For serious beach bums, Mumbai is nothing more than a stepping stone en route to the turquoise shores, delicious seafood and tropical vibe of Goa. However, you don’t have to travel so far south to enjoy serene sunsets and a day lounging on the sand. The coast surrounding India’s largest city boasts some of the best beaches around, serving up a dose of Goa-lite for day trippers and weekend-breakers seeking relief from the urban sprawl.
Whether you want to work on your tan, scuba-dive the Arabian Sea or explore historical ruins and cultural life on the shore, there’s an alternative beach stop with your name on it. Goa can wait; here is our pick of the best beach escapes near Mumbai.
Promenade with the stars at Juhu Beach
Home to many a Bollywood celebrity, and the city’s wealthiest industrialists and entrepreneurs; the upmarket neighbourhood of Juhu also boasts the city’s most popular strip of sand. Mumbaikars flock to Juhu Beach to swim, promenade along the sand, or simply sit back and watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea; but almost everyone enjoys the fantastic street food, served by vendors all along the strip – chaat and gola (flavoured ice slush) are favourites with all ages.
Juhu’s popularity, and Mumbai’s wider issues with waste disposal, has brought with it problems of pollution on the beach in recent years, with tonnes of plastic washing up on the sand during monsoon season in June and July. Thankfully authorities are now working with private contractors and local people to ensure the beach is regularly cleaned. Despite this good work, a visit here provides a window into the challenges India faces when it comes to plastic waste – ensure you visit responsibly.
Hop across the bay to Mandwa
Some of the most appealing coastal strips around Mumbai are to the south. Guarding the entrance to Karanja Creek, Mandwa is the closest beach escape to central Mumbai – a short hop by boat from Apollo Bunder in Colaba. Here, interesting historic relics are scattered behind the busy beach strip, including Buddhist caves to explore and a colonial-era church to wander around. It’s a popular one-day picnic destination, so there’s plenty to do, including thrilling water sports like wind-surfing and jet skiing. Alternatively, you could just kick back on the sand to watch the sunset; abundant food stalls mean there’s no need to bring provisions from Mumbai.
Escape to Alibaug and Kashid
If Mandwa still feels too close to the city, jump on a local bus along the coast from Mandwa to Alibaug, which clings on to its old-fashioned village vibe. There’s a wide, shallow beach, a scattering of seafront eateries, and a chain of ruined fortifications spilling out into the sea and floating off-shore on small islands near Thal and Chaul.
You’ll feel even more of a castaway in Kashid, a three-hour drive from Mumbai on a road lined with thickets of coconut palms. The long, wide and sandy beach is dotted with casuarina trees, snack stalls, hammocks for hire and vendors offering horse rides along the sand. It’s good family fun and you can pass restful hours enjoying the captivating views of the Arabian Sea – a sweeping vista along a palm-backed strip of shoreline.
Walk in the footsteps of history in Murud
Another pearl on the shores of the Arabian Sea, the village of Murud-Janjira still shows the strong influence of Portuguese culture, from the days when Portugal controlled much of the west coast from their stronghold in Goa. Fronting onto a classic, shallow Maharashtrian beach of black and yellow sand, surrounded by hills and rocky outcrops, Murud village is dominated by two landmark buildings: the grand Ahmedganj Palace (sadly closed to the public), and just offshore, the island fortress of Janjira, which stands testimony to centuries of battles between Portuguese, British and Ottoman invaders. Small boats deposit visitors at the towering fortress walls, which rise sheer from the waves.
Savour beautiful Bordi
About 157km north of Mumbai, the black-sand beach at Bordi was the landing point, according to folklore, for the first Iranian refugees in India, who came here fleeing persecution at the hands of the Qajar rulers of Persia a century or so back. With a scattering of homestays offering rooms and Parsi-inspired meals, and a long history of Warli art (delicate stick-figure murals seen on the walls of traditional houses in Maharashtra), Bordi is a great place for a beach getaway with added culture. Come for the weekly bazaar, when local fisherwomen display a gourmet haul of crabs, baby sharks, shrimps, and the local favourite bombil (the small fish that is the basis for the curiously misnamed Bombay Duck).
Sun, sand and spirituality at Ganpatipule
This temple town, on the shores of the Arabian Sea about 375km south of Mumbai, is one of the most revered destinations in the state of Maharashtra. Pilgrims flock to Ganpatipule by overnight train to pay their respects at the Shree Ganpatipule Mandir, dedicated to the elephant-headed god of knowledge and wisdom, Ganesh. Others come here for the clean, warm waters and the beach, which spills out in front of the temple. Most visitors are locals and the beach is abuzz with families enjoying sea-kayaking, water-scooter rides and camel rides along the foreshore. When in Ganpatipule, don’t forget to try ukdiche modak (steamed Indian rice sweetened with jaggery and coconut), said to be the local deity’s favourite.
Escape the crowds at Vengurla and Tarkarli
Overlooked by the hordes of tourists rushing south to Goa, Vengurla and Tarkarli remain relatively obscure and unexplored. Right at the southernmost tip of Maharashtra, where the borders of Goa begin, the villages are best known for their cashew and Alphonso mango production, but there’s a surprising amount here for travellers too, including long, palm-backed beaches, great seafood and plenty of history. While Vengurla is known for its towering lighthouse and ruined Dutch-colonial godown (warehouse), Tarkarli is a prime spot for underwater activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving, with abundant sea life on the reefs that rise from the clear blue waters.
This article was first published on www.lonelyplanet.com.