The Wild North Goa beaches...Tiracol to Morgim
Tiracol is at the very north of Goa, reached by crossing the Tiracol River. We took the shorter of the two crossings, which took just five minutes — just as well since the Goan ferries have not improved with age and still look quite unsafe!. It was quite early in the morning and there was only a motorbike and ourselves on the ferry, normally it would be full with trucks, motorbikes, cars and of course, the ramp is never raised — enough to send any U.K. Health & Safety Officer in to a panic! But this is Goa, it's another world! The Tiracol Fort was captured by the Portuguese in 1776 and four years ago it was converted into a Heritage Hotel with just 7 rooms. They have retained as much of the old battlements as possible and have even kept the church, which forms the centrepiece of the courtyard. From the lounge terrace you have the most stunning views across to Querim beach.
Tiracol is unspoilt, stunningly beautiful, ideal for birdwatchers or anyone looking for a totally secluded beach.
Querim Beach is at least three miles of nothing but sandy beach with a fringe of extremely tall pine trees. Walking the beach at 10.00 in the morning we saw only two solitary figures. When we first visited there were only two beach shacks, now that the area has become a little more popular, there are seven to choose from, however, the prices still remain extremely low, on average £2-£3 per meal. In the afternoon it is common to see the fishermen in the estuary in their canoes. The canoes are dug out of jackfruit trees or teak and are handed down through the generations. The estuary is a haven for birdlife, on a previous visit we saw three kinds of kingfisher, brown eagles and an endless list of wading birds. Querim is remote and beautiful and an ornithologist's paradise.
Arambol Beach is a popular retreat for foreigners and many stay in basic accommodation here for months on end. There is a large Israeli community here so you will find many of the shops and shacks have signs in Hebrew. Arambol has a very busy, little community and the pathway down to the sandy beach, is lined by many stalls with ethnic clothing, bedspreads and jewellery in bold and beautiful colours as well as international telephone and internet facilities. The beach itself is split in two, one larger bay, which you step onto initially with more than 25 eating places, huts to sleep in, and sunbeds and umbrellas. If you venture round to the right, a makeshift pathway has been created through the rocks: it's well worth the walk to find many more eating places and a second beach which is backed by the 'sweet' freshwater lake. In recent years the area has become very popular with Russian visitors.
Mandrem Beach is discovered as the road from Arambol emerges through the cashew trees to run parallel with the beach for a short amount of time. Mandrem Beach is the most beautiful and unspoilt of the northern beaches. It's at least three miles long and as wide as two football pitches. The 'End of the World' is still serving it's clients but now has competition from a couple of other shacks. We noticed that quite a few beach huts have been erected since our last visit and this is now becoming a popular area with foreigners staying for several months during the winter although it still remains relatively unspoilt and laid back.
Walk down the beach and have a look at the Goan fishing canoes, beautifully painted with names like Gracey. These beauties come alive at around 4pm to take their master for another night's fishing. Try and visit Mandrem...the sand stretches for as far as the eye can see...it's beautiful and even though it is becoming more popular, it is still easy to find your own space.
Avsem Beach is reached as you turn off the main road, through the winding village lanes bordered by beautiful Hindu Temples. Sheltered by the hillside and shaded by coconut trees, the usual collection of shacks line this long, sandy beach and we noticed an unusual hotel 'Antonio's Paradise'; it consisted of 16 beach huts on bamboo stilts with coconut palm roofs. This is the sort of place that travellers visit and spend the whole winter. We saw many happy holidaymakers who were escaping Western Europe's cold and grey climate for the guaranteed sunshine and blue skies. The area is also becoming popular with day visitors from the busier resorts further south.
Morgim Beach is special in that it provides the breeding ground for Olive Ridley turtles. Signposts show it as a Government protected habitat and eco tourism area and the Turtle information office proudly displays photographs of this year's hatchings. This area has become very popular with Russian guests, so much so that they have built their own little Russian village with lots of great little restaurants. This beach has a number of shacks at either end providing a party atmosphere but the middle of the beach is relatively calm.
