One of the main highlights of my travels last year was the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. With its phenomenal beaches, mesmerizing nature trails, stunning sunsets, and elaborate history, this place completely bowled me over. Some of the beaches in Andamans like the Radhanagar beach, have made it to various lists of the World’s best beaches. After seeing its crystal clear waters and colorful reefs, I totally endorse the same. I have been quite vocal in recommending a vacation to Andamans for I know that it will never disappoint, but delight all those who head there.
Tucked away from the Indian Mainland, in the Bay of Bengal, this archipelago of islands is still quite unexplored for a lot of reasons – the distance and the accessibility being two key ones. Away from the mainland, this place is not as developed as the bigger cities of India and personally, I feel that is where the charm lies. However, it also, means that you need to be extra-prepared if you plan to head to the Andamans. Here is my travel guide to the Andamans that promises to help you plan your trip better – right from booking your air tickets to staying there and visiting the various places on these islands.
1) Traveling to Andamans
Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a Union Territory of India, directly under the control of the Central Government of India. Port Blair is the main city of this archipelago with its own airport and port. There are two ways to get to Port Blair – by flight or by boat. There are regular boat services from Chennai, Kolkata and Vizag and it generally takes 3 -4 days to reach Port Blair. These are not luxury liners but regular passenger boats and more information on the same can be found here.
I would recommend Air Travel as it does help save a lot of time. Having said that I must warn you that there are limited flights to Port Blair and the air tickets for the same need to be booked well in advance to beat the last minute exorbitant rates. Chennai and Kolkata have the maximum flights to Port Blair. All other cities in India are connected via these two cities. There are some special flights that are added during the peak seasons – October to May. I would also, recommend keeping a price alert on these flights so that you can grab the best deal on the airfare, especially if there is a sale going on.
2) Permits and Permissions for Andamans
Being a Union territory and a tribal area, there are certain permits required for Andamans. To enter Andamans, Indians do not require any special permits but if you are a Foreign National, you need a Restricted Area Permit. This is easily available on arrival at Port Blair. Remember to visit the Immigration Authorities for your 30-day permit. Alternatively, you can also, get this permit from the Foreigner registration offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata.
Whether Indian or not, there are certain areas which are out of bounds in Andamans. Nicobar Islands largely, falls under this category. And then, there are some areas like the Baratang Island that require you to travel with special permits in a convoy. You can know more about my trip to Baratang Island and how to get here through this post.
3) Hotels in Andamans
The three main islands in Andamans which I recommend for a stay are – Port Blair, Havelock Island and Neil Island. Port Blair has plenty of options in all possible budgets for you to pick from. Being a small town, you can pick your stay anywhere here and you are likely to find the key attractions close to your hotel. I personally, picked a hotel at Delanipur Junction and found it quite convenient. Middle point is another area close to this one that I found interesting – not too crowded but had enough shops and restaurants to keep you comfortable.
Havelock and Neil Island on the other hand, have limited stay options. Given that, they are naturally more expensive than the hotels in Port Blair. Booking these hotels in advance is recommended. These are small islands and most of the accommodation is by the beaches. You can stay on any of these beaches as they are all just amazing! On my trip, I stayed on the Govindnagar beach in Wild Orchid Resort – a cute, small property with lovely wooden cottages and very comfortable beds.
4) Guide to Island-Hopping on Andamans
There is no escaping Island Hopping at this lovely archipelago. I would personally, categorize this activity into two buckets – the first being Islands that you stay on like Havelock and Neil Islands and the second being Islands that you visit during the day as they have restricted access. Here is how you can go about this –
Islands to stay
To reach Havelock and Neil Island, you need to book a ferry from Port Blair. These ferries or liners are run by Government as well as Private operators. You cannot pre-book the government ferries and you would need to head to Phoenix Jetty in Port Blair to catch these. You will need to stand in the queue earlier than the departure time to get your seat. There are limited seats available. Here is the schedule that I clicked during my visit in October.
Among the private operators, Makruzz is the most recommended. Very comfortable seating and easy to book as you can do so online through here. It is advisable to book the seats as soon as it opens as the same gets filled very fast. Typically the booking opens two weeks before your scheduled date of departure. Alternately get your hotel in Havelock or Port Blair to help you with the booking.
There are very limited timings and cruises available to these islands – typically just three a day – one early morning, one in the noon and the last one in the evening.
Islands for Day Trips
These islands are all accessible from Port Blair and you can just head to Aberdeen jetty to pick an operator and book instantly. Most hotels help you with the booking as well, so that you do not have to waste too much time. The boat operators here typically give you a package of two – three islands and you can book as per your convenience. There are group boats where you travel with other people as well as private boat hires. Ross Island, North Bay Island, Jolly Buoy etc are some names that fall under this category.
