Northern Goa: Arambol, Anjuna, and Vagator
Is Goa really the place to be?
The smallest state in India is the popular holiday destination of Goa. Miles of beaches cover both the southern and northern coastlines and many flock there to top up their tans or to enjoy the waves. We spent 2 weeks in northern Goa, and for us, our experience wasn’t the best but we came down for a week with a nasty stomach bug; let’s just say it was coming out of both ends for both of us. That aside, and once we’d recovered, we still didn’t really fall in love with Goa. Due to getting sick this limited the time we could spend in Goa so we only got to explore a small portion of the northern area, but I wouldn’t want to write a travel blog without being honest about our experiences; after all, travel isn’t always pina coladas’ and Instagram-esque snaps.
The parts of Goa that we visited are really heaving with tourists, and many of them go there to party. But as we are retired party animals we found northern Goa a bit too much on the party and trance front. I remember a friend of mine, that has visited India 3 x times, warned me that Goa isn’t ‘the real’ India and she’s not wrong, Goa is entirely its own and a unique place; love it or loathe it.
A popular place where all the hippies, stoners, and partiers have flocked to in recent years is Arambol. There’s enough psy-trance clothing to open a massive mega-mall and it isn’t going to get any quieter or less busy anytime soon. We were told by friends how calm and relaxed it is and we almost expected a hippy haven but unfortunately, our expectations didn’t match what we found, but that could just be us. In fact, the noise coming from the hordes of massive bikes that scream ‘I am compensating for something’ make for excessive and unnecessary noise pollution. At certain times in the evening, the main street gets clogged full of foreigners trying and failing to navigate around other bikes like an experienced local. For us, Arambol almost felt like what we’ve been trying to avoid on some of the Thai islands for the past year. However if you do like to party, cleanse your chakras, and you want to stay in a beach shack that was put together with a stapler in the 70’s, it might be a very good place for you, but me and flimsy beach shacks have had their time. With my sarcasm aside there are several positives to the village too:
Out of the other three main villages that we visited in Northern Goa, Arambol has the biggest, longest, and nicest beach. It’s got a huge stretch of yellow sand that seems pretty well looked after and surprisingly clean. Along the beach, you’ll find many, many, many beach bars, restaurants, and some of these infamous beach huts. There are even a couple of cows on catching a few rays too. This beach is quite busy but as it is so vast every beach-goer was able to spread out and relax on a patch of sand. There’s plenty of space if you want to join some yogis working on their handstands too. Sunsets are also beautiful at Arambol beach although this is the time of the day when it gets busier. But rest assured that in the day the beach does give off some laid-back vibes and sweet reggae music.
It’s also worth noting that although Goa is known for its beaches and swimwear-clad tourists some men still find women in a bikini an attraction to gawp, but again this is India.
It’s everywhere, and I’m not kidding. You can buy an entirely new wardrobe, backpacks, yoga clothing, jewellery, essential oils, and many other items from across the country. Not only do the clothing shops have loads to offer but so do the little mini-marts and convenience stores dotted along the road, I found plenty of pots of almond butter, chia seeds, organic rice cakes, and even more! Head along the main street and you will not be able to miss the rows of shops.
Arambol has a large number of eateries compared to its relatively small size but we only got to try a few places before it was game over for us. I haven’t listed much here but there’s a couple of fully raw and vegan cafes, organic restaurants, as well as other endless cheap and cheerful eateries too.
A lovely open aired cafe nestled among plants and trees by the beach. The food is a little piercer but absolutely worth the splurge. Everything dish has been created with health in mind and most meals are vegan and listed as so on their menu. We tried the massive combination plate after our overnight train journey to Arambol and it was incredible. Fill your belly with plant-based goodness and stay for the hippy vibes and ambient live music. They regularly host live music sessions too. Check them out here.
