Five alternatives to Goa: India's tranquil beaches

Indian beaches that are similar to Goa minus the overdevelopment

Five alternatives to Goa: India's tranquil beaches
By Sharell Cook

Goa is rightly seen as India’s major beach destination, with everything from luxury resorts to makeshift huts, but its popularity comes at the cost of overdevelopment, westernisation and a sometimes over-rowdy party culture. However, there is much more to India’s beach scene than trance parties and westernised towns. Fortunately, there are still many beach locations in India that are similar to Goa, but that have escaped some of the downsides of mass tourism.

The below Indian beaches offer wellness and watersports; temples and tranquility. There’s so much to explore beyond Goa.

Kerala Kovalam beach2 cropped

Kovalam beach in Kerala

1. Gokarna, Karnataka

Gokarna is your best bet to get a feel for what Goa was like in its heyday before development took over. This holy town has a special significance for Hindus, as legend has it that demon Ravan let go of the Atma Linga (the Soul of Lord Shiva, which provides immortality and invincibility) there on his way to his kingdom in Sri Lanka. Pious pilgrims come to worship this extraordinarily powerful representation of Lord Shiva at the town's ancient Mahabaleshwara temple, where the Atma Linga is believed to be installed.

To the south of town, the four beaches (Kudle, Om, Half Moon, and Paradise) remain refreshingly untarnished by mass tourism. Half Moon and Paradise beaches are only accessible by boat or by hiking around the cliff, which keeps them sheltered. The lengthy hiking trail ensures Gokarna is a top choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Yet, its beaches are also a hippie haven that attracts long-term travellers who chill out for months at a time.

Gonkarna beach

Beach at Gokarna village

Where to go in Gokarna

Kudle beach and Om beach
Many people choose to stay on or around Kudle beach, as opposed to the more popular Om beach. It's sequestered between two cliffs with steps leading down to it, and therefore doesn't receive as many day-trippers as Om beach. Kudle has a laidback, international vibe with diverse nationalities. Yoga, cricket, volleyball, relaxing in a shack with a cold beer, soaking up the superb sunset view, drumming, and listening to live music around a bonfire are typical activities. There's also an evening flea market on the beach during the tourist season as well as kayaks and boats for hire.

A 20-minute walk south along a track will take you to Om beach, where you'll find water sports aplenty and boats to the other beaches. This beach gets its name from its "Om" shape. Unfortunately, the direct road to the beach brings droves of often rowdy locals on weekends. It's much calmer during the week.

Half Moon beach and Paradise beach
Head up the narrow track that leads to Dolphin Cafe and keep walking 20-30 minutes around the cliff to reach Half Moon beach. Take the left trail for the forested route, or the right trail for the coastal route with dreamy views with the vast Arabian Sea spread out below. This small beach has just a few seasonal huts and cafes.

Paradise beach is a somewhat strenuous 30-minute walk further on from Half Moon beach. It's advisable to wear proper footwear because of the rocky, hilly terrain. Strong currents hinder swimming at this beach. However, it really is paradise if you want to go off the grid and disconnect from the world. There are no amenities and the temporary huts are regularly torn down by the forest department. So, bring your own hammock or tent to camp.

Those who prefer their comforts will be pleased to know that the range of accommodations in Gokarna has expanded greatly in recent years. From just a handful of beach huts, there's now everything from backpacker hostels to up-market wellness resorts set back from the beach.

Rsz gokarna people

Woman walking through Gokarna town

How to get to Gokarna

The nearest airport is Dabolim in Goa, about four hours north of Gokarna. There's also an airport in Mangalore in Karnataka, about five hours south of Gokarna. Alternatively, Indian Railways trains stop at Gokarna Road railway station, about 15 minutes from town. The temple town of Hampi – which was once one of the richest and biggest cities in the world – is a five-hour drive.

Where to go near Gokarna

History lovers will be delighted by sprawling 16th-century Mirjan Fort, on the banks of the Aghanashini River about 30 minutes south of Gokarna. It's thought to have been built by "Pepper Queen" Chennabharadevi, who controlled the spice trade through the fort. Its wells, secret doors, interlinked tunnels, and watchtower are fascinating.

About 20 minutes south of Mirjan Fort near Kumta, Nirvana beach is renowned for having glowing bioluminescent plankton. If you're feeling energetic, it's possible to hike the 20km from Kumta to Gokarna over two days. You'll pass by many isolated virgin beaches along the way.

An hour further south of Kumta is Murudeshwar, where a colossal silver-coloured statue of Lord Shiva has been installed on a hill against the backdrop of the Arabian Sea. It's one of the tallest statues of its kind in India.

North of Gokarna, it's worth taking a trip across the river to serene Honey beach and the temples in Ankola, about 40 minutes away. The drive passes through scenic villages.

