October to March is the best time, as it's generally hot and sunny. The peak season is from mid-December to the end of January, when temperatures are around 32C (90F). You'll need to book well in advance if planning to go over Christmas/New Year (the party season), but beware that accommodation rates usually double. The monsoon season lasts from April to September, when many of the beach shacks and bars are closed. April and May are very hot and humid. Typically June and July have torrential rain. August and September are more pleasant - it's greener, cooler (about 28C/78F) and the rain usually comes in short sharp showers, followed by long spells of sunshine.
There are numerous festivals and holidays, both national and local, Hindu and Christian. The following is a list of the main ones:
Epiphany January 6 - the feast of the Three Kings
Bandeira festival mid January - local patron saint's day
Republic Day January 26 - India's national holiday
Carnival February/March - one of Goa's biggest events lasting 3 days
Shigmotsav February/March - processions
Goa Statehood Day May 30 - many shops closed
Sanjuan June 24 - festival of St John the Baptist
Sangodd June 29 - festival of St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen
Ganesh Chaturthi late June
Independence Day August 15
Janmashtami August - celebrating the birth of Krishna
Dusshhera September/October - a 9-day Hindu festival
Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday October 2
Divali5-day festival of lights
Liberation Day December 17
Christmas December 24/25
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
Approximate flying times: from the UK, 11 hours; East coast US, 18 hours; West coast US, 22 hours
From the UK:
There are no direct scheduled flights to Goa from the UK or Ireland. The quickest and often the cheapest way is travelling during October-April with one of the charter airlines. Monarch flies from Gatwick and Manchester and Thomson flies from Gatwick, often with a refuelling stop in the Middle East.
Charter holidays (including accommodation) can also be booked through a tour operator such as First Choice, in which case we advise you to take the cheapest accommodation option, and on arrival make your way to your own choice of hotel.
If you want a scheduled flight, you'll need to go via one of India's international airports (usually Mumbai or Delhi) and then take an internal flight or train to Goa - see Air India and British Airways, who both fly from London Heathrow. Emirates flies via the Middle East, as do Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways and Royal Jordanian.
From the rest of Europe:
There are direct charter flights to Goa between October and April from Germany (with Condor), Holland and Switzerland (with Esco) and Scandinavia. Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines all operate flights to Mumbai, from where there are direct flights to Goa.
From North America:
There are no direct flights to Goa from the US or Canada. You'll need to fly to Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai and connect onto one of the local airlines. Air India has direct flights to Delhi from New York (JFK and Newark), Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto.
From Australia and New Zealand:
There are no direct flights to Goa. You'll have to fly via Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Qantas, Air India, Thai Air, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines all fly from eastern Australia.
From elsewhere in India
There are numerous flights between Mumbai's domestic airport, Santa Cruz, and Goa's Dabolim airport, operated by JetLite (formerly Air Sahara) and Jet Airways. We strongly advise that you book your ticket in conjunction with your international flight. Kingfisher Airlines also operates a daily hopping flight along the coast connecting Goa-Mangalore-Calicut-Cochin-Trivandrum in both directions.
From the Airport:
Goa’s Dabolim Airport is situated 30km south of Panjim (Panaji). It has limited facilities and getting through immigration can take up to an hour. A pre-pay taxi counter is situated immediately outside the arrivals hall, which clearly displays rates to all the main destinations. Buy a ticket, hold onto the receipt until you reach your destination, and don’t let the taxi driver persuade you to go to another hotel (for which he will get a commission), whatever the excuse. Upon request many of the hotels can also arrange for an airport transfer.
Payable on all international departures; check whether it's included in your ticket.
Goa is connected with Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Mysore, Pune and Hyderabad. If coming from the south of India/Kerala, there are direct trains from Trivandrum. For timetables and fares visit www.indianrail.gov.in, or see Seat 61 for a beginner's guide to rail travel in India. First-class cabins sell out quickly, so book in advance if you want more privacy than the flimsy second-class curtains offer. But both classes have air conditioning. Booking train tickets can sometimes be subject to a complicated wait-listing process.
