The best things to do in Goa

(CNN) — Goa has been indelibly shaped by its 450 years of Portuguese rule, followed by an influx of hippies in the 1960s.

Today, it’s the smallest state in India. A tropical paradise just an hour’s flight south from Mumbai, it’s often considered party central.

While that’s certainly true of some of its northern beaches, pockets further north, south and inland are reminders of Goa’s quieter past.

Juxtaposed throughout the region you’ll find beach shack huts and five-star resorts, traditional Goan cuisine alongside modern Burmese, Catholic churches and Hindu temples, undeveloped beaches and bustling towns.

Unlike much of the country, meat, including beef, is common here.

Keep in mind that high season runs October through January, when temperatures are cooler (although they can still climb into the 90s).

Monsoon season, from June through September, brings soaking rains, so many hotels and restaurants close during this period.

Eat

A Goan meal isn’t complete without spices.

Goan cuisine is a distinctive regional style that’s been heavily influenced by the Portuguese, and features both meat and seafood dishes.

For true Goan meals, Mum’s Kitchen sources its family recipes from local women. As a result, this is where you can try fluffy rice cakes, called sannas, and tisreo sukem, clams prepared in a coconut and coriander mixture.

Meanwhile, Gunpowder is a good bet to try southern Indian’s best regional dishes, from egg appams (a type of pancake) to Kerala mutton curry.

Since Goa is also an international hotspot, global cuisines have added to the scene.

For example, Bomra’s is well-known for its modern Burmese food. Look for pickled tea-leaf salad, coconut noodle soup with egg, fish cake and gourd fritters, and snapper in chili and lemongrass sauce.

Then there’s La Plage, a local institution that offers French fare directly on the beach (the sand is the floor). It can be tricky to find, but the payoff is sesame-crusted tuna and beef carpaccio. We recommend you try the chocolate thali for dessert.

Of course, no mention of Goan restaurants is complete without including Thalassa, a popular Greek taverna whose cliffside setting provides unobstructed views of the Arabian Sea. If you time your meal for sunset you can enjoy kebabs, souvlaki and gyros while watching the sky turn pink and orange. It’s currently closed for the monsoon season, but look for it to possibly reopen in October.

Mum’s Kitchen, 854, Martins Building, D. B. Street, Panaji — Miramar Road, Panjim, Goa 403001, +91 98221 75559

Gunpowder, No. 6, Anjuna-Mapusa Road, Saunto Vaddo, Assagao, Mapusa, Goa 403507 +91 832 226 8083

Bomra’s, 247, Fort Aquada Road, Candolim, Goa 403515, +91 97675 91056

La Plage, Ashvem Beach, Mandrem, Goa 403512, +91 98221 21712

Thalassa, Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator, Goa 403509, +91 98500 33537

READ: The most beautiful places in India

Stay

The W in Goa was the brand’s 50th property.

It’s a shame to share this under-the-radar spot, but Dwarka is paradise for those who truly want to escape the well-trodden tourist path.

The gorgeous eco-resort isn’t far from popular Cola Beach, but you’d never find it unless you knew about it. Once there, you can settle into one of 10 thatched cottages and enjoy the lagoon and undeveloped beach.

All-inclusive meals involve locally sourced food and freshly caught fish. A yoga instructor and massage therapist are on-site, or you can simply splash in the Arabia Sea by day and sit around the beach campfire at night.

The only downside is that Dwarka is only open from November through April.

Further north in Morjim, Paros by Amarya is another non-generic experience. You can choose from one of the luxurious tents on the beach, each perched on a raised platform and equipped with air conditioning, bathroom and Wi-Fi.

If you’re traveling with a group of people, Coco Shambhala offers four individually decorated, open-air villas. In-house chefs prepare Goan cuisine, while a free-form pool and Ayurvedic spa cover downtime.

Finally, more than 10 all-inclusive, five-star resorts are dotted around the state. Of note is The Leela Goa, since its secluded location borders both the sea and a river.

The freshly renovated property features a 12-hole golf course, full-service spa, global dining options and private plunge pools.

The newly opened W Goa is also noteworthy. It’s centrally located on Vagator Beach in North Goa, and caters to a trendier crowd.

The vibrant artwork throughout was created by local artists, while the whimsical decor channels Goa’s bohemian and colonial past.

You can gorge on Goan specialities and pan-Asian fare at its two restaurants, dance late into the night near the beach, then recover at the 14,000-square-foot spa.

Dwarka, Cola Beach Road, Mattimol, Canacona, Cola, Goa 403702, +91 98233 77025

Paros by Amarya, Turtle Beach, Temba Vaddo, Morjim, Goa 403512, +91 99100 01409

Coco Shambhala, Patrimonio, Nerul, Bardez, Goa 403114, +91 93722 67182

The Leela Goa, Mobor, Cavelossim, Salcette, Goa 403731, +91 832 662 1234

W Goa, Vagator Beach, Bardez, Goa, 403509, +91 832 671 8888

READ: A first-timer’s guide to India

Play

Cola Beach’s beauty has drawn travelers to Goa for centuries.

If it’s high season, odds are you came for the beaches. The main scene centers around Calangute, Vagator, Candolim and Baga in the north, while Anjuna is a straight-up party beach.

Further north are the more relaxed beaches of Ashwem, Mandrem and Morjim, where much of the yoga community holds court.

Many five-star resorts are found along the central coast, home to quiet, uncrowded stretches of soft sand.

Further south are the real gems, such as Agonda, Colva and Cavelossim, known for their undeveloped beauty and peaceful atmosphere. Palolem has become increasingly popular, but still enjoyable.

Leave the beach to explore some of Goa’s favorite pastimes. Anjuna Flea Market is a longstanding tradition that’s evolved from the hippie heyday of the ’70s. Held every Wednesday, come here to haggle over jewelry, saris, bags and more.

The equally popular Saturday Night Market takes place in nearby Arpora. Like Anjuna, this flea market also sells a wide gamut of clothes, spices, knick knacks and so on. You can also find food and drink vendors and live music at both.

There’s also the Mapusa market, held six days in week in Mapusa, for a more local experience.

it’s best to budget time to experience Goa’s religious diversity, from the Catholic Basilica de Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where St. Francis Xavier is buried, to the 12th-century Mahadev Temple in Tambdi Surla dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva.

You can also spend an afternoon in Panjim, also called Panaji, to explore the state capital’s Portuguese history.

Other area highlights encompass Dudhsagar Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in India, and Sahakari Spice Farm, where you can learn about curry leaves, turmeric and more. A lunch buffet includes a shot of cashew feni, which is not unlike pure rubbing alcohol. Skip the elephant attraction due to the questionable treatment of the gentle giants.

Anjuna Flea Market, 10, St. Michael’s Vaddo, South Anjuna, Anjuna, Goa 403509, +91 98901 70260

Saturday Night Market, Aguada – Siolim Rd, Xim Waddo, Arpora, Goa 403518, +91 99221 00009

Mapusa Market, Mapusa Market Area, Panjim, Goa, no phone

Basilica de Bom Jesus, Old Goa Rd, Bainguinim, Goa 403402, +91 832 228 5790

Mahadev Temple, Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctury, Sanguem, Surla, Goa 403406

Dudhsagar Falls, Sonaulim, Goa 403410, +91 832 243 7728

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