South Goa, the name brings up images of pristine beaches, delectable sea food and an unending stream of beer. While a lot of people visit South Goa (Palolem and Agonda, most notably) during the peak season, which is from November to January, most refrain from visiting Goa during the off-season times because of the heat, non-availability of shacks and a lack of tourists and things to do
However, for some of us (including me), the charm of Goa is hard to resist and me and a couple of friends decided to brave the heat and travelled to Goa in May. Right off the bat, it was a great decision. We had decided to stay in Palolem and boy, did we have a fun time. So, for any of you planning to travel to Goa in the off season (from February to May), here’s a rundown of our trip.
We were travelling from Pune to Goa in a bus. Palolem is almost at the southern border of Goa and as such, we got off the bus at Margao as that was the closest the bus operator could take us. With Palolem still being about 40 kilometers away, we decided to have some refreshments. So, we went to the Kavana Café which is bang opposite the KTC bus stand. For all of you out there planning to travel by bus, I highly recommend that you make this stop. It has clean washrooms, decent food and good coffee. It will give you a breather from your long journey and will ensure that you don’t reach your hotel famished. The chocolate shake is highly recommended, if you do visit there!
Refreshments done, we headed out and decided to get on with the journey. Now, there is an auto-stand outside the Margao bus stand, but they charge a bomb if you ask them to go to Palolem. So, we decided to travel how the locals do and we got into a bus that would take us to Canacona Bus Stand, from where Palolem is a mere 15 minute drive. This option is really cheap. We were charged Rs.30 per person as opposed to the nearly one thousand rupees demanded by the auto drivers. We got a cab (as we were 4 people) to go to our hotel from right outside the bus stand. In the end, it took a little longer to reach, but we saved a lot of money!
We had decided to stay at Hotel Castle House in Palolem and had booked AC rooms. Off season rates tend to be cheap, but I would recommend that you book an AC room because the heat can get unbearable in the afternoons especially. On an unrelated note, head over to Agoda.com for the best deals to stay in Goa. The rates on this website (and app) are much cheaper than those offered by other similar websites and apps.
Coming to the hotel, like I said, it is highly recommended that you book an AC room and this one did not disappoint. The food in the hotel was awesome. The hotel also had a swimming pool, free Wi-fi and a pool table as well. The only disappointment was the staff. They were not friendly and did not offer room service (still am clueless as to why) but the food made up for it. If heading there, do try their aloo parathas, prawns, spring rolls, chicken biryani and Punjabi roti-subzi (all subzis we tried were awesome!).
All in all, I would recommend that you go for a hotel which has a lot of amenities to offer for the simple reason that you will not be able to venture out freely until evening and as such, you could get easily bored without company and some of those amenities.
With a leisurely seven days ahead of us, we decided to try out a lot of restaurants on and around the beach which we normally would not try. The below is a list of some really awesome restaurants to visit when in South Goa.
Spicy Bella: The name is funny, but I kid you not, the food is delicious. Infact, it was so good, that we went there twice. This restaurant is located on the main strip road leading to Palolem beach. As the name suggests, the food served is definitely on the spicy side and is not one of those restaurants where the chilies on the menu card do not translate to spicy food. For those who love spicy food, an absolute must try. The first time around, we ordered for a Paneer Tikka Masala Dry, Cheese French Fries with a Mayo dip, Pomfret Masala Fry and Chicken Biryani. The pomfret was heavenly and the paneer tikka was one of the best I’ve ever had. The second time around, we ordered for Spicy BBQ Potatoes, Murgh Malaysian Kebab and Malaysian Rice Delight. The chicken was fresh, tender, well-cooked and spiced to perfection. The Malaysian Rice was a revelation and was one of the best rice dishes I had while in Goa. Just to sample their bar, we ordered for an Irish Coffee and it was bang-on perfect!
