Goa is big. In fact, massive. And depending on which part of the Goa you decided to stay, you pretty much shape your entire Goan experience. You can perceive it as a chilled out ambient heaven or something completely opposite of it.
If I were to describe my initial few days in Calangute, North Goa, in one sentence, I’d agree with what lonely planet has written in their guidebook’s cover page “Where the beach meets the bazaar”. But that wouldn’t make any sense, if I think of my last few days at Kakolem Beach, in South Goa.
Because the entire (Kakolem) beach had only one tourist lodge, one eating-point, and the nearest market was some 5 kilometres away.
The point here is, Goa can be confusing, and can give you a completely different experience, depending on where you decided to stay at first place.
So how to choose the ideal beach as per your taste? Well, the best way to do that is by understanding the everlasting conundrum of North Goa vs South Goa. So let’s start with…
North Goa Vs South Goa
If generally speaking, South Goa is quieter and newly developed, whereas North Goa is lot densely populated and action-packed. Go to North, if you’re looking for the best nightlife, moon beach raves, hippie-run crazy markets, and a lot more noise. South, on the contrary, is quieter and mainly interests those who want to listen to the waves and experience the luxury of beach-side resorts.
Though you can find some quiet beaches in the north Goa as well – including the most popular Vagator Beach, located in the northern end of Goa, the problem with north Goa is, in north Goa you don’t find a series of quiet beaches, unlike in the south Goa and this limits you movement. So if the idea is to have a long peaceful holiday experience, and explore the ocean of tranquility, I’d recommend you to head straight to the south.
Other than beaches, visit south to find crumbling old forts, colourful villages, palm-fringed paddy fields and whitewashed Portuguese churches. In my experience, scooter rides were moreover much fun on the empty, perfectly curved roads of the south Goa, as compared to the bustling and crazy streets the in north Goa.
So Where In South Goa?
South Goa is big, and houses a number of beaches under its territory (more than 20, I think). Though most of them, including the most frequented Palolem, Agonda, and other such, can give you a perfectly quiet experience, if you’re looking for something more like a honeymoon escape and want to stay away from any kind of tourist activity, as much as possible, then look no further than Cola or Kakolem beach.
Out of all the beaches I’ve seen in Goa – particularly in the south Goa – none other seemed as secluded, and tranquil, as these two. What’s better is, where at Cola you will find only two beach-side resorts, at Kakolem you’ll find just one – giving you an impression that you more or less own the entire beach. Come here to just sit back, enjoy the bonfire and listen to the music of the waves.
But if you’re alone, their seclusion can sometimes feel punishingly sad. I remember my stay at Palm Discoveries, the only tourist home, available at Kakolem, for two nights, and I couldn’t wait to leave Goa the third day’s morning. Though it was peaceful, and the beach was amazingly clean, it was just too isolated for me, as a solo traveller. So if you want a little more action, a tiny night market to wander around, and a few restaurants to choose from, head to somewhere else. I can recommend Agonda, for I stayed there for almost a fortnight, and never even once did I find it disappointing in any way.
[You can read more about Agonda Beach and my experience here: Agonda Beach Travel Guide]
Classification By Characteristics
Let’s understand more about my few recommended quiet beaches in the south. Starting from the southern most South Goan beach (Patnem) to the northernmost (Varca). This is what to expect:
Patnem: Patnem beach is quite similar to Palolem beach in the north, but also much smaller and with less crowd. I’d say, it is a quiet and friendly alternative to Palolem and is little cheaper too. Though you can find some people partying (subtly) and playing music instruments in the night, the main attractions at Patnem are just lazing on the beach and swimming. I’d particularly recommend Patnem if you’re looking for yoga classes in Goa.
Palolem: More suitable for backpackers who are looking for some action, still not so much hippie or party scene as in north Goa beaches like Arambol. Here you will find colorful and affordable beach huts (much affordable than Agonda and Cola) and a plenty of shacks to spend your evenings.
Agonda: Recently developed, the beach is long and wide enough (much larger than many beaches in the south) to find good empty spaces. Good choices of budget accommodation, if you don’t mind staying a little off of the the beach, as beach huts can be a little expensive here, but a stay in one of them is totally recommended.
Tip: I stayed in a beach-hut called Sonho do Mar, which came with an attached bathroom, a nice and cosy bed and plenty of room to move around. Situated right next to the beach, the ocean was only 10 steps from my hut. From the balcony, there was a clear view of the Arabian Sea at all times.
Cola: This is exclusively for the romantics. Visit Cola beach for a fancy candlelit dinner, with violin being played in the background, long romantic walks along the coastline, and swimming in fresh water lagoon right after a swim in the sea. The entire beach has two operational resorts, with third one in the making.
Kakolem: Possibly the most isolated beach I’ve ever seen, with a place to stay. The entire beach has only one tourist home. I’d recommend Kakolem for honeymooners and people who’re looking for an exclusive family stay. But if you’re a solo traveler, just don’t go there.
Varca and Cavellosim: Varca and Cavellosim lie (almost) next to each other, and are very identical. They probably have the best of a scenic stretch of quiet beaches in South Goa that cater for upmarket guests in luxury resorts. Other than pampering yourself in one of the many luxury resorts here, you can visit them to experience some hardcore water sports — including windsurfing, jet skiing and parasailing.
South Goa is located on a stretch of over 50 kilometers (from south to north), and to best commute from one beach to the other is by renting a scooter, or a bicycle — if you don’t mind pedaling a little uphill. I’d recommend you rent a scooter and bargain it for 250 Rupees a day or even less, if you’re renting it for more than 1 week. For fuel, go to the nearest petrol pump, rather than getting the tank filled in the town from local shops — who sell petrol in plastic bottles at an overpriced rate of Rupees 20 extra per liter! And yea, booze in Goa is super cheap, so do not waster your chance by being sober.