Things to do in Goa: spice up your life and discover psytrance
If you’re looking for laid-back vibes, delicious coconut-infused curries, wild nightlife, bags full of spices and wicked adventures, all on a traveller’s budget, you should probably head to Goa! Budding yogis, party chasing ravers, ageing hippies and adventurous backpackers all come together in this vibrant Indian state. If you still need convincing, read on for our tried and tested things to do in Goa.
Sure, travellers can get lost in the fun and thrill-seeking party scene that’s been growing ever since the 60s, when the now-famous hippie trail began, but there’s so much more to do in Goa. The enchanting contrast between the tropical green jungles, Portuguese colonial architecture and misty sandy beaches all make for an adventure that won’t be forgotten. In the south, beautiful brightly coloured huts line the chilled out Palolem Beach, while in North Goa the hippie enclave of Arambol is known for its smoky bonfires and drum circles that bring the sunset in every evening. Don’t miss the local flea markets, which are a shopaholic’s dream. The air is packed with fragrant spices, handmade trinkets and stylish clothes – and don’t worry, with the hippie vibe in Goa nothing can be deemed a fashion faux pas.
Warning! This paragraph contains travel clichés: Goa is a place where travellers find hidden gems but often also find themselves. Whether you’re perfecting your downward dog, cruising the winding roads on a motorbike or meeting people from all over the world in the funky hostel scene, Goa has something for every backpacker. Long after you’ve left you’ll still feel an itch to go back. Let us warn you that it’s common for travellers to extend their stay for months. Some even end up making the trip permanent…
Note from Hostelworld: We love Goa so much that we’ve decided to celebrate our birthday there (and in 19 other global destinations, because we’re just that extra). Join us at the ultra-chilled JUNGLE by thehostelcrowd on August 15th for a festival themed fiesta, and find out more about what we’re planning for our birthday celebrations.
Get ready for inspiration overload, with our list of top things to do in Goa.
1. Rent a motorbike and explore off the beaten track.
How does exploring a beautiful tropical landscape at your own pace sound? Heavenly, right! Hiring a motorbike is the ultimate freedom, with endless beaches and Indo-Portuguese architecture just a short ride away. There’s the classic Royal Enfield for the nostalgic (and the Insta poser), or for a more accessible ride, choose a non-geared scooter. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter what bike you choose – the cows still demand right of way on the roads!
Make sure to don the helmet like a young Darth Vadar, check the mirrors and then you’re off. May the force be with you. Please drive safely.
*Top tip – download the Maps.Me app for reliable offline maps.
2. Catch a tan and find your favourite beach
It’s beach heaven in Goa and each one has its own vibe and character, so there are a LOT to discover. Try Baga, Anjuna and Arambol in North Goa, which all attract a lively crowd. To the south, time moves a bit slower in beaches like Palolem and Agonda. A picturesque backdrop of long overlapping palm trees and bright coloured huts give Palolem its vibrant colour and distinctive character. The beach here has a village community vibe, with a couple of chilled-out restaurants and bars located underneath the huts. The definition of relaxed Goan beach life!
Want a private beach all to yourself? Without the salesmen, the tourists or the sunbed stealers? It’s entirely possible to find a hidden beach in Goa. Ok, we confess it’s not going to be Leo in ‘The Beach’ secret, because, well, how else would we know! Search a little further out from the main beaches and there are plenty of tranquil ones with nobody in sight – just the sound of the waves and the odd ‘moo’ from the cows. Hop on your scooter and try to find butterfly beach. It’s a bit of a mission to get there but we reckon you’ll figure out a way!
There’s almost too much choice for beach bums in Goa, with something for everyone’s fancy – tell us your favourite and we’ll tell you ours…
3. Do go chasing waterfalls…
Don’t stick to the beaches and the hostels you’re used to…
If you only have time for one day of waterfall frolics, then Dudhsagar Falls is a good choice. This three-in-one waterfall is a great day trip and splits up time between the beach days (yeah, it’s a hard life in Goa). Make sure to bring swimwear as there is a pool!
