Goa can be broadly divided into North Goa; Panjim & Central Goa; and South Goa. While North and South Goa have established a 'touristy' reputation because of their beaches, Panjim and Central Goa are sure to please those interested in culture and history.
The southern district of Goa, also called South Goa is spread over 1966 sq. km of area. Sharing its borders with Karnataka, South Goa is known primarily for its stretch of virgin white sandy beaches and the largest 5-7 star resorts. With Goa’s only airport at Dabolim, South Goa is on its way to becoming an increasingly popular beach destination attracting European backpackers. The sheer beauty of the beaches with its share of wildlife, ancient monuments, churches, temples, waterfalls, hill spots, paddy fields and coconut gardens are reason enough to attract visitors.
Rice is the most important crop that is cultivated here due to its warm humid climate. Rice cultivation along with chillies and onions are grown mostly near the coastal regions. Following the monsoon, cash crops like cashew, coconut, mangoes, areca palm, kokum and jackfruit are also grown.
One of South Goa's largest cities, Vasco Da Gama was once a prosperous port town during the bustling colonial Portuguese era. The Mormugao (Margao) port links other destinations in Goa by sea. The railway station at Margao is an important link in the Konkan railway. The charm of Margao is contained in its cultural heritage which is a smooth blend of Portuguese and Hindu cultures.
The Sahyadri Mountains covered with dense forests lie to the east of South Goa. Some of the renowned peaks in South Goa are Chandranath at Paroda, Dudhsagan in Sanguem taluka and Cormolghant in Canacona taluka. The rivers flowing in South Goa are Zuari, Talpona, Sal and Galgibag that are used for transportation. Inland waterways play an important role in transport of mineral ores from the mining sites in Sanguem taluka such as Costi, Kirpal, Netravalim, Rivona, Ducorcond and Kuddegal to the Mormugao harbour for export. South Goa is rich in natural resources like trees, iron and manganese ore. It is exported mainly to Japan, South Korea and some European countries.
Further south, lays the urbanized Colva Beach, the Benaulim Beach with its affluent local tourists, the more harmonious Agonda and Patnem Beaches, and finally Palolem. Palolem is where most backpackers in India head to for a few days of rest, to recuperate from their choc-a-bloc itineraries through Northern India.
Pulsating with a lavishing nightlife full of indulgences, North Goa has become synonymous with the 7 kilometer stretch of coastline which starts from Fort Aguada and then goes on to cover the beaches at Candolim, Calangute, and Anjuna.
The 16th-century built Fort Aguada offers stunning views of the coastline from its picture-perfect laterite battalions. One of the oldest in Asia, an 1864 built lighthouse surveys the entire surrounding expanse and till date, casts its brilliant silver-green light 360°, once twilight descends.
Next on the stretch is the Candolim beach which is now infamously known for the colossal River Princess ship which ran around here one tempestuous night in June 2000.
What was once a peaceful fishing ground with boats pulling into the sandy creek, Baga Beach is now one of the hottest party destinations in North Goa.
For some tranquil, further up north are the twin coastal beaches of Chapora and Vagator with their Portuguese built forts and subsequently built Muslim tombs. These villages are inhabited with Russians and Israeli ex-soldiers who spend their winters lounging around the beaches or zipping through lesser known hamlets on their custom-built Enfields or open-roofed jeeps.
Do not be surprised to enter a cyber cafe and find a keyboard with the Hebrew Script, or to check out a cafe menu meticulously drafted out in the Russian Cyrillic script. Arambol is another village up north that has been taken over by aging hippies from the sixties who still have not let go of their piece of paradise on earth.
The third largest city in Goa, Mapusa with its unattractive haphazardly built new buildings may not possess the visual appeal of the Portuguese flavored Panjim. However, this place manages to captivate the traveller who seeks to understand everyday Goan life and its toiling working classes. Mapusa also is a major transport hub and most buses to Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other cities, leave from here.
Panjim or Panaji, as it is colloquially known, is Goa's capital city and easily one of the most picturesque little towns along the west coast of India. Literally meaning 'Land that never floods', and set along the banks of the Mandovi River, one can find a number of monumental government buildings along the riverfront, and Baroque style structures from the Portuguese Era in the Fountain has precinct.
The 1541 built, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church finds itself in numerous mainstream Bollywood films that have used this white-washed architectural masterpiece as a cinematic backdrop.
