About 1370 kilometre east of mainland India, the archipelago that is Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal with Myanmar to the east and north, is an idyllic landscape of translucent waters, sun-dappled, white beaches, mangrove wilderness and coconut groves offering a cool shade to your hammock as it sways gently in the wind.
A part of the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Andaman Islands are settled by Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Myanmarese and Nicobarese folk, though they are primarily home to the indigenous Jarawa and Sentinelese tribes. Of the 572 islands including the Myanmar-controlled Coco Islands in the north, only a few can be accessed by tourists, the remaining are out of bounds to protect the right to privacy of the Sentinelese who are to this day wary of contact with the outside world.
For its turquoise waters, sugary sands and sun-drenched beaches, Havelock is a magnet for ardent divers and leisure seekers. Port Blair’s perfect setting and history, home to the Cellular Jail outside of the very British Ross and Viper Islands, will be the perfect starting point for your sojourn into the Andaman Islands.
An Andaman tour is incomplete if it doesn’t include the below places.
Before you begin to shortlist the places to visit in Andaman, you need to thoroughly round up its capital city to get a sense of the land’s cultural heritage and its grim history.
Discover Port Blair’s wealth of museums, the Japanese bunkers from World War II, the highest peak on the island, its exotic marine life, a Marine Park, and water sports opportunities.
Explore the history : A gateway into the Andaman Islands, a short stay in Port Blair will acquaint you with the island’s colonial history among other things. Begin at the infamous Cellular Jail National Memorial, an erstwhile British prison which held political prisoners, which is today a shrine embodying the sacrifice of the freedom fighters who shared books, exchanged ideas and debated each other within the dark walls of the Kaala Pani.
Port Blair’s Anthropological Museum should be your next stop if you wish to get a perspective on the indigenous tribes that made the island home. The Jarawa chest guard including some Sentinelese relics will be of particular interest.
Take in a breathtaking sunset : Port Blair’s primary beach, the slightly busy, Corbyn Cove Beach is perfect to embrace a sky painted in all kinds of reds and oranges at sundown. The Munda Pahad Beach on Chidiya Tapu is less-crowded making it a better place to enjoy the sunset.
Glass bottom boat rides : Semi-submarine and glass bottom boat rides have picked up in the past decade where you can see the marine life of the island as you cruise the translucent waters.
Shop for souvenirs : In the Andaman Islands, there is no other place than Port Blair to pick up some unique bric-a-brac from the pretty little shops lining the main road in most areas. Sift through their collection of bamboo trinkets, seashell jewellery and a whole range of wall hangings and table decorations.
The state-owned handicraft outlet, Sagarika, is where you can get everything under a roof.
Tuck into deep sea delights : While seafood is a part of the everyday diet, there are a few restaurants in Port Blair that do a nifty job of them. New Lighthouse Restaurant, for instance, has a lively open-air setting and is known for its lobster, crab and snapper dishes. From grilled starters to more textured mains, you are sure to satiate your craving for fresh seafood here.
For a tandoori take on the fresh catch of the day, no better place than Lighthouse Residency offering a hearty seafood fare without burning a hole in your pocket.
Havelock is a 90 to 120-minute ferry ride from Port Blair’s Haddo wharf and is a major part of all Andaman holiday packages. Book your tickets online with a private operator to cover the 57-odd kilometres to an island which is largely virgin considering the rate at which brick and mortar hotels are replacing the quaint beach huts made of bamboo.
Most travellers don’t venture any beyond the heavily forested Havelock (Swaraj Deep), a beach paradise known for offering South Asia’s best diving experience. If nothing else you will be enticed by the aquamarine shallows to go in for a swim.
Radhanagar Beach : Among things to do in Andaman and the top sights of Havelock Island is the Radhanagar Beach, a powdery-white stretch of sand receiving cobalt blue swells through the day.
The beach is about 11 kilometre southwest of the main Havelock jetty, and you could do better by visiting very early in the day to beat the crowds. Predictably, sunsets here are remarkable as they dye the sky and subsequently the waters and the sands in all manner of purple and orange.
Elephant Beach : The whitewashed sands of Elephant Beach are somewhat remote and disappear in the rains and high tide. A trudge of about 2 kilometre (40 minutes) down a cross-island road will bring you to Havelock’s northwestern coastline which gets busy with tourists for the variety of services it hawks from banana boat rides, snorkelling trip aboard a snorkelling charter, jet skis, to sea walks – a first in the country.
Start as early as you can to enjoy some solitude here before the whole circus begins.
Neil’s Cove : A quick 10-minute walk from the Radhanagar Beach brings you to the sheltered sand and azure waters of Neil’s Cove. The sea is perfect here for snorkelling and the presence of several fresh water streams make it ideal for swimming too. However, you are prohibited from swimming here around sunrise and sunset.
But one must also be careful about snorkelling in the cove since it is frequented by saltwater crocodiles. The authorities issue alert in case of a sighting.
Kalapathar Beach : Giant black boulders symbolise the Kalapathar Beach which is a slender strip of sun-toasted, caramel sands fronting a very blue sea. This is an extension of Beach 5 and is located on one end of Havelock Island. To steer clear of the crowds, stroll further towards the south and you can have the entire place to yourself.
The waters are placid and good for a refreshing dip on a balmy day. The waters contain small patches of corals which are an important part of this fragile ecosystem; so take extra care when you go swimming in them. On the shore there are a few sundecks and beach umbrellas for those planning to catch a tan; else you can sit around in the little picnic area under the shade of Casuarina trees and sip on fresh coconut nectar or mango juice.
