many do not realise is that Goa has many many beaches and it's good to plan in advance if you are travelling with your family.
Though it's not my favourite, Baga beach is perhaps the most popular with Indian families. Except during off-season months, the entire stretch is lined with shacks and food places. Pick any that you like and you will have a lively time. The water can get rough sometime, so be careful. Other popular and similar beaches are Calangute and Anjuna.
My favourite beaches are actually in South Goa which is much less crowded and calm. But you need to make that choice as a family - do you want to be in a secluded beach, or on a busy lively beach. The water sports also usually take place on busy beaches.
Goa has a few forts but unfortunately most of them are almost gone now. Charpora Fort is one such fort which must have seen much better days in the past, but today lies in ruins.
The fort came into limelight with the movie 'Dil Chahta Hai' and ever since, it's been extremely popular, especially with the youngsters. There are two ways of going up on the fort. The slightly difficult way is to climb up from the Vagator beach, but if your kids are small, skip this option and instead drive up to the Charpora Fort parking lot and then hike up. It's a simple 10-15 minutes hike and you are rewarded with lovely views all around.
One of the things I realised when travelling with sister's kids was how much fun is actually possible within a resort itself. What's even more surprising is how much kids love to be inside a resort, and do the various activities.
I stayed at Novotel Shrem Resort and Spa, and came back highly impressed with the the attention given to the needs of the kids. From a special play area with dedicated staff, to special food for kids during meals, to a movie theatre just for them and numerous activities planned during the day. What's even better is that these activities are different each day.
If kids love pool, there is a paddle boat for them as well and I think this is where we had the most fun. We went into the pool when it was raining hard, and that made pool activities even more fun!
When you are in the beaches of Goa one of the best things to do is to enjoy some water sports. From banana rides, to jet ski, kneeboarding, windsurfing, surfboarding and even parasailing and paragliding (see image below), you can do it all there. However, not everything is possible in all the seasons, so do keep that in mind.
For the kids, banana boats and the jet ski are perhaps the most fun and adventurous, but of course you need to see what you all are happy doing. The best beaches for water sports are also the most popular ones - Calangute, Baga, Candolim etc.
However, if you want to go into Goa's rivers, Mhadei River and Tilari River, you can also try out kayaking and white-water rafting.
It's surprising how many people think of Goa as a city and not as a state. Goa is large and beaches is only a small part of it. So while you enjoy Goa's sunny beaches, don't forget to explore it's hinterlands which is where the true hidden magic of Goa actually happens.
Rent a car and go on a self drive road-trip away from the hustle and bustel of the beaches, make unplanned stops at the local food places, go make a small prayer in an old and beautiful, yet unknown village church, and make a trip you won't forget.
South Goa is especially great if you want to do this, and frank speaking it's completely alright to go on one without a specific plan or route. It might be a good idea to pack some sandwiches, fruits and water though.
Did you know that you can go Dolphin watching in Goa? Well, if the answer is no, here's some good news - yes you can! Watching dolphins in the wild is way better than watching them in aqua parks etc (which I strongly disapprove of) where they are made to dance, or do tasks on human command. All living being deserve to be free, and so do dolphins. You can catch a glimpse of both Pacific Humpback dolphins and shy Finless Porpoises.
So skip the parks, and catch them in the wild as they go about doing their business. here are some of the popular tour operators who offer this service - John's boat tours and Atlantis Water Sports.
If luxury is what desire when in Goa, there is something for you as well. You can try out the exclusive luxury cruises on the Charpora river of Goa. The cruise typically happens in a trimaran and there is wine, beer, juices and light snacks on-board.
If you feel like it, feel free to jump into the river where the level isn't deep, or go to an island with your drink and sunbathe.
Located on the border of Goa and Karnataka, Dudhsagar falls are a four tiered falls on the Mandovi river. Located within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, these are a popular destination for visitors of all age-groups. If you really want to see the falls in it's full glory, plan a trip during monsoon when the water really roars down the tiers.
Though the hike to the falls from the unscheduled train stop is now banned, you can trek to the bottom of the falls still.
Many travellers to Goa also do not know about the Water parks in the state, and guess what there is not just one, but three water parks here. Though monsoon and winters are extremely pleasant in Goa, summers can be punishing, and that's when these parks become even more enticing.
The three parks are:
Splashdown Water Park at Anjuna, Bardez-Goa
Froggyland Water World at Nuvem, Goa
Blue Whale Water park at Baga Road, Baga
Shopping in Goa is actually a lot of fun, and you must not confuse it with a regular shopping experience. Most popular beaches have a flea market, and you can always find tribal women selling beautiful handmade accessories, but the most fun are the night markets of Goa. There are a few of those (like Baga Night market), but the largest and the most authentic one is called Arpora Saturday Night market. The market is spread over different levels and artists from all over the world exhibit their products here. If you do not enjoy shopping so much, you can always head out to their bars and enjoy some cocktails and beer, while the kids can dance away to some popular music there.
There is also the Anjuna Wednesday market which is fairly popular with the travellers, apart from the Mapusa and the Margao markets.