By Air -- The state capital is Panjim (also called Panaji), which is pretty much centrally located; Dabolim Airport lies 29km (18 miles) south. It's possible to fly directly to Goa from Europe, as many travelers arriving on charter flights from the U.K., Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia do. A more likely scenario is that you'll be capping off your wider India trip by letting your hair down here; for that you can fly in from Mumbai (a mere 40 min.) or Delhi, as well as from Kolkata, Chennai, Kochi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad. If you really cannot wait to sink your toes into the Goan sea sand, your best bet is to book a direct flight from London with Kingfisher (www.flykingfisher.com); there's a short stopover in Mumbai before you hop on a connecting plane and commence your holiday immediately. There's a helpful government tourist desk (tel. 0832/251-2644) in the baggage-claim hall. A few hotels offer complimentary airport transfers, but more often than not, you'll be charged for the service; you can either arrange this in advance (when making your reservation), or make use of the prepaid taxi counter, which eliminates the need for any bargaining and haggling over price. The trip to Panjim should cost Rs 490; for destinations in north Goa you're looking at between Rs 650 and Rs 1,250; slightly less for the resorts along the central coast; and a little pricier if you go all the way to Palolem. Given Goa's popularity with both international and domestic tourists, prebooking your accommodations here is essential, and don't fall for a tout's offer of "discount" lodgings -- chances are the rooms will look like they fell off the back of a bus.
By Train -- Goa's three main jumping-off points are Thivim in the north (20km/12 miles inland from Vagator), Karmali (12km/7 1/2 miles from Panjim), and Madgaon (also known as Margao) for the resort-intensive central coastal stretch. If you're going straight to Palolem, or any of the gorgeous beaches in the far south, jump off at Canacona, also known as Chaudi. Several trains travel daily from Mumbai to Goa along the Konkan Railway; most of these take a good 10 to 13 hours, so it's best to book the overnight Konkan Kanya Express, which leaves Mumbai at 11pm and gets into Madgaon at 10:45am. For a slightly quicker option, you'll need to get up real early for the 5:10am Mumbai-Madgaon Jan Shatabdi (from Victoria Station; Thurs-Tues), which (theoretically) reaches Madgaon by 1:55pm. If you're traveling from the south, catch the 11am Matsyaganda Express from Mangalore to Madgaon (6 1/2 hr.); the trip offers mesmerizing views along the Konkan coast. Note that it's worthwhile to book your seat in your home country (www.irctc.co.in or www.konkanrailway.com), especially if you plan to head to Goa soon after your arrival in India or in peak season when trains between Mumbai and Goa are often fully booked; you may also ask your Mumbai hotel concierge to take care of it. For railway inquiries, call Madgaon (tel. 0832/271-2790; reservations tel. 0832/271-2940). Taxis and auto-rickshaws are readily available at all the stations waiting to zip you off to your hotel.
By Bus -- If you want to travel to Goa but all trains and flights are full, or if you want to save on airfare, your next-best option is a bus from Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, or Mangalore. Numerous overnight buses leave from Mumbai (near Metro Cinema-Fashion St.) every day at 7pm; book an air-conditioned bus and bring a blanket (although some companies supply these). Preferably, this should be a sleeper (around Rs 1,000). If you're traveling alone, note that you will sleep beside a stranger; if this makes you nervous, buy two tickets. Another option is to go for a semisleeper or "slumberette," a comfy 135-degree reclining seat which is slightly cheaper. Paulo Travels (Goa: tel. 0832/663-7777 or 0832/243-8531 through -8537; Mumbai: tel. 022/2643-3023; www.paulotravels.com) is a reliable private operator with an efficient online booking system; bookings can also be made at the small ticket booths near St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. If you are booking through other agents, make sure you ask for a Volvo bus (better suspension, more spacious seating) and that you get a confirmed ticket with your seat number. For the north Goa beaches, jump off at Mapusa; for the south, at Panjim, Margao, or Canacona (best to ask the conductor where the best stop for your destination is). Note: A single woman can request to have another woman seated beside her, though this may not always happen. Seats in the first few rows have more leg room.
You don't need to waste your time in Goa shuffling around looking for a tourist office; speak to the owner or concierge where you're staying, and you'll get everything you need to know. For general information on the state, visit www.goatourism.org. Goa's tourism department releases a twice-monthly magazine called What's On (tel. 0832/222-4132; www.goa-tourism.com), which gives a comprehensive listing of the events and parties scheduled in all corners of Goa. Many of the upmarket hotels also stock various advertising brochures, maps and booklets that may have some useful information or list upcoming events.
Note that it shouldn't take much longer than 4 hours to cruise the entire coastline, so everything is within easy reach. For quick reference, here are distances between major destinations from Panjim: Margaon 33km (21 miles); Mapusa 13km (8 miles); Old Goa 10km (6 1/4 miles); Calangute 16km (10 miles); Vagator 22km (14 miles); Ponda 30km (19 miles).