Trains run from north to south Goa via Margao. They're faster than buses and useful if you need to get down to Palolem (get off at Chaudi). A line also runs east from Margao to Colem.
BY CAR & DRIVER
If you can afford it and have limited time, we would recommend hiring a car with a driver as the best way to see the country. It's cheaper than hiring a self-drive car, and the drivers usually arrange their own accommodation and food. Be warned: self-driving might seem appealing, but the Indian drivers' way of overtaking each other at breakneck speed on the very narrow roads can be hair-raising, to say the least… Driving is generally slow but the distances aren't huge. Traffic drives on the left. The other main advantage of having a driver (apart from not getting lost) is that hawkers, seeing you are with a local, give you space where they might otherwise hound you.
We'd recommend contacting our Tailormade Tours Operator, who can arrange a car and driver for you. We did this when travelling around Rajasthan (the same operator deals with both regions), and it was worth every penny. Our driver was knowledgeable and unfailingly polite, and he navigated the pot-holed road with easy confidence.
Travelling by bus is a cheap way to get around, but buses can be very overcrowded and uncomfortable. They link all towns and cities, and you can always pick up a rickshaw at the bus stop for short hops to your hotel. There are private and state buses, each with various categories of speed (from 'superfast', which is slow, to 'superexpress', which is quite fast) and of comfort (from 'semi-luxe', which is cramped and hard, to 'deluxe', which has 1 fewer seat per row, seat padding and air conditioning).
There are taxi-cars, with or without air conditioning, and a large number of auto-rickshaws (noisy but nippy three-wheelers) on the roads. Agree to a rate before starting your journey and make sure the driver has a clear idea of your destination. Fares are cheap with various small extras. Some drivers try to stop off at shops where they get commissions on your purchases, while others fend off all touts and take you straight to your destination.
MOTORBIKE, MOPED & BICYCLE HIRE
Many people rent motorbikes at one of the beach resorts. Officially, you need an international driver's licence to rent one and you must hire them from a person or organisation registered to do so. This way you can find your own stretch of deserted beach, but do take care on the roads. Bicycles are cheap to rent and widely available.
BY LOCAL BUS
This is Goa's most popular mode of transport. Buses are cheap, safe and plentiful but expect to be squashed like a sardine. Tickets are generally sold by conductors on the bus itself.
Passports and visas are required from all visitors. Tourist visas are valid for 3 or 6 months from the date of issue (not the date of entry). They can no longer be issued the same day, so plan ahead!
You need to specify whether you require a single-entry or a multiple-entry visa, but as they cost the same it makes sense to ask for the latter as it offers the most flexibility. The best place to get a visa is in your country of residence from the Indian Embassy or High Commission.
Vaccinations against hepatitis A, typhoid, meningitis, tetanus and polio are recommended. Malaria exists in Goa, though less so than in other parts of India. It's advisable to take precautions against mosquito bites and take anti-malarial medicine. Tuberculosis is still present in India.
Tap water is not safe to drink; always buy bottled water and check the seal is intact. Also, care should be taken when eating as few Western travellers escape without a bout of diarrhoea. Drink plenty water and wear sunscreen and a hat in hot weather.
Goa is generally safe but theft is a growing problem. Don't leave possessions unattended on the beach and keep valuables in the hotel safe.
There have been cases of police harassment, and corruption is rife. Make sure you carry your international driving license as well as insurance and vehicle documents if you hire a motorbike or car.
Beware, possession of even a small amount of cannabis is a criminal offence, punishable by large fines or prison sentences of up to 10 years.
Compared with other regions in India, women travellers receive less hassle in Goa. However, you should dress conservatively and topless bathing is a definite 'no no'. Avoid walking alone after dark.
Tipping or baksheesh is very much an accepted custom and is expected. In up-market restaurants a 10% tip is acceptable, while in cheaper places, round off the bill with small change. Indians don’t normally tip taxi drivers, but a small extra amount over the fare is appreciated. Porters at airports and railway stations often have a fixed rate displayed, but will usually press for more.