Goa is a state with a soul. Palm-fringed, soft sand beaches serenaded by the Arabian Sea along with five hundred years of Portuguese influence have lent Goa an endearing, irresistible old-world charm.

Isolated from the rest of India as a Portuguese colony until 1961, Goa’s fascinating culture is as much Indian as it is Portuguese. With its ancient cathedrals, modern temples, and a delectable coastal cuisine that combines the flavors of the west with the spices of the east, Goa is one of the few places in India where Christmas is celebrated with the same zeal as Ganesh Chaturthi (a Hindu festival dedicated to the elephant God). “Susagade” is the Portuguese term that aptly describes the contended, languid, siesta-in-the-sun, love-thy-neighbor philosophy that Goans, both Hindu and Christian, profess to and share with the state’s 2-2.5 million annual visitors.

The state capital Panjim, with its laid-back coastal vibe, charming colonial architecture, and floating casinos on the Mandovi River (for casinos are not allowed on land), is undoubtedly India’s most lovable capital city. But, it isn’t here that you’ll spend most of your time. Choose from the plethora of public beaches, friendly beach cafes, and extravagant beach resorts to spend your sun, sand and sea vacation. Here in Goa, the scenery is very much Indian, the charm very much Portuguese, and the beach cocktail best replaced by a pungent local cashew liquor called Feni.

After you’ve had your fill of a tropical holiday, move further inland to small Goan villages stuck in a time warp. Walk amid centuries-old Portuguese homes, some abandoned and others very much inhabited. Smell a waft of freshly baked hot breads that fills the air from the back of the bakery’s delivery man’s bicycle. Go island hopping on a public ferry, to one of the state’s smaller islands like Chorao, where riverine backwaters, devoid of the houseboats of Kerala and the crowds of Goa’s beaches, play host to the Indian mugger crocodile, migratory birds, and other exotic flora and fauna. Or wander around the hinterlands to tranquil lakes flanked by the gentle hills and ancient rock-cut cave temples—Goa’s best-kept secret.

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