Andaman Islands, India
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India’s most remote state, the Andaman Islands are situated more than 1000km off the east coast in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. Thickly covered by deep green tropical forest, the archipelago supports a profusion of wildlife, including some extremely rare species of bird, but the principal attraction for tourists lies in the beaches and the pristine reefs that ring most of the islands. Filled with colourful fish and kaleidoscopic corals, the crystal-clear waters of the Andaman Sea feature some of the world’s richest and least spoilt marine reserves – perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Approximately two hundred islands make up the Andaman group and nineteen the Nicobar (for administrative purposes, the Andamans are grouped with the Nicobar Islands, 200 km further south).
All but the most remote are populated in parts by indigenous tribes whose numbers have been slashed dramatically as a result of nineteenth-century European settlement and, more recently, rampant deforestation, now banned – at least in theory.
Tourism has gradually been replacing tree-felling as the main source of revenue for the Andamans.
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.
The outlying islands are the richest in natural beauty, with the beaches of Smith and the coral around Cinque of particular note. However, such spots are not always easy to reach.
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As a tropical paradise in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Islands are known for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush forests, but they offers something for every type of traveler. These are the best things to do.
The most popular excursion from Port Blair is to Wandoor. 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. Throw in the islets of the Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park and it's a good appetizer for more remote parts.
For the best diving and partying, head for Havelock, still relaxed and convivial despite being the most developed of the Andamans. As the largest island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, and the most intensively cultivated, Havelock was settled – like many in the region – by Bengali refugees after Partition.
Thanks to its regular ferry connections with the capital, it is also visited in far greater numbers than anywhere else in the Andamans.
In peak season, several thousand tourists can be holed up here at one time, with hordes of well-heeled Indians now greatly outnumbering the traditional foreign backpacker crowd. This has led to an explosion in upmarket accommodation and mostly Kashmiri-owned tourist shops.
The seas around the Andaman Islands are some of the world’s most unspoiled. Marine life is abundant, with an estimated 750 species of fish existing on one reef alone, and parrot, trigger and angel fish living alongside manta rays, reef sharks and loggerhead turtles. Many species of fish and coral are unique to the area, and fascinating ecosystems exist in ash beds and cooled lava based around the volcanic Barren Island.
For a quick taste of marine life, you could start by snorkelling; most hotels can supply masks and snorkels, though some equipment is in dire need of replacement. The only way to get really close, and venture out into deeper waters, is to scuba dive.
The main centre for diving has always been Havelock, although the number of accessible sites has been severely reduced. There are also operators on Neil, Long and South Andaman.
This is the place to head to get an idea of what Havelock was like two decades ago and a chance to unwind in a friendly, laidback village. Just off the southeast coast of Middle Andaman, Long Island is attracting a growing number of travellers, with a couple of excellent beaches in Marg Bay and Lalaji Bay.
Both of these are most easily approached by chartering a fisherman’s dinghy from the jetty, if you can find one, although Lalaji can be reached on foot by following the red arrows across the island and then turning left along the coast.
Shrouded in dense jungle, North Andaman is the least populated of the region’s large islands, crossed by a single road linking its scattered Bengali settlements.
Although parts have been seriously logged, the total absence of driveable roads into northern and western areas has ensured blanket protection for a vast stretch of convoluted coastline, running from Austin Strait in the southwest to the northern tip, Cape Price.
Head to Kalipur, where there’s an excellent deserted beach, backed by lush forest and covered in photogenic driftwood. Swimming is best at high tide because the water recedes across rocky mud pools. Offshore snorkelling is also excellent, especially along the reef that runs towards the islet barely 500m away.
It’s possible to walk from Kalipur to Saddle Peak, the highest mountain in the Andamans at 737m, which rises dramatically to the south, swathed in lush jungle. A permit to make the three- to four-hour climb must be obtained from the Range Officer at the forest checkpost near the start of the ascent, but don’t attempt it without a guide and plenty of drinking water.
Little Andaman is the furthest point south in the archipelago where foreigners can travel on their tourist permit. Most of the island has been set aside as a tribal reserve for the Onge and is thus off-limits.
Relatively few visitors make it down here, although a slight improvement in tourist infrastructure renders it increasingly worthwhile for those who do. The main settlement, Indira Bazaar, is 2km north of the jetty at Hut Bay, which curves gradually round in a majestic 8km sweep, the quality of the sand and beauty of the adjacent jungle increasing the further north you go.
The top stretch is named Netaji Nagar after the village on the island’s only road, which runs behind it.
En route to Netaji Nagar, you can detour 1km inland at the huge signpost about 2.5km north of Indira Bazaar to see the White Surf Waterfalls. Made up of three 10- to 15m-high cascades, it’s a relaxing spot; you can clamber into the right-hand fall for a soothing shower – yet crocodiles are said to inhabit the surrounding streams.
Despite there being hundreds of atolls making up the Andaman Islands, the archipelago is still a little off the beaten track and the accommodation here reflects that. From upmarket resorts and dive hotels to simple beach huts, there are plenty of accommodations to suit every budget. Here's where to stay.
Port Blair boasts numerous places to stay in most budget ranges. The abundance of options means availability is only an issue around Christmas and New Year when prices are also hiked; they drop during the monsoon season.
