This was a Thomson package holiday for 2 weeks with a Thomson flight. The flight was comfy for long haul (although the seats are leather). The entertainment is poor compared with other long haul airlines and there are no complementary drinks. Fiver extra to upgrade your entertainment to a wider choice of movies but there was no point as there was no way of knowing what time the movie was starting each time.
Beware of the Porters at the airport, very enthusiastic and want to take your bag for you for a tip. They may take it off the luggage belt and put it on the wrong bus! Or a porter will only be able to take your bag as far as the entrance, so thats one pound tip, then another to take it from there onto the bus, thats another then one to put it on the bus, one to take it off.... I'd tip here and there but not every time as otherwise you end up spending more on tips than on the rest of the spending on holiday.
We opted for half board as it was our first time in India. I regretted this when I found out what Candolim has to offer in the variety of restaurants. The set menus were good and the food was nice but not a great deal of choice if you are vegetarian. Nevertheless there was a degree of flexibility and the staff were happy to make an alternative dish if you can idnetify what you want.
Puddings were a bit same-same with it being pannacotta or ice cream on most days but there was the occasional day where the pudding was absolutely yummy!
Also, the drinks are not included in the half board and they are expensive (compared with the bars and restaurants out there) - also an extra 20-30% is whacked on in taxes/service charges. Having said that, their cocktails are very nice (Pina Colada!) and by far better than anywhere else we went so that was worth the extra R100 :)
The advantages of going half board though are that you can eat salad there with confidence and they are very well staffed. There is good live entertainment, I particularly liked the singer who performs on Saturday nights, I could have listened to him sing all night. Some great songs.
The breakfast was lovely, eggs done however you want by the chef, different flavour pancakes, pastries, muffins, cupcakes, a choice of 2 or 3 cereals, 2 fruit juices, tea/coffee and indian food. It is worth trying this south indian dish (potato curry in flatbread with coconut chutney on the side). It seemed strange to have for breakfast but I wanted to try it!
The hotel has wi-fi but they charge R300 for 7 days or R600 for 14 days (with a limited data allowance too).
There is a mini bar in the room, but you may as well stock up with the drinks from the convenience store next door. Also you do get 2 complementary bottles of water every day. The tap water is safe enough to brush your teeth with but we didn't drink it.
The bathroom was lovely, nice shower and it has a bath. A few complementary toiletries. The towels were quite small though and ladies, if you have long hair pack your own hair towel :)
The balcony was not all that and there was no sea view, but at least the first floor had a balcony for drying clothes on.
The spa was nice, I got my eyebrows threaded on my last day for just R110. They also do hairdressing, manicures and massages.
The pool area was lovely, comfy sun loungers and a reasonable sized infinity pool with the sun shining on it. Also a jacuzzi next to the pool. There is a well maintained lush green lawn with more sun loungers on the way down to the beach which backs onto the hotel. There was a slight issue that the hotel mostly consists of Russian tourists who leave their towels on the sunbeds but are not there all day.
The location is quiet, with a 20 minute walk or a R100 taxi ride to the centre of Candolim. Its also worth a stroll in the opposite direction to the Taj Holiday Village where you can buy sparkling wine by the glass.
At the beach on the back of the hotel there is a basic shack for a cheap snack or there is Calamari, where Bollywood celebs sometimes hang out.
In terms of tours, I would do Dudsaghar Falls (R1800 return taxi) and Anjuna Flea Market (R700-800 return taxi) independently as it works out a lot cheaper. Thomson charges £25 per person for the flea market and £30 per person for the Falls. We didn't go through them but that price does not look very justifiable. We didn't get to do any overnight trips but shop around for rates although you may want to use Thomson for these ones.
It is worth taking your own taxi one hour further north for some nicer and quieter beaches at just R1800 return.
Did the Grand Island Boat Trip but it was definitely not worth it. I see why the company happened to not have a picture of the boat available at the time of booking, the boat was sheltered and couldn't sunbathe on it but it was cheap at £16 and we did see quite a few dolphins, which was the highlight of the trip. Note that a 1 hour dolphin trip from the beach instead would have been just as good. The snorkelling was cloudy and could not see a thing in the water.
I recommend a taxi to Cubana (outdoor nightclud in the mountains). Its ladies night on Wednesday nights. Ladies get in for free and its free drinks all night. Couples pay R600-700 and single males R800-1000 incl drinks.
It was election season when we were there (only happens every 5 years) and as part of the election code of conduct bars have to stop serving and close at 11pm!
When out shopping, here are a few tips:
Check out the going rates in fixed price shops before haggling so you know what you are paying.
Maybe do your shopping at the end of your stay.
I saw magnets in a shop for R50 each (street by the lucky star shack)
Pay no more than R100 for each CD and try to listen to them first.
Kaftan top R200
Flip Flops R250
Sun glasses R250
Sparkly bags R200-R250
Ankle chains R100 (maybe R50)
6 pens R200
Clutch Bags R400
Avoid the hawkers on the beach, they try to charge a lot more and its harder to walk away from them (as part of your bargaining power). If they approach you, just tell them you don't want to buy anything (unless of course you want the experience).
When walking on the beach, the Indian locals are very excited about white skin! I felt like I was being papped a lot of the time, although admittedly I would just strike a pose for them.
Beware of the scam where a local says 'There is something in your ear' - do you really want a stranger try to clean your ear then charge you? They normally target the men.
Beware of the under current in the sea, made stronger by the grounded boat in Candolim. I noticed there were some accidents reported in the local papers but I felt that the dangers were not well communicated enough on the beach itself.
Walking up the beach, a few shacks worth visiting are:
Jacksons, 20 minute walk away, great food and entertainment in the evening with DJ Russell
Cafe Del Mar - lovely shack a lot further up the beach with the cleanest toilets.
You can continue walking to Anjuna Beach but its not for the faint hearted, some rocky terrain and steep edges to walk on.
I would love to do Goa again, maybe for longer in more of a budget hotel in the area.
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