India's smallest state Goa is located on the western coast of the country, adjoining the Arabian Sea, which provides the beach holidays that Goa is internationally famous for. The states of Maharashtra in the north and Karnataka in the south and east surround Goa. Together with the coastal stretches of these states, Goa is part of a larger cultural region known as Konkan. Northern Goa is more populated and urban, while the south is more forested. Beaches apart, rice fields and coconut plantations dominate the landscape. However, tourism is Goa's main industry.
For 450 years Goa was a Portuguese colony until taken over by India in 1961. This heritage is still apparent in the architecture of its churches and old houses, and the culture of its towns, which is very distinct from the rest of India. In the Catholic world Goa is important as the place where St Francis Xavier is buried (in the Basilica de Bom Jesus at Old Goa). Apart from Christmas and New Year celebrations, the 3-day long Goa Carnival (February, Panaji) and the Feast of St Francis (3 Dec, Old Goa) are famous attractions.
From north to south, the Goa coastline is marked by a number of beach towns, with relaxed ambience, seafood and water sports such as wind surfing, water skiing, sailing, water-scooters, and dolphin spotting cruises. The beaches of Calangute and Baga are the most visited while other famous beaches include Arambol, Anjuna, Candolim, Colva and Palolem.
Panaji is the state capital, a city of peaceful walks in the old Portuguese quarters, and cruises on Goa's main river, Mandovi. Nearby is the earlier capital city of Old Goa with its celebrated cathedrals, abandoned in the 19th century due to a persistent epidemic. Margao town is another centre of Portuguese cultural heritage. Ponda stands out for its Hindu temples built between 15th and 18th centuries. The international airport, Dabolim, is 29 km from Panaji. Humid for much of the year, Goa's peak season is November-February, especially Christmas-New Year time, for when advance bookings are essential.