The sunrise over Kalapathar is the most rewarding, and naturally bring in troops of photo enthusiasts.
Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep might not be as luxuriant as its northern neighbour, but it is as unhurried and idyllic with its own unique natural setting. A land of dense coconut groves, paddy fields and fruit orchards with a bazaar at its heart called Neil Kendra, you will experience the languid pace of island life here.
Boats arrive into its jetty just 500 metre north of Neil Kendra all the way from Port Blair and Havelock. From the former’s Phoenix Bay Jetty it is a two-hour ride to Neil Island, where as from Havelock to Neil the journey time is cut down by half. If you are keen on exploring the island, its residential neighbourhood, the waterfront – its Beach 4 in particular, the local market, rent out a bicycle for the day and begin soon after sunrise when daily life is yet to pick up steam and you have ample time to soak up the atmospherics.
If you are adventurous enough to head out to North Andaman to its sparsely populated Diglipur area, you will experience vast, unspoilt stretches of the outdoor and little else between you and this glorious natural environment. A famed turtle-nesting site, it is also home to the Union Territory’s highest peak, the Saddle Peak at 731 metre, considered the mythical home of Paluga, an all-powerful local deity.
The presence of the Saddle Peak National Park, an intricate chain of limestone caves, pristine white beaches, not to mention offering delightful snorkelling opportunities, Diglipur and surrounds will be quite a discovery. Instead of hanging around for too long in this market town, you could drive eastward about 17 kilometre to Kalipur, a coastal village stuck in time.
A bridge connecting it to the Middle and North Andaman mark the beginnings of commercial activity in this northern region.
Ross and Smith Islands : Head to the Aerial Bay Jetty, a 30-minute bus ride from Diglipur, to board your boat for the twin islands of Ross and Smith. It is a breezy 20 minutes before you dock into the jetty of Ross and Smith, a pair of islands separated by a sand bar. Easily among Andaman’s most unspoilt spots, you have the luxury of relaxing on the beach and catching some sun for as long as you like, or if you prefer you can swim and snorkel in a vividly turquoise sea.
Be rest assured, you can have the place to yourself because it is still off the beaten track for an average traveller to the Andaman. Keep at least four hours at hand to make the best of Ross and Smith before heading back to Diglipur for the night.
If you have had your fill of Havelock and Neil Islands and are looking for somewhere else to go in Andaman, Little Andaman, about 130 kilometre to the south of Port Blair, is a lovely bet. You will be greeted by intense mangrove wilderness, cerulean seas and beaches as white as alabaster.
The rings of teal offer incredible surf making it a favourite of many seasoned travellers. Butler Bay will be the high-point of your Little Andaman visit where a luxurious sweep of creamy white sand frame emerald-green swells that are a surfer’s delight. After the havoc wreaked by the Tsunami of 2004, much of Little Andaman was ravaged.
Only in the recent years has the rebuilding started, though most of it continues to be out of bounds for visitors including the 25-odd square kilometre of the Onge tribal reserve. Amble around the small settlement, look up the Indira Bazaar just a couple of kilometres off the Hut Bay Jetty and take in the picturesque setting.
About 10 kilometre south of Rangat in Middle Andaman, this affable island community is non-motorable aside from the odd motorbike that might cross your path. The quaint wooden houses, a remnant from the island’s logging history, are a reminder of a time gone by.
If you thought life was slow in Andaman, wait until you get to this rustic little island with its share of silken-blonde sands, crystalline waters and a wide open sky. Meet the locals, walk about and soak up the calm of a place tourists at large are yet to find their way into. There are government ferries on alternate days from Havelock Island for Long Island; from Port Blair too there are private chartered boats for Long Island.
A birders haven, you can include a visit to the Guitar Island, Lalaji Bay Beach, Merk Bay Beach, that are still some of the island’s unexplored secrets.
There are three predominant seasons in Andaman; the summer, winter and monsoon, and each governed by the presence of the Bay of Bengal giving it an overall tropical climate. Monsoons between July and September should be avoided like plague owing to the tropical storms, high tides and incessant rains.
October to March, the winter season, experiences a mild lowering of temperature averaging between 20 and 30 degree Celsius, making it the best time to visit the island. The summer months between April and June are also reasonably good to visit Andamans, whether it is Port Blair, Ross and Smith Islands from Diglipur, Havelock Island, Neil Island or Little Andaman.
The lowest summer temperature is a pleasant 24 degree Celsius with cool breeze always wafting from the sea, but it can peak to a 37 degree Celsius, so avoid the noon time for exploration.
How to reach Andaman?
You can either arrive into Andaman by air or sea.
Flights to Andaman : Chennai and Kolkata are the only two destinations that operate direct flights to Portblair Some of the airlines covering the route include SpiceJet, Air India, GoAir, with a flight duration of about 2.5 hours.
From Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi there are hopping flights with a stopover in Kolkata. All flights land at Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar International Airport which is about a couple of kilometres to the south of the city. Not to mention, the airport is a naval air base.
Ships to Andaman : There are government-run vessels from Kolkata, Chennai and Vizag that take approximately three days to dock at Port Blair. The ones from Kolkata can take a tad longer. You can buy the tickets from your respective city’s shipping service. Be mindful of the fact that these are proper ships operated by the government and not fancy cruises, and if you are prone to sea sickness you should avoid taking this route.
You can look up the timings on the government’s Andaman ship schedule website. These journeys are flagged off from once to twice a week and comes with a booking window that opens a fortnight prior to departure. Do bring a hard copy of your ticket aboard the vessel. But if you have less time at hand, choose to fly.
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