Besides churches, Islamic influences like Jama Masjid and Hinduism's Mahalakhshmi Temple does much to add to the consummate religious harmony of this resplendent city.
Moving along the Mandovi River, is the Miramar Beach which eventually meets the Arabian Sea. A decidedly posh enclave especially for well-heeled North Indians, Miramar lacks character but still manages to cash in on its spotless beach and from the visitors to Goa's most celebrated art center, the Kala Academy.
Located 12 kilometers east of Panjim, lies Goa's old capital, Old Goa (Velha Goa) which houses world famous vintage Renaissance-style cathedrals from as early as the 15th Century.
Further down south of Panjim, is the Pilar Monastery nestled atop a forest hill, which houses a Catholic monastery for aspiring priests, a small museum and the relics of Father Agnelo, Goa's de facto saint who is well on his way to be canonized as a Saint, by the Vatican in Rome.
The Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary makes for an interesting visit too. The Divar Island used to be sacred to Hindus because of the Shivalingams; however, colonialism changed the color of things much to the dismay of many. Now Divar Island is dotted with white chapels, and Portuguese style villas sporting typically Portuguese names like Vivenda Caldeira.
Finally, with so much attention being cast upon Goa's coastline and beaches, a little detour into the rocky Western Ghats will take you to the Dudhsagar Falls (Sea of Milk) which cascade over rugged cliffs into a pool where happy bathers splash about.
Located in the sleepy, charming village of Chandor, located just 20 minutes away from Casa De Xanti, is one of the oldest colonial mansions of Goa. The Braganza House in Goa is one of the last remaining structures that date back to the pre Portuguese times in Goa. The architecture and the beautifully preserved interiors take you back in time as you take a tour of the house.Tito’s Lane
The Fast changing, and rapidly developing Tito’s lane in Baga is known for its crazy karaoke nights which sees locals and tourists crooning along to popular songs, totally out-of-sync and unmindful of it! Baga is slowly imploding with more uptown lounge bars mushrooming along its winding roads.The Wednesday Flea Market
Anjuna, best known for its Wednesday Flea Market is known for its Kashmiri, Tibetian, local Goan and even dread locked & pierced hippie sellers laying out their wares along the sun kissed cliffs. Bargaining is your prerogative here!The Friday Market
The only tourist aspect in Mapusa – The Friday Market is where one sees hordes of locals taking home their weekly rations of fruits, veggies, fish, hair clips, cosmetics, toys and what not.Ancestral Goa/Big Foot
Spread over 9 acres of land, Ancestral Goa, also known as Big Foot is a soujourn that will take you back in time. A first of its kind theme park and outdoor museum in India, it houses the largest laterite sculpture of Mirabai and the Big Foot Cross Museum has thousands of crosses from all over the world on display. Ancestral Goa enlightens you about the fact that there is much more to Goa than just parties and beaches, Goa is a land of many mysteries and a multitude of colour.River Cruises in Goa
Charter up and cruise the South Goan waters aboard the 18m wooden boat, Isla, which anchors down the river at Rajbag and takes passengers up to Cabo da Rama Fort and back. A special river cruise tour along the river Sal is quite popular amongst the tourists. The cruise includes dolphin watching, lunch and swimming stops and special itineraries can be arranged for romantic dinner cruises as well.Old Goa
Now declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this conclave sees busloads of Roman Catholic tourists all year around, who come to visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus which enshrines the miraculously imperishable remains of St. Francis Xavier.
The Se Cathedral, the Church of St. Cajetano, the bleak Ruins of St. Augustine, the Chapel of St. Catherine and others, all have their own distinct history which exudes mystery and an old world charm.
Those who'd like to get off the beaten track can head to the Chorao Island which is thickly engulfed in mangroves and exotic wild life like flying foxes, laughing jackals, strange fish and crocodiles.Ponda
The Mangueshi Temple, the Shri Naguesh Temple, the Shantadurga Temple and the Mahalsa Temple around Ponda, are perhaps Goa's most exalted shrines that draw in thousands of devotees from other states.Sao Antonio Island
The twin Sao Antonio Island is especially visit-worthy on Sunday afternoons, during low tide, when sloshed locals dip into the sea for a clam hunt, after which they cook a community pulav prepared from the juicy clams, red spices and vinegar.