Time Out has vacation ideas for Dubai expats, including an Goa travel guide, with things to do on your holiday, hotels, deals and flights to India
Time Out Dubai staff
“Beaches in India? Is that even a thing?” is top of the FAQ list when someone is planning a seaside getaway to the country. While India is oozing with culture, colour and contradictions elsewhere, Goa is responsible for all the hipsterism, and of course, your next tanning session.
If you‛re looking to top up that tan in the summer of 2016, then escape to the secluded, palm-lined beaches of this Indian region that’s balmy enough to give Sri Lanka a run for its money. The state has changed a lot since The Beatles landed here in the 1960s to practise transcendental meditation, however, its vibe sustains.
Anjuna Flea Market After a day of lounging on the beach and drinking countless shells of fresh coconut water (they’re less than Dhs1/QR1 in this part of town; remember to stay hydrated in the heat), head to the weekly Anjuna Flea Market that offers a grand selection of cheap, yet tasteful shopping. You'll get everything from hammocks to Tibetan jewellery to Moroccan lamps and even crisp, spicy samosas. The Saturday Night Market is also great for those who want to press pause on all the beach parties and spend a chilled-out evening under the stars at Calangute.
Day trip to Panaji If you’ve been to any other state capital in India, you’ll know how chaotic they can be. Panaji, however, has matured and taken the high road. Still widely known by its former Portuguese name, Panjim, this capital quietly sits around a peninsula of Mandovi River. The city centre poses narrow streets and white-washed buildings with red-tiled roofs, all testament to the Portuguese past of this Goan city. Another stark reminder of that time period is a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site in Old Goa, only a 30-minute drive from Panaji, which has now become one of the most-visited spots in the state. On a lazy afternoon wander the streets of the Latin Quarter to explore independent fashion boutiques. Indian designer Wendell Rodricks owns a flagship store here, which can sort out your beach-to-dance-floor ensemble. If travelling with the kids, take them to the planetarium, and stroll along the sun-kissed streets of this old town; nowhere else will you feel the Portuguese influence any stronger.
Visit the Spice Farm If you enjoy a spicy Goan curry, then do it some justice and head off to Sahakari Spice Farm located amid lush grassland at Curti in North Goa. Your trip won't be complete until you walk along the path of this farm. Find every kind of spice growing in abundance here: saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and even orchid spice. Take a tour of this olfactory jungle and then head over to the kitchen to sample organic curries and stir-fries, and a palate cleanser of an exotic cashew-based beverage.
Where to stay
Ahilya by the Sea This brand-new boutique hotel is adorably perched on the edge of Coco Beach in South Goa and is a property out of your summer dreams. Perhaps tagging it as a hotel is not wise, as Ahilya by the Sea merely comprises of two converted Portuguese-colonial mansions. What were formerly two private estates of a local family have now been reimagined as the refuge for sea-loving holidaymakers. There are a total of seven suites in the hotel, all decorated with private art pieces from the owners. You won’t find any ravers or pretentious travellers wandering the shore of the beaches here, as this part of Goa is exclusively reserved for local fisherman, and the occasional visit from cows. www.ahilyabythesea.com
Coco Shambhala If you learn one thing about Goa, let it be that it is the Koh Samui of India. Not entirely in its landscape capacity, but to the extent of the crowd it attracts. North Goa– also known as the party hub of the state – is where the new generation of the country heads to when they are craving a change in pace. This four-villa complex is an ideal destination for the crowd, as it’s located near Candolim Beach, where most of the rave parties are held. However, it still abstains from being part of that tourist mayhem. Each villa sleeps four, and you can book out the entire property, which will house up to 16 adults. The per-nightly price includes a daily maid service, as well a car and driver to chauffeur you around. www.cocoshambhala.com
Being only a three-hour direct flight away from Dubai, Goa is one for the last-minute holiday planners. Air India flies four times a week from Dubai International Airport, and Abu Dhabi offers daily flights with a stopover in Mumbai or Muscat. Doha residents can travel directly with Qatar Airways in under four hours.
There are many public transport options if you don’t want to go through the trouble of hiring a car and driving around the traffic-crazed streets. Jump on the quintessentially Indian mode of transport, an autorickshaw, which is about a third cheaper than a regular taxi. It’s a great alternative if you’re just going down the road. Goa is also the only state in India where a motorcycle is a licensed form of a taxi – and they are a common sight, but be careful of them if you’re on foot. Licensed, air-conditioned taxis also crowd the streets, which will cost about 1,500 to 2,000 rupees (Dhs80-110/QR80-110) for an entire day. Agree on a price before hopping into one.
While the beaches of Goa are some of the best in India, most of them are crowded with locals and tourists who come loaded in buses from other parts of India. If you want some private beach time, avoid Baga, Calangute and Candolim. You’ll ruin your Goa experience, and cringe at the idea of hitting the beach for the rest of your trip. Go to Arambol, Anjuna, Little Vagator, Palolem and Cola Beach instead; you’ll find humble fishermen here.
What's happening Summertime is when Goans take a respite from tanning time on the beach and indulge in more holistic activities. As the temperatures stay around mid-30s, with a heavy chance of rain (and incredible humidity), a dip in the ocean must be replaced with a day spent in the kitchen. Many resorts conduct cooking classes during the summer months for their in-house guests. But if you want something more authentic, then head to Siolim House in North Goa near the district of Bardez, where you can book for a one-off Goan cuisine cooking class or a raw food session. For only 2,500 rupees (Dhs140/QR140), you get four hours of cooking lessons, as well as a market visit to buy fresh produce and poultry. The menu includes four chicken dishes, a crab curry, traditional Goan curry, and many vegetarian options. www.cookingclassesgoa.com