Travelers are slowly uncovering southwest India's secret beaches, a series of lush hideaways dotted with 5-star resorts, remote beach bungalows and ayurvedic spas, the best of which can be found in the states of Goa and Kerala. While there are beaches around Mumbai, including Chowpatty and Juhu, they are generally more popular for people-watching and festivals as pollution makes them a poor choice for swimming and sunbathing. For a truly idyllic beach escape, make your way farther south along the coast to some of the country's best beaches in the states of Goa and Kerala.
Beaches in Goa
Goa has a culture all its own thanks to a Portuguese occupation that lasted nearly 500 years and an influx of hippies that peaked in the 1970s. Today more conventional tourism rules the area. With many Westerners vacationing in well-appointed beachfront hotels, Goa maintains its laid-back charm with afternoon siestas and inviting beaches. The beaches along north Goa promise a more happening scene and busy nightlife, while farther south the beaches offer more peace and quiet.
Often referred to as the "Queen of Beaches," Calangute became the epicenter of the hippie invasion in the 1970s. The blissful vibe that once attracted so many hippies to the region remains as visitors enjoy the golden shores during the high tourist season between November and March. Beach sports like parasailing, windsurfing and water-skiing are just as popular as sunbathing. While much of the local lodging consists of simple beach huts, Pousada Tauma is a favorite in town. Though it's a short walk from the beach, this boutique hotel exudes Goan charm with themed luxury suites surrounding a courtyard pool.
Anjuna is a bit like India's version of Ibiza, a sometimes raucous party spot with heady full-moon parties and an anything-goes atmosphere. Backpackers flock to the beach for relaxing, drinking and bonding with fellow travelers, particularly during the photo-worthy sunsets. The most popular event in town is the weekly flea market held on the beach each Wednesday from 9 a.m. until sundown on the beach where backpackers and locals peddle goods including jewelry and rich Indian fabrics.
The beach at Baga may be peaceful during the day, but the nightlife is legendary. Late-night shenanigans revolve around Tito's, the choice dance club since 1971 with wild dance parties attracting tourists and locals.
Fringed by rows of delicate casuarina and palm trees, Dona Paula is Goa's lovers' paradise, complete with gorgeous beaches and a romantic myth. As the story goes, Dona Paula was the daughter of a wealthy Indian viceroy in colonial India. When her father refused her marriage to a poor local fisherman, Dona Paula threw herself from the cliffs into the sea. Visitors keen on romance and ghost stories are certain they've seen her lovelorn spirit, wearing just a pearl necklace, walking in the surf at the ocean's edge.
Colva and Benaulim
The beaches in southern Goa are favored by Goans who come for the miles of pristine beaches and unspoiled beauty. Just a few miles from Colva, Benaulim beach is another hidden gem. Local fishermen head out to sea while beachgoers swim in the gentle surf and relax on the sandy golden shores. The Taj Exotica in Benaulim is a luxe hotel option with suites, private villas, children's activities and a spa.
The beaches are less populated in south Goa, but there's no shortage of luxury resorts in this region. Mobor Beach is home to the exclusive Leela Kempinski Goa, set on 75 acres of magical gardens and lagoons and overlooking the beach.
Beaches in Kerala
Kerala is a true respite for weary travelers with stellar beaches and famed ayurvedic spas where every last bit of stress melts away thanks to the capable hands of trained masseuses. Visitors come to rest and rejuvenate along the picture-perfect beaches. When you get away from the wide stretch of beach, the terrain turns into lush jungles and sprawling plantations.
Some argue that Kovalam has become overly touristy, but there's still plenty of charm to be found along its 3 crescent-shaped beaches--Lighthouse Beach, Hawah and Samudra--that define the area with water sports, beach huts and fishing boats running out and back to the sea. The grand dame of the area's hotels for discerning travelers is the Leela Kempinski Kovalam Beach, built into the cliffs overlooking the sea. Pampered guests lounge by the infinity pools, perfect downward dog in yoga classes, relax at the Divya Ayurveda Wellness Spa and make the short trip down to the beach at the base of the cliff. A smaller and equally impressive hotel is the charming Surya Samudra with well-appointed bungalows just a short stroll from serene Samudra beach.
Just 30 miles from Thiruvanatharpuram, Varkala is an important cultural spot with rich mineral water springs. Locals believe that a dip in these holy waters will purge your body of sin and impurities. Backpackers and laid-back travelers gather on the sandy shores at the base of the cliffs to watch the sunset. But while the beaches are lovely, the water is quite dangerous in this area with strong currents. Most hotels in the area are relaxing spots, many with Ayurvedic spas. The Varkala Marine Palace is a family-run hotel with 18 rooms tucked between the two cliffs on Papanasam Beach.