Vagator Beach is overlooked by Chapora Fort. From the cliffside car park, which has become a bit of a bazaar, you get a spectacular view of the sandy beaches, which lay between the rocky headlands and shady palms on either side below. It's a steep climb down and on the left-hand beach there are lots of huts to choose from. At the end of this section is where the face carved in the rock can be found although we found it had eroded considerably since our last visit. Many travellers come down from Europe and spend the whole winter just living on Vagator Beach. It can get very busy at the weekend. We were there on a Saturday lunchtime and it was buzzing.
Anjuna Beach is a continuation of Vagator around the rocky headland and an interesting place for meeting people or just watching the world go by. There are two sections to this beach, one is very small and rocky below a cliff top with small restaurants and stalls selling curios. The other is a sandy, walkable bay and this is where the famous Wednesday flea market is held. This is not to be missed. Anjuna, in a sense, is where East meets West. You get hippies selling their wares, Indian ladies selling their colourful sarongs and bedspreads, alongside fruit and puppet sellers. This is one of the most interesting markets in Goa, but don't forget, to get bargains, you must barter.
Baga Beach is the most northerly of this more 'commercial' part of beach life in Goa. Early afternoon it's one of the busiest beaches we've seen. The sunbeds are lined up like soldiers in front of the endless string of beach shacks and amidst the hustle and bustle and throng of tourists you'll see a cow or two lying peacefully in the sun or slowly ambling along the beach. The Goans have a way of sharing life with the fauna around them and it's great to see this love being shared by visitors. Despite the wonderful hustle and bustle, the fishermen still fish as they have always done. In Baga the beach shacks are relatively sophisticated with electricity and tablecloths. It's wonderful to sit in a shack late in the afternoon swapping tales of the days exploits with fellow holidaymakers. It's also easy to get distracted by the little tailor shops amongst the shacks. This is also the place for nightlife including 'Kamaki', 'Tito's' and 'Mambo's' bars.
Calangute Beach has become popular with European and Indian holidaymakers alike making it as busy as Baga, with miles and miles of sandy beach but with fewer coconut trees. Walking along the beach you reach a busier section by some big, wide steps which lead to the souvenir shops and iced beer stands near the Calangute roundabout. As you continue past the steps in the direction of Candolim, it becomes more quiet and relaxing.
Candolim Beach is the longest part of this northern stretch and is quieter than Calangute but still is getting busier every year. At this point the beach is as deep as a football pitch, and the beach bars and shacks are set back on the sand dunes. The shacks here have become more sophisticated, each trying to outdo the other with a more interesting design. One of the most innovative has to be Stringfellos which is designed like watchtowers with seating on several levels and is a great place to watch the world go by whilst enjoying the late afternoon breeze. Amidst the sunbeds and beach shacks the fishing community have their huts on the beach and still fish as they have always done, most locals eating fish curry and rice on a daily basis. The only difference from their Grandfather's day is the fact that they have an outboard motor on the back of their ancient craft!
Sinquerim Beach is the longest established and more 'sophisticated' end, where the Fort Aguada Resort, Taj Holiday Village and Aguada Hermitage are all situated. It's a little more expensive and a little more international. The view from above the Hermitage up the coast is really quite spectacular. During the season water sports are available here including jetskiing and parasailing, one of the few beaches where you can enjoy water activites. The large bulk carrier 'River Princess' that ran aground more than five years ago is still here. It's become a recognised landmark and we fear that everyone has got so used to it now that it will never be removed!
Coco Beach is at the estuary of the Mandovi River just over the headland from Candolim and Sinquerim beaches. It's the most southerly of the northern beaches and a hidden jewel. Most of the visitors to Coco Beach have been there on numerous occasions and love it. The water is shallow and although the sand is greyish, the swimming is superb. At the far end of the beach is a Goan fishing village that has been there for generations. The dug out canoes with their painted bright colours of green and yellow are like beached whales on the shore. This beach has stayed pretty much the same over the last few years. There are still only nine beach shacks and 'Rohan Restaurant' which is built literally on the shore is still offering the same good value for money. Although shaded by coconut trees, it has a net to stop the coconuts giving you a headache and it has several tandoori ovens.