2. Varkala beach, Kerala

As a beach destination, Kerala is more lively than Karnataka but doesn't have the parties and development that Goa does. This a destination for those looking for a more peaceful beach experience.

Kerala's most spectacular beach has an idyllic setting atop a palm-laden cliff. It attracts a young health-conscious crowd who spend their time doing yoga, getting Ayurvedic treatments, and surfing. Similar to Gokarna, the town itself is a pilgrim centre with an important 2,000+ year old shrine, the Janardana Swami temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Hindus consider the part of the beach near the temple to be purifying and they go there to perform the last rites of relatives who have died. There's also a mineral spring that's supposed to have healing properties.

What to do at Varkala beach


Most of the action in Varkala takes place on what's known as North Cliff, above the main Papanasam beach. A paved path runs along it, bordered with shacks, shops and restaurants. A steep flight of steps leads down to the beach. DJs spin in some of the shacks during peak season but there's little nightlife otherwise.

South Cliff is more relaxed and peaceful, albeit still close to the beach. North of North Cliff, Black Beach and Odayam Beach are also relatively quiet. They have pretty, cheaper accommodation and you can walk along the seaside all the way to unspoiled Kappil Beach. It's also possible to visit the backwaters and Ponnumthuruthu (Golden) Island near Varkala, either by canoe or boat.

How to get to Varkala beach

Varkala is located about an hour north of Kerala's capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, where there's an airport. You can also reach Varkala town by train.

India Kerala Traditional chinese fishing net at Fort Cochin

Traditional fishing net in Kerala

3. Kovalam beach. Kerala

In contrast to the rest of Kerala, Kovalam is rather touristy and brash. It's the most commercial of Kerala's beaches and is close to Thiruvananthapuram. Hotel chains such as the Leela and the Taj cater to luxury travellers and its Ayurvedic resorts are also a draw. The southwest monsoon first makes landfall at Kovalam as it arrives on the southern coast of India.

What to do at Kovalam beach

The most happening beach in the area is Lighthouse beach, named after the landmark red and white lighthouse there. Its promenade is edged with an eclectic mix of small to medium-sized hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques that front the ocean. There are sun loungers on the beach and water sport options. If you're up early enough, you'll encounter fishermen bringing in the day's fresh catch. Neighbouring Hawa beach (also called Eve's beach) is smaller but frequented by boisterous groups of Indian tourists who frolic in the water. Across the promontory, sheltered Samudra beach remains comparatively tourist-free. Consider going boating at nearby Poovar Island, a picturesque spot where the backwaters meet the beach.

How to get to Kovalam beach

Kovalam is about 30 minutes south of Thiruvananthapuram. The closest airport and railway station are in Trivandrum, so you'll need to take a taxi from there.

Rsz kerala kovalambeach

Sunset over Kovalam beach

4. Marari beach, Kerala

Little-known Marari is the perfect place for a beach break while visiting the Kerala backwaters. This sleepy fishermen's village is only 30 minutes from Alleppey, which is the hub of backwater tourism. There's nothing much to do there except walk along the beach and wander around the village – but that's the beauty of it.

Marari’s accommodation consists of high-end Ayurvedic and wellness resorts, classy villas and cheerful homestays, with many located right on the beach. Visiting a traditional coir-making unit or the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary are two possibilities for day trips.

How to get to Marari beach

The closest airport is in Kochi, about two hours north of Marari beach. Marari has a local railway station but more trains stop at the railway station in Alleppey.

Kerala Mararibeach

Marari beach in Kerala

5. Konkan Coast, Maharashtra

There's a bounty of beautiful beaches along Maharashtra's Konkan Coast. Yet, very few foreigners visit this region. Various factors such as poor accessibility, a lack of quality accommodation and beach culture – the beaches don't have bars or shacks, and women must dress modestly – means many stay away. However, intrepid travellers will appreciate simple homestays by the sea, tasty local food, solitude and slow pace of life.

Konkan Village Bhogwe

Beach at Bhogwe on the Konkan Coast

The beaches in the Sindhudurg district north of Goa are the most tourist-friendly, particularly around Malvan, Tarkarli and Devbag. One of the best coral reefs in India is off the coast of Malvan. It's popular for scuba diving and snorkelling. There's also an old 17th-century sea fort built by Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji nearby. Men doing traditional rapan fishing on the beach using massive mesh nets is a sight to behold. Curated food experiences and trips to villages and markets are arranged.

Sindhudurg's new airport will greatly improve connectivity and boost tourism when it starts operating. The other airport is Dabolim in Goa, about three hours south of Tarkarli. Kudal is the closest railway station, about 50 minutes inland from Malvan.

Five alternatives to Goa: India's tranquil beaches

By Sharell Cook

Sharell Cook is a travel writer and author. Her first book, Henna for the Broken-Hearted, has just been published by Pan Macmillan. Sharell was born and brought up in country Victoria and now lives in Mumbai, India.

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