Picturesque beaches, crystal clear water and a bit of history make the Andamans (one of the seven union territories of India) the perfect choice for a laid-back, enjoyable vacation, with long treks, lazing around in the island backwaters and, for the more adventurous, deep sea diving. From the multicultural town of Port Blair to the pristine white beaches of Neil and Havelock Islands and the limestone caves of Baratang, the Andamans offer something for every tourist.
How to go:
By Air: Most tourists prefer to take flights from either Kolkata or Chennai. Most flights are operated by Go Air and Spice jet.
By Ship: Passenger ships are available to Port Blair from Vishakhapatnam, Kolkata, and Chennai. Three to four trips from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair and vice versa are common every month. One sailing takes place from Vishakhapatnam every month. Each voyage takes about 50-60 hours, with the ship docked at Port Blair for two to three days.
Reaching Havelock: Located at just 38 KMs from Port Blair, Havelock has a luxurious camping facility near Radha Nagar beach. Two to three ferries operate every day between Port Blair and Havelock.
Where to go:
Port blair: A multicultural town offering a glimpse of various local traditions, Port Blair is a scenic escape from the hustle and bustle city life. Steeped in colonial history, Port Blair is perfect as a base camp for your stay in the Andamans.
CELLULAR JAIL NATIONAL MEMORIAL
A reminder of India’s sombre history of colonial rule comes alive in the Cellular Jail National Memorial at Port Blair. A former jail (also known as kala pani) where many Indian freedom fighters were housed and killed, is a peek into the country’s history. A moving light and sound show in the evenings from Monday to Wednesday sums up the experience of the political prisoners here. History buffs are bound to love this.
Wandoor & Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
Head about 30 KM outside Port Blair to Wandoor, the hotspot for exotic marine sightings and a base for the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park.
Chatham Saw Mill
Established in 1836, one of Asia’s largest saw mills was set up by the Britishers on Chatham Island. The mill is still functional even to this day. This is a good pit-stop for those who’re interested in learning a little about the history and economy of the Andamans. It’s a relatively off-beat experience, but worth your while—you’ll get to see weathered machinery still trudging along. A fort museum close by is avoidable, but look out for the crater in the vicinity—which was formed when the Japanese dropped a bomb during World War II.
Even if anthropology is not your choice of subject on a holiday, this museum cannot be given a miss. The exhibits might be slightly old and dusty, but they give a great insight into the indigenous cultures of the islands. Seeing the Jarawas (the tribal inhabitants) on your way to Diglipur will seem much more exciting if you know a little about them. Likewise find out more about the other tribes and their cultures.
Located at the Baratang Island the limestone caves are a must visit site for all the people who are planning their itinerary for the Andaman and nicobar islands. While there is not much to see at the caves except for marveling at this natural wonder, the speed boat journey one takes is totally worth it. The boat ride is covered with a canopy of the forest which is also a home to the indigenous ‘Jarwa’ tribe. However one needs to be careful of the sea crocodiles and should not go near the water. Inside the caves, the stalactites and the stalagmites will immediately gather your attention and the erosion have formed some unique shapes inside the caves. The company of an experienced guide will make the trip more enjoyable as you might get to know some interesting facts about the local tribes and the history of these caves.
Marina Park and Aquarium
Located at Port Blair, Marina Park is also known as ‘Samudrika Marine Museum’ and is managed by the Indian navy. The main purpose behind its establishment was to create awareness about the conservation of the aquatic life and resources in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. One can also get detailed knowledge about the group of islands and the social and tribal life they house. The park consists of five sections which are geographical information, archaeology, people information, history of Andaman Islands and marine life. There are also miniature models of the islands displayed here with large tanks which contain natural coral reefs and different kind of aqua flora and fauna which are unique to these islands. The operating hours of this park are from 9.00 am to 12.00 noon and 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm except on Mondays.
The Viper Island gets its name from the snakes that inhabit the island. The islands are famous for the ruins of a jail that precedes the cellular jail or the Kaala paani. The jail was formerly used to incarcerate political prisoners and we can still see the ruins of the gallows at this island. The jail had many notable political prisoners from India’s struggle to independence. The place no matter how notorious it was during the colonial period is a picturesque location which is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex
Located in the heart of Port Blair, the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex offers an array of aqua-sports: banana rides, jet skiing, parasailing, speed boat rides, rowboat paddling etc.
North Bay Beach
Located just 15 minutes away from the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex, the North Bay Beach offers one of the easiest water sports—Sea-walking—in Andaman and Nicobar.
Havelock Island: Clear blue waters and white sand beaches lined with mahua trees give Havelock Island a picture-perfect look. With long treks and fascinating backwaters, Havelock promises to be an escape into adventure and scenic beauty. This is the most popular spot for scuba diving. Home to one of the richest coral reef ecosystem in the world, the waters here are pristine, and teeming with diverse marine life.
