About North Goa
Our guide to the area: not Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, but if you want to know:
WHAT’S NORTH GOA LIKE? and HOW DO I GET TO YAB YUM?
or even if you’re still browsing for hotels in Goa, read on…
Goa is well known for its beaches and lush vegetation and it lives up to its reputation as a laidback place where overseas tourists often spend more than just a couple of weeks, and domestic tourists from Mumbai and Delhi often head for a long weekend.
Though it’s not a place jam-packed with obvious tourist attractions, you soon realise that everywhere you look there are amazing churches, temples, old forts, beautiful beaches, extraordinary colour, friendly people and delicious food.
Goa is India’s smallest state and is geographically (and administratively) split into north and south. North Goa extends more or less from the airport (Dabolim) to the border of the next state Maharashtra (where Mumbai aka Bombay is the capital).
2km from the airport is the main train terminal in Goa (Vasco Da Gama) though there are stations all the way up and down the state. If you’re travelling south from Mumbai to Yab Yum get off at Pernem.
Immediately north of the airport is where many big hotels in Goa are based, around the tourist centres of Calangute and Candolim (neither of which are worth your time) BUT continue north and you will be rewarded. Between Morjim and Terekhol are some of the least discovered and least developed beaches in Goa, there are no 5 star hotels here, there is very little concrete and plenty of peace and quiet. Unlike the tourist traps to the south, the northern end of Goa still resembles the place which earned it its reputation.
*Note: Place names in Goa tend to have different spellings; in fact they might seem like completely different names to an English speaker but when spoken by a local they all end up sounding more or less the same. We have tried to spell the names here in a way that best illustrates the local pronunciation. Also, regarding the spoken language, most native Goans use Konkani as a first language, though most also speak Hindi and English.
JOURNEY FROM THE AIRPORT NORTH…
As you head north from the airport you’ll notice how northern Goa is bisected by big rivers which flow down from the state’s borders in the east and flood into the Arabian Sea. The palm-lined river banks, some with old forts or churches, are amongst the most picturesque sights in Goa. On the main road from the airport you first pass over the Zuari river as it opens out into the river basin, then 15km later you pass by Panjim (‘Panaji’ on the road signs) which sits on the south bank of the Mandovi river basin.
*Note that on the way to Panjim, Goa Velha (translation Old Goa) is not the same place as Old Goa, though both are worth a visit.
Depending who you ask, the biggest town in Goa is the state capital Panjim or Vasco (which is more of a conurbation of places along the estuary by the airport). Panjim is every bit the buzzing, working town and, like the other big towns in Goa, visibly undergoing a huge transformation as it grows and expands into the 21st century. Panjim, however, has nothing like the craziness of Bombay or Delhi with their high-rises and hordes of people, so don’t be put off – it’s not full of tourist attractions but there is plenty going on.
AND ON TO MAPUSA…
As you head over the bridge from Panjim, the next area is the sub-district or ‘taluka’ of Bardez with the town of Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa) in the middle (and not on the banks of the river Mapsa, oddly enough). Being based in northern Goa means Mapsa is your nearest decent-sized town if there’s anything you need that you can’t find locally. Mapsa, too, is a rapidly growing place with all the buzz that brings, so you don’t come here to relax but just to shop and maybe to eat. On the coast of this taluka are Vagator, Anjuna, Candolim, Calangute and Baga, all lively and with lots of bars and restaurants, lots of the more mainstream hotels in Goa are based around here. This is where most tourists in Goa head to, and though there is plenty going on it’s not necessarily the best place if you want peace and quiet. Anjuna has its well-known market which is the most compelling reason to visit.
AND FINALLY: PEACE AND QUIET…
Carry on from Mapsa and things become more rural. About 3km further on, Siolim is the next noticeable place (nice church!). Depending where you come from it’ll seem like a large village or a small town. After Siolim you cross yet another river (the Chapora) and then head into the quieter taluka of Pernem. Pernem is the most northerly part of Goa bordering the next state Maharashtra, a border marked, would you believe it, by yet another river. After the border there is not much at all for a considerable distance; if you really want to get lost then this is a good place to head to.
Around the Pernem area are a handful of little coastal conurbations including our very own Mandrem. Mandrem comprises various small villages including Ashwem which has, dare we say it, the best beach in Goa. Not far to the south of Ashwem is Morjim and just a few km to the north is Arambol, a small town which is the lively tourist hub of the area. The only other place resembling more than a village is Pernem itself, which has a main-line train station (get off here if you’re coming from Mumbai).
If you plan to visit northern Goa, one of the best pieces of advice we can give is to simply set off and explore. Being around Mandrem means you’re already off the beaten track, but hiring a moped or motorbike will really give you the chance to see this wonderful part of rural India at your own pace. If, however, your own pace is no pace, then a camera, a good book and an appetite are pretty much all you’ll need.