Some 850 miles off the east coast of India lies a remote and tropical archipelago coated in natural beauty. Its mangrove-lined shores and untouched coral reefs teem with marine life that promises divers of all abilities unique underwater experiences.

It is this (and so much more) that places the Andaman and Nicobar Islands among the world's top diving destinations and why a number of specialist diving centres are dotted around the islands' beaches, offering a range of packages and tours. But with so much to choose from, what exactly do you need to know? Here's a breakdown of diving in the Andaman Islands.

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.

Andaman IslandsThe 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.

Andamans scuba divingCoral 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 Andaman IslandsDivers 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.

Do I need a qualification to dive?

Not necessarily. Some of the dive centres like Ocean Tribe do programmes for people who can't swim and who aren't certified so there are options for everyone.

That said, if you're looking to see the good stuff you'll need to get PADI or SSI certified, which all of these centres provide on courses ranging from 4–14 days.

They all have 'fun dive' packages for certified and experienced divers.

Scuba gear AndamansDiving equipment at Ocean Tribe © Tim McDonald

How much does it cost and what does it include?

A basic (non-certified) introduction dive with Ocean Tribe costs ₹4,000 (£45/US$59).

PADI and SSI courses range depending on the centre, the length of your stay and the size of your group (the bigger the cheaper).

The cheapest starts at around ₹16,500 (£183/US$240) for about 4 days with Ocean Tribe, to upwards of £800/US$1,051 with Dive India for a 14-day long-term dive package.

If you already have a PADI or SSI certification, these centres also do fun dives on Havelock and Neil, which range in price from around ₹4,500 (£50/US$65) to ₹32,500 (£360/US$473), depending on the centre and the length of the dive.

All of these centres include accommodation, which range from basic beach huts to luxe stays.

Top image: Havelock Island, the Andamans © Marcos del Mazo Valentin / Shutterstock

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