India- Andaman Island Capital-Port Blair

Andaman and Nicobar [1] are a large group of nearly 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal. Though they are a part of India politically, they are closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to the Indian mainland. They are grouped here with Southern India. They were just north of the epicentre of the Boxing Day quake of 2004 and were the site of dozens of aftershocks. The Nicobars were badly hit by the resulting tsunami, while the Andamans escaped with a few bruises. With the exception of Little Andaman Island and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, the rest of the tourist destinations are operating normally again.

  • Port Blair – the laid-back capital of the Andamans and the sole entry/exit point. Spend a day or two here walking around and enjoying fresh seafood and seeing a couple of the nearby sites.

Other destinations

Turtle Nesting sites in Dec-Feb

  • Havelock Island, the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still minimal) infrastructure. Beautiful beaches, great snorkelling and scuba diving.
  • Rutland Island is a pristine, non-polluted and least visited island. Beautiful Mangrove forest and coral reefs welcome you to the 274 sq.km islands. There is also a 45-acre Totani Resort which has quaint little huts which can be used as a base camp for exploring the island. It is the ideal place for eco-tourists.

Totani Resort

  • Neil Island, quieter than Havelock with nice beaches and decent snorkelling.
  • Wandoor, a relaxed destination in its own right, but known more as the gateway to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. There is a newly set up luxury resort called Sea Princess Beach Resort. Easily reached, and near the Wandoor jetty is Anugama Resort, the newest property there. This location is far from the main city.
  • Baratang Island, Mud volcano, limestone caves, and Mangrove creeks are a good attraction for people looking forward to getting a different experience in Andaman. Total journey is long and you need to start the trip as early as 4 AM. Road condition is not very good. The boat charge from Baratang to limestone cave is 1000/- per passenger. Vehicle cost will be anywhere from 5000 – 6000 Rupees.
  • Barren Island, an island with the only volcano in all of India. Private Boats are available to visit Barren Island, however, the cost of the trip will increase. You are not allowed to stay at Barren Island as per government regulation.
  • Long Island, great if you’re looking for Robinson Crusoe style camping. You can bring all of your own gear and food but there is a new establishment called Blue Planet with decent huts and foods. This is the only resort on the island as of January 2015.
  • Little Andaman, once popular for surfing, it was devastated in the 2004 tsunami. Ask around in Port Blair to find out the current situation.
  • Jolly Buoy Island, a small island, is a part of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It is undoubtedly the best place for snorkelling with its extremely clear waters and a rich and diverse marine life. Unfortunately, snorkelling is currently banned (January 2020) so you can either pay for a glass-bottom boat tour (an extra Rs. 300-1000 depending on how long you go for) or swim in the small sectioned off area. It has a small beach with thatched huts and the location is quite scenic. To reach here, one has to first go to Wandoor and then take a jetty from there. Taxi costs Rs. 1800 for a private car that will take you to the jetty and return you back to Port Blair. Prior to going, one has to get the permission from the forest department office at Port Blair, the charge is Rs 100/- per head for locals and Rs 1000/- for foreigners. Boat charge is 850/- per head. Jolly Buoy is open from November to May.

1400 km from mainland India and 1000 km from Thailand, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are one of the most remote spots on the planet. The original inhabitants are various aboriginal tribes who exist more-or-less out of the mainstream. There are some tribes who have had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the world. Of nearly 600 islands, only 9 are open to foreign tourists, and all of these are in the Andamans.

The islands exist in India’s popular consciousness mainly because they were used as a penal colony by the British rulers to imprison rebels and freedom fighters, in addition to hardened criminals. Most of the inhabitants of these islands are in fact migrants from the mainland, some of them descended from the prisoners.

During World War II, the Andamans were the only part of India briefly occupied by the Japanese. While notionally handed over to Subhash Chandra Bose’s Free India, in practice the Japanese held the reins of power. The territory was run brutally — suspected resistance members were tortured and executed, and when food started to run out towards the end of the war, people were deported to uninhabited islands to fend for themselves as best they could.

Mid-January until mid-May sees the best weather, and often the best diving conditions. The days are mostly sunny at this time of year, and the sea sometimes flat enough to reflect the clouds. The monsoon usually hits around late May, lasting until the end of July, and is probably the worst time to visit the islands – strong winds, frequent rain and low visibility underwater. August through November some occasional showers and slightly rougher seas are possible but diving can still be great at this time of year. The weather often takes a turn for the worse for the month of December through early January. Andaman has a moderate temperature all through the year within the range of 23 degrees to 31-degree celsius. It has a tropical climate, there are no severe climate conditions except for tropical storms and rains in late Summer and Monsoon.

