Contrary to popular belief, Goa is not all about beaches, parties, and marine exoticism. In the interiors of the state, far from the sandy shores, you will find the raw and wild side of Goa’s nature, where the thick forest covers hide its rich flora and fauna. The wildlife sanctuaries spread around the state are clear proof of its natural treasures and are worth a visit.
When to visit
Unlike beaches, forests and national parks are best visited at specific times of the year, when the animals abound and the weather is conducive to walk the jungle trails. Typically, the peak time for wildlife exploration is between June and September. But for specific activities like birding tours or spotting seasonal fauna, you can visit during late winters (January and February). However, check park websites and forest department’s online portal for updated timings, before you travel.
Where to go
1. Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary
The smallest sanctuary in Goa, Bondla is only 8 sq.km long, sitting at the foothills of the Western Ghats, in the interiors of Goa. It is a popular destination for local school trips. The sanctuary offers ecotourism with tree houses and log cottages, a deer park, botanical garden, and jungle sports for visitors to enjoy. You can go on a safari and spot a wide range of wildlife like Indian Bison, Sambar Deer, Indian Peafowl, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Common Grey Hornbill, and Golden Backed Woodpecker, among others. If you visit during December or January, you can also see their archeological exhibition which showcases findings from the 6th century.
2. Molem Wildlife sanctuary
The other extreme to Bondla, Mollem is the largest wildlife sanctuary in Goa. It is a part of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary, located in the Sanguem district. The park also encloses the hidden Devil’s Canyon, known for fishing and hiking. There are also safari options, in park’s designated vehicles or your own. You can avail of an affordable car on rent in Goa with a reliable driver and plan your own jungle tour, and spot Barking Deer, Black Panther, Bengal Tiger, Bonnet Macaque, Leopard, Civet and Wild Boar, along with its huge population of avifauna like Wagtails, Fairy Bluebird, Drongo, Three-Toed Kingfisher, Great India Hornbill, or Golden Oriole.
Far down south, in the district of Canacona, you will find the lesser-known enclave of Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. Spreading across 105 sq. km. Cotigao is a rich reserve of exotic trees, wild floral plants, and rare, seasonal animals and birds like Malabar Trogon, White-Bellied Woodpecker and Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch. The Nature Interpretation Centre situated within the sanctuary organizes jungle walks and takes you through the greenery, with an orientation. There are also overnight camping options if you wish to take your adventure to the next level.
4. Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary
Sitting in the unassuming Sattari district of North Goa, Mhadei is known for being an important participant of the Project Tiger and is home to Royal Bengal Tigers. Dotted with dense deciduous trees and spectacular waterfalls like VazraSakla and the Virdi Falls, Mhadei also makes for an excellent place for trekking, camping, and other activities.
With rich treasures of endangered wild animals and avifauna, Mhadei has earned the reputation of being a biodiversity hotspot recognized by Conservation International. If you are lucky, you might be able to spot Barking Deer, Ruddy Mongoose, Asian Palm Civet, and Black-Faced Langur, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Black Panther, Mouse Deer, Jungle Cat, Indian Pangolin, or the endangered Slender Loris. If visiting between January and March, look out for White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, Malabar Parakeet, Nilgiri Wood-pigeon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Rufous Babbler, Grey-headed Bulbul or Crimson-backed Sunbird.
5. Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary
The most prominent wildlife zone in Goa, this is the biggest of all sanctuaries in the region. Apart from its rich biodiversity, the reserve also houses the famous Dudhsagar Falls and ancient temples dating back to the Kadamba Dynasty. On the fringes of the sanctuary, you can also find the nomadic Dhangar tribes. The diverse landscape of the sanctuary also attracts many trekkers and hikers to explore it from various angles, while encountering rare and endangered species. For dedicated wildlife spotting, you can go on safaris and keep your eyes peeled for Panther, Barking Deer, Bengal Tiger, Leopard, Bonnet Macaque, or Sambar Deer, and birds like Blue Mormon, Common Jezebel, or Common Mormon.
6. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Sitting on the edge of the river island of Chorao on the Mandovi River, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is the largest avifauna reserve in Goa, and one of the most significant ones in India. It houses dense mangroves developed from the sea inlet into the island, making it a mix of marshland and dry land. There are canoes and dinghies you can take to ride along the canals and tour the forest. The marshes are home to kingfishers, coots, egrets, pintails or sandpipers, while the interior drylands with taller trees are frequented by Eagles, Drongos, Kites, Myna, Curlews, Redshank, and Hoopoes. For a successful birding tour, visit early in the morning.