Once the largest and richest city in Asia with a population in the sixteenth century of over 200,000 - larger than London, Old Goa was called, by the Portuguese, Golden Goa or Goa Dourada. It was a thriving city with fine buildings and magnificent churches and was testament to the wealth and grandeur of the Portuguese rule.
In the mid 16th Century a succession of epidemics decimated the population until the city was demolished and a new capital was rebuilt up river where Panjim now stands. What remains today are the impressive Se Cathedral and the Basilica of Bom Jesus which is home to the remains of St. Francis Xavier and a number of Churches, Convents and Chapels.
A short distance from the centre of Ponda town are a number of Hindu temples some dating from as far back as the 16th century. These are unusual to find in Goa as most did not survive the Portuguese rule. Although the temples are fairly modern by Indian standards, their deities are held in high regard by the local people and the hundreds of Indian tourists from Maharastra and Karnataka who travel here on special "buses".
Two of the most interesting and easily accessible are the temples of Shri Manguesh and Shri Mahalsa. Other temples in the area are more off the beaten track although local taxis and rickshaw drivers will know the way.
Panjim is the present day State Capital of Goa. It is on the South bank of the Mandovi River and by Indian standards is a pleasant small city. There are some excellent shops, including Velhos & Filos that sells Mexx and other designer clothes. Weekender, Bharnes, Bombay Bazaar, Barons, Benetton, Levi, Reebok, Lacoste can all be found here and sell original designer label clothes at a fraction of European prices.
There are a good selection of restaurants and some interesting historical buildings dating back to the 16th Century including the main Church and the Secretariat. There is also the fascinating Old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas with its narrow cobbled streets and traditional hole-in-the-wall bars. Great for an early evening stroll. Evening Cruises on the Mandovi River are an interesting way to round off an afternoon visit.
Tickets can be purchased from the Quayside and the two-hour trip takes you to the Arabian Sea to catch the sunset and then a programme of folk dancing to entertain you for the return trip.For Indian antiques and an up market designer boutique, visit CAMELOT in Ribander village but take your Credit Cards.
Margao, in South Goa, is considered to be the state's second city. It is a prosperous town surrounded by fertile farmland and has always been an important agricultural centre. There are few towns of any size in the south and Margao acts as the main shopping centre for all the local towns and villages.
It is therefore always busy and clogged with traffic, although the overpass for through-traffic has helped ease the situation a little. There is an excellent market that is a good source of authentic souvenirs and an interesting place to browse. If you tire of shopping then you can always hire a rickshaw and see some of the sights.
The Portuguese absorbed the area during the seventeenth century and there are some Catholic churches dating back to this time and an old colonial quarter with one of Goa's grandest mansion's, "Seven Gables" here. Or you can cool off on Colva beach that is 20 minutes drive away.
From clothes to carrots, jewellery to junk, from shoes to spices, fruit to fish Mapusa has it all. The market is also open Monday - Saturday but smaller. Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa) is the main market town for North Goa and most items found in Anjuna and Calangute can be picked up here at a fraction of the price.
It has a large fish and vegetable market and on Fridays the market doubles in size with sellers from far flung villages setting up stalls and selling intriguing vegetables and colourful spices. Try a "Bhaji House". Goa's answer to fast food when you're flagging. Very cheap and very tasty.
Bargains to look for include shoes, fabric and wonderful stainless steel shops!! Most charter tourists are whisked off on organised trips to Mapusa in the heat of the day to get their brains fried. In our experience, late afternoon/early evening is better. It is cooler, better atmosphere and bargains are easier to come by.
The market is open only on Wednesdays from 9am until sunset. Barter for bargains amongst the Tibetan craft stalls. Nepalese and Kashmiri artefacts including jewellery, paper mache and earrings, stones, rock bottom priced clothes, lungis, bedspreads, bags, German bakery items include cheese cake, strudel and breads.
Tattoing, hair cutting, you name it - you can probably get it. Quite a spectacle but most things on sale can also be found any day on the stalls lining the Baga/Calangute roads. Don't be put off going to the Flea Market if you have already "shopped out". It is worth a visit anyway just for the sight, sounds and hubbub.There are plenty of shady places to rest and have a snack whilst watching the sights.
The palatial country houses of Goa are sprinkled throughout the rural heartland of the south and most date from the early eighteenth century. The owners were wealthy merchants and high ranking officials. These families emerged as a powerful aristocracy frequently intermarrying to preserve their fortunes.
