Karen Durham, from our Commercial team, recently visited the state for the first time, and was blown away! Read about her experience here.
What an amazing holiday destination - I can honestly say that I was blown away by so many elements of what Goa has to offer. Yes, it’s a long flight in a different time zone but well worth accepting these minor inconveniences for the wonderful things that await, and the e-visa is extremely simple to apply for and fast to acquire.
I can’t speak highly enough about this tiny state, there really is something for everyone: it is one long stretch of sandy coastline, only broken up by the historic capital, Panjim, which sits on an island. The north is more lively with easy access to bars, shops and restaurants outside the hotels. Whereas the south is more laid-back with country roads dotted with brightly coloured traditional houses - it was great to be able to experience the best of both worlds during my visit.
Alila Diwa Hotel, South Goa
Firstly, Goa is English-speaking, so you feel right at home. What's more, the Goan people are incredibly friendly and polite, going out of their way to help and to make you feel special. The service levels are excellent and everything is done with a smile - you can’t help but feel happy here.
Then there’s the weather - winter sun at its best. I visited in late March which is starting to get a little more humid (it’s always pleasantly hot) but every hotel we feature has air-conditioning, and when you are spending the days with either a pool or the Arabian Sea to dip into, this is certainly not something to complain about. Whenever you travel, just remember to keep hydrated and enjoy the contrast to the British winter.
The beaches are next on my list and they certainly don’t disappoint. Wherever you stay you won’t be far from a beautiful stretch of sand, however, it was the south which took my breath away - miles of soft white sand stretching from one hotel to another. I loved taking a stroll at sunset as it became a little cooler, and at the weekend the locals come out to enjoy the space too (there’s plenty of room for everyone) so this is a perfect opportunity to people watch. You'll find teens playing football, kids paddling in the shallows and multi-generational families enjoying each others’ company. I saw the sun go down over multiple beaches and never tired of the sight - the perfect way to end a busy (or lazy) day. At this time of year, (late March) sunset is at 6.45pm and doesn’t differ greatly all year round, it is a perfect time to have a sundowner before dinner in one of the famous beach shacks, or bars/restaurants, which act as a backdrop to the beaches. The beaches are not private in Goa so only a few hotels have sun beds on the beach itself, but these can be used for a small fee at the shacks.
Benaulim Beach at sunset
It’s good to remember that Goa offers an insight into a different culture. Due to its Portuguese heritage, approximately 30% of the population is Catholic and so there are both churches and temples to visit. I ventured out on our Glimpses of Goa excursion, I’d highly recommend it as a way to experience a taste of Goan history, religion and nature with a visit to a spice plantation for a tasty if a little spicy, lunch! Our excursions operate with a private driver and guide - not a coach or umbrella in sight - and Vincent was extremely knowledgeable and happy to go at my pace, whilst answering any questions I threw at him. We spotted a vast number of birds along the way too and I would rate this as a destination for bird enthusiasts.
Food is always high on my list for a holiday and seeing curry for breakfast took some getting used to, but there was always a good choice for any palate. Goans are massive seafood fans and Goan fish curry is a staple for any family meal, which I was able to try at the delightful Ahilya by the Sea hotel - a small hidden gem sat directly on the beach with an excellent chef. Calamari, the renowned beachside restaurant owned by the Santana Beach Hotel, saw us eating freshly grilled kingfish along with breaded prawns and garlic butter calamari (of course!) - all delicious. I recommend being adventurous but check how spicy a dish is before ordering and watch out for chillis!
A delicious local fish and seafood platter.
I was able to check out a huge variety of hotels with the help of our excellent local reps and was really impressed with the quality on offer. Goa has not suffered in the same way as many tourist destinations during the pandemic, as it has become a holiday spot for Indian families as well as Europeans, so hotels have been able to maintain standards for the most part. Air-conditioning, complimentary bottled water and tea/coffee-making facilities come as standard whatever the grade of the hotel, and many offer a free shuttle service to the beach if they don’t provide direct access. Each hotel has its appeal, whether it be the family-run Santana Beach or Sao Domingos hotels, which see high numbers of repeat guests. Or there are the 5* Taj hotels with golf courses, multiple restaurants and garden villas, some with plunge pools. I was struck by a couple of the more unique properties, such as Postcard Cuelim with only 6 rooms in a traditional heritage home, or Nilaya Hermitage with its stunning views and monkeys roaming the gardens. We now include private transfers to all our properties, so no waiting in a car park on arrival, which I appreciated after an overnight flight.
Flights start again in November and I believe it will be a very busy season after the recent challenges of getting to Goa, so it’s definitely worth booking sooner rather than later to have something to look forward to - I certainly plan to go back as soon as possible.