*Top tip – share a taxi between friends to cut down on costs OR book a hostel trip
4. Explore your inner zen with some yoga classes
Get friendly with Goa’s mellow side, famous for all things therapeutic and meditative – yoga, tai-chi, Reiki and Ayurveda (to name a few) are widely practised. While other parts of India are great for this too, Goa has the advantage of the picturesque beaches as a backdrop and loads of wellness cafes for a healthy post-class munch. Don’t worry if you’re inexperienced – nobody cares and classes cater for all levels!
However, if you’re already a keen yogi then consider taking it up a level . You’ll find courses that are both rewarding and challenging. As well as being great for your personal wellbeing, you can become a certified yoga teacher at the end of it.
5. Dance the night away at a psychedelic trance party
Music is synonymous with Goan culture and it’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of it.
Parties at cool beach shacks like Curlies and Shiva’s have been going for years, and it’s impossible to feel out of place as anyone and anything goes – an ethos from modern Goa’s hippie roots.
If you want to party to some psytrance (a popular Goan genre) then try Hilltop in Vagator – it’s a legendary Goan nightclub where you’ll find a mix of music loving ravers, curious backpackers and even old hippies busting some shapes on the dancefloor.
6. Kayak into the sunset
Kayaks can be rented from most of the beaches at a great price. Time it right and you can be lounging just off shore as the sun is going down. Make sure to bring a waterproof case for your phone as it’s a BIG photo opportunity!
7. Shop till you get too hot at Anjuna’s Flea Market
Every Wednesday, bamboo market stalls pop up and transform most of Anjuna into a bargain hunter’s paradise. Traders sell everything from handmade trinkets to colourful sarees and fresh spices – you can even grab a drink and catch some live music.
Top tip – get there early and never accept the first price – it’s all about the haggling!
8. Check out the hippie enclave of Arambol
Arambol is the counter-cultural spot in northern Goa with a free-spirited atmosphere left over from the 60s hippie trail. Spend time at the beach and before long you’ll be immersed in drum circles, mediation, live music and chanting. If you’re there in February, be sure to hit up the Arambol Carnival that turns the usually laid-back beach into a crazy celebration of all things wild and free.
9. Feast on local Goan Cuisine
For some, a trip to Goa is a food pilgrimage. With its coastal location Goans have access to some of India’s best seafood – a Goan prawn/crab curry washed down with a Kingfisher beer is a one-way ticket to food heaven!
Make sure you try Chouriço de Goa; a nod to the region’s Indo-Portugeuse heritage in the form of a cured pork sausage. It’s a unique dish that you won’t find elsewhere in India.
The mix of cultures that have made Goa their home have contributed to a vibrant food scene that knows how to excite (or set fire to) the taste buds!
*Top tip – Joe Bananas Cafe in South Anjuna do a wonderful fish or chicken thali at a price even locals won’t balk at. You’ll find it at the superb Funky Monkey Hostel.
10. Explore the funky hostel scene
Hostels in Goa have a laid-back vibe, are budget friendly and have a buzzing social scene. You can find amazing morning sun yoga classes, adventurous organised day trips, tickets to parties and even temporary job offerings for those looking to elongate their trip.
For a stay in North Goa, Anjuna is close to the psytrance party scene and the flea market, Vagator offers a bit of everything with a perfect location to reach the best parties, beaches, cafes and markets; while Arambol is the most chilled with a village type feel.
Vagator is also where you’ll find the laid-back hippy paradise JUNGLE by thehostelcrowd, one of the 20 wanderlust-inducing hostels where Hostelworld is throwing their birthday celebrations. This dreamy venue is surrounded by jungle and has a gorgeous swimming pool and open-air bar for cocktails under the sun. They’ve also got cosy common area, an on-site restaurant cooking deliciously healthy food and free yoga classes… it doesn’t get much more Goa than that! Book here on August 15th for a festival party with a Bollywood twist!
In South Goa, Palolem is the place to be. The hostels here offer scooter rental and great advice to explore the winding roads and hidden spots.
Top tip – stay in a couple of different areas during your trip to experience different parts of Goa and its hostel life. Check out our full range of Goa hostels!
11. Visit the old colonial-era forts
Goa is home to some unique forts dating back to the 16th and 17th century. Leftover from a past era they’ve been preserved brilliantly for you to explore. Among the most popular forts are Cabo De Rama, Aguada and Chapora and it’s totally possible to see them all – all you need is a scooter and a maps app!