After independence, many had their estates confiscated and others struggle to maintain their large estates. Some of these magnificent houses filled with eighteenth century antiques and sumptuous furnishings are now open for visitors. Stately home hunters should head for Lutolim where some of the most elegant houses are found and a must to see is the village of Chandor where the Perreira-Braganza/Menezes-Braganza House is located.
Goa is a state blessed with incredible an natural beauty; from beaches and gently rolling hills to woodland and forest. To protect some of this natural beauty and the birds and animals living here, Goa has established four wild-life sanctuaries which are open to visitors
The Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary
Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary
Dr.Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.
The Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary lies in eastern Goa, bordered by the eastern Ghats and Karnataka. It has a total of 240 square kilometres of tropical forest land dotted with occasional grassy Savannahs and tribal villages. The animals are allowed to roam free in the reserve, and it can be difficult to spot them in their wild habitat unless you come prepared with hiking boots and plan to spend a few days trekking in the more remote areas of the sanctuary. The Mahadeva temple at Tambdi Surla is one of Goa's most sacred stone temples whose origins date back to the Kadamba Dynasty.
Devil's Canyon, which requires permission to visit from the Interpretation Center (near the entrance to the sanctuary), is a lovely gorge near the town of Molem. It is a popular picnic spot visited by locals and tourists alike. Some members of the Dhangar community of nomadic buffalo herders also inhabit this reserve, and can be seen tending to their buffaloes in the grassy plains and winding rivers. The highlight of a trip to this sanctuary, however, is a visit by jeep to the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, in the southeast region of the park.
The Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary lies in the northeast portion of the state. Though only 8 square kilometers in total, Bondla is home to some splendid and picturesque landscapes of lush tropical vegetation. Monkeys, jackals, wild boar, peacocks, a variety of deer and snake species, in addition to roaming herds of Indian Bison, inhabit this area, though again, do not expect to see these animals in their natural habitat with only a quick drive through the sanctuary.
Located on the island of Chorao, one of the first to be conquered by the Portuguese in 1510, is the Dr.Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. This reserve has few roads, but can be reached by ferry boat from Ribandar, a few kilometres from Panjim. The sanctuary is home to mangroves, an unusual mudskipper fish variety, and a variety of coastal birds which inhabit Goa.
Chorao is a lovely island with small villages of Portuguese-style villas surrounding white-washed churches and it is worth a trip on its own. It has been by-passed by the rush of modernisation and expansion and gives visitors a glimpse of how Goa used to be.
The Cortigao Sanctuary is Goa's fourth wildlife sanctuary and has 86 square kilometres of deciduous forest and picturesque natural vegetation. The park, created in 1969, lies 12 kilometers from Palolem, a popular southern beach resort in Canacona taluka, and is best seen with private transport.
It is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm, as are most of the other sanctuaries, and has a small rest house where visitors can spend the night if they receive permission in advance. Wildlife may be harder to observe in this park, however, as the Kunbi and Velip tribal communities still live there.
The Dudhsagar Waterfall lies in the Bhagwan Mahaveer sanctuary, 10 kms from Colem Railway Station. Water plummets hundreds of feet in cascades, forming one of the most spectacular of all natural phenomena in Goa. Its name "dudhsagar", in Konkani, literally means "sea of milk" and derives its name from the foamy waters of the fall. Monkeys are a frequent sight. Butterflies and birds add colour to the natural beauty of the surroundings near the waterfall.
The water from the Arvalem Waterfalls, situated in Sanquelim, falls from a height of about 50 metres in a straight drop. Its glory is seen during monsoon when its fall turns to a giant rush of water, cascading down from the mountains behind it. Near the waterfall, is the temple of Sri Rudreshwar and close by are some 5th century rock cut caves.
Enjoy a day's bird watching - even if you are only an armchair bird watcher you should not miss seeing the amazing varieties of birds in Goa, now a "hot spot" for professional birders from around the world. Click here to find out more.
Take a Fishing Boat Trip and watch the dolphins feeding in the early morning or take a trip up river to see the crocodiles in the back waters and mangrove swamps.
There are a number of Spice farms that accept groups of tourists which makes a fascinating day out. Find out how pepper grows, cardomom, tamarind and all the other spices you only see in packages in the supermarket. The highlight of the tour is to see the men climb the Betul Nut trees, over a hundred feet above the ground, swaying from branch to branch .
Most of the Spice Plantations are located around Ponda and a visit to one can be combined with a visit to the famous Hindu temples.