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Andaman - India's Best kept Secret!

Andaman - India's Best kept Secret!

Mahima

With breathtakingly beautiful coastlines, lush forested interiors, fantastic diving
possibilities and a far-flung location, the Andaman Islands are a perfect place to ramble around or simply chill out on sun-toasted beaches.

Relax at the rhythm of waves. WOW Trip 2020

Away from the Indian mainland, this archipelago consists of 572 islands. Out of which only a dozen or so are open to tourists. The Havelock island is by far the most popular for its splendid beaches and diving. Neil Island too has its own unique charm. There’s a wonderfully unhurried pace of life here. Andaman is not as developed as the main cities of India and personally, we feel that is where the charm lies. However, it also means you need to be extra prepared if you plan to head to Andamans. Here is our travel guide to Andaman that promises to help you plan your trip better.

Contents

Best time to visit Andaman:

The best time to visit Andaman Island is considered from November to May. Considering that Andaman is a coastal paradise, a tropical island, there are only two seasons it sees - summer and monsoon. The tropical nature of the island means there’s technically no winter season here. So, when it comes to picking the right season to visit Andaman, the summer season bags the prize. Monsoons are however recommended to be avoided for Andaman because of the high tidal waves, incessant rains and strong winds.

How to Reach Andaman?

Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a Union Territory of India, directly under the control of the central government of India. Port Blair is the main city of this archipelago which has it's own airport and port. There are 2 ways by which you can get to Port Blair:

By Air: There are regular flights to Andaman. There are direct flights to Andaman from Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata.

By Water: If you are planning to travel by sea then there are three ports in India from where you can sail to Andaman:  Kolkata, Chennai and Vishakapatnam / Vizag and it generally takes 2-4 days to reach Port Blair.

We recommend air travel as it helps save a lot of time.

Permits and Permissions for Foreign Nationals to visit Andaman:

Being a union territory and tribal area, there are certain permits required for Andaman. To enter Andamans, Indians do not require any special permits. However, if you are foreign national, you need a restricted area permit. This is easily available at port Blair. Alternatively, you can also, get this permit from the Foreigner Registration Offices at Delhi, Mumba, Chennai or Kolkata.

Guide to Island Hopping in Andaman:

The stunning Andaman Islands are paradise to both nature lovers and adrenaline junkies alike. While there is so much to see and do, island hopping in Andaman is the best way to explore this enchanting region!

on our way to one of the many islands of Andaman. WOW Trip 2019

Now this activity which seams to be complex will be easier to process when we categorize the islands into two buckets - 1) The islands where you stay and 2)the islands you go to as one day tours.

Islands to Stay

Port Blair

This capital of Andaman and Nicobar Island is the largest town of the Union Territory, named after the Lieutenant Archibald Blair who established a colony here in the year 1789. Port Blair is the main city of this archipelago which has it's own airport and port. This is the starting point of your holiday in this paradise.

Top things to do in Port Blair:

  • Take a trip around the jail blocks of the Cellular Jail, also known as Kala Pani where Indian freedom fighters were once imprisoned. Take a guide along to know about the history of Kala Pani. Remember that the jail is closed on Mondays.
  • Don't miss out on the Light & Sound show at the Cellular Jail. The history of Kala Pani is brought alive by a soulful narration from the viewpoint of an old peepal tree in the complex that witnessed all the tragic events in this cellular hell. The voice of the Peepal tree is that of one of the famous Bollywood actor, Om Puri.
  • Taking a half-day museum tour is one of the most interesting things to do in Port Blair. Museums in Port Blair uncover city’s tribal history, marine life and more. From a plethora of island artifacts at Samudrika Marine Museum to lively tribal murals at Anthropological Museum and endemic marine species at the Fisheries Museum – there’s a lot to see and learn.
  • Remember to visit Chidiya Tapu which is just about 25 kms (45 min) away from Port Blair. It is widely acknowledged as the best sunset point of Andaman and is known for its beautiful driftwood formation. Chidiya Tapu literally translates to Bird's island. Different kinds of birds from all over the world flock here and are a spectacle to witness. If you are keen on birwatching , then the best time to go  here is during the morning when the birds are highly active.
  • Relax by Munda Pahar Beach that lies around 2-3 km from Chidiya Tapu.
  • Witness the flora and fauna at the man-made Mahatma Gandhi National Park at Wandoor. The coral reef is a delight and so are the variety of birds here – you can spot birds like White-Bellied Sea Eagle, herons and parakeets. The Jolly buoy island is a part of this park. You can opt for a half day tour to this islands from Wandoor Jetty.
  • If bargaining is your expertise, head to the Aberdeen Bazaar where you can pick up a number of items from the roadside stalls. Best things to pick from the Sagarika Government Emporium are pearl jewellery, home decor accessories made from shells, coconut lampshades and bangles and paper mache tribal masks

Where to eat in Port Blair? There is no dearth of restaurants in Port Blair that serve some of the most scrumptious delicacies. Some of these restaurants are Lighthouse Residency, Blue Marlin, Gagan Restaurant, Excel Restaurant, Sea Sip Bar, Icy Spicy, and Annapurna Cafeteria.

