Travel: Cycling Vacation
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus, you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
– Ernest Hemingway
When we think about Goa, we visualise beaches, sand, sun, surf and parties! Goa is all of that and then some more. Goa is also quite the paradise for cyclists. With great air, road and train connectivity, enjoying a Goan vacation on the saddle of your bicycle is not just fun, but convenient as well. In Goa, you can either rent a bicycle or preferably bring your bicycle along with you.
The weather in Goa is such, that the best time to enjoy the place is to ride in winter. Anytime between October to February is great for cycling. The monsoons are also an amazing time to spend in Goa, but you need to be mentally and physically prepared to ride in heavy rain.
The terrain of Goa is what you find all along the Western Ghats. There are small hills to be climbed, no matter where you choose to go. These hills might be small, but the roads going up and down them are generally steep. Especially once you get off the main roads and take the village roads. Goa is best enjoyed on village roads, where you experience the real and rustic culture of the place.
You can choose to ride in North or South Goa, both places have their own charm. The north has a lot more places to visit and explore, with many more options for restaurants, hotels etc. It is essentially more tourist friendly. The south on the other hand is better if you want to immerse yourself in nature’s bliss and have a relaxed bicycle vacation.
Another big allure of Goa for cyclists is the traffic and road culture of the place. Cars, buses and trucks are always polite when sharing the road with you, they don’t needlessly honk behind and generally give you enough space when overtaking. It is a far cry from the aggression and unruly road users’ that cyclists deal with in most cities of India.
Here are a few routes and places to explore on your bicycle, both in North and South Goa. In the north, these routes are assuming you are staying somewhere around Panjim or Mapusa and in the south, it assumes you are staying south of Margao.
Instead of taking the main road, I took the narrow serpentine route which hugs the coast. It is much slower and a bazillion times more scenic. The only downside is that you get chased by dogs far too often! You can continue all the way till Tiracol, which is on the Goa-Maharashtra border. And as you ride, you will notice the change in local culture with every pedal stroke.
As I was riding during the monsoons there, I rode with one eye on the sky. And when it did rain, I hung around at a bus stop waiting for the rain to pass. But in Goan monsoons, the rain doesn’t stop and so I rode in the rain. After spending fantastic five hours on the saddle, it was time to wrap up and head home. Hungry, thirst and ready to narrate all the stories and experiences!
Rather than taking the highway to Panjim and then taking the arterial road, then the ferry to Chorao. We suggest going the roundabout way!
From Mapusa leave the highway behind, as you ride through the scenic villages of Paliem, Uccassaim and Nachinola. From there you can ride towards Carona and cross the Calvim bridge to enter Chorao Island.
The island isn’t a tourist paradise, as there is nothing to ‘do’ there! It is a quaint little place with few people other than those who live there. Zero tourists ensure you get to see more of the ‘real’ Goa. Not the things you will find in your regular tourist brochure. In one corner of Chorao Island is the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Quite the pretty place if you love nature.
From Chorao you can go towards Old Goa, via Divar Island or head back via Pomburpa and Porvorim. Along the way enjoying the sights of the Houses of Goa Museum. The route is filled with ferry crossings, village roads, rolling terrain and more. A perfect relaxing bicycle ride.
Corjeum Fort, Mayem Lake, Aravelam Caves and Harvalem Waterfall
You can head inland from the coast and see a very different side of Goa. You take the village road towards Aldona, before crossing the river to Corjeum and visit the local fort. The Corjeum Fort had initially been used by various Indian rulers before it went into the control of the Portuguese. Though it is supposedly looked after by state government bodies, it is in quite a shabby shape. Nonetheless, it gives you a good view of the surroundings and if you close your eyes, you can even imagine cannon fire!
From the fort I rode towards Mayem Lake. This is one of the few fresh water bodies of interest to tourists. You can go boating as well. In the monsoons, the place is beautifully green and with no crowd. There is a Goa Tourism hotel on the lakefront which is perfect if you plan to spend a night or two. The lake isn’t big, but it is pretty and worth a visit.
After Mayem Lake I rode towards Aravelam Caves and Harvelam Waterfall. The two are just a 5-minute ride from each other. There is still some confusion whether the Aravelam Caves are of Buddhist or Hindu origin, since currently there is Shivlinga in there, but a Gautam Buddha statue was excavated with a notably older vintage. The waterfall is nice, with a big temple by the side and in the monsoons, there was a guy selling roasted corn on the cob. Absolutely perfect for the weather!
From there you can take the road through Old Goa and ride to Panjim to end your ride.
After exploring the backroads of Goa, a visit to a more touristy part was in order. Velha or Old Goa makes for an excellent day’s visit.
In Old Goa, you have the Church of St. Augustine, which was completed in 1602 over a period of 5 years by the Augustinian friars. In 1835, the Portuguese rulers forced the church to be abandoned and 7 years later in 1942, the building started collapsing and by 1938, the structure had dilapidated to its present form.
There is also the Se Cathedral, which was built between 1562-1619. The architectural style of the church is said to be Portuguese-Manueline.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. St. Francis Xavier’s mortal remains are placed within this basilica. The church was built between 1594-1605. This is the most iconic place in Old Goa. It also attracts the majority of tourists.
The St. Cajetan Church was completed in 1661. This church is different from the others in the area, since it was built under the supervision of Italian architects.
When you arrive at Old Goa via the waterways, currently the docking point for the ferry to Divar Island, you will enter through the Viceroy’s Arch. Most people do not see it because they enter and exit Old Goa from the main highway.
If you want to make this ride really interesting, you can take the ferry from Pomburpa to Chorao, then the ferry from Chorao to Ribandar and to Velha Goa. For the return leg you can take the ferry from Velha Goa to Divar Island, then take the ferry from Divar Island to Chorao and back to Pomburpa. Making a fun route filled with ferry rides!
Cabo de Rama
Moving to the south of Goa, we have beautiful bicycle getaways. You feel much closer to nature in the South, than you do in the north. There are also a bunch of incredible climbs through the ghats to be enjoyed.
The first destination of your travel in South Goa is Cabo de Rama fort. This hillfort overlooks the Canacona coast, and the views from there are spectacular. Even if the actual fort itself is rundown and has nothing much of it left.
The ride to the fort is incredible over steep rolling terrain. It will leave you breathless in minutes as you climb those ghats and breathless once you absorb the gorgeous views. You encounter some of the best climbs in Goa on this section, so eat well before you head there!
Polem is a tiny beach at the southernmost tip of Goa. Immediately after that you reach the Goa-Karnataka border. The beach is difficult to find, even when you are at the entrance road to it! On some maps, it is even called the ‘hidden’ beach.
The route to Polem is relatively straightforward, you have to follow the main highway towards Karwar on the Canacona bypass. Along the way, you will see a signboard towards the beach and from there it gets tricky to actually find the beach.
The beach itself is delightful. There is absolutely nothing there. No shack, no restaurant, no people. It is as serene a public space as you can find amongst the beaches of Goa.
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
The final route in this list takes you far away from the beaches in the opposite direction. Headed inland towards the greenery of the ghats and a wildlife sanctuary at Cotigao.
After riding for a bit along the old undivided highway towards Karwar, you enter Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. Once you enter, you have options of a number of narrow forest roads to choose from. If you are adventurous then just follow whichever road looks good. Else, map your ride in advance and follow the GPX route so that you don’t get lost.
It is a leisurely loop through the forest reserve and if you fancy a strenuous climb, then you can head towards Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary.
If you take enough time in hand and go exploring and enjoying all these different routes in north and south Goa. Your perspective of the state will change. You will still think of it as a party state, but a bicycle party on the saddle…