South Andaman is the most heavily populated of the Andaman Islands – particularly around the capital, Port Blair – thanks in part to the drastic thinning of tree cover to make way for settlement. Foreign tourists can only visit its southern and east-central reaches – including the beaches at Corbyn’s Cove and Chiriya Tapu, the fine reefs on the western shores at Wandoor, 35km southwest of Port Blair, and the environs of Madhuban and Mount Harriet, on the east coast across the bay from the capital. With your own transport it’s easy to find your way along the narrow bumpy roads that connect small villages, weaving through forests and coconut fields, and skirting the swamps and rocky outcrops that form the coastline.
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An odd combination of refreshingly scenic hills and characterless tin-roofed buildings tumbling towards the sea in the north, east and west, and petering out into fields and forests in the south, PORT BLAIR merits only a short stay. There’s little to see here – just the Cellular Jail and a few small museums – but as it’s the point of arrival for the islands and the place with the most facilities, you may well find yourself staying longer than you’d ideally want to. The hub of the town’s activities and facilities is the cluster of streets known as Aberdeen Bazaar. Generally, street names are in short supply all over town, and are rarely used.
Much the most popular excursion from Port Blair is to WANDOOR, 30km southwest. The long white beach here is littered with the dry, twisted trunks of trees torn up and flung down by annual cyclones. It’s fringed not with palms but with dense forest teeming with birdlife. You should only snorkel here at high tide, as the coral is easily damaged when the waters are shallow.
Cinque, two hours south of Chiriya Tapu, actually comprises two islets, joined by a spectacular sand isthmus with shallow water either side that covers it completely at high tide. The main incentive to come here is the superb diving and snorkelling around the reefs. However, heaps of dead coral on the beach attest to damage wreaked by the Indian navy during the construction of the swish “cottages” overlooking the beach. Rumour has it that these were built for the visit of a Thai VIP in 1996, but local government officials now use them as bolt holes from Port Blair.