Located on the western coast of the Havelock islands, Beach no. 7 is Radhanagar beach. It is one of the most popular beaches in India and is termed as the best beach in Asia by TIME magazine in 2004. The beach is situated around a distance of 12 kilometres from the Havelock islands and is a must visit site. The waters are sparkling blue and devoid of any wave action. There are a huge number of activities that one can do like scuba diving, snorkelling, boating, fishing etc. The beach is especially popular for couples as it is almost vacant and the serene environment adds to the romance. One can also enjoy elephant rides here. The best way to enjoy the beauty of the beach is to take a camera and go on a long stroll and click photographs amidst the white sands and the blue waters, the sunset at this beach is a marvel to behold.
It is further north from Radhanagar and is popular with Indian tourists. The coral here is probably the best on the island, making this an excellent spot for snorkelling. It’s reachable on foot from Beach #7 or by fishing boat from the east side of the island; many resorts arrange snorkelling and diving trips here.
The Kalapathar beach is situated on one corner of Havelock Island. The beach gets its name from the surrounding village called Kalapathar Village and the black rocks (Kalapathar Rocks) that adorn the coastline here. The emerald seas, the tropical forests on one side of the road (Kalapathar Rocks) the coastline, and on other side the silken smooth silver sands and the sheer solitude make this beach a great place to relax.
Neil Island: This serene island welcomes you to coral reefs, calm beaches and rich wildlife. Needless to say, snorkelling is perfect here since, unlike other islands in the Andamans, Neil Island offers an escape from the crowd. There are still a few virgin beaches around for an evening date with your lover, or better, with nature itself.
This is the best beach for Snorkelling; as well a small cave resides here. If you are a shell collector, the place is for you.
Lovely sunrise. Serene Beach. Good for a swim.
Beautiful shady beach. Light blue crystal clear water. See corals in glass-bottom boats. Huge coral beds with lot of fish present. Very good visibility. Snorkelling, water scooter, bathing and other water activities can be done here.
Lovely sunset. Serene and long beach.
What to do:
Sea Walk: Sea Walk underwater is one of the available activities at North Bay Island, Port Blair and Elephant Beach, Havelock Island.
Scuba Diving & SNORKELLING: If you’ve ever snorkelled, you already know that there’s nothing better than snorkelling in clear turquoise waters to explore vibrant aquatic life. The coral reefs at the Andamans are famous for featuring some of the widest range of aquatic flora and fauna. Scuba diving is also a great way to get up close and personal with the vibrant, colourful corals that these beaches are famous for. For beginners, there are beginner’s diving courses from 30–60 minutes underwater and for advanced divers there are certification courses.
Fishing: Fishing and trips to uninhabited islands are provided by a few companies in the Andaman Islands.
Kayaking: Kayaking is another activity that is done in Havelock Island.
Trek to Madhuban: Considered one of the best trekking routes in the country, the trek from Mount Harriet to Madhuban witnesses a huge tourist turnout. The lush green forests and the exotic fauna in the region is why trekking enthusiasts love the place. You can start your trek with a ferry ride from Chatham Harbour, Port Blair. Three major ferry routes in Port Blair connect Chatham, Bamboo Flat, Junglighat, Dundas Point, Viper Island, Hope Town and Mithakari. Ferries from these towns make 45 trips per day. Just a few minutes on the ferry can take you to any of the trek points nearby.
What to eat:
Seafood: Like other coastal areas, seafood is a specialty of the region. Port Blair is particularly recommended: try the whole lobster at New Lighthouse Restaurant or the seafood platter at Red Snapper. You can also get fresh fried fish from the morning’s catch at almost all of the islands.
Local Fare: When you reach Havelock, do check out the delicious samosas. If you’re looking for affordable yet scrumptious meals, many tiny local restaurants serve healthy Indian thalis at reasonable prices. Many local joints also offer Italian, Thai and Continental cuisine, if you’re allergic to, or not fond of, seafood.
Best Time to Visit Andaman And Nicobar Islands:
October – May: Winters in the region aren’t chilly, and weather stays pleasant for the most part. It’s the best time to enjoy water sports and other water activities.
January: If you want to witness the culture and tradition of locals in the Andamans, visit the place in January. A lot of fairs and festivals will keep you busy on your trip. The Island Tourism Festival is a 14-day long festival showcasing the various traditions followed by the tribal’s of the region. The Subhash Mela is organized on the Birth Anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose. The Block Mela captures the diversity in culture and rural life of locals in these islands.
May – October: The Andamans witness heavy rains throughout the monsoon season, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. The Andamans have a distinct beauty of its own in the rains!
Last but not the least, Andamans, probably the only place in the country where we could find substantial coral reefs and it was a haven for scuba divers and other water sports enthusiast. If you are looking for a holiday destination bestowed with exotic locales and sun-kissed beaches with vast stretches of pristine silver sands that has the power to rejuvenate your soul and mind then Andamans is the place to be.
written by Manali Dutta