Geography

Map of Andaman & Nicobar

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands stretch out almost 500 km in length, with the Andamans in the north and the Nicobars in the south. The main island, aptly known as Great Andaman, is divided into 3 portions – North Andaman, Middle Andaman and South Andaman. Port Blair is located on South Andaman.

The dominant language in the Andamans is Bengali. Tamil, Telugu, English and Hindi are widely understood by the inhabitants of the islands that are open to tourism. ….

Non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport. If you plan to arrive by sea, you’ll need to arrange your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa. Visitors usually receive a 30-day permit, although some travellers arriving without a confirmed flight back have only received a 15-day permit. Ask for the full 30 days in your application; if you write in your return flight date, your permit will be issued to end on that date, which will cause unnecessary pain if you choose to extend your stay or, worse yet, get unexpectedly delayed by weather.

Permits can be extended by 15 days in Port Blair, for a maximum single stay of 45 days, although this extension is granted only in, to quote the local police guidelines, “deserving cases”. You must then leave the islands and can return after 72 hours. The permit is checked when arriving at most islands, checking into hotels and booking ferries, and must be surrendered when you leave the islands, so don’t lose it.

The permit allows overnight stays in the following locations: South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except tribal reserves), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding Boat Hobday Island, Twin Island, Tarmugli Island, Malay Island and Pluto Island). Overnight stays in the park are with permission only.

The permit allows for day-trips to South Cinque Island, Ross Island, Narcondum Island, Interview Island, Brother Island, Sister Island and Barren Island which can be visited on board vessels only with landing possible.

Indian nationals do not require a permit to visit the Andamans. However, permits are required to visit the Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are rarely given. Application on a prescribed form may be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.

By plane

Andaman’s airport is at Port Blair. it’s connected to Chennai, Kolkata and other cities in the country. Air India is the most important carrier for Andaman. Throughout the seasons discounted airfares also are provided by the airlines. The price of the tickets is usually cheap, particularly if reserved earlier.

The only way to reach the Andaman is by air is from the Indian mainland. Flights can fill up in peak season and immigration doesn’t look kindly on people arriving without confirmed flights back, so book a return ticket and change the flight date if you decide to hang around longer.

  • Spicejet, [3] offers a flight direct from Chennai to Port Blair.
  • Go Air [4] now flies daily from Kolkata to Port Blair, and from Delhi via Kolkata.

Flights to Port Blair are not really “low-cost”, if compared to the same airlines’ mainland India flights, but still cheaper than any other way to get to islands. Price varies significantly with date, so if your travel dates aren’t fixed, you can save significantly by choosing the right day to fly. Advance booking (available on respective airline’s website) at least several days before the trip is recommended.

Port Blair’s Vir Savarkar Airport is probably one of the most quaint and idyllic airports in India. There is a scenic viewpoint where the whole airport can be seen. There are no night flights as the airport is handed over to the Indian Air Force after 3 pm.

By sea

It is possible to take a ship from Kolkata (~60 hrs), Chennai or Visakhapatnam which takes almost 4 days to arrive in Port Blair. It is less expensive. Facilities are basic, though and many prefer to sleep on the deck rather than in the cramped bunks. The ferries can take up to five days to arrive depending on weather and various other variables. This can be quite frustrating for many.

Ship MV Swarajdweep / Nancowry / Nicobar

  • Deluxe Cabin: Rs. 7,640 for the tourists and Rs. 3,940 for the islanders.
  • First Class Cabin: Rs. 6,320 for non-islanders and Rs. 3,560 for the islanders.
  • 2nd Class Cabin: Rs. 5,030 for non-islanders and Rs. 2,680 for the islanders.
  • Bunk: Rs. 1,960 for tourists and Rs. 710 for islanders.ders.
  • Deluxe Cabin: Rs. 7,640 for the tourists and Rs. 3,940 for the islanders.
  • First Class Cabin: Rs. 6,320 for non-islanders and Rs. 3,560 for the islanders.
  • 2nd Class ‘A’ Cabin: Rs. 5,030 for non-islanders and Rs. 2,680 for the islanders.
  • 2nd Class ‘B’ Cabin: Rs. 3,890 for non-islanders and Rs. 2,350 for the islanders.
  • Bunk: Rs. 1,960 for tourists and Rs. 710 for islanders.ders.
  • Deluxe Cabin: Rs. 7,640 for the tourists and Rs. 3,940 for the islanders.
  • First Class Cabin: Rs. 5,400 for non-islanders and Rs. 3,430 for the islanders.
  • AC Dormitory: Rs. 3,290 for non-islanders and Rs. 1,790 for the islanders.
  • Bunk: Rs. 1,700 for tourists and Rs. 660 for islanders.

