Palolem is a dream of a beach, a languid kilometre and a half-long crescent of light golden sand overseen by high coconut palms, blue hills, humpbacked rocks, and rounded islands. The beach is hard and flat and never more than 100m wide. The water was warm and shallow, with small, bubbly waves sliding 20m apart into the shore with the ease and precision of escalator steps. It’s crowded but concrete-free, with bobbing heads instead of jet skis and speedboats, a couple of beach volleyball nets, and a handful of sun loungers as the only facilities beyond what people make for themselves. Bamboo and plywood huts stretch all the way along the back of the beach, most with their own restaurants, whose fronts spill people out directly on to the sand. Somewhere near the centre, floodlights illuminate the steps up to the T-shaped village at night, two streets of shops selling the same bars of chocolate, toiletries, and plastic bottles of water; open-air restaurants; Internet cafes; and travel agents.
At high tide the beach shrinks to the width of the fishing boats parked up by the trees. When the water goes back out, you can walk across the dimpled sand and fast-moving lagoon waters to Green Island, standing on smooth boulders to watch the sun go down. The swimming is good: the sand drops so slowly that you can be 50m out and still only up to your chest in water, and the waves are far smaller than at the northern beaches. Be very careful of the undertows, though, especially at the southern end of the beach, where tourists are occasionally washed up by the jagged rocks.
Palolem is not a place for the energetic or those in need of luxury. Most people spend their days sitting in a restaurant or lying on the sand with sun cream and a book, thinking of how long they‘re staying and where they‘re going next. You won’t find any water sports here, the loud nightlife is mainly confined to the Café del Mar, and the ban on permanent development along the beach leaves only temporary shacks under the palm trees, plus a few concrete guest houses farther back.
At night, the northern side of the beach is dark and quiet. Farther south, restaurants put candle-lit tables out on the sand, while the restaurants in the village use happy hours and live music to draw you inland. The Casa Fiesta serves good Mexican food at tables with sombrero lamp shades, Cool Breeze has friendly service and tasty continental and Indian dishes, and Blue Planet does decent business in healthy organic dishes and unusual smoothies. The pizzas at Magic Italy are more expensive but much better than at Little Italy, while Smugglers is way overpriced but does have a pool table and a good collection of DVDs.
Palolem is no longer paradise, but it’s about as close as Goa is ever likely to get.
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Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
December 15, 2005
From journal Three Weeks on a Beach: Goa
November 21, 2005
From journal 2000km, 6 days