Dropadi: Weird names continued, we went to Dropadi for a light dinner and had a good time there. Dropadi is the first shack as soon you enter the Palolem beach. It was one of the handful shacks open on the beach and had been highly rated through various sources. We ordered for a Pina Colada, a Veg Manchurian Dry, Fish n Chips and Garlic Bread with Hummus Dip. The fish n chips were amazing and were quite filling. The Garlic Bread was homemade and was very fresh with a superb garlic flavor. The hummus dip was good and was given in a generous quantity. The Pina Colada was not good and I suspect it was made of cheap white rum. Overall, a good place to visit for a meal. It was also coincidentally, the best shack we went to during our stay.
Café Inn: The hotels seriously need to re-think how they name themselves, our third place with a weird name. This one is also located on the Main Road to Palolem beach. We went there for breakfast and sitting here, we regret that we did not act on our gut feeling to visit this place for a full meal. The place is famous for its juices and shakes and also serves some lip-smacking crepes. We ordered for one English breakfast and one Vegetarian breakfast. The picture does not justice to how you would feel if you were served the same on your table. Hands down, the best breakfast place in Palolem. A must try!We also ordered for a three-layered pineapple and maple syrup pancake. We’ve had better, but it was good nonetheless.
ZeeBop: And the names just keep on coming. This is a shack in the far-far away land of Utorda. Majorda and Utorda are two relatively unexplored beaches but have huge potential to scale up given the natural beauty of these beaches. I will talk more about these beaches in a later section, for now, back to ZeeBop. This shack was one of the maybe 2-3 shacks open on Majorda-Utorda beaches. This shack is right at the entrance of the Utorda beach (end of Majorda). We were not really hungry when we landed there and I am therefore not able to give you a full review of the food there, but the location is picturesque and I would recommend this place if you are in the area and are looking for a chilled out place to spend some time with your friends or your special one.
Sabina Restaurant and Bar: Okay, straight up honest. I don’t remember how we decided to come to this place but I am so very glad we did. It’s a little hard to find and so just ask around for it. It’s a hit with the locals! We went there for lunch and we ordered a lot of food. We ordered for chili fries, fried papad, Veg Manchurian Dry, Chicken Xacuti with Riice, Malai Kofta and Dal. Being lovers of spicy food, we asked for the Chicken Xacuti to be made spicy and were blown away by the food. The chili fries were yum and the chicken xacuti was superb. Bonus for us, they used green chilies to make it spicy which just enhanced the flavor. The Malai Kofta was flavorful and the Kofta was soft and creamy. The tandoor rotis were a bit hard, but to be honest, that was about the only fault we could find in the entire meal. A must visit if you are looking for authentic Goan food around Palolem beach.
Magic Italy: This one has a cult of followers and is aptly covered in a lot of popular media. The owners market it as the most authentic Italian restaurant in Goa and in my humble opinion, it surely is! This restaurant is also on the Main Road leading to Palolem beach. You might miss it given that they have not decorated it a lot on the outside, so keep an eye out! The menu is Italian only and not quite extensive, but all the dishes on the menu are delicious. We ordered for a Veg Onion Pizza, a Chicken Pizza and Four Cheese Pasta. The pizzas were the best we’ve had in Goa and the pasta was a bit bland for our palate, but was very good too. When there, keep some room for the Tiramisu. Do not miss out on that. I’ve been there just to have the Tiramisu once!
Longuinhos Bar and Restaurant: Longuinhos is one of the oldest restaurants in Goa dating back to the Portuguese times. It is in the heart of Margao city and is bang opposite the Margao Municipal Council Office. The restaurant is frequented by locals mostly and it is difficult to find tourists in there, so you may feel a little out of place. This is the ultimate place to head to if you are looking for authentic Goan food. The menu is very Goan and vegetarians will definitely have a hard time there as there are not a lot of Vegetarian dishes on the menu. We ordered for a Bombil Fry, Prawns Masala, Chicken Xacuti with Rice and Egg Patties. The egg patties are fresh and taste superb. They go very well with a pint of beer. The prawns were made in coconut based gravy which made them slightly sweet for our palate but they were fresh and tasted good. The Bombil Fry was cooked to perfection and was amazing. Chicken Xacuti had an authentic Goan taste to it. Also, when there, don’t give the Tender Coconut Soufflé a miss. It was so good that I asked for seconds! The prices are very pocket friendly and the Goan style Beef and Pork preparations are also highly recommended. Margao is a fair 40 kilometer drive from Palolem, but this restaurant is worth the drive.
