Scuba diving can be a magical experience and an amazing way to explore the sea. The thrill of going underwater and being able to swim next to colourful marine animals is an absolute must-do adventure activity. Goa’s coast-line, unfortunately, does not have great visibility or even a fabulous coral reef, but the beautiful and abundant marine life more than makes up for any shortfalls. Visi-bility in the water at the many dive sites can vary from as low as 2m to as much as 20m depending on the weather and sea conditions.

Underwater life along the Goan beaches is quite varied and consists of groupers, damsels, sergeant-major puffers, lion-fish, scorpion-fish, surgeon-fish, barracuda, tuna, eels, snappers, jacks, batfish, gobies, blennies, lobsters and sweetlips.

Scuba diving explained

Diving apparatus consists of a mask that seals off the eyes and the nose from water. Besides the mask, a gas tank that has air (not just oxygen) inside at atmospheric pressure and a snorkel that connects the gas tank to the diver’s mouth via a tube are used. Body suit and flippers on the feet help you move in the water with ease.

There is an inherent risk in going underwater as any snag in the equipment can be life-threatening. To reduce this risk to practically zero, diving has been made into a formalised routine and involves strict precautions. For example, nobody, no matter how experienced, dives alone. In case of an emergency, the partner simply brings you to the surface.

Preparation for the first dive takes a few hours in which the instructor would teach you how to use the equipment and some basic, but essential, signals like ‘OK’, ‘not OK’ and ‘take me up’.

The most important lesson to be learnt, however, is to not panic when you are underwater and to gain the confidence that whatever happens, your instructor will bail you out. If you can learn this lesson, you can dive. Initial dives take you down to 8–12m. There are very few other constraints: you should be more than 10 years old, not have any respiratory problems, be able to learn a few basic visual signals and, of course, be able to afford it (diving is somewhat expensive, but it’s not ridiculously over-priced).

Tip It’s imperative that you dive only with an instructor licensed by one of the professional diving organisations such as PADI, CMAS, BSAC, SSI and NAVI.

A whole new world awaits those who venture under the water
A whole new world awaits those who venture under the water
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Besides the excitement of going underwater and pretending to be mermaids (albeit with cumbersome breathing apparatus), the purpose of recreational diving is to see the marine life. Coral reefs (if not damaged) are the best place to see marine life in its most glorious form. The sea around Goa does not boast of great coral reefs, so don’t expect to see marine habitat like what you’d see in the ocean off the coast of Australia for instance (the Great Barrier Reef should be on everyone’s bucket list). Nonetheless, the diving experience is no less than fabulous.

Where to Stay & Eat

In North Goa

Anjuna Beach has quite a few options, though few are right on the beach. Laguna Anjuna (Cell: 09011071941; Tariff: `3,800–15,000) is a beautiful place with excellent food, set away from the beach. The Tamarind (Tel: 0832-2274319; Tariff: `3,000–12,000) is 2.5km away from the beach but has a swimming pool, and a fine-dining restaurant. Villa Anjuna (Tel: 2273443; Tariff: ₹1,600–3,500), has 30 rooms, a swimming pool, spa and Internet.

The beachfront is an endless chain of shacks. Shore Bar, Sea Breeze Café, Martha’s Breakfast Home and the justly famous German Bakery are just a few. For the nightlife experience, head to Primrose Café, located between Anjuna and Vagator.

Baga Beach has the Beira Mar Alfran Resort (Tel: 2276832; Tariff: ₹2,000–3,000), which has 90 rooms, a bar and a pool. Cavala (Tel: 2276090; Tariff: ₹4,437–7,242) is a 5-minute walk from the beach. Nilaya Hermitage (Tel: 2276793-94; Tariff: ₹18,000, with breakfast and dinner), on Arpora Hill, is a boutique hotel. Rio Resort (Tel: 2267300; Tariff: ₹5,774–10,666) is a luxury option by the Baga River.

Aquamarine, on a wooden deck over-looking the beach, has a very romantic setting. St Anthony’s Shack has fabulous Goan food. Britto’s, set in an old house on the beach, has incredible desserts.

Calangute Beach has Casa de Goa (Tel: 6717786; Tariff: ₹3,900–7,900), which is a boutique resort in Tivai Vaddo. Hotel Goan Heritage (Tel: 2276761; Tariff: ₹7,600–8,500), in Gaura Vaddo is right on the beach. Hotel Golden Eye (Tel: 2277308-09; Tariff: ₹3,500–4,500) has decent rooms.

Souza Lobo, Calangute’s oldest restaurant, offers fantastic Goan food on the beachfront. Emma’s Kitchen offers genuine British cuisine. Harry’s Bar & Restaurant offers a varied choice of fish. Infantaria Bakery is a delightful combination of a fine-dining restaurant and a bakery.

In Miramar, Goa Marriott Resort (Tel: 2463333; Tariff: ₹13,400–21,500) is a 5-star resort right on the beach. Swim Sea Beach Resort (Tel: 2464481; Tariff: ₹2,700–4,000) is also on the beach, and has a pool. Miramar Residency (Cell: 0982216509; Tariff: ₹800–3,300) is a Goa Tourism property with sea views.