Aether and Echo
This new cafe is situated by the far end of Arambol beach by the cliffs and offers seating in their courtyard garden or in the shade overlooking the ocean. We inhaled their generous sized salad bowls and Martyn also loved their vegan burger. Many items on the menu are vegan but there are options for meat-eaters. I was even able to order a soy masala chai. The owner and his staff are really friendly and welcoming too. Find them here.
With many recommendations online we headed over to Shimon’s Falafel to find out what all the falafel fuss was about. They offer a menu with many Middle Eastern options, some veg-friendly and others with meat. We tried the huge falafel pita that comes stuffed with hummus, salad and fries inside – delicious! The staff understand no dairy too. Find them here.
We stayed at R.N Guesthouse, just a few steps back from the main street, and this was the place we hunkered down at when the stomach bug took hold. The owner Dharam is a really lovely guy and even offered to take us to the doctor after seeing the state of me after day 3 of throwing up. The rooms here start at 1000 INR (£11/$15) for a spacious double room, private bathroom and hot water. We found the place to be clean and we had a communal fridge right outside our door. Find them here.
Known for its huge trance parties and for the older hippies left behind after the others moved to Arambol, this village is the place to be to party hard. Again, there are many foreigners walking the streets of Anjuna but there’s also a fair amount of India tourists too, which is refreshing.
Anjuna beach isn’t that big but its a popular place to rent jet-skis or to hop on a banana boat ride. To say its popular doesn’t really do it justice, the beach is packed in the daytime. Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of trash on the beach, like this ironic KFC bag we found;
But on this beach, you’ll find plenty more cows roaming around than in Arambol and for me that still a novelty, the cows even hang out by the lifeguards. As you walk down closer to the beach you’ll be inundated with shop sellers trying to entice you into their shop or offer you a suspicious white substance to powder your nose with. Or to save you from the hassle just walk through one of the restaurants that open up onto the beach. Then rent a sun lounger or grab a cool drink from one of the beach bars.
This small little restaurant serves delicious Chinese style cuisine. They have a limited menu but you can order fish, chicken or vegetables with noodles or rice. The portions are large and the food is wonderfully fresh. We had the vegetable noodles and the noodle soup and the soup was one of the best I’ve ever had. The staff here are lovely too. Finding it online seems to bring up some confusion with another eatery under the same name but it is definitely in the place pinned here.
Located on the main street by the beach sits the cute and quaint beach cafe Eva. With deck chairs and tables that look right onto the rock pools and the ocean, it’s a beautiful place to grab some food or a cool, refreshing lime soda. Find them here.
Anjuna Flea Market
Famous for its sprawling stalls is the bustling Anjuna Flea Market. We hung around in the area for a few extra days to find out what all the fuss was about by the time the market sprang up – and now we get it. The market is absolutely massive and you can find almost anything you can think of. I picked up several items from cheap stalls with any item for 300 INR (£3/$4.50)(there’s several of these), and a few bits of beautiful jewellery. So if there’s one thing you do in northern Goa, check out this energetic market! The market runs from 9 am – 7 pm only on Wednesdays, but we turned up around 5:30 pm and found some really cheap deals due to the stalls closing for the day. But if you want to shop leisurely for a few hours I’d recommend getting there early as some stalls promptly close at 6 pm if not before. Reach the market either by motorbike or taxi, find it on the map here.
We stayed at Evershine Guesthouse which is tucked away from the main road about a 5-10 minute walk to the beach. Its a very basic guesthouse but prices are roughly £7/$9 for a double room so its a good option if your budget is tight. If you read any online reviews you won’t be surprised to find that the beds are pretty hard but luckily the rooms stay cool and don’t turn into an oven in the daytime heat. We really liked the owner, she really wanted to make sure everything was ok during our stay and even complained about her own cleaner. She moved us to a different room as the drain in the bathroom was locked. There’s a communal balcony area set outside of the rooms on the first floor and its nice area to relax in as your among lots of plants and trees away from the madness. Book it here.
