East of southern India, in the Bay of Bengal, are the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are a group of about 600 islands, some of which are inhabited by ancient tribes that have had no human contact with the outside world till date. These islands were relatively unknown until recent times, and are often considered one of the few untouched areas of nature in the world. However, the Andaman Islands have been receiving increasing attention lately from snorklers, scuba divers and surfers, thanks to its amazing beaches and colourful marine life. While most islands are off limits for civilians and under the control of the Indian Navy, a few are open to visitors and offer an array of activities and experiences. Since there is a ton of information about water based activities and adventures at the Andamans, this post will not explore them. Instead, it will focus more on the other alternate attractions that can be enjoyed at the Andamans.
To get to any island in the Andamans, one has to first fly to Port Blair. If you travel by sea, you still have to come to Port Blair. Non-Indians need a permit (as of 2016) which is issued at Port Blair, while Indian citizens can visit permit-free (as of 2016), but everyone will still have to go through Port Blair as the first port of entry on the islands. With the logistics out of the way, let us look at some of the best attractions that the Andamans has to offer:
The most popular number one spot that visitors go to for beaches across the Andaman Islands. The most famous attraction here is Radhanagar beach followed by Elephant beach. Both these beaches have tons of water-sports/water-based activity options. Elephant beach is well known for sea-bed walking, while Radhanagar beach is fabled to have the world’s only ocean swimming elephant – Rajan. Due to their popularity, Havelock Island beaches tend to be the most crowded among all beaches at Andaman Islands. This can be good and bad, depending on what your purpose for the trip is. But Havelock Island is a must visit nonetheless. One has to take a 2 hr boat ride from Port Blair to reach Havelock. While planning, check the schedule of the boats, as they operate only during particular times, and weather can also plays a part. There are two options for the ferry between Port Blair and Havelock – a government run service for which you can only buy tickets at the window (and not in advance), and Makruzz (private company) for which you can buy tickets in advance.
Quieter, smaller and less crowded than Havelock Island, Neil Island is also known for its beaches. There are about 4 beaches on the island and they are brilliant for photography enthusiasts. The sunset at Laxmanpur beach has rave reviews and stunning photographs (google it). A place called natural bridge (a small formation made out of rocks and volcano deposit) is also another well-known attraction. Entry and Exit for the island is at Bharatpur. A 2 hr boat ride is needed to get to Neil Island from Port Blair. Some boats go via Havelock Island, so if you are at Havelock, you can plan a trip to Neil Island from there also.
This island was once the capital of Andaman and Nicobar territory (during the British Raj). It has lots of history and gives you an insight into the opulent lifestyle of the British people living on the island. However, most of the buildings were recently damaged during a tsunami. So, there are a lot of ruins on the island (you could call it a mini version of Angkor Wat). If you have kids with you during your trip, then they might enjoy the deer and peacock that roam about on the island (and they could feed them too!). The ruins, combined with a beautiful coastline, make for an interesting setting for photographers and photography enthusiasts. You can even hire an electric car which takes you to the highest point of the island. A two-three hour trip is enough to cover the island. A short 15 min boat ride from the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex jetty in Port Blair.
Cellular Jail with light and sound show
The Cellular Jail in Port Blair has a lot of history. During the British Raj, the Andaman Islands were used to house political prisoners of India’s independence struggle. The British built the Cellular Jail in Port Blair for that purpose. This jail complex was notorious for its somewhat brutal regime, and torture of the prisoners was carried out there by the ruling authority. Later, during the second world war, the Japanese captured the Andamans and there were reports of torture during their time as well. While the history of this place is negative, it is worth checking out the local landmark, which gives you an insight into the freedom struggle of India against the British. The jail complex is very immaculately maintained these days. There is also a light and sound show in the evenings that one can enjoy.
Another one for the nature and landscape lovers, Chidiya Tapu or “Island of Birds” is best known for its sunset and amazing viewpoints. It is about a 40 min drive from Port Blair. The gate to Chidiya Tapu closes at 5:30 pm, so plan your visit accordingly. Also, be careful of swimming in the waters here, as crocodiles are known to be present in the waters near Chidiya Tapu.
Jolly Buoy island is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park and is a short boat ride from Wandoor Beach, Port Blair. The number one attraction here is a ride in glass bottom boats to view corals and other marine life. Snorkeling is also popular due to the presence of live coral. Permits are needed to visit Jolly Buoy, so do your research and plan well. The boat to Jolly Buoy leaves at 9am. Hence, you have to be at Wandoor beach (Port Blair) by 9am. The return from Jolly Buoy happens around 2pm in the afternoon. If you aren’t interested in the coral viewing, then you may appreciate the clean beaches here.
Baratang Island is considered to be the gateway to Middle and North Andaman. It is best known for its mud volcano, ancient limestone caves, and its the mangrove forests. Baratang Island is a 2.5 hr bus ride from Port Blair, and you also have to take a ride on a vehicle ferry to cross a strait. Once at Baratang Island, you can take a taxi to the mud volcano site. If you want to visit the famous limestone caves, then you will have to go on a 30 minute boat journey from Baratang jetty. A boat ride through the mangrove forests are also an attraction. Lastly, a place called Parrot Island is recommended for a sunset time visit. Parrots are known to fly home during this time and you can spot many of them if you choose to visit. However, in order to visit Parrot Island, you will have to stay at Baratang overnight, as you will miss the bus/boat back to Port Blair.
Barren Island is home to the only active volcano in India. The island is uninhabited by humans. You may take a sea plane ride to view the island from high up, but it will cost you a hefty price to do so. There also might be a minimum passenger number required to arrange the experience. You will have to contact a sea plane operator in Port Blair for more details.