You might have noticed Rachel wrote mostly about North Goa on her blog. That is because she lived there. While Goa is the smallest state in India, it still takes four hours to drive along the whole coast. Which means if you’ve only scheduled a few days here, you may want to choose between North and South Goa. Rachel once answered that question here, but we thought we’d give you a more thorough, updated guide below with our local Goa expert, Jules!
I, Jules, also currently live in North Goa at Villa Alina and spend most of my season up North, though occasionally I treat myself to a much needed getaway to the South. For me, North Goa will always be home, I am a city girl born and bred in London so the fast paced life and busy streets appeal to me. The South is the countryside of Goa, the quieter side with less going on and more time for rest and relaxation.
How to Decide if You Want to Go to North or South Goa
Many people emailed Rachel about coming to Goa for one week or two and want to know if they should stay in the North or head down to the South. The answer to this depends on a lot of different factors from how much time you have to your interest to what kind of holiday you want. The North and the South are two very different places sometimes.
Depending on your schedule, you may be able to explore both North and South. However, if you have a limited time you will want to make sure you spend your time wisely. Getting around without your own means of transport is not the easiest as Uber doesn’t exist in Goa, we don’t have a metro, taxis are extortionate compared to the rest of India, and renting a moped is great but also comes with a long list of precautions. So making the right decision about which area you stay in is important as you will want things to be within walking distance.
Here are some questions that may help you decide:
Which is closest to the airport?
The airport is midway between North and South Goa, so you’re pretty much evenly distanced depending on how far North or South you choose to go.
What kind of holiday are you looking for in Goa?
If you’re looking for more to do and see…
North Goa is the busier side with a lot more happening. Here you can experience the buzz of daily life in almost every area with a much bigger selection of parties, hundreds of restaurant options, cafes, bars and shopping markets. The North is your best bet for those that want a mix of actually doing things as well as beach hopping along the coast.
If you’re looking to just relax on the beach…
If you’re in the mood for rest and relaxation, sunsets, and swims, than South Goa and its more beautiful and secluded beaches are for you. The beaches in the South are quieter with less options of a late night party, so if candle-lit dinners on the beach, spending your days stretched out on a sun bed and struggling to decide whether you want a fresh coconut or a cocktail, then I would suggest the South. There are still restaurant options and the occasional party but not in the same variety as North Goa.
Are you looking to avoid crowds?
There are quiet beaches both in the North and South of Goa but the South has a lot more and is where you want to be if you need a break from the madness of India.
If you are travelling solo and want to meet people then the North has a lot more hostels to choose from and a bigger selection of activities to do. I personally find lying on a beach is more of a solo activity and a harder place to make new friendships. If you want to be able to dip in and out of the busy-ness of India either at the local markets, bars or beach shacks then the North has a larger selection and bigger buzz.
Comparing North and South Goa: A Breakdown
Old Quarter Hostel, Panjim
Which is better for backpackers on a budget?
In India, accommodation is pretty cheap wherever you go unless you are splashing out on a 5-star hotel. As for Goa there are options for all different budgets but of course it also depends if you are travelling solo, in a couple or as a group.
As mentioned above there are a lot more hostel options in North Goa which offer a bed for as little as Rs 500 a night. There are lots of cool options with great communal areas to meet other backpackers. For hostels check Jungle Hostel, Papi Chulo, Old Quarter, Funky Monkey or Prison Hostel.
The South is more of a stilted beach hut experience than a budget backpacker scene. The further you stay back from the beachfront the less you will have to pay and I would recommend taking a walk along your chosen beach and bartering for the best price. The later in the day it is the cheaper they will be. Beach huts can range from Rs 1,000 to 5,000 per night.
Anahata, Mandrem Beach
Where to Stay in Goa
There is a huge selection of places to stay in Goa. We have everything from hostels, guesthouses, homestays, jungle huts, eco resorts and luxury villas to 5-star resorts. It is impossible not to find something to suit your needs, check out our updated guide on where to stay in Goa for a longer list of our favorite spots.
There is a larger variety of options in North Goa for all different budgets. Places here are not as beachfront as they are in the South and you can stay a lot more inland in towns and even villages. Anjuna is the best area for backpackers, Mandrem has a more hippie chic vibe and Calangute is the epicenter of the madness.
