Cosy beach shacks against the backdrop of azure waters and golden sand, brightly lit bars serving cool cocktails, delectable seafood and scenes from the Bollywood film Dil Chahta Hai, are sure to crop up when you think of Goa. Not to forget the palm-fringed roads, perfect for a long drive. For your next trip, check out these hidden gems in Goa that are sure to captivate your mind. By Trinetra Paul
It won’t be much of an exaggeration, if we say that most groups of friends in India, have planned a Goa trip, at least once. However, if the curious traveller in you wishes to skip the usual path, there are a number of stunning hidden gems in and around Goa. These offbeat locations are sure to make the tropical paradise appear as if it has come straight out of a postcard.
Home to some of the most popular beaches in the world like Baga, Anjuna, Calangute and Palolem, the state is blessed with a rich Portuguese history that includes some beautiful churches. The Basilica of Bom Jesus and Immaculate Conception Church are few of the must-visit tourist attractions.
The popular Chapora Fort tops the list, as visitors flock to this place to recreate the iconic scene from Dil Chahta Hai. Owing to the scenic beauty and exciting nightlife, Goa is one of the best destinations in India, for honeymoon couples as well as bachelor or spinster trips.
However, for the ones looking beyond these touristy places, there are some best kept secrets, which are sure to appeal to nature lovers. Take for example the wildlife sanctuaries, waterfalls and other spots overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, which should definitely be on the list of wilderness enthusiasts.
Here are some of the hidden gems in Goa that you should include in your travel list
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Located on Chorao Island, along the Mandovi River, the sanctuary is named after Dr Salim Moizzudin Ali, India’s pre-eminent ornithologist. A slice of heaven for bird watchers and nature lovers, this sanctuary is one of the few well-protected places in Goa.
A number of marsh dwelling birds and animals can be easily spotted here. One can expect to see some gorgeous birds like white egret, purple heron, kingfisher, eagle, cormorant, kite, woodpecker, sandpiper, curlew, drongo and mynah.
Be alert and cautious for some of the rare sightings, that include little bittern, black bittern, red knot and jack snipe. The pied avocet can also be spotted on transient sandbanks, so it is best to keep your cameras ready all the time. The pintail duck is a migratory bird that can be seen here too.
The bird sanctuary is also home to a wide range of reptiles and crustaceans that inhabit the mangroves. Mudskippers, fiddler crabs, crocodiles, otters, flying foxes and jackals make the sanctuary all the more interesting.
Undoubtedly one of the most serene hidden places in Goa, the best time to visit the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is during winters, that is between October and March. About 15 minutes from the capital city of Panaji, a ferry ride from Ribandar ferry wharf takes you there and a boat ride through the water bodies inside is sure to show the true natural beauty of this place.
The Querim or Keri beach is definitely one of the most stunning hidden places in Goa and the perfect offbeat destination to lay your hat in north Goa. Being quite an untouched beach, the secluded location offers low tides and clean waters.
While here, try paragliding from a high cliff and land right on to Keri beach or take a cool plunge in the water. Besides this, one can go kayaking, hop on a banana boat for a fun ride or surf the waves. You can also try some authentic Goan delicacies at the few shacks here, but make sure to pack all your beach essentials as it is a remote location and not many amenities may be available. Get the perfect tan and go out there, soaking in the scenic beauty of swaying Casuarinas and Palms at Querim Beach.
It marks the mouth of the Tiracol River and a ferry ride is available every 30 minutes that can take you to Fort Tiracol from here.
Located about 45 km from Panaji, the place is well connected by buses from the capital city. Those planning to drive down, can take NH 66 via Querim to Arambol and Agarwada Road, which will take about an hour and a half.
Nicknamed as Bat Island, this spot is one of those few hidden places that proves that Goa is much more than popular beaches and nightclub parties. The island is situated about one km from the densely populated Baina beach (Vasco da Gama) in South Goa. Unleash the adventure lover in you and tap into a wide array of water sports at this tropical delight.
