Choosing the perfect beach: Goa

Sunset Sunrise Goa Beach India

A tale of two beaches: Finding the perfect beach in Goa meant taking the road less-travelled

I avoided Goa for a long time, travelling the length and breadth of India on several trips, but never making it to the vacation hot-spot known for beaches, sunsets and parties. But when I decided it was time to at see what all the fuss was about, I was still intent on doing it my way. This is what happened.

Famous for full moon beach raves, a hippie-run night market and the kind of laid-back tropical vibe you can really only find in Asia, Goa is one of India’s most touristy areas. The combination of Portuguese colonialism in the past and a high influx of foreigners in the present, make Goa seem like the least Indian part of India, to me. Which is pretty much why I had avoided it on my first three lengthy trips to India.

Palolem Beach, Goa, India

Palolem Beach, Goa

But on my fourth trip to the subcontinent, I decided it was time to experience Goa, if only for-once-and-for-all. I carefully chose the Bhakti Kutir, an eco-resort that seems to grow organically out of a banana grove. Sanskrit for “a home for devotional meditation,” the Bhakti Kutir is ideally situated on a small hill between two beaches in south Goa. Because it isn’t on the beach, it’s quiet, and because of the lush vegetation, it’s semi-hidden. Clouds of mosquitoes at dusk are the only damper on this small piece of tropical eco-paradise.

On arrival, I fell immediately in love with my “nature cabana,” and especially the outdoor bathroom, which I wrote about in Beach side in Goa. After exploring the charmingly eccentric grounds of the Bhakti Kutir, I lit out for the beach. Or, I should say, beaches.

Bhakti Kutir Eco-Resort, Palolem Beach, Goa, India

Bhakti Kutir Eco-Resort, Palolem Beach, Goa

Beaches north and south

Palolem Beach was a short walk down a gentle slope to the north; and Patnem Beach was a 10-minute walk down a back country road and through a tiny fishing village to the south. They were both close by, they were both fabulous Goan beaches with names beginning with “p,” but there the similarities ended. Patnem and Palolem beaches were only minutes away from each other — but world’s away in terms of atmosphere and facilities.

According to my trusty guidebook, Palolem was described as a recently discovered gem, “one of Goa’s most beautiful spots with a friendly, laid-back vibe.” And it is a stunning crescent-shaped beach with rocky outcroppings at each end, perfect for watching the sun sink into the Arabian Sea, and a wide expanse of sand with plenty of room.

But it’s also lined with small beach hut resorts, outdoor restaurants, souvenir shops and all the other paraphernalia of a tourist trap for beach bums. Most of the people on the beach were deeply tanned foreigners, swimming, playing volleyball, walking along at the edge of the surf or relaxing with beers in the outdoor restaurants. There was a distinct party vibe in the air. I could easily imagine this beach as a setting for moonlit raves.

Palolem Beach, Goa, India

Palolem Beach, Goa

The beach that tells you who you are

After walking the length of the three kilometre beach and back it was late and I had to wait for the following day to check out Patnem Beach. Right after breakfast I made my way along the sunny back road, stopping to chat with some local girls selling beach fashions. One girl said, about my fair complexion, that I looked like a milk bottle.

Then, to cool down, I bought a tender coconut from an elderly toothless man, who never stopped smiling at me. Passing through the small village, I stopped at a booth selling spices and handicrafts and talked to some local women about how to use the spices to make teas and sauces.

Mariellen Ward, travel writer, Palolem Beach, Goa, IndiaThen I got to the beach. Delight dawned. For almost as far as I could see, a billowy white sand beach spread out before me, lapped by the gentle waves of a calm, protected bay. There was about one person for each of my fingers on the beach, plus a few stray dogs. Mostly, it was sea, sand and birds flying, darting and playing in the surf.

The sea was bathwater warm and the very few, very modest establishments serving drinks and snacks were astonishingly relaxed. You were welcome to lay down your towel and beach bag on a lounge chair; no one would harass you to buy; no one was on this beach to make money.

Here was a place I could just be; a place where my thoughts could float and bob along with the incoming waves. I lolled in the tepid waters, drank coconut water under an umbrella and meditated beside a big rock at the remote far end of the beach.

There are things in life that are like a litmus test; they tell you who you are. Palolem and Patnem beaches are like that. You can only be on one at a time, you have to walk north or south, you have to choose. And every day after breakfast for seven days, I picked up my bag and towel and walked south.