For us, Vagator had a lot more going for it. There were fewer people and we could easily avoid the parties, drugs, and general debauchery. Yes, I’m getting old. Vagator itself is spread out between Little Vagator and Big Vagator. It can be useful to rent a motorbike to get between the two and to explore further afield but after moving around a lot we were happy to stay in Big Vagator.
Vagator has two beaches Ozran and Vagator. The easily accessible Vagator beach is a small sandy strip with the Chapora Fort overlooking it from the cliff above and is also another great place to catch the sunset. Again, like Anjuna, there’s a nice mixture of foreign and Indian tourists visiting the area. I ended up doing some yoga on the beach an met a lovely couple from another state further north that also both love and practice yoga. We preferred the quieter vibe on this beach.
Bean Me Up
Little Vagator is home to the amazing vegan restaurant Bean Me Up. I will say straight away that it is more expensive than a local restaurant but they have vegan cheese, I repeat edible and tasty vegan cheese! We became over excited with the big menu and inhaled their pizza, burger, and baked potato complete with tofu mayonnaise; I loved the mayonnaise but Martyn didn’t. The restaurant has a great laid back ambience but bring mosquito spray with you if you go just after the sunset as we were eaten alive. They offer seating in either the smoking or non-smoking area as well. They also have accommodation which when booked with them includes a breakfast set. We were quoted 1,600 INR (£17/$24) for a double room with a shared bathroom and a fan. They do have other room options with A/C and a private bathroom. We decided not to stay but many of the diners were staying there. Find them here.
Jaws Restaurant and Bakery
This place was a firm favourite of ours and it was just across the street from our accommodation. Jaws has a decent sized menu made up of Indian and European dishes. Try their Indian breakfast options such as uttapam and masala dosa for a tasty and filling meal or snack. They also offer a few vegetarian main meals too. The staff here are very friendly and are happy to accommodate meal requests. Also, their prices are cheaper than most in the area. Find them here.
The Mango Tree Bar
A foreigner favourite serving cuisines from around the world as well as alcoholic imports. They have a small section in their menu for vegetarian Indian options but some other dishes can be modified to suit particular dietary requirements. Although if you do order from the veg section and you are vegan, request for no dairy as paneer gets hidden in most meals. The food is pretty good but on the pricer side. The bar also plays some old tunes so if you don’t want a table you can enjoy a drink at the bar instead. The staff are also friendly but the service is slow. Find them here.
There are many resorts in Vagator so it seemed more expensive than Arambol or Anjuna, but we struck it lucky in the end with Agoda.
Seaview Holiday Apartments
We got an amazing deal with this place on Agoda and we were so glad we booked it! We ended up with a mini apartment that had a private balcony, double rooms, lounge area, kitchen (basic kitchen with a sink, water glasses, and a fridge), and a private bathroom with an intermittent hot shower. Downstairs there is a friendly travel agency that also offers cash withdrawals, as who knows where the nearest ATM is, with a charge of 2%. Overall we loved it, and it was fantastic value for money. Book it here.
A resort that once had its heyday many moons ago, and had apparently won a Trip Advisor award in 2016. The staff aren’t that bothered about doing much either. They do have wifi but as with most places in southern India it only works in the reception/bar area, and although as I have mentioned a restaurant I don’t know when the last time it was used for its original purpose. The room we had was big and had a nice and comfortable bed, but there was a fragrance of mould lingering in the air. Give it a miss unless you are out of options.
As I’ve mentioned several times, Goa just wasn’t for us and that is ok. Just because we didn’t like it doesn’t mean other travellers don’t, and that’s easy to tell from the crowds of visitors descending on the state. It’s important to me that when I’m writing this blog I’m as honest as I can be, travelling helps us learn and the not-so-fun times are as important as the amazing ones. If you do decide to go to Goa keep an open mind and see what happens you may love it!
Peace + plane tickets ✈