What are the Andaman Islands?
In short: an Indian paradise.
The Andamans are a cluster of 572 islands that sit between India, Thailand and Myanmar. They marry together a sleepy island vibe, with Indian panache, delicious seafood and exceptional birdlife.
All flights touch down on Port Blair, which is the Andamans' capital. From there you can island hop via one of the regular local boats to nearby Havelock (the most famous), Neil and Long Island.
Regular buses also run to North and Middle Andaman, although there are parts of the Andamans that are off limits to tourists. North Sentinel Island for example is home to one of the world's few remaining isolated and protected indigenous tribes.
The Andaman Islands © Tim McDonald
Where are the best diving spots?
Havelock and Neil are the most popular and rewarding places to dive, with hard and soft coral, smaller 'macro' marine life as well as manta rays and sharks.
On Havelock there are 25 dive sites alone, according to Barefoot Scuba divemaster Steve Barreto, whose centre is based on the island.
He says Havelock has dedicated macro diving sites, where you see nudibranchs, shrimps, juvenile and devil scorpion fish, as well as wart slugs or leaf fish. "I love macro. To look for things underwater is a challenge; to find things that are so tiny and camouflaged underwater. The smaller the better and the more thrill to having found it," he says.
"There are also dive sites that have white tip reef sharks and giant moray eels, as well as wrecks. You're spoilt for choice."
Steve's been diving for more than 10 years and says the variety of sites is what attracts divers of various levels and experience.
Coral formation in the Andamans © Nicolas Billington / Shutterstock
The Andamans' top dive centres
Andaman Bubbles, Barefoot Scuba, Dive India and Ocean Tribe are the most respected dive companies in the Andamans. They are all based on Havelock Island, with Barefoot Scuba and Dive India being the larger outfits.
Ocean Tribe is probably the smallest of them all. It's run by a trio of Karen tribe brothers called Dickson, Jackson and Johnny, who are local diving legends – they even have three dive sites named after them.
If you opt for a different company, make sure that they are Professional Association of Diving Instructors and that they adhere to Scuba Schools International general standards.
Divers with equipment © Tim McDonald
When's the best time to go?
Like many tropical places, it rains intermittently throughout the year in the Andamans, but you're still able to dive.
For Steve, the best time for diving is between February to May. Temperatures are a little cooler at this time, ranging from 20º to 33º Celsius and the waters are calmer – ideal for newbie divers.
Monsoon season is between July to September but that shouldn't put you off: it'll be cheaper and less busy. Ocean Tribe say this time of the year can provide interesting diving conditions for more experienced divers.