South Goa has a few 5-star resorts in very secluded areas for people who don’t want to venture out. It also has a lot more choice of the famous stilted beach huts and falling asleep to the sound of waves. Here most places will be a few steps away from the actual beach as their USP is a sea view.
Agonda is one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa, Palolem is the busier area, and Patnem is the quieter neighbor. The South can be explored in one long line with the coast being the main area of civilization for tourism. Do note in the monsoon, South Goa is basically closed as seas become rough and the shacks, huts, and guesthouses are all taken down.
Better for Sightseeing?
Goa is not full of as many bucket list-must-sees as most other areas in India. The landmarks could be done all in one day if you really stretched yourself but you will find like many others, you end up getting distracted by the beaches, normal life or needing to try a different cocktail in every beach shack.
North Goa has a lot more choice of cultural landmarks with Old Goa being the main attraction. If you have been to other places in India then you will notice you will have mainly seen temples or mosques. Goa is full of beautiful churches because of the Portuguese influence. If you want to spend your days doing some exploring then North Goa is where you should be and you should see Panjim, the capital of Goa, Fontainhas – the amazing colorful Portuguese streets within Panjim and the Spice Plantation – I always send my guests here. And of course exploring the different beaches along the North coastline.
South Goa is not for the kind of traveler who needs to get up and do a lot of things throughout the day. Here your activities are based around the beach and are likely to include sunbathing, reading, beach walking, kayaking, boat trips, chasing sunsets and snoozing. Nothing wrong with these activities but if you are like me and get bored of lying on a beach all day then maybe the North is for you.
Tip: If you want to see the famous cows at Agonda, they arrive before every sunset and are fed the vegetable waste from the kitchens along the beach!
Where & What to Eat
The options for food in Goa are some of the best in the whole of India. We have every single cuisine possible and you could finish a two week holiday without eating any Indian or Goan food. There is difference between Goan and Indian food. If you have traveled around India you may or may not have noticed key differences between dishes in each state. I, of course, don’t recommend this because all types of Indian and local food are the best but, just to highlight if you can’t look at another plate of daal and rice, then you have come to the right place.
North Goa has the largest selection of places to eat, a lot of them better than most places you would find in your hometowns. There are beach shacks, fancy restaurants, pizzerias, sunset dining options, juice bars, vegan spots and even a few restaurants that offer shows and more of an late-night experience. Check out La Plage, A Reverie, Gunpowder, Calamari, Fat Fish, Thalassa, Bean Me Up, Luna’s Ristorante, Sublime, Artjuna, Eva’s Cafe…I could literally go on forever. On Rachel’s last trip, she ate at a lot of places in North Goa.
South Goa has a few standout spots to check out but here you will mainly be eating at beach shacks and enjoying the view rather than being blown away by food. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean food is bad in the South, far from it, but there are just not as many well known places or options to choose from as the North. Whilst in the South don’t miss Home, Zest, Martins Corner, Zeebop, Jaali Cafe, Dunhill and Indah Desa.
For the best local Goan food try a small beach shack and order FishCurryRice – said in this way. This can be found in both North and South, just make sure its locally made which includes lots of coconut.
Where to Party
Goa is well known for its party scene and is comparable to the Las Vegas of India. Well, I think so anyway! We have late night parties that go well into the morning, trance parties that you should not miss out experiencing, 24-hour casino boats and a party option for most nights of the week! If you’re coming to experience the party scene, don’t miss these nightlife tips before you come.
North Goa is full to the brim with options for parties. There is somewhere to go every single night of the week whether it is a bar, a club or a beachside party. If you are looking for busy club scenes, cheesy music, techno parties, live music, going to more than one club in a night or all of the above then the North is for you. Nearly all of the best nightclubs in Goa are located in the North and there are options depending on which kind of vibe you are going for. Check out Curlies, Shiva Valley, Hilltop, Thalassa, Soro, Hideaway, Cavala, Cohiba, Showbar and more.
The party scene in South Goa is very limited with set days for parties at only two main venues which are Leopard Valley and Neptune’s Point. I am sure these would be cool parties to go to but there is no guarantee that they will be busy. Here you should be happy with either an early night or taking over a beach shack and having drinks and cocktails with a group of friends.
Where to Relax on the Beach
Goa is a coastal state lined with beaches from North to South. Though much of the west coast of India has some secluded beautiful beaches, Goa is the designated beach holiday destination. There are a lot of beaches to choose from and I wouldn’t recommend trying to visit them all.