Silver Star (24×7 Open): This is a shack on the Palolem beach. We headed there on our first night in Goa for dinner and drinks. The food and drinks are heavily overpriced and are not at all up to the mark. The pizza’s we ordered were bitter to taste (wondering how they did that). The Veg Tandoori Platter was okay but definitely not worth the price asked for. The only reason this shack is on the list is because it is open 24×7. If you have late night hunger pangs or have the urge to party late into the night, head here.
All hunky dory for the food, but what about things to do? Here’s a small list of activities which you can indulge in.
Visit Agonda Beach: Agonda is also now quite popular among Indian tourists and is quite close to Palolem beach. By the time we landed up in Goa, all the shacks and the shops on the road to Agonda beach had closed down for the season. I was slightly disappointed by this as there were some shacks on Agonda which serve really good food. That said, it is really a beautiful beach and a couple of shack owners had been kind enough to leave their tables and chairs as they were in them. So, carry your own booze and some light snacks and do give this beach a visit. There are virtually no crowds on the beach and you can have a very romantic evening with your special one!
Drive to Majorda-Utorda Beach: These two beaches are quite far from Palolem and driving there takes about 90 minutes on a bike. But, they are among the most beautiful beaches you can find in Goa. There was also one shack open on Utorda (ZeeBop in the section above). The sunset is something to witness here.
Get some Ayurvedic Spa therapy: With not a lot to do on one afternoon, we decided to go to a spa! Being in Palolem we started hunting for a good spa to go to. After some calls and searching, we decided on two options
- Bhakti Kutir
- Cuba Havana
Cuba was slightly expensive as compared to Bhakti Kutir and so, we decided to head to Bhakti Kutir for a massage!
I went for the Deep Tissue Massage and my friend decided to go for the Abhyanga Massage. Both of them were quite good and we had a gala time. By the time our respective massages were done, the only thing we were capable of doing was sleeping! It was an afternoon well spent! So all in all, with so many restaurants and beaches and things to do, we never really felt that were in the off season and the seven days went by real quick. For all of you planning a trip in the off season from February to May, these were some pointers for you to make the trip real fun!
And this brings me to my last section of pro-tips which you guys should know before going to Goa. Being responsible travelers, this is a list of tips which I have collected over the course of my many trips to Goa.
- Always carry enough cash with you in your wallet. Cards are not accepted everywhere and you might face an issue finding ATM’s as well.
- When renting a bike, do take a test drive of the bike and check if the brakes work properly. Inspect the bike carefully and inform the owner of all dents, scratches and cracks before you take it from them. Insist on getting a helmet from them because riding on the National Highways in Goa without a helmet is a risk.
- Always and I mean always, insist on a bike with a yellow number plate. This essentially means that the vehicle is for commercial use and not private use. Cops can catch and you might have to bribe your way out of that jam as you will be one who would be at fault.
- Do not stare obscenely and make comments on foreigners in youR native language. They are at most times well-traveled and may know the language you are speaking in. More than that, it is also about being respectable hosts to them. Also, clicking pics of them in their bikinis is a strict no-no.
- Do not approach Goans and ask them for girls/ drugs. They are trying to make an honest living from the hospitality business.
- Unless travelling by flight, carrying liquor from Goa to another state is illegal. Especially if you are traveling in a bus, it is an offense and do not carry the risk. The bottles may be cheap, but you run the risk of getting caught and you’d probably end up paying so much that just buying those bottles from your local shop would have been cheaper.
- Do not drink too much on the shacks. Alcohol is very cheap in the wine shops there. Beers on the shacks are okay, but for whiskey and vodka and the likes, buy a bottle and keep it in your room. You’d be surprised as to how cheap your vacation can turn out with this simple hack.
So, that’s it folks! For all of you who have yet not visited Palolem and its surrounding beaches, do not postpone it any further! They are among the best beaches in the world and you are up for an awesome time there!!
(This piece is by writer Kushal Shah.)