If you know me, you’ll know that I’m always ranting against the popular image of Goa that the rest of India has – that’s it’s just a place with beach parties & cheap + easily available liquor / drugs / women. I have been going to Goa every year since I was little & I can honestly say that I heard of this ill reputation only after started reading newspapers at 11. This mistaken belief is so widespread that many people actually believe it’s not a suitable destination for families / children. Goa is a stunningly beautiful coastal state.

Do they get a majority of their income from tourism? Yes. But they are so many great things to see, so it’s very suitable for families or friends or couple or even single travellers who aren’t looking for the aforementioned three things. The key of course, is where you stay. For people looking for peace & quiet, skip North Goa completely. The only time I’ve been there was three years ago when some of mom’s friends from overseas were our travelling companions so they wanted to do the touristy thing. My actual home town / native place / whatever else you want to call it is a sleepy village in South Goa, not very far from Margao. I spent most of my childhood vacations in my family home there, either chasing the animals (cats / dogs / pigs / goats; we have them all), fishing with dad (I was much better than him even at age 8 😉 ) or just exploring. I sort of detested those vacations then, but I am so very grateful for them now… it made up for living in a big city as concrete & chaotic as Mumbai, & it’s experiences like these I would definitely want my kid to have (if any, that is).

And I’m rambling. I apologize. There’s something about Goa that makes me very nostalgic & sentimental. Now to the actual point of this post.

When I was in Goa last May I noticed a sign for Garça Branca Botanical Garden on a large maroon two-storey Portuguese style villa (two storey is notable because most Goan houses are just one storey) . It was interesting to see something like that in my sleepy little village – this is not the place you see tourists passing at all. I made a mental note to visit but then plum forgot about it. The next time I saw that sign we were on our way to the bus stop to return home.

I told myself I must go next time. That statement feels a little iffy, because I’ve said that to myself for every Kala Ghoda fest I’ve been aware of (over the last five years) & I still haven’t gone.
But when I was in Goa this January I’m proud to say I actually went. It would have been terrible if I hadn’t because this place is literally 300 mts away from my family home.

So we walked there in the hot afternoon sun (camera bag in tow, of course), not really knowing what the expect. I expected it to be boring, but so what? A change of scene is always nice. Or, ‘At least you can say you went’ in my mother’s words.

We entered in & bought tickets. The ticket includes a free drink (cold frooti). It was rather nice to see that like so many tourist attractions they don’t charge additional camera fees.

Tickets + biz cards. I’m happy I took this photo, because a rogue gust of wind blew these into the swimming pool shortly after.
African lovebirds… aren’t they cute? Those look like doll eyes!
As soon as you enter you’re greeted by a lot of different beneficial plants, all labelled with common name, scientific names & uses.

Cane swings under the shade of a tree. These were so comfortable my mom plopped on one & refused to get up for a while (she was sleepy).

Various Indian herbs / spices.

Concrete monkey bin. Animal bins always remind me of school because we had large metal penguin bins there.One of the four emus. If you read the above tickets & business cards, you’ll know that Garça Branca sells emu meat too. I remember first reading about emu meat when a restaurant in Mumbai introduced it last year. It has 2% fat and low cholesterol in their meat – so Carlos Mascarenhas, the man behind Garça Branca has started a crusade he calls ‘EMU MEAT FOR THE HEART ‘. He’s determined to make Goa aware of this nutritious meat and to choose it over the beef (42%), Pork (29%), Mutton (27%), Chicken (17%), Turkey (14%).

They are numerous photography points (at least three if I recollect correctly) scattered about the place. They are narrow metal spiral staircases leading up to higher vantage points (either on the main building or on the slightly hilly terrain) those are great for photography or just looking around. I got up at one of those points just above the emus & it was funny/scary to see them craning their necks to look at me.

The reason that Garça Branca looks underwhelming from the outside is that you can’t see all the land – it stretches inwards rather than alongside the road & I don’t have any exact numbers but this place is big!Wall paintings on the walls adjoining the stairs & on an area at the side.I got to jump on a trampoline for the first time. I always assumed it would be easier – I fell twice. Fun, nonetheless.Replica of Christ the Redeemer on one of the vantage points.Catfish.The duck + goose enclosure. I was trying to get them all together, but they are not friendly! When the goose comes out the ducks stay away. There were also some other birds (like turkeys) that I didn’t click photos of.
And now the best part of Garça Branca, the pier. This place is so amazing it has a private riverfront with a stunning view of hills & the Borim bridge. I didn’t expect this, it was such a pleasant surprise.
There’s a little canopy by the pier with traditional mud roof tiles, art deco fans & colored patio lights. The perfect place for some afternoon shuteye.
I almost didn’t want to share this, it feels like a wonderful hidden gem. But I know not doing so would be selfish. So all I will say this, if you’re staying in North Goa you must try & visit, you won’t regret it.
Garça Branca is also a Bed & Breakfast. I didn’t stay so I don’t have anything to report on that end, but they have got some glowing reviews on tripadvisor. It sounds like a great place to experience a traditional Goan lifestyle if you aren’t lucky enough to have family in Goa.
How to get there (address is at the end of this post): Garça Branca is easily accessible whether by private vehicles or public transport. To go there by bus, take a bus heading to Ponda from Margao, get off at Loutolim Toll & take the road perpendicular road (national highway 17B – just ask anyone around, Goans are friendly). You’ll start to see signs on both sides of the road.
Keep going till you see this (on the right side of the road approximately 500mts in)-
The Botanical Garden & Bird Park is open from Monday to Thursday, 9AM to 5PM. Garça Branca is shut during off-season, i.e. June to September. Tickets: ₹100 for adults, ₹25 for 5-12 years olds, children enter free.
The Garça Branca, House no. 934, Vanxem, Loutolim, Goa 403718, India.
Find them: website // tripadvisor