My trip to Goa in India in November was organised by volunteering company “Leave UR Mark”. With their passion for showing travellers India through the eyes of a local, they support different local projects that you can participate in. They have projects in Bangalore, Mumbai and Goa, ranging from volunteering to internship projects in many fields.
We learned so much about the Indian culture, saw incredible nature and met interesting people. Because the people we met really added another layer to the experience of this trip, I thought that today I’d share some tips of best places to visit in Goa and activities to take part in that will get you close to the locals as well.
Best Places to Visit in Goa:
1. Skip the Hotel Chains and Try a Homestay
One of the most important decisions you can make when planning your trip to Goa, is choosing your accommodation wisely.
When I traveled with Nick to Rajastan in 2008, we didn’t really research where we’d stay and sort of rang ahead the night before, or just showed up in a place and looked around. This sometimes meant that not only the place wasn’t what we expected, but we also just saw the hotel as just a bed and didn’t really interact with the owners or the staff than just checking in and out.
In Goa, I had the opportunity to stay the entire week in Casa Menezes, a homestay run by David and his family. After a week I felt that I was leaving a part of my own family behind! I’ve never felt so welcome in a hotel and learned so much about the family running the place, as well as the area the accommodation was in. And the quality of the rooms? Well, that was great too! It was better than a lot of other more well-known chains I’ve stayed in, even in Europe!
David and his mother Pamela
Me at the pool of Casa Britonia, where some other bloggers stayed at. Also a homestay with great rooms & service, but from what I heard, without that family-feeling that we had over at Casa Menezes.
2. Volunteer with Kids via Leave UR Mark
One of Leave UR Mark’s main projects is to volunteer at the Don Bosco School. Here, under-privileged children get the chance to be themselves, be creative and our blogger group got to spend the morning playing and creating art with the kids. Such a great way to interact with the locals!
Now, for full disclosure, I have to admit that I am an ex-primary school teacher and I quit teaching because working with kids just really isn’t where my talent and my real passion lies. So I was probably the one in the group that enjoyed this activity not quite to the fullest. That said, I was glad to have experienced it, because in the end we were there for the kids and not for ourselves and it made me happy to see just how much the kids and the other bloggers enjoyed this morning and how much the Leave UR Mark staff cared about this project.
If you’re looking to contribute something to the local community during your visit to Goa, I can recommend working with Leave UR Mark & Don Bosco, because it is definitely an experience you won’t easily forget. And the kids will for sure remember it forever!!
3. Hire the Same Driver for Your Trips
Let’s be clear about this: driving on the roads in India is pure horror. The noise, the animals crossing whenever they feel like it, people driving in the middle of the road and racing over blind bends and corners… I’ve closed my eyes more than once and have let out a bit of a scream quite often.
BUT, if you want to get from A to B in India, you just don’t really have a choice. And driving yourself doesn’t really make much of a difference when everyone around you is going mental. So, it’s better to go with a driver that kind of knows it way around traffic in India. And then… stick with the one you like!
Not only can sticking with one tuktuk or taxi driver be handy if you want to save money (you can make a deal for multiple days and set times for pickups), you also get to know his driving style, which can help calming you down a bit. If his English is good enough, you get to know more about his work & family!
During our stay in Goa, our group had a couple of set drivers and they each had their own driving style that you could get used to. Or not. haha. For example, one of the drivers spoke really good English and drove the most careful, but honked the horn every 10 seconds (not even exaggerating this), another didn’t speak English that well, but played loud club music, so there were never awkward silences, just a lot of smiles (party bus!) and the third knew the routes best and spoke English well, so with him you had the least chance of getting lost and you actually could have a conversation with him (or play word games together, like we did). One for every mood you can be in, basically.
Kind of bummed that we didn’t get to ride a tuktuk this time in India!
4. Visit a Local Beach
In Goa, there are many, many beaches and each of them have their own character. Of course, many of them are tourist beaches (like Arambol or Anjuna), but there are also quite a few beaches where mostly locals come. One of these local beaches that we visited was Miramar Beach, located close to Panjim.
Local beaches are great to chat to locals and see the fisherman at work, but there are not that suited for swimming and sunbathing in a way us Westerners are used to. Remember that Indian girls don’t really wear bathing suits on the beach or undress to go sunbathing, as it’s disrespectful to their parents or other family members.
I can only advice you to be respectful in the same way and visit these kind of beaches to go for a walk, have a pick-nick, play games and wade knee-deep in the water, but leave your bikini for the tourist beaches. Of course little kids can get always away with a lot more, so don’t worry letting them for a swim if you’re there with your family.
5. Attend a Local Festival
Before you arrive in Goa, make sure to check if there are any local festivals happening in the area you’re staying. Of course, festivals like Holi and Diwali are well-known and celebrated nationwide, but there are a hundred more smaller festivals that you probably never have heard about. And they can be super interesting to visit as well!
During my stay, I had the opportunity to visit the Tripurari Poornima (or Kartik Purnima / Deva-Diwali) Festival. It’s a Hindu and Jain holy festival, celebrated on the Purnima (full moon) day or the fifteenth lunar day of Kartik (November–December). This festival is known as the festival of lights of the gods and comes with much music, food and a massive boat parade and show in the water, that we got to attend.
We were really the only tourists at the festival, but apart from a little bit of staring (ok, a LOT), us being there was totally fine! We didn’t stay for the entire ceremony, but just spending an hour or two was enough to get a good sense of the atmosphere. I can recommend taking the time to do some research about what’s going on, or ask the locals and I’m sure they are happy to explain things to you!
This is the demon Tripurasura, which goes up in flames at the end of the show!
The boats people have made are AMAZING
If I got it right, this is Shiva in his form as Tripurantaka (“Killer of Tripurasura”) and he is the one killing the demon in the end
6. Visit the Local Tourist Attractions
I’m sure that when you’re planning to visit India, you’ve got a list of places you would like to visit. But also ask around on social media for example, to find out where the locals like to go in their free time. This is how we ended up in Dona Paula, a former village in the suburbs of Panjim.
This place is named after Paula, a mysterious woman where many stories exist of. In one of those, she is believed to be the daughter of a Portuguese official, arriving in Goa in 1644 with her family and charming the (*ugh* married) Governor-General with her beauty. Of course, his wife finds out and rolls her naked off the pier into the sea, wearing only her string of pearls, a gift of love from the Governor. According to locals, the ghost of Paula can sometimes be seen emerging from the moonlit waves wearing only her necklace.
People trying to get a glimpse of Paula
Leave UR Mark – www.leaveurmark.com
Casa Menezes – www.casamenezesgoa.com
Getting Around in Goa – www.goa-tourism.com/…/learn-getting-around
Festivals in Goa – www.goa-tourism.com/…/learn-festivals.htm
Disclaimer: I visited Goa as part of the #Escape2Goa Blogger Campaign, organised by LeaveURMark and the Goa Tourism Board. All opinions and photos in this post are 100% my own.