[Note: This story was originally published in Travel+Escape.]

Palolem Beach, Goa, India

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18 Responses to Choosing the perfect beach: Goa

  1. Shalu Sharma January 22, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    Most of the time when people think of India, they think of Goa. I know you were on the other side of the spectrum, I believe more into the spiritual side of India. Nice photo of the sunset!
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..New world travel seriesMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward January 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

      I do like to have range … but, yes, usually look for more authentic cultural experiences, or at least places that have style!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The RiverMy Profile

  2. Seema Chauhan January 24, 2014 at 12:27 am #

    Everybody wants to visit Goa on vacation time and We can’t ignore that Goa is the best tourist place of India, I also visited two times in same year & I can’t forget Palolem beach, that is who is recalling to me again!!!
    Seema Chauhan recently posted..A visit to India International Trade Fair – New DelhiMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward January 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

      Goa has its own special magic … however, I think I will always prefer Kerala.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The RiverMy Profile

  3. Manjiri Aher January 24, 2014 at 2:32 am #

    As you love to visit off-beat locations, there is a place in Goa which is just 20 min. drive from crowded Calangute beach. It is a very quiet place and you can experience harmony with nature. The place is ‘Olaulim Backyards’.

  4. places to visit in vietnam January 26, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    Beautiful photo, thanks for sharing! I would love to go there some day. 🙂

  5. Danielle January 27, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    We were concerned about visiting Goa and did a ton of research to figure out which beach would be ‘right’ for us. After being beaten down by our first two weeks exploring Mumbai and the surrounding areas we felt like we hit the jackpot with Agonda. Having heard stories of the crowds now flocking to Palolem we were so happy to find a quiet, nearly deserted beach with wonderful sea facing huts, great food and amazingly friendly people. After just 3 days we decided to take advantage of this beautiful setting and are now here for the next 2 weeks, staying at Simrose, before heading south to explore Kerala.

  6. Clare February 4, 2014 at 1:02 am #

    Mariellen I think we were neighbours! I rented a house in that tiny fishing village you walked through for 6 weeks over christmas and new years 🙂 Everybody says that Goa isn’t the real India, and it’s true – but I did love the place as a travel destination in it’s own right and I’ll definitely be back.
    Clare recently posted..The Four Month ItchMy Profile

  7. sarita banerjee February 9, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    Mariellen Ward, I am surprised that you found such a peaceful location in Goa to relax and enjoy your vacation. I though Goa was all about late night parties, booze and wayward life. You have shown me a new Goa through your article. Thanks for sharing this lovely post.
    sarita banerjee recently posted..Weekend getaway of the week : Chandipur Beach OdishaMy Profile

  8. Adrien Antonio June 3, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    There are also great beaches elsewhere in the indian ocean like in Mauritius and Seychelles… Do check them out
    Adrien Antonio recently posted..Things To Do in the SeychellesMy Profile

  9. Tazeem August 16, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Please make a visit to Murdeshwar beach which is 200 KM away from Goa. It has a hotel on the hill on the beach… There are few places in Goa where you can get US and Uk brands shirting at best price.

  10. Colleen May 2, 2015 at 3:04 am #

    Goa, one of my all time favourite destination. Love the peace here and the people of Goa.

  11. Angel marth July 3, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Thank you for visiting Goa and thank you for this wonderful blog & Tips. Thank you for sharing lovely pictures with us.

  12. Pete @ backtotravel August 19, 2015 at 8:34 am #

    Interesting article. I’m heading to Goa in 3 days’ time. Was planning on visiting Palolem beach but not heard much about Patnem. Thanks for the tip. 

  13. Vivek Pal June 10, 2016 at 3:27 am #

    Goa is surely an amazing place and each time tourist visit it again it seems confusing as to which beach should he/she should choose then. There are numerous beaches in Goa some crowdy while some peaceful and best for relaxing holidays.

    I prefer beaches in South Goa since they are less crowded than North Goa. Betul Beach is my favorite due to its beautiful scenery.

  14. Sema M July 25, 2016 at 8:03 am #

    Sundowner’s at Palolem is a beauty.

  15. Grand Goa Exotica, a hotel in North Goa August 10, 2016 at 3:50 am #

    That’s nice to know that you’ve visited Goa, after your 3 visits to India.

    Hope that’s not your last visit, as it has got plenty of things to experience, such as back water kayaking, bird watching as it has got more than 30% of forests, to travel back by time through the museums.

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