The long emerald necklace of the Andaman Islands – an archipelago lying over a thousand kilometres out in the Bay of Bengal – is unlike anywhere else in India. Here you’ll find some of India’s most stunning beaches, invariably fringed by thick forest, and the only substantial coral reefs in the country. Today, the Andaman Islands still receive relatively few visitors and this stunning archipelago is a highlight on any itinerary.
Upon arrival by either means, the requisite free special permit is granted, which delineates the areas and islands you are allowed to visit. The first thing you are liable to notice is a much fresher, greener aroma instead of the unmistakable smell associated with urban India.
The town is a bit of an anomaly, however, with a mishmash of concrete and corrugated iron buildings draped over verdant hills that dip down to the surrounding water. It says a lot about Port Blair that its main tourist attraction is the Cellular Jail, a sombre reminder of its punitive past.
A boat tour of the small islets in the bay, namely Viper and Ross, is also worthwhile, or perhaps a trip further afield in South Andaman to the Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park at Wandoor, but most people head for more rewarding destinations after a night or two.
It has grown exponentially in twenty years from a complete backwater with a smattering of backpacker beach huts to a fairly busy place that is home to over sixty accommodations, several of them top-notch resorts. These mainly service the growing number of wealthy Indian vacationers and honeymooners from the mainland.
Although some would say Havelock is on the verge of becoming spoilt, it remains the only island to offer a wide range of accommodation and eating options – try the Red Snapper restaurant at Wild Orchid – plus it has the majority of diving operations.
It also boasts the splendid arc of Radhnagar (aka #7), backed by towering mowhar trees and still home to Rajan, the legendary but now retired swimming elephant, who can be visited at Barefoot Resort. Havelock’s diminutive neighbour, Neil, has started to take some of the overspill from its big sister and is preferred by many for a longer stay.
Although the main settlements along the road are rather forlorn, ugly places, they are the access points for more splendid and much quieter beaches, most noticeably Kalipur in the far north, which can also be reached by taking a boat to Arial Bay. Ferries also stop at Rangat Bay and Mayabunder, home to many Karen people. From the latter, you can arrange a visit to the pristine Interview Island, a wonderful nature sanctuary.
There are now around half a dozen small guesthouses and extremely laidback, inexpensive beach hut operations strung along the coast between Hut Bay and Netaji Nagar, behind a magnificent 8km strand. You can also admire the tranquil White Surf Waterfalls, whose name gives away the fact that Little Andaman boasts excellent surfing conditions.
The latter, an idyllic deserted island, boasts an immaculate shell-sand beach ringed by a bank of superb coral. The catch is that the boat only stops for around an hour, which isn’t nearly enough time to explore the shore and reef. While snorkelling off the edges of the reef, beware of strong currents.
Mayabunder is the jumping-off place for Interview Island, a windswept nature sanctuary off the remote northwest coast of Middle Andaman – if you’ve come to the Andaman islands to watch wildlife, it should be top of your list. Large and mainly flat, it is completely uninhabited save for a handful of unfortunate forest wardens, coastguards and policemen posted here to ward off poachers.
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