ARRIVAL IN GOA: With the advent of cheap charters, most visitors are now arriving by direct flight to Dabolim Airport. After the slow, but straightforward, customs and immigration formalities most take either a taxi (at set rates) or tour bus (for package tourists). The nearest town, Vasco da Gama, is 4km and Panaji (the state capital) is 29km. The nearest railway station, Dabolim, is 2km and links Vasco with stations inland. The new Konkan Railway links up near Margao for destinations north and south. Others may arrive from Bombay by bus at the KTC bus station on the east side of Panaji. For those visiting the northern beaches, it is best to alight at Mapusa. The new alternative for travel to and from Bombay is the daily Damania Catarmaran which is based at the jetty on the north side of Panaji.
TRANSPORT: Whilst buses are the cheapest form of transport in Goa, they are very slow. Taxis, in the form of motorcycles, rickshaws and cars or small tourist mini-buses are the fastest but much more expensive. Whilst there are government rates, it may be best to agree the fare before starting. As a cheaper form of travel it is possible to hire cars, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. Prices vary according to area and length of hire. Motorcycles are very important in the Anjuna / Vagator area where so much of the nightlife and other facilities are spread out.
Recently the police have started to crack down on helmet wearing and driving licences, so try to have both with you at all times. Until recently, rail transport in Goa was limited to one line from Vasco da Gama to Margao and further inland to Hubli, Hampi and Pune. The new Konkan Railway links Bombay to Goa and Mangalore, with stations all down the coast.
CHANGING MONEY: The currency of Goa is the Indian Rupee. At the time of printing the exchange rate was approximately 70 rupees (rps) to £1.00 sterling and 50 rps to $1.00 U.S., though this may well change. The best exchange rates are to be found in the banks, though they are very slow and involve standing in interminable queues. Often banks can only change cash or sometimes only travellers cheques. Outside the main destinations banks are often not authorised to change money in any form whatsoever. The alternative is money-changers (often travel agents) in all the major resorts. There is a ‘black market’ for foreign currency notes and the rate is higher the more you change. Though this is illegal, in some areas it is the only way to change. North of Chapora and south of Colva / Margao virtually no exchange facilities exist. The exception in these areas are the Resorts which will change money if you are resident with them. When changing money in banks or with authorised money-changers always get an ‘encashment certificate’. When you wish to change back you will have to produce these as proof and they may be required for your first night's stay in Goa.
ACCOMMODATION: A large proportion of visitors to Goa are on package tours and stay in hotels or beach resorts. For others arriving independently there is a large variety of accommodation available. At the most popular beaches (e.g. Colva, Baga and Calangute) there is much instant accommodation in hotels and guest houses and a few rooms in local houses. In other outlying areas the opposite is true and the majority rent rooms. The price of these depends as much on the length of stay as on the facilities supplied. Cheapest is a simple room with bed, fan and outside shower. The more expensive have en suite facilities and some air-conditioning (though this can double the price). For those staying the whole season, sometimes its easiest to rent a whole house and this can be cheaper than staying in a middle quality hotel. To find these places it’s best to make enquiries in the locality or ask other travellers. The Goa Tourism Dept. publishers a free booklet that lists the majority of accommodation in Goa (with prices) and is available from all the tourist offices.
SEASONS: The climate of Goa defines the holiday seasons. October to March, the coolest months, are the high season and the party season. The monsoon months, from June to September are the low season. Christmas is the busiest time when package tourists from the west and travellers from the rest of India gather in Goa to celebrate the season. Goa’s Portugese/Christian heritage, coupled with its fabulous beaches and friendly people, makes it the ideal place for most westerners to relax.
COMMUNICATIONS: Post and Poste Restante are excellent in India, though it takes about 2 weeks for letters to get to, or from, Europe. Though the service is good, the procedure in post offices can be confusing and time-consuming. Parcel post is the worst as it may involve a visit to a tailor to seal the package and 2 customs declarations before you even start queueing.
TELEPHONE and FAX: facilities have greatly improved over the last few years and the huge number of ‘phone offices’ bears this out. Most have government rates that are standard throughout the country. Some have computerised timing and others use a stop-watch.