By Motorbike -- Motorbikes are très cool in Goa, and you'll encounter an endless barrage of young backpackers and old hippies zipping around Goa's roads on two-wheelers -- sans helmets (potentially a little frightening). You can rent a bike for around Rs 200 to Rs 300 a day with a private license plate as opposed to Rs 250 to Rs 500 a day for a government-approved bike (these are identified by their yellow license plates); note that if you are stopped by the traffic cops, you will be fined for renting a private vehicle. Have your international two-wheeler driver's license handy, and check the bike thoroughly before handing over any cash (if you don't have a license, a gearless bike is easy to use even if you've never ridden them before). Note that if you hire a two-wheeler without insurance, you must pay for the repairs. You can find motorbikes practically everywhere, but we really recommend that you do this only through your hotel or guesthouse, or through the aforementioned Paulo Travels. If you don't have a license, there are plenty of motorcycle pilots in Goa -- which is a more cost-effective way of getting around than by taxi. When someone stops to ask if you need a lift (and they will), negotiate a price in advance. And if you don't like the pace or style of driving, say something immediately. All approved pilots will have yellow license plates -- which does not necessarily mean they will have helmets; be warned that motorcyclists are killed on these roads every year.
By Taxi & Auto-Rickshaw -- Negotiate privately with one of the many taxi drivers found around tourist areas -- including those near your hotel entranceway (you can get one through your hotel, of course, but at a five-star lodging the cost will almost double -- in fact, if you look like you're staying at one of the upmarket places, chances are you'll be quoted accordingly). Figure on spending Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 for about 80km (50 miles) or 8 hours of sightseeing, but specify which locations you hope to cover. Remember that if you need a one-way lift to a more remote region, you'll be asked to pay for the return journey. In fact, many drivers now charge twice the distance no matter how near or far the drop-off. If you plan to take a day trip to a far-off beach, you're better off fixing a price for the day (Rs 1,400 for a trip to Palolem from Anjuna -- substantially more if you require an air-conditioned vehicle). An additional Rs 50 to Rs 100 is usually charged after 9pm. Auto-rickshaws are cheaper than taxis, but a great deal more uncomfortable. Dalesh is a reliable taxi driver (tel. 98-2210-2964) who can be booked for the whole day or for a pickup or drop-off. South of Panjim, you can contact Wilson Fernandes (tel. 98-2384-2587), who is based in Colva; he charges Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 for a trip from Palolem to the airport, and around Rs 3,000 for a return trip from the south to Fort Tiracol in the north. Note: All rates vary according to demand, season, and vehicle type. If you're counting rupees, you might want to ask the rates from a couple of taxi drivers before settling on a ride.
By Car -- Goa is also perhaps the only place in India where you can hire self-drive cars, but given the driving culture (and complete lack of adequate road signage), we wouldn't recommend doing so; like many of the motorbike rental services, most of the car rental outfits aren't registered or licensed to commercially rent out vehicles. Consequently, you may not be properly insured -- you hire at your own risk; if you have an accident, you pay for the repairs. For better, fully insured cars with or without a chauffeur, call Dominic of Vailankanni Auto Hires (tel. 0832/248-9568, 0832/329-0584, or 98-2210-1598; www.goacabs.com), based in Candolim.
By Bus -- Buses ply their way up and down the state, stopping in a rather chaotic fashion whenever someone needs to get on or off. If you're in a hurry, try to catch an express bus; otherwise you could be in for an endless series of stop-starts -- it is, however, the cheapest way of getting around (less than $1 from one end to the other) and a fun way of getting acquainted with local folk (and Goan music)! Most buses stop after 7:30pm.
By Boat -- Betty's Place (tel. 0832/287-1038; www.bettygoa.com), a beach shack near The Leela Kempinski resort on Mobor Beach in south Goa, offers a variety of boat trips, including customized cruises -- these need to be booked quite well in advance. At Kenilworth Beach Resort, also in south Goa, Sea Adventure (Utorda; tel. 98-2216-1712) organizes bird-watching and a backwater cruise that takes in basking river crocodiles. There are countless early morning dolphin-spotting cruises up and down the coast, but unfortunately there are so many boats and water scooters gunning for the poor dolphins that the sustainability (and pleasure) of this activity has been diminished in recent years; until tourism authorities wake up and bring some order we would urge you not to add to the harassment.
Mayhem in Paradise: When Not to Get Your Goa Groove On
Every year from December 23 to January 7, tens of thousands of tourists, both domestic and foreign, descend on Goa, so if you plan to spend Christmas or New Year's here, expect to negotiate crowds everywhere, particularly along the bursting-to-the-seams Baga-Candolim stretch. You can avoid the crowds to some extent by confining yourself to your hotel or guesthouse, but all the popular bars and restaurants will be filled to capacity, with queues so long they can cause traffic jams. Besides, everything -- particularly accommodations -- will be extremely expensive at this time (room and villa rates virtually double up on the already extravagant high season rate that runs from Nov through mid-Mar); many places also tack on an additional surcharge for the in-house "festive party" (even if you don't plan to attend). If loud and raucous merriment (accompanied by a definite sense of being ripped off) is not your style, avoid Goa during this time; your money will go twice the distance here once the sardine-format revelers have departed. On the other hand, the best-value period is the summer and postmonsoon season (mid-Mar through May and Oct), when prices are reasonable, crowds thinner, and the whole vibe a damn sight more mellow; you may find yourself at a loose end if you're looking to get your party shoes on, though.
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.