The rocky beach of the island offers splendid snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. The organisers are ready to provide all the equipment, for you to marvel at the world below the azure waters. You can spot various sea creatures like parrotfish, angelfish, squirrelfish, butterflyfish, snappers, triggerfish, lobsters, hawksbill turtles, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and more. Get a glimpse of colourful corals like star coral, brain coral, sea fans and sea whips as well, while underwater. If you are lucky, you can also catch some dolphins in action along the shore. A little stretch of green along the beach is a perfect excuse to forget the city din and bask in the tranquillity around.
Reaching Bat island is quite easy. From Vasco, a 30 minute boat ride can take you to the island. It is ideal to reach the island in the morning and ask the boatman to pick you up in the evening or if you wish to spend a night here, then get picked up the next day. Carry your camping essentials and get a ‘private island’ feel but keep your safety equipment in place too.
If avoiding the commercial highlights and going for a blissful rejuvenation is what you have in mind, then this hidden beach is the one for you. Located at a distance of 31km from Margao city and just seven km from Cabo de Rama resort, the Kakolem beach is one of Goa’s unexplored places that is gaining slow momentum.
It also goes by the name of Tiger beach. As per legends, it served as a hunting ground for the big cats, long back, though no evidence regarding the same, has been found.
Cool breeze and a vast open sea, flanked by palm trees and rocky cliffs, that too with a lesser crowd, hidden places like this offer the most romantic and scintillating getaways. You can also climb up the cliffs to get a picturesque view of the entire area.
Owing to its secluded location, there are hardly any accommodation or food stalls here, hence it is important to carry all essentials. Reaching this hidden gem can be a bit tricky as there are no direct buses or public transport. It is best to drive a private vehicle or the sea route from Panaji or Margao city.
A hidden gem in North Goa, Harvalem falls also known as Arvalem falls, is undoubtedly a sight to behold. Take a break from the beaches and hullabaloo and hike down this waterfall to experience nature, up close. Gushing down from a height of 50m with a width of 7m, the waterfall site is visited by picnickers.
During monsoon, the fall becomes grand and voluminous. When coupled with the lush greenery around, it feels like having a personal rendezvous with nature. It may not be as striking and imposing as its famous counterpart— the Dudhsagar Falls— but it is quite an easy hike and less crowded too.
The arch bridge across the waterfall is a stunning walkway that gives a different view of the place. While here, don’t miss visiting the Arvalem caves which have a rich Buddhist history. These rock cut caves are also believed to have sheltered the Pandavas during their exile. They are excavated from the red laterite hills about 1.5 km away. A breathtaking stroll through the well-maintined park is reason enough to put the Harvalem falls on the list of must visit hidden places in Goa.
Situated quite close to the Mapusa village in North Goa, Sanquelim and Bicholim are the two closest villages, which are 2 km and 8 km away respectively. It is well connected by roads from both Panaji and Mapusa.
Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park
Sprawling over a vast area of 240 sq km, the sanctuary is not very well known or popular among tourists amd this is exactly what makes it offbeat. You may be interrupted only by the sound of the wild or lapping water bodies as you hike through the vast expanse of wilderness.
Encounter herbivores like spotted deer, sambar, hog, mouse deer and barking deer. If you are lucky enough, you might also catch some carnivores in action like the tiger, leopard cat, panther, jungle cat and toddy cat. One can also spot other animals like Indian civet, wild dog, hyena, sloth bear, jackal, bonnet macaque, slender loris, scaly anteater, giant squirrel, flying squirrel, giant squirrel, flying fox and common otter.
The state bird of Goa Ruby-throated Yellow Bulbul is most commonly spotted out of the 120 bird species here. Others include Golden Oriole, Emerald Dove, Common Grey Hornbill, Paradise Flycatcher, Great Pied Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill and others.
