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This small state, halfway down India's west coast, was a Portuguese colony until 1961. This goes some way to explaining the alternative atmosphere here. Cut off from British India by a wall of mountains and vast alluvial plains, for many years, Goa relied on trade with a declining Portuguese Empire. However, what was lost in terms of British trade, was more than made up for in terms of Portuguese attitude - to this day, Goa retains a distinctly laid-back and relaxed feel.
Goa was discovered by travellers in the late 1960s, who were relieved to have found somewhere away from the mainstream, and where holidaying meant simply hanging out, doing some recreational drugs and partying on the beach (particularly during full moon).
The state quickly grew a reputation for its hedonism and liberal attitude - not to mention its hot sun, that sets in splendour every evening over the Arabian Sea. In recent years, though it still hosts epic trance music festivals (such as Sunburn), the authorities of Goa have tried to discourage hippies and budget backpackers from swamping the area, angling rather for clientele with fatter wallets - with the nett result that Goa is slowly losing its reputation as India's 'party central'.
Now with a quick rail link to Mumbai and charter flights from the UK, thousands of tourists flock here each winter to relax and enjoy the famous Goan cuisine - which largely consists of fish and seafood, prepared in exotic Indian spices. Many hotels and resorts have popped up over the last few years to cater for this ever-popular destination, but with more than 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy beaches, there is still plenty of tranquillity to be found.
Goa has a tropical climate, with hot, humid weather for most of the year. In summer the temperatures can reach as high as 91°F (33°C) and there are monsoon rains from June to September. Goa has a short winter, lasting only from from December to February, with temperatures averaging around 77°F (25°C).
Goa's culinary fare is as good as its beaches. Colonised by the Portuguese, Goan cuisine represents an interesting meeting-point between the spiciness of India and traditional Portuguese tastes. With a wide range of restaurants and an active fishing industry, gastronomes travelling to Goa will find themselves spoilt for choice.
A wide variety of transport is available in Goa. Most tourist sights can be accessed by road and there are buses, rental cars, taxis and scooters available for travellers to use. The best (and funnest) way to get around Goa is to hire a motorcycle/scooter, but be sure to carry the necessary paperwork (licence, registration and insurance) because checks on foreigners are a lucrative source of baksheesh for the Indian police force.
Roads and attractions are not well sign-posted, so don't hesitate to ask for directions. Local buses stop at the main beaches. Auto-rickshaws are also a popular transportation option, and are available in town and from the airport, railway station and bus terminus.
Goa is a wonderful, relaxing destination to take the kids on holiday. Children will love the variety of things to see and do, be it renting a bike to explore the local area or catching a boat for some swimming and dolphin-watching. There are flea markets where the little ones can spend their pocket money, and pretty waterfalls to visit when they're in need of cooling off. And then, of course, there are still the beautiful beaches for the kids to run loose on...
Please note: Some hotels or guesthouses may offer childcare services, and although this may be tempting it is strongly advised that you keep your children with you at all times while in a foreign country.
Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages
The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport.
It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.
Flaunting its strong Portuguese heritage, Goa is definitely the nightlife hub of India. Impulsive beach parties are a common occurrence, with visitors and locals relaxing on the beach after sunset with a couple of cold drinks and some mellow tunes.
There are also numerous houses which have a room open to the public as a bar-cum-restaurant, usually serving great seafood. Tito's, on Baga Beach, is a Goa hotspot at night, as is the new Beachotheque club. Lidos, in Dona Paula, is also very popular, and Club Cubana on Arpora Hill attracts quite a crowd, as does Nine Bar. Goa hosts great rave and trance music parties, especially in winter under the full moon. The venues for these raves are kept secret till just hours before they kick off, and visitors will have to ask around at local bars for details.
There's great shopping to be done in Goa, with the most popular shopping spots being in Panaji and Anjuna. The quintessential Goan souvenirs are azulejos - Portuguese-style tiles and ceramics that have been beautifully hand-painted (available at Velha Goa Galleria in Panaji).
The Anjuna Wednesday market has everything from trendy rave gear to comfy hammocks; while semi-precious stones, paintings and local crafts are available from the Ingoe and Mackie night bazaars. The Mapusa Friday Market is good for freshly-baked Goan breads, homemade pork sausages and an assortment of pickles.
In Calangute, the Casa Goa boutique offers local designer wear, artwork and silk drapes, and tribal art is available from the nearby Leela Art Palace. Visit Sangolda for rattan loungers and Rajasthani chests, and there are stunning lamp shades available at Soto Décor.
Goa boasts a number of great attractions for visitors to enjoy while on holiday. This area is of course famous for its gorgeous beaches, but there are also many historical sites to visit in Old Goa, colonial architecture to explore in Margao and Panaji, and a vast flea market to browse in Anjuna. The Dudhsagar Waterfall and Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary are also popular Goa attractions.