Nightlife in Port Blair: Nightlife in Port Blair is nothing less than a vibrant and lively affair. To witness the nightlife of Port Blair at its best, you can visit the following places - Peerless Beach Resort, Sinclairs Bay View at South Point, Fortune Resort Bay Island at Marine Hill, Corbyn’s Cave and Hotel Shompen at Middle Point, and Nico Bar.

Conveyance in Port Blair: For travel within Port Blair, you can hire 2 wheeler, cab or auto rickshaw. For slightly further places like Chidiya Tapu it's best to hire a cab.

Havelock or Swaraj Island

Initially named after a British General - Henry Havelock is now renamed as Swaraj Island. This island is known for it's pristine beaches and mangrove forests. An emarald paradise amidst clear blue waters, havelock does this to anybody who visits it - It enraptures them and before they know it, steals a part of their heart. They say that the main reason for anyone to come to Andamans is Havelock Islands. AND we cannot agree more!

How to reach Havelock?

Havelock Island  is well connected by inter island ferries from Port Blair and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) allowing you to reach there from either direction. These ferries are run by government as well as private operators. While Government ferries do connect these islands through the year, we recommend private ships which are much faster, cleaner and comfortable. Among the private operators, Macruzz is the most recommended - very comfortable, air conditioned seating and easy to book as you can do it online.

Top things to do in Havelock:

  • Visit Radhanagar Beach - This Beach is without a doubt the most famous beach on the Andaman Islands. It was named as the “Best beach in Asia” by Times Magazine in 2004 and since then it is flocked by a lot of visitors from India as well as the world. With its unforgettable curve of white sand, crystal waters, and lush forests, Radhanagar beach is famous for sunsets. The whole stretch of beach is sandy and shallow and is good for swimming. Changing rooms and lockers are located near the entrance of the beach.
Pinkish hues of sunsets at the Radhanagar Beach. WOW Trip 2019
  • Trek to Elephant Beach - Elephant beach is the most commercialized beach of Havelock which is full of water sports vendors who offer activities like snorkeling, banana boat ride, sea walking, jet-ski and scuba diving as well. The beach has locker facility, some fruit shops, changing rooms and toilets but are not clean enough as this is usually the most crowded place in Havelock. The beach can be reached in 2 ways; one by taking a boat and the other by trekking. If you choose to trek - a path to the beach starts from the road to Radhanagar beach which you can easily identify by the number of vehicles parked. You can also hire a guide to accompany you through the trek. You can trek to the beach in around an hour one way.  If you choose to go by taking a boat - boats ply from left of Havelock Island jetty to the elephant beach. The boats take about 20 minutes to reach Elephant beach where you have about 2-2.5 hours of time to roam around and have to return back in the same ferry.
  • Relax at the other lesser crowded beaches - Beaches are the main attraction at Havelock island. Out of the 5 main beaches in Havelock, Radhanagar & Elephant beach are popular among all the tourists and are naturally crowded. The other beaches that lie on the east coast in a single line are Govindnagar, Vijaynagar and Kalapathar Beach. These beaches are comparatively less crowded.
  • Explore the Marine Life by Scuba Diving/Snorkeling - Scuba diving & Scuba diving is the most popular activity on Havelock Island. For snorkeling and scuba diving we recommend that you do it at one of the many certified diving centers only - so professional, you're safety is their priority! We don't recommend snorkeling and scuba diving at commercial beaches like the elephant beach - more the crowd, less will be the cleanliness and visibility of water.
Scuba Diving at Havelock. WOW Trip 2019

Conveyance in Havelock: A lot of scooter and bike rentals are available on the island. The island is quite small and can be visited entirety with just two liters of fuel. This is a fun way to explore the island at your own pace and discover new viewpoints at the same time.

Where to stay at Havelock? Many budget as well as luxury hotels/ resorts are available for stay in Havelock Island. The east coast i.e. Govind Nagar and Vijay Nagar has the most number of stay options and is more developed commercially. Many small and big properties are located on this coastline. We stay at Symphony Palms Beach resort located at Govindnagar beach and would definitely recommend it as your place of stay.

