Scouring for Andaman tour packages? Make sure your itinerary touches upon more than just the obvious.
About 1370 kilometer east of mainland India, the archipelago of Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal with Myanmar to the east and north, is an tranquil landscape of lucent waters, sun-dappled, white beaches, mangrove wasteland and coconut groves offering a cool shade to your hammock as it sways tenderly in the wind.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is part of the Union Territory of India, the Andaman Islands are settled by Bengali, Tamilians, Telugu, Myanmarese and Nicobarese folk, though they are mainly home to the indigenous Jarawa and Sentinelese tribes.
Of the 572 islands 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 considered one of the world's last uncontacted peoples.
For its turquoise waters, sugary sands and sun-drenched beaches, Havelock is a attraction 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.
The following are the main attraction and a tour to Andaman is incomplete if it doesn’t include the below places.
Before you commence to pick out the places to visit in Andaman, you need to methodically round up its capital city to get a sense of the land’s cultural heritage and its harsh history. Rediscover Port Blair’s wealth of museums, the Japanese bunkers from World War II, its exotic marine life, a Marine Park, the highest peak on the island and water sports opportunities.
Explore the history: A entryway into the Andaman Islands, a short stay in Port Blair will explain you with the island’s colonial history amongst other things. Commence your Tour of Port blair with infamous Cellular Jail National Memorial, an erstwhile British prison which held political prisoners, which is today a memorial embodying the sacrifice of the freedom fighters who shared books, exchange 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 outlook on the aboriginal tribes that made the island home. The Jarawa chest guard together with some Sentinelese relics will be of particular curiosity.
Take in a breathtaking sunset: Port Blair’s prime beach and the slightly busy, Corbyn Cove Beach is ideal to clinch a sky painted in all kinds of reds and oranges during sunset. Munda Pahad Beach on Chidiya Tapu which 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 exclusive curios from the attractive 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 in Andaman island, there are a few restaurants in Port Blair that do a nifty job of them. New Lighthouse Restaurant, for example, has a vigorous open-air setting and is known for its lobster, crab and snapper dishes. From grilled starters to more textured main course, you are sure to satiate your craving for fresh seafood here. Something Different - A Beachside Cafe at Havelock island is among the best rated restaurant in Andaman Island, must visit place famous for Indian, Chinese & International cuisine.
Havelock is a 90 - 120-minutes by 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. Unsurprisingly, sunsets here are remarkable as they color the sky and consequently 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 freshwater streams make it ideal for swimming too. However, swimming here is prohibited 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.
Giant black boulders spread over the beach symbolize the Kalapathar Beach which is a slim strip of 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 suntan or 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, attracts a lot of photo enthusiasts.
Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep might not be as luxuriant as its northern neighbour Havelock island, but it is as unhurried and idyllic with its 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 metres north of Neil Kendra from Port Blair and Havelock. From the former’s Phoenix Bay Jetty it is a two-hour ride to Neil Island, whereas 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 or scooter for the day. Begin soon after sunrise when daily life is yet to pick up steam and you have ample time to soak up to the atmosphere.
If you are adventurous enough to head out to North Andaman to its thinly populated Diglipur area, where you will experience vast unspoiled stretches of the outdoor and little else between you and this wonderful natural environment. A famed turtle-nesting site, it is also home to the Union Territory’s highest peak, the Saddle Peak at 731 metres, considered the mythical home of Paluga, an all-powerful local deity. The presence of the Saddle Peak National Park, a complex chain of limestone caves, pristine white beaches which offer delightful snorkelling opportunities. Instead of hanging around for too long in this market town, you could move eastward about 17 kilometres 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:
Proceed 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. 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 kilometres to the south of Port Blair, is a lovely bet. You will be greeted by intense mangrove wilderness, azure seas and beaches as white as alabaster. Butler Bay is 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 kilometres south of Rangat in Middle Andaman, this affable island community is non-motorable aside from the odd motorbike that might cross your path. The picturesque wooden houses, a remnant from the island’s long 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, walkabout 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, you can hire 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 is still some of the island’s unexplored secrets.
Best time to Visit Andaman
There are three major seasons to visit 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 islands. 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 noontime for exploration.
How to reach Andaman
One can reach Andaman either by air or sea.
Flights to Andaman:
Chennai and Kolkata are the only two destinations that operate direct flights to Port Blair. 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 & Chennai. 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 airbase.
Ships to Andaman:
These 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 bit 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 seasickness you should avoid taking this route. You can look up the timings on the government’s Andaman ship schedule web. These journeys are flagged off from once to twice a week and come with a booking window that opens a fortnight before departure. Do bring a hard copy of your tickets to board the vessel. But if you have less time at hand, choose to fly.