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Tour Operators & Travel Agents

MGM International Travels has offices in Panjim (Navelcar Trade Centre, opposite Azad Maidan; tel. 0832/222-0972 or 0832/242-1865; wwwmgmtravels.com), Calangute (Simplex Chambers, Umtavaddo; tel. 0832/227-6073) and Anjuna (Cabin Disco, Soranto Vaddo; tel. 0832/227-4317). Other reliable travel agents include Trade Wings (1st floor, Naik Building, opposite Don Bosco School, Panjim; tel. 0832/243-2430) and Footprints Tours & Travels, run by Angeline Lobo (Shelter Guest House, Vaddi Candolim; tel. 98-5047-1639 or 0832/309-0594; www.goafootprints.com). The Goa Tourism Development Corporation (Trionara Apartments, Dr. Alvares Costa Rd., Panjim; tel. 0832/242-7972 or -0779; www.goacom.com/goatourism; daily 9:30am-5:30pm) has full-day tours of the north and the south aimed primarily at domestic tourists.

Staying Active Above & Below the Water

Barracuda Diving India (Sun Village Resort, Baga-Arpora; tel. 0832/227-9409 through -9414, or 98-2218-2402; www.barracudadiving.com; barracuda@vsnl.com) is a PADI-recognized dive center where you can rent equipment or take diving courses and get certified (from beginner to advanced levels). Venkatesh Charloo and Karen Gregory, both master diver-trainers, offer a wide range of dive safaris across the entire south Indian coast, including Karnataka, where visibility can reach up to 30m (100 ft.). In south Goa you can not only escape the crowds, but start a new hobby: catamaran sailing. Consistent weather conditions makes Goa an idea spot to sail. Based on beautiful, still-secluded Patnem Beach, Goa Sailing & Water Sports (tel. 98-5045-8865; www.goasailing.com) is a highly recommended operation. You can hire a catamaran with or without an instructor (Rs 2,000/Rs 3,000 per half-day; Rs 3,000/Rs 4,500 full day), and even take a short course during which you'll learn to sail. With enough time, you can learn to sail, or take a water-borne trip to other remote pockets of paradise -- like Agonda, Honeymoon and Butterfly beaches. Atlantis Water Sports (tel. 98-9004-7272; www.goa-cruise.com) operates an Indian dhow built in 1924; on offer are a range of regular cruises, including breakfast with the dolphins and a sunset cruise, and you can hire the boat on a private basis, too. Most of the upmarket resorts offer a range of watersports facilities, and you'll find jet-skiing, parasailing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, scuba diving, and other ocean-going pastimes available from various makeshift structures on the beaches, particularly along the beach between Baga and Aguada (look at the foot of Vila Goesa Rd., Cobra Vaddo, Calangute). Goan Bananas (tel. 0832/227-6362 or -6739, near the Silver Sands Beach Shack, Baga Beach) organizes jet-skiing (Rs 1,300) and parasailing (Rs 800-Rs 1,000). Offering similar services on Sinquerim Beach, is Thunder Wave Water Sports (tel. 0832/247-9779), based near the Taj Aguada resort complex.

Goa's Best Beaches

Goa's reputation for having some of the world's best beaches is well-deserved, but inevitable commercialization has taken its toll, with the infamous Baga-to-Candolim area (north of Panjim) now part of a tourist-infested strip of sun loungers, backed by over-commercialized beach shacks serving beer, cocktails, and what could once be relied upon to be fresh seafood (now increasingly dubious) -- the sort of packaged beach experience best avoided. You can find pockets of paradise here, though, and if you stick to our recommended accommodations in this area, they'll definitely point you in the right direction. A little north of Baga, Anjuna comes alive with parties and trance music during the winter, when all kinds of revelers gather to find out where the real underground action is happening. It also has what was once a fabulous Wednesday Market, a tad too predictable and monotonous now -- not to mention crowded to bursting -- with almost every vendor selling the same wares. Just north of Anjuna is lovely Vagator, with stark red cliffs and the disheveled remains of Chapora Fort looming overhead. But things do improve the farther away from the mainstream crowds you manage to get. Asvem is still a pretty awesome beach, and although still comparatively unencumbered by the masses, regulars complain that it's not quite as pristine as it was just a few years back, and of late large numbers of Russians have begun to settle on this stretch, buying land and starting private enterprises, much of it rumored to be the wrong side of the law. A little north of Asvem, Arambol, seductively far away from the package-tour masses, is one of the last refuges of hard-core hippies.

Though there are no private beaches in Goa, some of the best-kept stretches of sand in the southern part of the state (which usually means south of Panjim) are maintained for the near-exclusive use of guests staying at the five-star resorts fronting them. As long as you don't try to use hotel loungers, there's nothing stopping you from making use of "their" beach space. The long, long stretch of beach from Bogmalo to Mobor is well worth investigating if you're looking for a more private spot, and it's relatively close to both the capital and to north Goa, so don't hesitate to explore the region. In the far south, gorgeous Palolem has just one large resort close by (the tired and badly-managed InterContinental Lalit, a few miles south), and is perhaps the prettiest beach in Goa -- a title which is, during the season, sadly threatened by overcrowding. In just a few years, it's become home to a sizable neohippie community (or, as one discerning Goan hotelier calls them, "the great unwashed"), as well as ever-increasing development. Once on the beach, you just need to walk far from the crowds, and you should find a slice of tranquillity, and Palolem has, mercifully, yet to be overwhelmed by day-trippers. Just 7km (4 miles) north of Palolem, Agonda is even more isolated and peaceful (again, not quite as much as it once was), while to the south, Galgibaga is another remote haven with eucalyptus trees and empty stretches of sand. This time, the beauty is forever protected because the beach is a designated Olive Ridley breeding area. And then, of course, there's Om beach, south of the border, an hour or two into the neighboring state of Karnataka, considered by many to be the best beach in India. Om is still comparatively untouched save for a few seasonal shacks, and the extremely tranquil, very special yoga and Ayurvedic retreat, SwaSwara, where you're ensconced in a gorgeous setting on a vast acreage with pathways leading directly from your beautiful villa to the beach.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.