Get around

Andaman and Nicobar are a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles and pricey seaplane service to Havelock Island, passenger ferries are the only way to get between the islands. There is also the Infiniti Liveaboard that makes trips to destinations such as Cinque, Barren, Narcondam and other islands.

All passenger transport in the islands is handled by the government-run Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS), which also runs the ferries back to the mainland. The DSS operates basically two kinds of vessels: small “tourist” ferries, and larger “local” ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at Rs.150-200 one way from Port Blair to Havelock Island.

Tourist ferries seat about 100 people in padded bucket seats in a notionally air-conditioned cabin (which can still get sweltering hot). While you can access the top deck, there are no seats, shade or shelter outside. These boats are fast(er) and seaworthy, but top-heavy, and sway quite a bit in high seas. There is no canteen on board, so bring snacks or at least drinks.

Local ferries are considerably larger, seating up to 400 in two levels: padded “bunk” or “luxury” seating upstairs, and plain old benches on the “deck” downstairs. Neither class is air-conditioned, but ocean breezes keep temperatures tolerable, and a canteen dishes out chai(tea), samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they’re more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.

There’s a new a/c catamaran ferry from Port Blair to Havelock. Tickets are 650, 750 or 1000 (which gets you a leather seat and your own tv) and can be booked from a dedicated ticket booking window at Port Blair, thus avoiding the queue barging, and through your guesthouse (or wild orchid, emerald gecko & Andaman bubbles) on Havelock.

In high season demand often exceeds supply, so book your tickets at least one day in advance, either through a travel agent or directly at Port Blair’s harbour. Ferry ticket booking has now been computerised. This means you can book any ferry from any jetty – i.e. Rangat to Havelock from the Diglipur ferry jetty. This obviously depends on the computers working! Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notable cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. If you’re prone to sea-sickness, pop a pill an hour before you get on board.

Within islands

  • Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
  • Taxis are available in Port Blair. Drivers double up as guides. A.C. taxis are also available.
  • Scooters & Motorcycles used to be available for rent in Port Blair, however, it’s not very easy to get one now. Auto-rickshaws may be the best way to move around the city. However, in Havelock Island, they are the best option to enjoy a ride to the Radhanagar beach or around. It may cost you around Rs. 150 – Rs. 250 per day with a security deposit of around Rs. 750 – Rs. 1000.

Most people come here for the beaches and the scuba diving, especially on Havelock Island and Neil Island.

The only place with historical attractions of note is Port Blair, which houses both British-era colonial buildings, including the notorious Cellular Jail, and a few World War II bunkers dating from the brief Japanese occupation.

Neil Island: It is an amazingly beautiful island with lush green forests and sandy beaches. This island is located at a distance of around 36 km from the Port Blair. This is a perfect outing and holiday destination for the Eco-tourists.

Some people come to see members of the Jarawa Tribe. However, this is not recommended as contact with the outside world can be dangerous to the Jarawas’ health. Groups such as Survival International encourage people to stay away from the reserve that they inhabit.

  • Scuba diving – Havelock Island is the main dive destination. South Cinque Island is another possibility, enquire at Anugama Resort at Wandoor. One of the dive shops on Havelock was talking about opening a shop in Diglipur soon, which would open up newly discovered sites.

The best dive sites in the Andamans are in very remote locations and accessible via a liveaboard. The dive sites around Havelock are actually very ordinary by Andamans standards. The best diving in the Andamans is Barren Island (an active volcano), Narcondam Island (an extinct volcano), Invisible Bank (an extensive seamount approx. 100 miles Southeast of Port Blair) and 4 spectacular but un-named seamounts off the west coast. There is also a good wreck dive just south of North Brother Island. There is one regular liveaboard in the Andaman Islands – the Infiniti Liveaboard, and it is the best way to get around. It’s brand new & fully equipped, though a little expensive but well worth the money for the comfort & adventure.

