The quintessential holiday for most Indians of all ages would be a trip to the tiny, emerald land on the western coast of India called Goa. From beach bums to nature enthusiasts, party animals to food and culture lovers, Goa has something to offer for everyone; in fact it will turn you into a unique kind of aesthete. And trust us, one visit to this “Portuguese Shangri-La” won’t be enough, a piece of your heart will always be owned by Goa and you’ll find yourself returning for more of Goa’s special brand of charm. And even the most seasoned of Goa’s visitors will agree when we say that there is always something new to discover in this palm-fringed tropical getaway.

And while there are a million things to do in Goa, we’ve compiled a list of 15 things that you absolutely must include in your Goan itinerary. Go ahead, try it and we promise that your Goan sojourn will be redefined from the regular beach vacation.

So let’s up the ante on the regular Goan vacation and see what’s on the list, shall we?

Yoga for the soul

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Well, what can we say except that a strong body makes the mind strong! Yes, we just quoted Thomas Jefferson and it’s very apt because a lot of things can be ignored when you’re on holiday, but your health should always come first and what better way to stay healthy than to do some relaxing yoga on the beachside first thing in the morning. All along Goa’s coastline you’ll find schools offering yoga classes to beginners as well as 300 hour teacher training courses for those of you who want to become an expert. While some of these schools do offer free meditation most of them charge a fee for the courses. A spot of exercise on the beach after gorging on tongue tingling tasty dishes will definitely do you a world of good.

Mingle with the locals, watch the day’s catch hauled in fresh from the Sea

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Goa being a coastal state is famous for its seafood and the most beautiful experience is to rise up early and watch the fishermen earn their living; the sight of tiny, brightly painted in all shades of the rainbow boats with friendly souls working really hard from the break of dawn to earn their daily bread and butter from the seas they live around in is a wonderful and humbling experience. You can even get some knowledge on the different kinds of fish that’s part of the days catch. Chat up one of these fishermen on Baga beach in North Goa and get to know their life.

Biking around to find secret coves and beaches

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When in Goa, do as the Goans do! So only the locals are privy to information on secret, almost untouched, pristine beaches that aren’t teeming with tourists and holidayers, the only way to experience this is to rent a motorbike and ride along the narrow, coconut palm lined roads and stop by and chat up the locals to wheedle the information you’d need. And riding along almost traffic free roads is a luxury that most city dwellers cannot even dream of, but in Goa you can experience such luxury in almost every town and village.

Dolphin Sighting

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How many of you actually even knew that Goa was a great place to see some friendly dolphins frolicking and playing on the surf? And if you thought we’re kidding it’s time for you to hop on a boat and head off across the sea to experience this first hand and trust us it’ll definitely be better than any video you see on YouTube or National Geographic.

The quiet yet stunning beaches of South Goa

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For those of you who are looking for a bit of “me” time to heal and reflect then it’s time to give the noisy crowds of North Goa and head to the unspoiled and relaxing atmosphere of the beautiful Agonda and Pantem beaches which are surrounded by lush green foliage, long stretches of golden sandy beaches that are pristine and far away from the maddening crowd. South Goa has a kind of unspoilt charm with its lush paddy fields, quiet country lanes and friendly locals that North Goa’s crowded areas lack.

Walk around a plantation and smell the spices

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Goa is studded with beautiful plantations that produce some of the best spices in the country, especially the ones in the Ponda region. A walk on the tiny trails along fragrant pepper vines, cardamom plants whose roots are dripping with the jewel-like fruit, nutmeg, mace and even some fiery red Peri Peri chillies that’ll set off a volcano in your mouth will cleanse the city smells out of your system and you round it off all with an “elephant shower” in the stream and finally a good traditional Goan feast spiced with those very same spices you smelled. A visit to one of these plantations is worth two to the beach.

A tryst with history

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As famous as Goa is for its beaches and party places, it’s equally famous for its cavalcade of centuries old churches, temples, convents, forts, art galleries, museums and quaint old buildings that are mired in old tales and history. Old Goa, which was the capital of the state for the better part of three centuries and also known as the ‘Rome of the East’ is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site too. The Basilica of Bom Jesus with its magnificent architecture and Sé de Santa Catarina which happens to be the largest church in old Goa are among the most visited and “not be missed for anything” kind of sights.

The mighty jungles of Goa

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Yet again Goa manages to surprise you because hidden among its party facade and stunning beachfronts lies some peaceful and beautiful wildlife sanctuaries that are home to some exotic animals like panther, sloth bear, mouse deer and even barking deer along with some 200 odd species of birds like the Indian great black woodpecker, Malabar pied hornbill, paradise flycatcher, fairy bluebird, emerald dove and kingfisher. The Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park situated in the foothills of the Western Ghats is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm on all days. Or go to the Salim Ali bird Sanctuary to catch a few snoozing crocodiles while you try to catch a few birds.

