(CNN) — When dreaming up a tropical getaway in India, the first place that likely comes to mind is Goa — a former Portuguese colony about an hour’s flight south of Mumbai.
But the popular seaside retreat isn’t the only sandy shoreline in India that’s worth a visit. After all, more than 4,600 miles of coastline hug the country’s 11 states.
Each sunny strip offers a different experience, from family-friendly water sports to riotous full moon-style parties, private coves and some of Asia’s best diving.
We’ve combed the coast to uncover 11 of the best beaches in India:
Perhaps the only strip of sand in India with a shot at unseating Goa from its pole position, Gokarna offers the same alluring package of beach escape and spiritualism, all overlooking azure waters.
The area actually has several separate beaches, all with powdery white sands.
Popular with backpackers who enjoy their lively buzz and makeshift cafes, these include coconut tree-lined Kudle and Om, blessed with scenic coves.
A short stroll or boat ride away is the ultra-secluded Half Moon Beach. Farther along is Paradise — a place of low hammocks over the sand, fresh seafood in beach shacks, and welcoming homestays owned by locals.
With the beaches of Goa packed throughout the year, the southern coast of Maharashtra — a few hours’ drive to the northwest — is a great alternative.
In addition to fine white sands, the Tarkarli region is also home to serene backwaters, bustling villages and ancient sea forts.
Travelers can enjoy the quiet life or take advantage of ample water activities like scuba diving, parasailing and snorkeling on the beach.
Just off the coast of Malvan (about 45 minutes northwest of Tarkarli), the Sindhudurg Fort is the area’s most beautiful monument, promising expansive Arabian Sea views from atop the 17th-century stone walls.
Close to the temple town of Udupi, in the southern state of Karnataka, Kaup (known locally as Kapu) is set in the backwaters of the Netravati river.
It’s a vision of blues and greens, surrounded by groves of needled casuarina trees.
Along the expanse of gold beach, travelers will find a century-old lighthouse offering excellent sunset views from atop the tower.
When walks on the shore and banana boat rides get boring, we’d recommend a side trip to St Mary’s Islands, off the coast.
A national geological monument, the four-island archipelago is famed for its stunning hexagonal basalt lava rock columns — thought to date back millions of years.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama is also thought to have landed on the island in the 1490s on his way to Kerala.
Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu
Meaning “The Land of the Singing Waves” in the local Tamil language, Tharangambadi was a Danish colony from 1620 to 1845.
Now better known by its Anglicized name of Tranquebar, the quiet town sits on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in southern India.
Apart from an attractive beach, the town is an architecturally fascinating place to visit, filled with old churches and monuments from the time of Danish and, later, British rule.
One of the most impressive buildings in the area is sand-colored Fort Dansborg, overlooking the sea.
Once a hub of commerce and trade, today the imposing building houses a museum dedicated to artifacts from Danish rule.
Radhanagar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Located on Havelock Island — in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands between India and Thailand — Radhanagar (known locally as Beach No. 7) is oft listed as one of Asia’s best beaches.
Travelers combing the isolated coastline will quickly see the appeal — picture calm waters and fine sand, fringed by a lush canopy.
Despite the far-flung location, there’s actually much to do. Travelers can fill their days with water sports, sunbathing, surfing, fishing, sailing, kayaking and rainforest treks — to name a few.
Scuba diving is one of the best ways to explore the underwater worlds and colorful coral reefs, with classes for both beginners and experienced divers available.
On the northwestern edge of the Kerala region, in southwestern India, shallow Bekal beach sits beside the stately Bekal Fort, which is shaped like a giant keyhole.
The area shot into the limelight a couple of decades ago after popular Bollywood film “Bombay” featured the 17th-century fort as the backdrop to its main song sequence.
Offering a long stretch of sand, the beach is popular among both locals and visitors for the lush gardens and art installations, including reddish laterite rock sculptures depicting theyyam (a traditional dance).
The devout visit Puri — a city south of Kolkata on the eastern coast — to see the 11th-century Jagannath temple. But the famous Hindu temple isn’t the only thing the area is known for.
The main beach draws a crowd looking for a party atmosphere and plentiful bhang — edible marijuana, which is legal in India.
Travelers who prefer an uninterrupted plot of sand may want to move away from the main beach in favor of quieter shores, such as Balighai and Chandrabhaga to the north.
Puri is also ideally situated for excursions to Konark (about an hour’s drive northeast) to see the 13th-century Sun Temple and Raghurajpur heritage crafts village (roughly 20 minutes north) where travelers will admire elaborate pattachitra traditional scroll paintings.
Though busy, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include Goa — it’s the uncrowned coastal capital of the country, known for its laid-back vibe and pretty beaches.
The state’s popularity among both Indian and international tourists has meant a steady increase in visitors over the years.
Savvy Goaphiles, meanwhile, know to skip the crowded northern beaches and head down south towards picturesque Palolem.
Here you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep thanks to a ban on live music after 10 p.m.
If they like, night owls can pick up a pair of headphones and dance around at the area’s famous “Silent Noise” parties.
Hugged by a coconut-studded palm forest, the area offers an array of relaxing experiences, such as Ayurveda massages and yoga classes right on the shore.
Should you want to get out for a day, popular day excursions include dolphin-sighting tours around the Arabian Sea.
Heading in the opposite direction, travelers can explore various wildlife sanctuaries to potentially spot tigers, leopards, monkeys and deer.
Mandarmani, West Bengal
This virgin beach is located in the eastern part of the country, about four hours’ south from Kolkata by car.
The sleepy fishing village has turned into a fast-developing resort town, thanks in part to a popular eight-mile-long stretch of sand that’s often occupied by little red crabs.
Around the area, travelers can experience postcard-worthy beaches such as Digha and Shankarpur — known for their spectacular sunrises and calm waters.
Despite its misnomer, Lakshadweep (meaning “100,000 islands”, but only home to 36) promises spectacular tropical scenery and secluded sands.
Most beaches around the archipelago offer private coves and an assortment of water activities, but Minicoy — in the southernmost atoll — scores bonus points with those who are seeking absolute isolation.
Most travelers spend their mornings snorkeling or diving amidst the brilliant coral reefs.
It’s easy to explore the tiny 1.8-square-mile island (with roughly 10,000 people).
You can plan a visit to a local village or climb the namesake white lighthouse, which was built by the British in 1885.
Rushikonda, Andhra Pradesh
Located in eastern India, this clean and secluded beach — set away from the bustle of Visakhapatnam city in the state of Andhra Pradesh — is a favorite picnic spot among locals, despite the strong currents.
More adventurous travelers can rent surfboards and kayaks and take to the water, but challenging conditions mean this isn’t a place for beginners.
Rushikonda also offers easy access to tourist attractions such as the rocky outcrop known as Dolphin’s Nose and the fourth-century Venkateswara Temple — said to welcome 40 million people annually.
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