While here, you can visit other famous tourist spots like Dudhsagar Falls, Devil’s Canyon, Tambdi Surla temple among others. About 53km from Margao and 54km from Panaji, the sanctuary was originally called Mollem Game Sanctuary. In 1969 it became a wildlife sanctuary and took its present name. The core area of 107 sq km became a national park in 1978 and is known as the Mollem National Park.
The sanctuary has a very nominal entry of INR 20 for adults and INR 10 for children. Cameras can be taken inside for some more additional charges. The best time to visit is during winter or early summer that is between October to March. It is open to visitors weeklong from 8 am to 5.30 pm.
Very well connected by roads from all over Goa, one can avail public buses or even drive down privately. Collem or Kulem railway station is the nearest one, about 6 km away and has cabs that can take you here.
Built in the 17th century by the Marathas, what was once an armed fortress under the Portuguese army, is now a luxury heritage hotel with the yesterworld charm. Standing at the mouth of the Tiracol river, the fort forms the northern most tip of Goa. Time seems to slow down here and walk at its own pace, unperturbed by the surroundings.
A part of the freedom struggle and embodiment of the state’s vibrant cultural history, the fort and its modern decor as a hotel, is a seamless blend of the past and present. Here you can enjoy Goan delicacies and indulge in some beach extravaganza while staying at one of the many luxury rooms.
Overlooking the Arabian Sea, Fort Tiracol also houses a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The stunning sunsets and kaleidoscopic views of the Querim and Kalacha beach will make you want to stay here forever.
A ferry ride from the Querim beach can take you to this hidden gem in North Goa. Located about 42 km from Panaji, it is best to drive to the Fort. You can load your vehicle on the ferry and drive along the coast to reach the property.
Overlooking the Sinquerim beach, the fort is one of the most beautiful and captivating hidden places in Goa. Dating back to 1612, it served as an anchoring point for ships carrying goods from Europe. It was also a seat of defence against the Marathas and the Dutch.
While the beach offers excellent adventure sports like scuba diving, windsurfing and paragliding, the fort is converted into a prison now. Located at a distance of about 13 km from Panaji, the Sinquerim Fort forms an extension of the famous Upper Aguada Fort. A beautiful property belonging to the Taj Hotel Group here, makes the area a very scenic location.
While here, you must surely visit Love Passion Karma, a stunning waterfront property which has an Indo-Portuguese church as a backdrop and offers fun nightlife. Another prominent place to experience Goa’s famous nightlife is SinQ Nightclub which is also close by.
Reaching Sinquerim is quite easy as there are regular buses and autos from Panaji. It can take you nearly 32 minutes via the Betim–Verem–Saligao Road or a little more if you drive down NH 66 or the Pilerne – Candolim Road. There are plenty of cabs available at the Goa airport as well, which can take you to Sinquerim.
This place truly manifests why it is considered one of the hidden gems in Goa. Only a few other places can match up to the scenic views and clear waters of this secluded beach location in south Goa.
The shimmering sands juxtaposed against the rugged rocky cliffs, overwhelms the mind. And, when coupled with the gentle waves of the Arabian Sea, the whole atmosphere hits your senses differently.
Sunbathing and relaxing aside, if you wish to hit the waters, the cool blues are more welcoming than ever. Simply head out for canoeing or go dolphin watching at the beach. As the name suggests, one may also spot many butterflies, coloured in a myriad shades, flitting over the waves and forests. Speaking of which, you can easily hike around the forests and cliffs or even try rock climbing.
If you miss the urban touch, famous tourist spots like Fort Cabo de Rama, Galgibaga Beach, Rajbagh Beach and Palolem Beach are very close.
One of the main reasons behind why it remains one of Goa’s best kept secrets is its lack of connectivity. The Butterfly island is well forested and not very well connected by roads. You can take a ferry from Palolem beach or Agonda beach to reach here. Located about 68 km from Panaji, there are a few lodging options at the Butterfly island, that ensures you have a wonderful beach getaway and spend quality time without any hustle.
(Main and feature image: Courtesy Sarang Pande/ @chulbulpande_jiiii/ Unsplash)