If you have a beach vacation on your mind and you haven’t visited Goa in a long while (or ever), right now is the best time to explore this holiday haven.
The Goan weather in October-November is ideal—it’s neither too sunny nor too rainy, just the right kind of cloudy and breezy for you to frolic at the beaches and breathe in the crisp, fresh air as you go cruising around the leafy lanes on a two-wheeler or an open Thar. Tourists have just started to pour in. So it’s not as crowded as it usually is in December or as dead as during the offseason.
No matter what anyone says, just north Goa needs at least five days if you want to do it right. The Goan pace of life is so languorous, you won’t have the heart to rush through your vacation.
The best things in life—including holidays—need time. Over the years, the district has emerged as one big party—think of Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village. It’s where all the action is—the good food, cafés overlooking the beaches, the music, the people, and everything else that is truly Goa.
If you want wind in your hair and be covered in sunshine, hire a two-wheeler for local sightseeing. A scooter costs Rs 350 per day. Renting an open Thar is another popular alternative. You can soak in all the verdant greens, be comfortable, and get great photos with the beast in the backdrop.
The rates start at Rs 1600 per day. However, if you prioritise convenience over all else, rent a compact air-conditioned car. It will come in handy no matter the weather. It should cost you Rs 1200 for a day.
If you are looking for budget accommodation, book an Airbnb either in Anjuna or Morjim at least a fortnight in advance. However, if you want a place with an earthy Goan vibe, The Hammock in Anjuna is a good option. It has two kinds of cottages, is pet friendly, and is located at an isolated green patch, minutes away from the Anjuna beach, cafés, and all things good.
Now the day-by-day itinerary for North Goa, that has come about after much deliberation, and trial and error.
Day 1: Anjuna
Have brunch at Luna’s Ristorante. Celebrated for its Italian food, almost everything on its menu is delectable. Just a heads up: its Irish coffee with whiskey is no regular fare and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. You can repeat this place for breakfast or any other meal if you want to have good Italian food again.
Depending on the weather, you can visit Anjuna Beach in the afternoon or early evening. You may be tempted to take a dip in the water or wet your feet at least. But don’t. The beach may look clean but the water is not. If you get wet, you will most likely experience unbearable itching until you take a proper shower.
Reach Purple Martini just around sundown. Overlooking Anjuna Beach, it’s one of those quintessential party places where people dance the night away. Go wearing your shiniest clothes, shimmy your way through the evening, enjoy the view, but don’t expect too much from the food.
Day 2: Vagator
Have breakfast at Babka. Their coffee and desserts are sure to make you a regular for as long as you’re in north Goa. Your personal preferences aside, you totally must try their Vietnamese style cold brew and cinnamon rolls.
Go for lunch to Bean Me Up. It’s a quiet, secluded café that promotes mindfulness and serves all things vegan. Their buckwheat pancake, Burmese khao suey, buddha bowl, wild burrito, and nacho supreme platter are worth every penny spent. Their coffee is a let-down though.
See a glorious sunset from Vagator Beach. It has several spots from where you can click silhouette photos that you’ll want to return to even years later.
Have Dinner at Gunpowder. It’s so good that getting a reservation here will feel like an achievement. I strongly suggest you reserve a table here right after you’ve booked your flight/train/bus tickets and decided on the accommodation. Most celebrated for its South Indian and Goan fare, Gunpowder’s cheera moru curry, tamarind rice, chaach, and semiya payasam are worth trying. This place deserves more than one visit.
Day 3: Morjim
Go to Mustard Café for brunch. It serves a variety of Bengali dishes. However, it’s a great bet even if you’re not into Bengali food. Try their Nicoise salad, vegetable crumble, and eggs. Their home-brewed peach iced tea is an absolute winner, more so if you’re going there on a sunny, sultry day.
Spend the afternoon at Morjim Beach. Despite the rampant commercialisation, it is still pristine and welcoming, so much so that you’d want to spend an eternity here. Take towels and a change of clothes. This beach deserves a full dive in.
Follow it up with a visit to Tomato’s Beachside Kitchen and Bar. Overlooking the beach, it is a place where you can flaunt your sexiest beachwear and see the waves ebbing and flowing, sipping Margaritas and Sangrias as the sun goes down. Their tropical vegetrarian pizza is worth giving a go.
Have dinner at SEA. Although famous for seafood (as the name suggests), their vegetarian preparations are equally delightful. Order their soya tamarind glazed tofu with glass noodle salad, Thai green curry with jasmine rice, and you will want nothing more.
However, their dessert menu is limited. So instead of ordering one of their three options, have gelato at Cream Choco. A lot of their flavours are great, but the mix of Cookie and Belgian chocolate is sinful. It melts in the mouth.
Day 4: Candolim/Sinquerium
Go to Baba Au Rhum for breakfast. Their house-special coffee, sandwiches, croissants, baguettes, and burgers make for a delightful spread. You can leave out their pasta.
Spend the afternoon at Sinquerim Beach, overlooking the lower Aguada Fort. Apart from Morjim, it’s the only other beach in north Goa where you can play in the water for hours without a worry. Don’t forget to take along a change of clothes along.
Have lunch at Burger Factory. Their burgers are so popular you’ve got to reserve a table well in advance. Go to Thalassa for dinner. It’s one of those fancy, jazzy places that look fantastic on Instagram but are always booked. Therefore, make reservations at least two weeks in advance.
Day 5: Panjim
Panjim is Goa’s cultural heart. No trip to this beach state can be complete without walking around its colourful lanes and eating at its famed cafés. Start with Café Al Fresco By Cantina Bodega. It is one of those places that you can visit any time of the day, where you can order anything, and be charmed. Housed in an old-school Goan mansion, it also has a gallery that hosts exhibitions.
Next, stop at The Brasserie, but only for their seafood and alcohol (which they serve at throwaway prices).
Panjim’s Old Town is a place of wonder. It’s as colourful as a clown’s hat and just as joyous. Park your vehicle at the Immaculate Conception Church (made famous by Hindi films) and go walking and seeing around. The best time to do this is evening and if you’re a photo enthusiast like me, it will be difficult to stop clicking.
The Old Town reminds a lot of Pondicherry—the vibrant houses, the beach air, the colonial architecture, quaint cafés dotting the picturesque landscape, and a horde of tourists busy having a good time.
For dinner, go to Kokni Canteen. It’s the real deal. They serve excellent Goan food and alcohol at prices that would make you want to eat and drink to your heart’s desire, and then maybe some more. Finish strong with their bebinca and ceradura.
Side note: Ordering alcohol at North Goa’s cafés and restaurants will blow up your bills significantly. Instead, buy it from roadside stores at much lower rates. Also, because of COVID-19 restrictions, all places of worship, including churches, are closed. Whether you’re travelling by rail, road, or air, ensure you have your vaccination certificate (if you’ve got both shots) or an RT-PCR test report not older than 72 hours, confirming that you are not infected. And wear your masks at all times; Goa is very strict about it.