Where to eat in Havelock? We would recommend 3 restaurants - Shakahaar, Something Different and much acclaimed Anju Coco. While Shakahaar was Havelock's first pure veg restaurant and continues to attract veg tourists in huge numbers, Anju coco offers all types of cuisines in a cafe lounge type of setup. The restaurant "Something Different" is definitely not to be missed when in Havelock - They provide free pick-up and drop facility from your hotel in havelock. Isn't that something different indeed?

Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep

Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is smaller and is located 16-17 kms southwest of the Havelock Island. Opened to tourists only few years ago, Neil Island, which was more popular among foreign tourists is now gaining popularity among Indian nationals as well. If you look forward to a slow, laid back vibe, want to lie on deserted beaches, meet friendly people and snorkel or dive through the incredible corals, then Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is the place you should consider going to.

How to reach Neil Island?

Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is well connected by inter island ferries from Port Blair as well as from Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) allowing you to reach there from either direction. These ferries are run by government as well as private operators. While Government ferries do connect these islands through the year, we recommend private ships which are much faster, cleaner and comfortable. Among the private operators, Macruzz is the most recommended - very comfortable, air conditioned seating and easy to book as you can do it online.

Top things to do in Neil Island:

  • For sunrise, go to Sitapur beach. You will have to climb few steps down to get on the beach.The backdrop at Sitapur beach is full of old tall trees, mangroves and limestone formations. The beach is clean, beautiful and unexplored hence unexploited. We do not recommend swimming as it’s rocky but one can dip their feet in sea and ease out listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves. This beach has no water sports.
  • For Sunset, go to the Lakshmanpur beach. Note that you will have to walk to extreme left end of the beach to see the sunset. So plan reaching the sunset point on time accordingly.
Sunset at the Lakshmanpur Beach. WOW Trip 2020
  • Visit the Natural Bridge also known as Howrah Bridge which is located at one end of Lakshmanpur beach. The initial path is through many stalls of coconut, fruits, imitation jewellery and small decorative items. After crossing that, you have to walk on sea coast through dead corals and rocks lined by extremely tall Mahua trees. This stretch can be uncomfortable and difficult for some. But we promise that the entire walk will be worth it as soon as you sight the Natural Bridge. It is indeed a nature’s marvel! We do not recommend this place for old people and infants as it is quite a rough walk. Visiting during low tide is recommended.
Walk through dead corals to reach the Natural Bridge. WOW Trip 2020
  • Go to Bharatpur beach which is well known for water activities; be it swimming or parasailing or coral watching. The water is extremely clean and clear.You could also hire glass bottom boats for viewing the corals and marine life. Other water sports activities includ Jet Ski and banana ride. The sea is full of colorful corals with schools of fishes swimming around. Changing rooms are also present here.
Interesting fact: If you notice, all the beaches in Neil Island revolve around the names of the characters from the Hindu mythology - Ramayan; There is the Sitapur beach (Sunrise point), Lakshmanpur beach (Sunset point). Bharatpur beach and Ramnagar beach. Except the Ramnagar beach which is very rocky, all other beaches are fine white sand beaches with crystal clear blue water and less rocks.

Conveyance in Neil Island: The widest part of Neil Island is just about 5-6 kms. You can actually walk the whole island if you wish to. Renting a bicycle or a two wheeler is a more convenient option. You can rent a two wheeler right outside the jetty where your ferry arrives.

Where to stay at Neil Island? Many budget as well as luxury hotels/ resorts are available for stay in Neil Island. We stay at Summer Sands Beach resort located at Ramnagar beach and would definitely recommend it as your place of stay.

Where to eat in Neil Island? Neil Island has always been the biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the Andaman Islands; so when it comes to fresh produce, plenty is available. Street food like chaats stalls in Neil Island is also easily available at beaches. When it comes to restaurants, it's only the resorts in Neil Island that have in-house restaurants.

Day trip Islands:

  • Ross Island / Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island - Ross island can be reached from Port Blair by Ferry. For the history buff, a trip to Ross Island is a must. The island was the headquarters of the British colony and today it houses beautiful ruins of the British buildings. There are multiple operators who organise full day tours to Ross - Viper - North bay island. These islands have restricted access and you are not allowed to stay overnight at these islands.
Roots and vines have completely taken over the old buildings in Ross island. WOW Trip 2019
  • Barren Island - Witness one of nature’s greatest feats at Barren island where a chartered boat will take you past South Asia’s only active volcano. The volcano has erupted only twice, once in 1991 and then in 1994-5. Barren Island comes under the restricted zone and special permits has to be taken to visit Barren Island. Ferries for the Barren Island leave three times a week from the Phoenix Bay Jetty in Port Blair. The island can also be visited with scuba-operators that are based at Havelock Island. It takes almost 4 to 5 hrs to reach the island. The entire island is barren as its name suggests with the exception of a few goats and rodents. It is a day trip, and you will not be permitted to set foot on the island.
South Asia’s only active volcano at the Barren island
  • Jolly Buoy Island - Nestled away from dirt and pollution, Jolly Buoy Island which is the part of Mahatma Gandhi National Park is one of the best places to enjoy snorkelling, Scuba diving and glass bottom boat ride in the lap of nature. In order to get to Jolly Buoy Island, you will have to travel via road to the Wandoor beach which is at a distance of approximately 30 km from Port Blair. From Wandoor beach, board a ferry to reach the Jolly Buoy Island. Reach the Wandoor Beach before time as all the ferries leave the beach for the island sharp at 09:00am. There is no ferry available after this.
WOW Pro Tip: Remember not to plan a visit to the island on Mondays as Jolly Buoy is closed on this day and there are no ferry services available to Jolly Buoy Island on Mondays.
  • Baratang Island - Only about 100 kms away from port Blair, Baratang island has mud volcanoes, limestone caves and mangrove forests. Note that you should ideally leave Port Blair early in the morning around 4-4:30 AM to reach Jarawa area check post by 6 AM. Jarawas are tribals of Andamans for whom a 50 kms stretch is reserved. A police convoy takes all vehicles from one end to another end of this reserve at 6 AM and 9 AM. This is the only way of crossing this area so you should reach this area before 6 AM. Earlier there used to be a human safari that allowed tourists to have a look at these tribal people from a distance. However, after video graphic revelations of exploitation of the tribals by tourists, the Supreme Court has banned human safaris in Andaman.
The Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands.
  • Long island - Long Island is a tiny island around six hours away from Port Blair by boat. A destination for offbeat adventure seekers, the Long Island is full of amenities giving it the title of a modern village. With its never ending extent of evergreen forests, Long Island is a must visit for nature lovers. The Island stays greatly untouched till today, and is said to have many unexplored caves and forests, which altogether make it a perfect destination for backpackers and wild explorers. Some must do things at the Island include forest camping, beach camping, trekking and exploring the local art and culture.

What should be the duration of your stay in Andaman?

Ideally 8 days are sufficient as for a Holiday in Andaman Islands. In about 8 days you can explore the Top Places:

  • You can be at Port Blair for 3 days, in which you can spend 1 day exploring the local Port Blair . On the 2nd and 3rd day, you can opt for a full day island trip for Ross - Viper - North bay island /  half day trip of Jolly buoy island / full day trip to Baratang island. If you wish to cover all of these, then you would require around 4 full days in Port Blair.
  • The major tourist attraction in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the exotic beaches of Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep). On the 4th day, reach Havelock and spend a  minimum of 3 days at Havelock.
  • Thereafter, on the 7th day, reach Neil island. Minimum of one day is required to explore Neil island . On the 8th day head back to Port Blair and catch your flight back home

If that's a lot of things to coordinate, then sit back and join us on our WOW Trip to Andaman.

Happy Wanderers from the Andaman trip in 2019.

Travel Tips for Andaman:

  • The one thing you should forget when you head to Andaman, is the connection. There is very little Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity here. However, Airtel and BSNL work best here - by best we mean, hardly one blip of signal.
  • Given the poor internet connectivity here, you will find that the card machines don't work easily. Cash transactions are the most preferred. There are a few ATMs available. However, it  is recommended that you carry enough cash from the start of your trip.
  • Don't forget to pack these essentials for your trip - Sunscreen, sunglasses, wide brim hat, cotton clothes and beach wear, sand slippers, sturdy pair of shoes for your hiking excursions and a medical kit with all your essential medicines.
  • When you have to board an inter island ferry make sure you are there at the jetty at least 1 hour prior to the departure time because you will have to stand in a queue to get your seats allotted for the booking that you have done in advance. These seats are always allotted on first-come-first-serve basis. So to get that window seat, make sure your well in time.
  • Most of the people have migrated here from West Bengal or Bangladesh when Hindus had to leave due to partition. Hence Bengali is one of the main languages spoken here. People are extremely helpful and kind. Most people also understand English and Hindi as well, hence communication will not be a problem.
  • The weather in Andaman is hot and humid. Have as much coconut water as possible in Andamans. It will keep you hydrated.
  • Andaman is turning into a plastic free zone. Finding portable plastic mineral water bottles is almost impossible (Only water bottles available are of 2 liter). Best to carry your own water bottle which you can re-fill and re-use

Hope this article on how to plan your getaway to Andaman helps. Happy island Hopping :)