In Search of the Goan Hippy Trail

90s Goa sparked Sarah's wanderlust, she went back to see how it had changed

Goa is the place where I was first bitten by the travel bug way back in the 90s. So when I had the chance to take a year off and go travelling again I chose to go back. I remembered the unspoilt beaches, wild parties, crazy travellers and laid back cheap living. In a country that has barely changed in centuries, how much difference could 15 years make? The answer is a lot.

We arrived in Goa in the dark after a hellish 38-hour journey from Agra and got straight into a waiting cab. With a few vague memories of meeting lots of cool people in Vagator and Chapora and the guidebook's promises of hippies, we headed in that direction.

We were lucky enough to stumble upon Tinocco’s Guest House on Ozran Beach Road that led to Small Vagator Beach. As we were shown the rooms it struck me just how much had changed in what I considered to be a relatively short amount of time. It was a room, a proper room, decorated, with a decent mattress, a bathroom with a shower and hot water and, get this, a flat screen TV with cable. All this for the princely sum of £5 a night.

True, last time I was here I had paid a tenth of that for a beach shack, but that’s what it was, a shack. At that time I had no bathroom, a cold tap and bucket were at the side of the house and if I needed the loo I’d have to go to a bar or into the sea.

Tinoco offered to rent us a moped and the next day we tried it out. Neither of us had ever ridden one before but it was either that or walk around in the blistering sun. We headed for Anjuna and it was a lot quieter than I remembered it, to say the least. I put it down to it being early in the season - maybe all the heads were on their way back from Manali. The stalls by the beach hadn’t yet opened for the season and there was hardly anyone around.

In Chapora we found a few straggler types who had been left behind from Goa’s rave heydays. The Mango Tree bar at the top of the crossroads from Vagator beach was full of them. It was like something out of a Star Wars film, with every kind of western illegal alien represented. But these guys were all older than me and seemed quite dodgy. They reconfirmed our suspicions that Goa had undoubtedly changed.

These days Goa wants to attract more affluent tourists and the ravers and hippies have been pushed out. The majority of visitors are now wealthy Indian holiday makers or Russians on package deals. There are occasionally illegal raves held at secret locations though they are few and far between and tend to get closed down early by the police. Some clubs like the Twelve Bar and Hill Top in Vagator do have parties but you have to pay to get in and there’s no guarantee that the police won’t show up and put an untimely end to things.

There’s loads of good to be found in the state though. A personal favourite of mine is The German Bakery in Anjuna. All thanks to the excellent sandwiches and cakes served in a serene Indian atmosphere with raised seating platforms, low tables and cushions set around a beautiful courtyard and trees.

Thalassa is an authentic Greek restaurant perched on the cliffs overlooking Small Vagator Beach. Its opulent atmosphere with flowing white linen and curtains combined with the delicious barbequed souvlaki and kleftiko make this a place not to be missed. The views down over the beach are wonderful both at day or night. This is definitely my favourite place to eat in Goa.

The majority of travellers now tend to head for Arambol in the north, which was still a quiet sleepy fishing village when I had stayed there on my first visit. Now it’s a busy backpackers haven with shops full of the usual tourist tat and plenty of beach bars and brightly painted hotels. 

There are some beautiful beaches, especially in the north and Baga has an Ibizan feel to it, especially around Christmas time when music festivals are set up. It's definitely still worth visiting Goa if you’re travelling in India, but just bear in min that it’s not the party paradise it once was.