The sun is setting over the sea at Anjuna beach. The strong smell of marijuana from the bar down the road is mixing up with the air. The gentle melody of the guitar strings and a bunch of drunk voices singing are coming from the beach. Goa is the hedonistic paradise, the promised land of sun, sand, party life, cheap booze and easy access to drugs. Or at least it used to be…
When I arrived in Goa during my last trip I saw the evening bread being delivered on the backs of bicycles. Seeing business as usual, I thought that Goa is all right. That the rumors are false. I sensed the smell of fermented cashew apples in the air and the happy faces in the streets. I thought everything is alright. But the next day I took a walk around the beach, spotting an array of plastic bags in the water, which can easily be mistaken for jellyfish, and shards of glass from beer bottles. The heavenly, peaceful beaches I heard stories about weren’t there anymore. The improper management of the place is making tourists nowadays to start choosing other destinations for their holiday.
But what happened?
Here are the main reasons why Goa isn’t what it used to be anymore.
Before I start, I would like to say that Goa still has some pristine and beautiful beaches left and places that still haven’t been spoiled by mass tourism, like Divar Island and Chorao island. For more suggestions about pristine places around, check out this great list of the best beaches in Goa.
Goa travel blog: why it isn’t a backpacker destination anymore
Goa has always been known as the hedonistic paradise in India. Even though part of the country, Goa was always much more progressive than the rest of India. It used to be a place where you go to have a good time and enjoy without having to worry that you’ll be bothered by anyone. It used to be a place where you go to practice yoga and meet like-wise laid back people from around the globe. Goa was the ultimate hippie paradise.
This made Goa the place to be for backpackers from around the world. But nowadays, it seems like backpackers and budget travelers aren’t welcome in Goa anymore. “We need to make Goa a peaceful destination. Not an overcrowded destination where the high spending tourist does not wish to be,” the president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa says. “Hedonism is not something I would like Goa to be associated with. If that is the view a tourist is holding, I think we are better off without such tourists.”
That statement is portrayed in everyday life. New construction projects are everywhere. Prices are increasing. Cabs are ridiculously expensive and it’s hard getting around if you don’t have a motorbike. After this clear message, the people that had a big part in creating Goa as we know it, are leaving the place, thus contributing for Goa to be only a shade of what it used to be. The image of Goa is being destroyed. Hence, it’s not a surprise that the international tourist arrivals dropped by 23% since 2010. Tourism in Goa grew by only 0.08% in the past five years, which is even less than the poorest state in India: Bihar.
The new construction revolution… and pollution
Successive local governments have failed in the task to take care of the state’s biggest earning industry: tourism. Huge drifts of trash lie at the roadsides because there’s simply nowhere to dispose of them. A lot of beaches are also filthy, soaked in oil discharged by tankers off the coast and there’s broken glass everywhere. The chief minister, who pledged to rid Goa of garbage, has now promised that three rubbish treatment plants will be open the next year. However, most of these projects exist only on paper and there have been a lot of empty worded promises in the past. Additionally, numerous mining projects have stripped a lot of lands and gave it a rust-red color, which is very unpleasant when the wind starts carrying it around.
Villas in the villages are being demolished to build luxury apartment complexes. The required sand is drained from the rivers, while the water is drained from the wells. Parts like Anjuna and Vagator are changing their appearance with the speed of light. The most recent construction project is the “Eco-tourism” development of the ecologically fragile area around Chapora River. Ferry terminals and a tourist village are being built, as well as marinas, hotels, an adventure sports islands etc. The environment is basically being sacrificed over low-quality, pack-em-in resorts.
But the truth is, Goa doesn’t need any of that. People go there for its image of a laid-back place and a place where you can really rest and relax away from the pollution and construction revolution of the rest of the country. Goa is the smallest state and it already has twice more tourists then it has residents. So, I can’t help but feel that the local government is trying to do too much with the limited resources they have.
Drugs and prostitution… and all the consequences
The local government has been trying to squeeze out the drug gangs by providing ridiculously low alcohol prices. It was believed that this will make people consume alcohol instead of drugs but that backfired as well. The low alcohol prices have drawn gangs of local men who drink heavily. And their presence is making the environment less safe for female tourists, and local women both. Cases of robbery and sexual assaults are increasing on a yearly basis and Goa is definitely not the place we used to hear stories about anymore.
The local government had a plan to make Goa less attractive for budget travelers and hippies. And they succeeded. The hippies are disappearing from Goa. The number of tourists remains more or less the same, but the number of international tourists keeps decreasing sharply, while the number of domestic tourists is increasing rapidly. So the local government managed to ‘kick out’ the hippies, but the high-end tourists are still nowhere to be found.
India News Network reports that the total number of international tourists dropped by 20% in the past couple of years. 57,000 international tourists arrived between October and December in 2016, while the number for the same period in 2015 was 82,000. Fewer Russians and Brits visit Goa and even the ones they do, say they don’t want to visit again.
Related: the most interesting unusual festivals in India
Final thoughts Goa isn’t the backpacker’s paradise anymore
Goa clearly lost its image in the past years because of the local government’s idea to turn Goa in a place for high-end tourists. That’s one of the main reasons for the construction revolution, and subsequently, the increased pollution. Backpackers aren’t welcome here like they once were. Hence, they’re not coming anymore but neither are the high-end tourists that were supposed to replace them.
After the local government saw that the high-end tourist idea is a bit far-fetched, they tried to replace the lack of international tourists with domestic tourists. Therefore, domestic tourism rose by over 30% in the last 5 years. But what effectively happened is that Goa replaced the chilled out backpackers that were coming to practice yoga, smoke weed and party with suspicious locals. Prostitution and drug trade keeps blossoming, while crime rates keep increasing every day. Finally, Goa isn’t the peaceful oasis it once was.
The government was just trying to do too much with limited resources. As India’s smallest state with 1.5 million inhabitants, Goa was already getting close to 4 million tourists per year. And it had the laid-back image that kept attracting tourists from all around the globe. The local government wanted to change that and now that image is disappearing and Goa is becoming a shade of what it once was. Even though there are parts where you can still find peace, pristine beaches, and charming villages, Goa, unfortunately, lost most of its charm. All that remains now are the memories. The memories of the sunrise at Quepem or Salcete. The genteel charm of Goa’s rugged coastline. The memories of what was once a bio-diverse wonderland…
Did you like this Goa travel blog? Have you ever visited? Is Goa losing its reputation among tourists? Let me know in the comments.