Recommendation number two for travelling India in August and September, the tail end of monsoon season is the Goan capital Panjim.
Goa is the Indian state renowned for its laid back vibe and beautiful beaches. However, if you are visiting during monsoon (April to October) don’t expect much from the beachside towns. Instead of heading to Goa for the beach, make it a destination to see the amazing confluence of Portuguese and Indian culture and to enjoy the beautiful architecture, amazing food and friendly Goans. The Goan identity is characterised by both Portuguese and Indian traits – they truly are unique and will bring you a very different India experience, ideal for the monsoon.
Skip the beaches, go to Panjim for the food
We went to check out Arambol one of the popular beachside hippie towns, but in August was practically deserted and full of rubbish. The beach itself was filthy and there was no way you’d enjoy swimming in the brown, churning seawater. Our experience doesn’t mean you should avoid Goa altogether if you’re in India during monsoon – you just need to change the goals of your holiday to make it about the city and food. Upon reading this article I get the impression that the Goan beaches might not be all they are cracked up to be – regardless of the time of year. India simply isn’t a beach country and if you have time to fit in Thailand or Cambodia, I suggest doing this instead.
Panjim (also known as Panaji) is the capital of Goa and is a truly magical city. The colourful buildings are very Portuguese in style and you can spend hours wandering around enjoying the atmosphere. We initially spent one night in Panjim, which is a city that feels like a weekend break in a cheaper version of Europe. After spending a single night at the wonderful Caravela homestay and being treated to the generous hospitality of Carlos, the owner, we were sad to leave this great city. But we had to see the famous Goan beaches! Reluctantly, we packed up our things and got on a local bus to Arambol.
About an hour and one bus change later were arrived in Arambol to find it all but deserted apart from a few things open on the quite dirty beach. It only took inspecting a few grim rooms and realising that there was nothing going on to inspire us to leave. We debated testing a few more beaches but after reading more negative accounts of these areas during monsoon we quickly succumbed to the temptation to head back to the gorgeous Caravela Homestay.
For three days we relaxed and enjoyed wandering to cafes for tea and eating at delicious restaurants with cheap alcohol at night. It was exactly the rest and recuperate we needed to start our second week in India.
If you’re in Goa during monsoon then consider limiting (or skipping) the beach and enjoy the colours and flavours of Panjim!
The only place to consider staying in Panjim is Caravela Homestay. The rooms are delightful and have a private bathroom and an air-conditioner. They are very good value in the pricier Panjim City. Caravela is run by the welcoming Carlos, who is a fascinating source of knowledge on everything Goan. We enjoyed the chance to talk to him to get a better perspective on the area and India as a whole. Daily breakfast is included with the room and Carlos ensured that there was a gluten free option for me to enjoy each morning. The breakfast dosa he got especially for me was very tasty and the coffee served each morning is great! Caravela also has a café open all day, which serves fantastic salads and other Portuguese inspired dishes.
Food in Panjim
Apart from eating at Caravela, there are a plethora of great restaurants in Panjim where you can sample everything from Indian to Portuguese dishes and then of course the mix of the two, which is Goan cuisine. It is also a city where alcohol won’t break the bank. Just be sure to check that there are no sneaky taxes on your drinks. We enjoyed getting to drink some wine here, which was very affordable unlike in the rest of India (and indeed much of Asia).
Viva Panjim: You will hear recommendations for this restaurant in guidebooks and from locals and this is with good reason. Set in an old heritage home the food and drink here are great value for money. We adored the Paneer65 and the stuffed papad. A bottle of wine from the Indian Sula vineyard is reasonably priced.
Venite: Literally around the corner from Caravela Homestay, Venite is a nice restaurant set in an old building. The stuffed beefsteak is amazing, particularly for India where beef is hard to come by. We also enjoyed the sea bass and the ‘house wine’, which is Goan port – very sweet. Other drinks are pretty cheap and the owner is very friendly.
Café Bodega: It is worth taking a walk up the steep hill for the view of Panjim and for the tranquility of Café Bodega. The art gallery was closed for renovations when we visited, but the café courtyard is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea. There isn’t much in the way of gluten free food here, but if you’re after a treat they do have some flourless cakes.
Black Sheep and The Fisherman’s Wharf: We found these restaurants to be very overpriced. They are both very nice venues and have a huge number of attentive staff, but in my opinion the food just wasn’t worth the high prices. What makes this worse is that taxes are not shown on the menu so you are presented with a bit of a shock once you receive the bill. By all means give them a try, but Viva Panjim and Venite are far better bang for your buck!
Apart from enjoying days wandering around the streets and sampling the culinary delights of Panjim, there are a couple of main tourist attractions that are worth a morning or afternoon of your time. Old Goa is a bus ride away and is home to a number of old cathedrals and buildings that remain from the long period of Portuguese rule. You can spend an hour or two wandering around and seeing the sights, but don’t expect much in the way of good food here. We got a guide for the main church, which in hindsight was a mistake because he spoke so quickly he was quite difficult to understand. Don’t go to Old Goa expecting churches on the scale of Europe.
Final words on Panjim
Don’t be put of the whole state of Goa by future articles you may read on the decline of Goan beaches. Particularly in August and September, at the tail end of monsoon, just adjust your expectations and visit the laid back Indian state for a chance to enjoy food paradise in Panjim. Carlos will welcome you at Caravela Homestay.