A trip to Dudhsagar

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For the explorers and adventure enthusiasts, nothing would be better than trekking through the forests of the Western Ghats to reach the infamous 4-tiered Dudhsagar falls. A dip in the myriad green pools is even better to cool off after a sweaty trek. Go live your “Chennai Express” dreams and take a few pictures with one of the tallest waterfalls of India in the background. This year a few restrictions have been imposed by the Indian Railways, the Dudhsagar trek is inaccessible because it’s “offbound” until further notice; but local travel agencies do operate jeeps to the Dudhsagar waterfalls, so a lot less leeches and still a beautiful vision of milky white waterfalls is definitely a blessing.

Shopping at the flea markets

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One of the best things about visiting Goa is the most beautiful experience of browsing, shopping and partying at the flea markets. Arpora’s Ingos Saturday night bazaar, Anjuna Flea Market and Mapusa market are the ones to look out for. They’ve got groovy music, great food ranging from across the world, bargain shopping (if you know how to bargain well enough) and a wonderful festive atmosphere with the beach in the background. And even though parking and traffic woes here are horrendous, it’s definitely worth a visit or several. You’ll end up spending several hours engrossed in the tiny shops and their wares as well as the soul-satisfying aromas that entice you to their stalls for a quick bite.

Let loose your inner hippie

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Goa was once the land of hippies still retains the flavour of those long ago residents who left behind their legacy in the form of parties and a peaceful, accepting culture. Once hippie central, you probably won’t find too many or any hippies there now but you can experience the days of the colourful and peaceful past at Arambol beach which plays host to backpackers and soul seekers from all over the world. Don a few colourful beads, braid our hair and you’ll fit right in with the 70’s hippie and all you’ll have to do is chat up a few people, make some new friends  as you dig into the scrumptious international cuisine on offer.

The food scene

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The Goan food scene is unlike any other in the world. The cuisine here shows influences from the Hindus, the Christians, the Muslims who ruled before the Christians and even the Portuguese who ruled the state for four hundred years before it gained independence and became a part of India. Even the international population that visits Goa and several that have settled here have left indelible influences on the food scene in Goa. Any place you go in Goa will have beautiful stuff on the menu which will leave you in a gastronomic coma. The beach shacks have a wonderful array of seafood waiting to tease your taste buds and no sane human being will leave Goa without sampling a slice of Bebinca, trust us, it’ll leave you floored and one slice just won’t be enough. Other famous dishes you have to try are Prawn Balchao, Chicken Xacuti, Pork Vindaloo, Sorpotel, Sanna and wash it down with a glass of Feni (traditional cashew liquor). Some of the best restaurants to visit in Goa are Pousada by the beach, Go with the Flow, Brittos, La plage, Mum’s Kitchen, Upper house, Thalassa and Hotel Venite.

Unleash the party animal

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And finally, the one thing that most of the world heads to Goa for is to party hard. From time immemorial Goa has been party central for most of the world and for most Indians partying in Goa is a rite of passage. One of the best places to party hard is at the beach and if you’re part of a large crowd, staying at a beach and a wild party will make it an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Or you could even go on one of those exotic river or sunset cruises that have live music and dance performances that make for a beautiful evening out with song and dance and lots of fun too. And while you’re at party central how about trying your luck at one of the casinos? Try to woo lady luck onto your side while you roll the dice on these floating casinos or on the offshore one’s that are strictly electronic games only but still right out of paradise for the gambler in you. All in all your party animal side is satisfied but if you’re still yearning for some more, then it’s time to head to infamous nightclubs with wild all night long parties. Silent Noise club in Palolem, Club Cubana in Arpora, SinQ Nightclub in Candolim, Cafe Mambos in Baga Beach, Kamaki in Baga, UV bar in Anjuna, Cape Town Cafe in Calangute and the infamous Tito’s in Calangute are best party spots in Goa that are always teeming with people, good food and great music.

Conclusion

In addition to all that we have mentioned above, Goa has a lot more attractions to offer the wandering soul. Goa is one state with so many faces that it’s almost impossible to discover all of them in just one trip and it’s unfailing charm ensures that you keep going back for more. And even though it’s such a small place it manages to squeeze in so many things that everyone, no matter the age has something wonderful to do there. Parasailing, paragliding, cooking with the locals and so much more that everyone from nature lover, party animal to shopaholic is satisfied with each visit. From history to modernity, Goa’s made the change without losing any of the qualities that makes it the most wonderful and perfect holiday destination.