  • Sea Walking[5] A major activity conducted both in North Bay Island, Port Blair and Elephant Beach, Havelock Island. You will need a boat to reach North Bay at Port Blair and Elephant Beach at Havelock Island to avail this activity. This activity is more like moonwalking. The cost of the trip is 3500 Rupees per person.
  • Snorkelling – A traditional attraction of the Andamans but the 2010 El Niño sadly resulted in the destruction of most of the coral. As at 2016, there are signs of recovery but the snorkelling is not good. Regardless, the best spots are North Bay, Mua Terra Beach and Havelock Island. Equipment is cheap and can be bought or rented at North Bay for 100 Rs. The price for Snorkeling at various locations is about 500 Rs (for ~15 min.) and 1000 Rs (for ~25 min.).
  • Scan corals reefs in glass bottom boats off Jolly Buoy Island, at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, 29 km from Port Blair.
  • Check out India’s only active volcano on Barren Island, for some magnificent volcanic diving
  • Take the Andaman Trunk Road, and be the zipping-in-the-car-idiot to the curious Jarawas. The ride is long, but the journey that takes you through some gorgeous reserve forests and up to Maya Bunder and beyond is worth it.
  • Revisit Havelock just to taste the red Snapper in Burmese garlic sauce at Benny and Lynda’s Wild Orchid Beach Resort.
  • Narcondam Island a dormant volcano is spectacular volcanic diving
  • Make a new list. Add scuba diving and sea cow spotting. Do some moon-bathing while planktons swim in a phosphorescent sea.

Tandoori fish at Lighthouse Residency, Port Blair

Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local Dhaba on Havelock, fish abounds. Be prepared to pay a little more for good fish and seafood dishes than for standard Indian food, but it’s well worth it. Basic Indian food is also available, and as cheap as on the mainland in most of the small Dhaba. Resort restaurants on Havelock can also whip up a limited set of more or less Western dishes, but the resort restaurants are pretty expensive for Indian standards. Fresh Crab & Tuna can be enjoyed here.

  • Fresh coconuts are popular and widely available.
  • Alcohol is available in some restaurants and at ‘English Beer & Wine Shops’ in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. The beers will not be cold when purchasing across the counter, except in local bars.
  • Local bars are dingy and for some odd reason are very poorly lit giving a very eerie feel to them.
  • There is no pub culture or even a dance club.

Camping in wilderness

There are a variety of hotels around the islands which are run by Andaman & Nicobar Tourism. You can book all A&N tourism hotels both in person at A&N tourism in Port Blair, by phone, online, or email.

Stay safe

The Andamans are a fairly safe destination. Tourism is still in its early stages which makes it almost hassle-free. That said, you should keep your wits about you as you would anywhere.

Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are present within suitable habitat throughout the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

While attacks on locals do occur every year within the island chain, the only attack on a foreigner within recent history occurred off the coast of Havelock Island in April of 2010. While saltwater crocodiles generally remain within the rivers and coastal mangrove swamps, they do occasionally travel within the open ocean, as was the case in this attack. Attacks on humans in the ocean are very rare.

The main crocodile populations are around Little Andaman Island (Northern and Western sides), Interview Island and in the narrow straits that separate the main islands MacPhearson Strait, Andaman Strait, Homfrey Strait and Austen Strait. Crocodile populations are also known from many of the Nicobar Islands.

Stay healthy

Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally no more so than mainland India.

Mobile phone coverage nominally exists on many islands, but the coverage is poor and dropped signals are the norm. State-owned BSNL and private operators Airtel and Vodafone-Essar are the operators providing mobile services there. Landlines are frequent in Port Blair but more erratic as you move around the islands.

Airtel plans will allow you to regularly send and receive messages in Port Blair; they are much worse and frequently fail or arrive days later on Neil, and even more so on Havelock. No way to send files or get updates anywhere (find WiFi!)

Internet access is slow but tolerable in Port Blair, BSNL EVDO Sticks on CDMA Technology works the best with Speed up to 1 Mbps, Bsnl 3g gives speed around 100 kbps and ADSL is un-serviceable most of the time. Private players like Airtel and Vodafone offer internet access through GPRS & EDGE which is pathetically slow. Reliance Internet only works in the city but is slow. Project for Inter Connectivity of Islands with Underwater international Chennai-Singapore marine cable is under consideration. once finished it will offer seamless and fast connectivity.

Respect

Tourism is still relatively new on the Andamans and as such the traveller has a special responsibility in guiding its development. Leave the bikinis on the beach. Remember that this is India and local women are very conservative in their attire. Alcohol should be consumed on the premises of your hotel only. The quiet and peacefulness of the islands are one of their best assets; help to maintain these.

Get out

Neil Island

Havelock Island

Long Island

Diglipur

Baratang
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