North Goa has a variety of beaches to meet peoples different needs. If you are looking for a busy beach, water sports and a large selection of beach shacks then Baga, Calangute and Candolim beach are for you. If you want the typical tourist vibe with a few beach shack party places then Anjuna and Little Vagator/Ozran Beach are for you. And if you want a more quiet, hippie, bohemian vibe then Morjim, Ashwem and Mandrem are for you. The furthest North is Arambol where you will find a lot of backpackers, drum circles and a trance scene.
For the most beautiful beaches head South where you will find silkier sand, calmer seas and more peace and quiet. Majorda and Benaulim Beach are empty with not much else to do nearby. Agonda and Patnem are quiet with sea facing beach huts and a beautiful stretch to walk along. Palolem is the busier part of the South with glorious palm trees lining the whole shore leaning towards the sun. Butterfly Beach, Cabo De Rama, Cola and Galgibaga are the even more untouched areas where you are unlikely to bump into many other people at all.
Where to Do a Yoga Retreat
If you are coming to Goa and plan to book a yoga retreat then you will want to decide whether you will prefer to be in the North or South. Yoga can be found all over Goa and if you don’t want to commit to a full on retreat there are lots of options of drop-in classes or even hiring a teacher for private classes to come to you.
If you want a busier retreat with the option of more to do after your classes in the day then the North has a few options that I have heard about from friends – Dunes or Anahata in Mandrem and Purple Valley Yoga in Assagao which is more inland. There are lots of options for drop in classes at the many yoga shalas, cafes, or even resorts.
The retreats in the South are likely to be a lot more chilled out. There’s less temptation to go out and drink and a lot more peace and quiet to really give your all to the retreat. I know I would personally choose to do a retreat in the South. I feel secluded beaches and more alone time go hand-in-hand with a yoga retreat. Here you could try Kranti Yoga School, Bamboo Yoga Retreat or Lotus Oasis Yoga all found on Patnem Beach.
Where to Go Shopping
If you have been traveling around India you may feel as though you are all shopped out! But you will change your mind once you see the shops in Goa. You can find everything you need from the cliche Goa tourist stuff for your friends at home (elephant trousers, Goa fridge magnets, anklets, henna etc) to the amazing independent designer clothes you won’t find anywhere else.
North Goa is lucky enough to have all the shopping markets. These markets have a huge variety of everything you could possibly want all in one place. The Flea Market is the famous daytime market every Wednesday in Anjuna, the new Goa Collective Bazaar happens every Friday in Vagator and The Saturday Night Market is in Arpora. Each market is different and if you can you should make time for all three. There are also very cute boutique shops you must visit. Rangeela, No Nasties and People Tree are in Assagao; Paperboat is in Sangolda; Alchemy is in Mandrem, and Studio Arpora is in Arpora.
South Goa has a few great shops but not the same selection as the North. Here you can find some hidden gems at the roadside stalls but you will have to spend some time looking. There aren’t any particularly large markets though sometimes there are pop ups at Leopard Valley. Boutiques in the South to check out are Bunti and Jaali Cafe.
Hopefully, you now have a clearer idea about whether you want to go to North or South Goa! And if you’re lucky enough to have time for both, you now have some recommendations on where to go, what to see, and, most importantly, what to eat!
For More Goa Travel Planning Guides:
Check out some of these posts to help you continue planning your trip to India:
Goa Travel Tips
- Unique Things to Do in Goa: A Bucket List
- Traveling in Goa India With Kids
- Safety Tips For Solo Female Travel in Goa, India
Trip Planning Tips
- The 30 Best Places to Visit in India
- Travel to India Made Easy With This Step By Step Guide
- 100 India Travel Tips You HAVE To Read
- 10 Tips for First Time Travel to India
- How to Get an India Tourist Visa
- Travel Insurance for India
- How to Book a Train in India As Foreigner
- Do You Need a Filtered Water Bottle For India Travel?
- Money in India: How To Get Rupees & Handle Money
- How to Dress in India: the Ultimate Dos and Don’ts
- 10 Travel Essentials For India
- Men’s India Packing List
- The Only Backpacking Through India Packing List You Need
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Originally published Sept 2017; updated Sept 2020
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