5) Conveyance on the various Islands
Port Blair has plenty of options for your internal travel – hiring a 2 wheeler, cabs and auto rickshaws. A lot of travel companies attach themselves to you from the time you arrive. For travel within Port Blair, you can just use auto rickshaws. For slightly far off places like Chidiya Tapu and Baratang Island, it is best to hire a cab.
In Havelock Islands, there are no auto rickshaws and cabs on call. You have to rely on your hotel to help you with one. Alternatively, you can do what we did. We took the number of the cabbie who we found at the jetty when we reached Havelock. Whenever we required him, we would just call him. For the rest of the time, we hired a 2 wheeler and rode around ourselves.
Neil Island is even smaller than Havelock Islands and you do not really need a vehicle to move around.
6) Local Food
There is no specialty food as such in Andamans. You get a good mix of Bengali and South Indian cuisines here. At Havelock and Port Blair, you have plenty of continental food options too. If you are a foodie, you will absolutely love the choice of shacks and restaurants at Havelock. From Chinese to continental and Indian, they sure know how to reach your heart through your stomach.
7) Staying connected while in Andamans
The one thing you should forget about when you head to Andamans is the data connection. There is very limited Wi-Fi or cellular data service available here. In some places, like the Baratang Island and Havelock Island, it is a miracle if you manage to get some mobile signals. Airtel worked the best there. Even with that, you will have to keep roaming around to get that one blip of signals. Thus, do not be surprised when you are booking hotels, you are not able to get through some of their mobile lines or if they email back to you after a day!
Frankly, I think I enjoyed the place even more without the internet. 🙂
8) Water sports at Andamans
Andamans offers you plenty of options for water sports. It is best known for scuba diving. You can even enjoy a half submarine ride or do a sea walk. Snorkeling, jet skiing, banana boat rides are available in plenty. Remember to engage with certified PADI instructors for Scuba Diving. The best options are available at Havelock. There are plenty of dive schools here, one almost every 100 m. On my last visit, the shore dives started at INR 2500 and the mid sea ones started at INR 3500.
All these activities can be arranged by your hotels or you can even do it yourself by reaching an island and engaging an operator who has a shop on it. The rates for the same are pretty standard and are displayed at the entrance of a shop. Please ensure you listen to all the instructions carefully and keep safe while engaging in these water sports.
9) Paying for various activities in Andamans
I have already mentioned the poor internet connectivity in Andamans. Hence, you might find that card machines don’t work easily in these places. Cash transactions are the most preferred, especially in Havelock. There are plenty of ATMs available. However, it is the best to carry it from the start as during my visit, I found a lot of ATMs out of cash on Havelock.
10) Things to carry for Andamans
Here is a list of essentials that you will need at Andamans –
- Cotton clothes and beach wear
- Sand slippers
- Flat shoes for your hiking excursions
- A medicine kit with essential medicines
- A wide-brim hat
- Camera with extra batteries and memory cards
- Binoculars, especially if you are keen bird watcher
11) Places to Visit in Andamans
Now this can be a long long list but here are a few that I visited and completely enjoyed
- The Cellular Jail in Port Blair – for its melancholic history and really unusual architecture. The stories within the walls can really chill you but also, interest and excite you. I also, recommend going in for their light and sound show. You can check this place out in detail through this post.
- Ross Island – an island that leaves you wanting for more. With its overgrown root structures, old dilapidated buildings, green pastures and herds of friendly deer, you will find that time is less. Check out how I became Lara Croft here.
- Chidiya Tapu – The best sunsets to be experienced here. Even if it is a cloudy day, you will not be disappointed.
- Baratang Island – You might like it or not. But I absolutely adored it – for its limestone caves, the mangrove forests and the whole experience of going in a convoy to reach the islands.
- Samundrika Museum in Port Blair – I am yet to write about this one but it is a small stop which helps you discover the cultural and bio diversity of these islands
- Anthropology Museum in Port Blair – Andamans is native to a lot of tribals and discovering their lifestyle is quite enlightening. No pictures were allowed here and hence, describing it all might be difficult. With mock tribal huts, exhibits of their food vessels, their tools and clothes and explanations of their festivities, I found time short for this museum
- Havelock Island – Havelock was my little heaven with its crystal blue water and unspoiled beaches. If there is a place that I want to retire to right now, Havelock it will be
- Neil Island – Another piece of Paradise where you can stay and engage in some water sports
- North Bay Island – This is close to Port Blair and one can engage in water sports whilst visiting
- Chatham Mills – An ancient mill with history that leads back to the World War II and the British
- Corbyn’s Cove in Port Blair – A water sports center in Port Blair. However, I recommend this only if you are not heading to Havelock Island
Sigh! Lists in Andamans are going to be never ending and time here is going to be so memorable that you will want to return over and over again. So, I hope you are already using these tips, seaching for your air tickets and booking your hotels for Andamans. Trust me, it is great to discover India’s Best Kept Secret!