With the only fully developed tourist scene in the Andamans, Havelock now has over a hundred accommodation establishments to choose from, although the number of basic beach huts has dwindled in favour of luxuriously- furnished cottages to satisfy the domestic tourists.
Prices can rise by 50 percent from mid-December to mid-January, and drop considerably between May and October.
Tiny, triangular-shaped Neil is the most southerly inhabited island of Ritchie’s Archipelago, barely two hours northeast of Port Blair on a fast ferry. It is far less developed with little more than ten accommodation options, some visitors prefer it to its busier neighbour for more extended stays.
Just off the southeast coast of Middle Andaman, Long Island is attracting a growing number of travellers. The main settlement by the jetty has the island’s only facilities, which amount to a handful of shops, a couple of basic dhabas, and the only two places to stay.
The furthest point south in the archipelago that foreigners can travel to on their tourist permit, there is only limited accommodations here. Not all operate outside the high season.
The best places to stay on the Andaman Islands include:
Whilst nowhere sets the culinary world alight in the Andaman Islands, the bigger settlements and atolls – like port Blair and Havelock – have the most choice. Expect everything from the ubiquitous Indian food to Chinese meals, seafood, and the odd Western option. Plenty of restaurants are outside and many have sea views. Few, however, also serve beer. Here are the best areas to eat.
Without doubt, the best place to eat in the Andaman Islands, Havelock has several decent cafes and restaurants offering a wide range of cuisine, including some freshly-caught seafood, so be sure to leave your accommodation. The main road that curls along the northeast coast has the most places to eat
As the capital of the Andaman Islands, Port Blair is one of the best places to eat. Some of the best restaurants are within hotels, but there are also plenty of restaurants and cafes worth popping into.
Best restaurants on the Andaman Islands:
Port Blair is the departure point for all flights and ferry crossings to the Indian mainland; it is also the hub of the Andamans’ inter-island bus and ferry network.
Booking tickets for boats (especially back to Chennai, Kolkata or Visakhapatnam) can be time-consuming, and many travellers are obliged to come back here well before their permit expires to make reservations before heading off. Here’s how to get to the Andaman Islands.
The smart terminal at Veer Savarkar airport is less than 4km south of town at Lamba Line. Port Blair is currently served by flights from Chennai (5–6 daily), Delhi (4 weekly), Kolkata (6 daily), Mumbai (1 daily) and Visakhapatnam (5 weekly).
Flights at peak times like Diwali, Christmas and New Year through to February can be heavily subscribed, so book early.
There is an inexpensive helicopter service connecting Port Blair with Havelock, Diglipur and Little Andaman but tourists can only book tickets one day in advance and seats are often taken up by officials.
Port Blair has two main jetties: boats from the mainland moor at Haddo Jetty, nearly 2km northwest of Phoenix Jetty, arrival point for inter-island ferries.
Services to and from Chennai can be relied upon to leave in each direction once every week to ten days, while those to and from Kolkata sail roughly every two weeks.
Boats to and from Visakhapatnam are altogether more erratic, averaging once a month in each direction.
Although much cheaper than flying, sea crossings are long (3–5 days), uncomfortable and often delayed by bad conditions.
Buses connect Port Blair with most of the major settlements on Middle and North Andaman via the Andaman Trunk Road.
From the bus stand in the centre of town, there are government services to Rangat (3 daily), Mayabunder (2 daily) and Diglipur (2 daily).
The Andaman Islands are a paradise worth exploring for at least 7 days, but spending 10 days or more would allow you to fully experience its hidden gems.
Start your journey in Port Blair, where you can visit the Cellular Jail National Memorial, a haunting reminder of India's struggle for independence, and witness the Sound and Light Show which gives an insight into the history of the islands.
On days two and three, head to Havelock Island, where you can snorkel, dive, kayak, and stroll along the shores of Radhanagar Beach and Elephant Beach.
Venture to Neil for two day. This tranquil paradise has idyllic beaches and stunning coral formations. Round off your trip by visiting Baratang Island – otherwise known as Parrot Island – to explore the unique limestone caves, before seeing thousands of parrots return back home at sunset.
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Getting around the Andaman Islands can be an adventure in itself. While interisland sea planes are currently not operating, visitors most islands can be reached by water. Hiring a car with a driver is also possible – and on some islands the only option as foreigners are prohibited from driving on them.
Most of the islands open to foreign tourists are accessible by government-run boats. Check the local jetty on for details of inter-island services.
On some of the bigger islands, there are taxis and auto-rickshaws. All have meters but negotiating the price before leaving is the usual practice.
Local buses frequently run across the islands. They can be useful for day-trips and getting to jettys. Buses usually stop running by 6pm.
It’s pleasant to rent a motorbike or scooter on the islands but there are few outlets on smaller atolls.
You can rent a bicycle at lots of island guesthouses, though they are in very short supply.
The Andaman Islands enjoy a consistently warm climate, rarely departing from the parameters of 22–32°C all year round, even at night, while humidity never drops below seventy percent.
There is a lot of rain from May to September and they also catch the northeast monsoon in the autumn, with occasionally violent cyclones prone to hit during either period, so the ideal months to visit from a climatic perspective are December to April.
Increased tourism, however, means that Diwali and the Christmas/New Year periods are busy, with prices at their peak. Not all accommodation in the more remote parts such as Little Andaman opens outside peak season.
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