Top tip – find a fort in good time for golden red sunset views – #InstaGoals
12. Saturday Night Bazaar
We just can’t get enough of the markets in Goa, and every Saturday night Aguada comes to life with a massive bazaar. Not just a top shopping market, there’s a dedicated space for live shows, local bands playing and pop up bars which make for an amazing atmosphere. A few cheap beers, street food and live music here sounds like a pretty dreamy way to start any night out.
13. Lounge around at one of the cosy cafes
Goa has amazing creative spaces and peaceful cafes, so if you’re all partied (or curried) out then find shelter in one of the hipster-proof cafes around Goa and treat your mind and body to some goodness. Cafes like Artjuna, The Rice Mill and Baba Au Rhum all have their own rustic charm and delicious offerings, and each deserve a visit.
14. Take a cooking class
Goa has some great cooking schools that offer classes to help you brush up on your homemade Indian cooking, perfect for food lovers. You’ll usually start with a trip to a local market to pick up ingredients, before preparing a range of dishes under the expert guidance of a Goan chef. You’ll take away new recipes and get to be an unbearable show off to all your friends and family when you get back home. And the best bit is, you get to eat everything that you make!
Top tip – try Rahul’s Cookery Classes in Palolem Beach
15. Visit Old Goa
Explore beyond the beaches and you’ll discover Goa’s colonial-era heritage with churches, basilicas and houses steeped in Indo-Portuguese history. Make sure you visit the beautifully preserved baroque Basilica of Bom Jesus where the body of St Francis Xavier is buried. This mighty structure is a UNESCO world heritage site and should not be missed.
16. Go and watch a Tiatr
Don’t expect to understand what is going on… but a Tiatr is essentially musical theatre. Think Goa’s answer to London’s West End! It’s truly authentic and unique so make sure you don’t miss out on the chance to see a show and discover an aspect of Goa that many travellers never see. This is most definitely an off the beaten track experience, and you never know – you could have a front row seat to the Tiatr equivalent of Kinky Boots!
17. Football’s coming home
While the rest of India is fixated on cricket or hockey (yes, you read that correctly, hockey!), Goa is undoubtedly football mad! The Fatorda Stadium has an atmosphere to rival the main European leagues and if you’re there during the football season make sure to catch an FC Goa match, who are one of the best teams in India.
18. Stand-up paddle boarding
This one isn’t as easy as it looks. Try it. Get someone to take a great photo. Then just accept reality and take the inevitable fall from grace head over heels and back into the water. Seriously though, this is loads of fun, and the perfect way to take in Goa’s incredible scenery while soaking up the sun. Just remember to lather on a LOT of sunscreen – that Goan sun can be unforgiving.
Top tip – rent the boards from one of the quieter southern beaches to avoid the crowds.
19. Shell-ebrate marine life at Turtle Beach
Take the trip down to Galgibaga Beach, just south of Palolem, and visit the protected hatching site for Olive Ridley Turtles. Seeing these adorable creatures shuffle along the beach is a sight you’re guaranteed to never forget. They’re seasonal from October to March, but if it’s not possible to go during that time it’s still a wonderful and quiet beach.
20. Spice up your life
Sure, you can buy fresh spices at a lot of spots in Goa – but why not go one further and visit a spice plantation? You’ll get to see the spices in their natural settings and learning about the history behind the plantations is genuinely interesting. Plus, some freshly harvested spices make an awesome souvenir or a cool gift to bring home. Beware, the fiery hot chilies at the Tropical Spice Plantation, really do pack a punch!
We hope this list of the best things to do in Goa has given you all the inspiration you need for an unforgettable trip. To water your wanderlust even more, check out all of our hostels in Goa. Now, off you Go(a) and have some fun in the sun!
And don’t forget… Hostelworld will be in Goa at JUNGLE by thehostelcrowd on August 15th. Book for a night of surprises, challenges and free booze, or catch all the action over on the Hostelworld Instagram page from August 1st. See you at our 20th birthday celebrations!
About the author:
I’m Danny, an English daydreamer with a bad habit of booking long connecting flights and sleeping on the floor at Kuala Lumpur Airport. I once had a dream of starring in an Indian advert – this almost came true, until my hopes were dashed when my scenes were cut…
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