In Dona Paula, Cidade de Goa (Tel: 2454545; Tariff: ₹9,250–12,000) is the only 5-star hotel in Goa with a semi-private beach and is amongst Goa’s top water sports providers.

Martin’s Beach Corner and Sea View offer fabulous seafood. Food-land, near Miramar Residency, has fast food and seafood.

In Vagator-Chapora, of the three ‘Jolly’ hotels, the Jolly Jolly Lester (Tel: 2273620, 2274897, Cell: 09822488536; Tariff: ₹1,500–2,200) is the cheapest. Try Bean Me Up for health food. Mango Tree is also a great choice.

Panjim Inn enjoys a great location in the Portuguese quarter
Panjim Inn enjoys a great location in the Portuguese quarter
Courtesy Miriam Koshy-Sukhija/Panjim Inn

In Panjim

The city’s heritage hotels are the best way to absorb the Panjim atmosphere. Panjim Inn (Tel: 0832-2226523, 2228136; Tariff: ₹5,400–7,000) is an excellent choice. Vivanta by Taj (Tel: 6633636; Tariff: ₹11,000–31,000) is a luxurious 5-star property. The Mandovi (Tel: 2224405-09; Tariff: ₹4,500–11,000) offers spectacular views of the river and the sea. Hotel La Grande (Tel: 2225453-54; Tariff: ₹2,300–4,100), is near Bombay Bazaar.

Viva Panjim offers delicious Goan and Portuguese food. The Black Sheep Bistro is known for its interesting dishes and great cock-tails. Fisherman’s Wharf serves fabulous Goan and north Indian fare. Riorico of The Mandovi is an old favourite, as is Quarterdeck. Panjim’s best address for Chinese, Goenchin, is near the Mahalaxmi Temple. The Ritz Restaurant is the place for rava fried prawns, dal tadka and chocolate ice-cream. For small bites, Mr Baker 1922 opposite Municipal Garden, is great. Try their pork pies, patties and other Goan delicacies.

In South Goa

Bogmalo Beach has some great stay options including The Bogmallo Beach Resort (Tel: 2538222-35; Tariff: ₹7,500–15,000). All rooms face the sea. Coconut Creek (Tel: 2538090/ 100; Tariff: ₹4,995–12,000) is a lovely hotel in green environs. Joet’s Guest House (Tel: 2538036, Cell: 09860765337; Tariff: ₹3,000–4,800) is right on the beach.

Full Moon Kneipe specialises in seafood. Joet’s has excellent food and views. Terracotta at Coconut Creek offers Goan, Italian and English food.

In Benaulim, Taj Exotica (Tel: 6683333; Tariff: ₹25,000–1,56,000), is a Mediterranean-style deluxe hotel. It has an excellent Ayurvedic spa. Allegria, Eugenia, Li Bai, Lobster Shack and Miguel Arcanjo are some restaurants here. Carina Beach Resort (Tel: 2770413-14; Tariff: ₹1,500–3,000) and Rosario Inn (Tel: 2770636; Tariff: ₹500–800) are good options in Vas Vaddo. O Palmar (Tel: 2770631; Tariff: ₹800–1,200) is a popular guesthouse. Towards the end of Benaulim Beach Road is the L’Amour Beach Resort (Tel: 2770404; Tariff: ₹1,000–4,000).

Pedro’s serves excellent Goan seafood. Johncy’s serves Indian and Chinese food, but Goan seafood is their speciality. Hawaii is a seaside shack with great Goan seafood. Joecon’s Garden has an excellent range of cocktails and seafood dishes. Goan Hideout nearby has good food and live entertainment.

In Palolem, Palolem Beach Resort (Tel: 2643054/ 4094; Tariff: ₹3,000–7,000) has tents, hammocks and rooms. Ciaran’s (Tel: 2643477; Tariff: ₹2,000–2,500) has the most happening beach-front bar and restaurant. Hi-Tide Coco Huts (Tel: 2643104, Cell: 09850475022; Tariff: ₹2,000–5,000) has huts on coconut palm stilts. Neptune Point (Cell: 09822584968; Tariff: ₹1,000–3,500) set up around the Figueiredo House is a great option.

Fern’s Bar and Restaurant has excellent seafood and barbecues. Italian chefs turn out authentic delicacies using imported ingre-dients at Magic Italy. Try their ravioli and pizza. La Allegro serves tasty lasagna, besides sea-food. Palolem Beach Resort has good seafood, especially giant crabs. German Bakery serves great breakfasts spreads.

When to go The dive season in Goa starts in October and goes on till the end of May

Getting There

Air Dabolim Airport (30km/45 mins) is linked to many major cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Mangaluru amongst others

Rail Madgaon station is a major hub for the Konkan railway line, with connections to Delhi, Mangaluru, Kolkata and Chennai. Karmali station is linked to Delhi, Mumbai, Mangaluru and Ernakulam

Road Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kozhikode are connected to Panjim by NH17 Bus Kadamba Transport Corporation offers connectivity across Goa from Panjim