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4 hours in Goa

Published: 03/11/2014 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2014 » November 2014 » Destinations »

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Goa was a colony of Portugal for over 450 years, a fact reflected in the name of one of its large cities, Vasco da Gama, and the influence of Portuguese art and religion throughout the state. Handed back to India in 1961, Goa became the smallest of the country’s states at less than 1,500 square miles – about the size of Rhode Island.

Flying into Goa, you’ll land at Dabolim International Airport, about 3 miles from Vasco’s city center. Although Vasco is relatively large (population 100,000), other areas host more of the culture, architecture and serene beaches for which the state is renowned. However, if your tastes run military air power, the Naval Aviation Museum located on the south side of the airport, has a large outdoor collection of well-preserved planes from India’s Naval Air Arm. It’s open every day except Monday. Admission is 20 rupees ($0.35). 


About 12 miles inland as the crow flies from Vasco, you’ll come upon Old Goa, and the remnants of what was once the Portuguese capital. The old city is dotted with churches from Portuguese era, including the Se Cathedral, the largest in India.  

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, which dates back to 1604, is one of the oldest churches in Asia. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is important not only in its own right, as one of the finest examples of baroque architecture anywhere, but also because it’s the final resting place of St. Francis Xavier. On the upper level, overlooking the saint’s tomb, is the Bom Jesus Basilica Art Gallery, with works of the Goan surrealist painter, Dom Martin. The church is open every day; admission is free.


About six miles west of Old Goa is the state capital of Panaji, where you’ll find much in the way of both culture and heritage. The historic neighborhood of Fontainhas is known as the Latin Quarter. It retains much of the flavor of the area’s Portuguese past in the narrow streets and old, colorfully painted villas. For retail therapy, the entire length of 18th June Road is lined with stores selling major name brand merchandise, while in the smaller stores on the side streets you’ll discover everything from local handicrafts to precious gems. 

Fort Aquada 

On the opposite shore of the Mandovi River from Panaji, Fort Aquada still stands guard as it has for over 400 years. Constructed in 1613 to guard against the Dutch and the Marathas, this well-preserved old Portuguese outpost overlooks the beach where the river meets the Arabian Sea.

The freshwater spring inside the fortress walls gave the fort its name, Aguada, which means water. The upper section of the fort held water storage and fortification – including 79 cannons – and a secret escape passage in case of emergencies. The lower part served as a safe berth for Portuguese ships. The four-story lighthouse, erected in 1864, is the oldest of its kind in Asia and was in use until it was abandoned in 1976.

Anjuna Beach 

No day out in Goa would be complete without a visit to one (or more) of the state’s legendary beaches. Along eight miles of oceanfront that runs from Fort Aquada to the mouth of the Chapora River, you have your pick of some of India’s – and indeed, the world’s – most inviting beaches. Candolim, located nearest the fort, manages to escape the hordes of peak-season visitors that frequent the more commercialized beaches like Baga and Calangute, which is north Goa’s largest and busiest. Farther north, Anjuna Beach boasts a magnificent Albuquerque Mansion built in 1920,and each Wednesday there’s a whimsical flea market. It’s a quaint reminder of a time when Anjuna was the ‘alternative destination’ so sought after by hippies during the 60s and 70s – a flavor that endures to this day.  

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