Beyond the sun-sand-sea-surf combination you’d typically expect from a coastal destination, there’s plenty more to see and do in Goa. No, we’re not talking about the parties (although those deserve a paragraph or two of their own)– we’re talking about insider spots in Goa. 

You probably won’t see these on traditional itineraries, which gloss over nooks and crannies in favour of obvious tourist attractions. But this guide to Goan-approved insider spots is a curated introduction to hole-in-the-wall pubs, legendary eateries and offbeat adventures that make Goa what it is today. 

Khoj-aao! Adventures

Photo by Mohammad Shahid Shikalgar on Unsplash

Khoj-aao can help you find yourself or get lost– whichever you choose. Seasoned adventurers, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts come together in this social enterprise to curate offbeat walks and camping trips in Goa’s backyard. Pick and choose your journey based on what you’d most like to see. For nature-lovers, there’s a full day in Mollem to experience or trails in Assagao, Siolim and Arpora to explore. Those who’d rather soak in culture can opt for bicycle rides through Goan villages going about their day-to-day.

BTW: The Khoj-aao! line-up for the coming months will involve strict COVID-19 safety measures including wearing masks and maintaining 2-metre distance. 

Kopi Desa Agonda

Photo via Kopi Desa

Is it really a guide to insider spots in Goa if there aren’t any bars on the list? Kopi Desa, set in Agonda, is where to go mingle with Goans in their element. On a pleasant evening, you’ll find patrons spilling out onto the street, drinks in hand, sharing space with the buzz of the village. It’s not all cocktails and beer, either– Chef Daniel whips up great European fare that’s worth bidding farewell to regular eateries for. You can wander in at any time of the day, as Kopi Desa does breakfast, lunch and dinner with flair. 

BTW: The owner and host, James, recently opened the Indah Desa Bali-style huts, ideal for if you’d like to stay in uncrowded Agonda for more than an evening. 

Kokni Kanteen

Photo via Kokni Kanteen

This 1970s era establishment brings both old-world charm and swoon-inducing kokni fare to your table. We’d say the canteen is quite like a time capsule. The homely decor is interspersed with traditional pickle jars. Friendly staff serve famished patrons to the tune of Konkani songs on the radio, no less. The menu is a work of generations. Every item is perfected through decades-old recipes. Their authentic fish thali and seafood bappa thali could bat for India on the world cuisine field, if there were such a thing. 

BTW: Kokni Kanteen also serves cocktails and Goa’s best Ceradura if you weren’t full enough from lunch. You might have to wait for a table, but the culinary journey is worth it. 

People Tree Design Studio and Store

Photo via D’Ana

A hand-printed tee and a group of passionate people kicked off People Tree’s journey 25 years ago. The boutique – slash – design studio is a ubiquitous feature in Goa’s free-spirited landscape. Head to the store to buy conscious and ethically made clothing, accessories and lifestyle products. They’re all fair trade and respectfully inspired by Goan culture. It’s a treasure trove of paraphernalia, a sort of organised chaos that takes a few minutes to adjust to. The design studio, helmed by Gurpreet and Orijit, is an extension of their Delhi workshop and a great place to watch artisans and artists at work. People Tree represents the journey of non-conformist, social- and environmentally-friendly concepts in India.

BTW: Housed in the same ancient Portuguese bungalow is Gunpowder, an eclectic restaurant that packs as much punch in its South Indian-biased menu as it does in decor.

Figueiredo House

Photo via Figueiredo House

Loutolim’s serene lanes are home to the Figueiredo House, an imposing mansion that’s even older than the Taj Mahal. It was built in 1590, the same year when Shakespeare supposedly picked up his pen as a first-time playwright halfway around the world. 430 years later, the rooms of this lovingly-restored mansion are open for visitors to come and stay in. Imagine that! The heritage rooms still feature the decor preferred in the late 1500s, albeit spruced up to keep up with modern demands. The family library has books you can pick out and read in the courtyard or under some of Mario Miranda’s illustrations. At the end of your stay, you’ll have joined the ranks of diplomats, foreign ambassadors and legendary clan members in the mansion’s proverbial guest book. 

BTW: Figueiredo House has affordably priced rooms despite being such an opulent mansion. The museum houses treasures belonging to the Figueiredo family and outlining their rise to glitz and power. 

This list of insider spots in Goa was curated and vetted by Goans, residents and frequent visitors alike. While it’s not the Goa the cookie-cutter travel blogs paint it to be, it’s certainly the more authentic version.  

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Featured Photo by Jess Aston on Unsplash