So far the Andaman Islands have been the most remote place we’ve ever been too. They were the true embodiment of famous “palm’n’beach” Google pictures with bright blue waters and hammocks hanging here and there. Apparently it’s not that hard to get to these unbelievably beautiful spots of land in the Indian Ocean and we’re going to tell you how.
What the hell are Andaman and Nicobar Islands?
That’s a group of islands situated in the Andaman Sea (the Eastern Indian Ocean), which are technically the part of India, but in fact are much closer to Myanmar and Thailand.
After India became independent, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands became the part of it. Thus, nowadays all Andaman Islands are inhabited by Indians (who got free houses and land after the resettlement, btw), whereas the Nicobar Islands are populated by various tribes who managed to survive all troubles the history had brought them. Visits to the latter are strictly prohibited, so don’t even dream that you’ll be able to see half-naked African women swimming in the sea one day…
Where to go and how to get there?
There is a variety of flights from different cities (we came from Chennai) in India, more in-depth info can be found here. There a The airport is situated in Port Blair, which is far from best beach spots. Thus, it’s worth taking an auto-rickshaw to the jetty point (approximately 70 Rs.=$1.2) and then choose your destination. Since it’s hard to decide where to go (there are dozens of islands), here is our shortlist:
Havelock. We think, it is the best. It has internet and telephone connection, elephants, coral reefs, the best beach in Asia (according to various international rankings), Radhanagar and some very neat accommodation.
It takes 2 hours to get here by ferry (around 385 Rs. for government boat). We recommend to go directly from here to Beach #7 (also known as Radhanagar Beach), since it is the most beautiful one, is deep enough to swim (all other beaches are good, but the water is too shallow to swim), offers the best accommodation and restaurants, surrounded by coral reefs with tropical fishes, as well as grants you with an opportunity to meet elephants every day.
Little Andaman. It’s the most remote one (you’ll need to take an 8-hour overnight ferry from Port Blair). There is only one tuk-tuk here, no Internet and only one telephone provider. It’s very peaceful and ideal for relaxation. In addition it’s possible to surf here!
Neil Island. It is situated close to Havelock (2 hours by ferry for 285 Rs.) and doesn’t differ much.
Coral reefs were ruined by El Niño in 2004, so it’s bad for snorkeling. However, you can enjoy lots of fruit trees here and such a rare thing as natural bridges along the rocky shore. Accommodation is much cheaper here than anywhere.
Where to stay?
There are several types of accommodation on the islands.
- Real hotels. …very expensive ones. They claim to be five-star, but in fact they’re just brick huts with an air con (not even a Wi-Fi), which cost around 8000 Rs. per night.
- Rooms in brick houses. Our choice! It is not the cheapest thing (700-1000 Rs. per night), but they have a fan and a bathroom attached. Also, you can spend plenty of time reading a book / playing the guitar / chatting to neighbours on a porch.
- Coconut huts…the most common option. Coconut huts can have a bathroom or the owner will offer you to use the shared one. They usually have fans, chairs, bad, hammock and a mosquito net. All this costs 500-800 Rs. per night.
- Chicken huts. Honestly, they are suitable only for very thin and low people. Although they were very cheap (300-400 Rs. per night), we passed, since they were twice as low as we are. There is only a mattress inside and this option can be considered as acceptable only if you are using the hut just to sleep and lock your belongings there.
- A hammock. Buy a hammock, hang it on the nearest palm and talk to the resort owner about using his bathroom (usually they agree for 50-70 Rs. per night). If you are lucky enough, you’ll also be able to find some nice guys to lock you stuff in their room. Be careful: coconuts and leaves might fall on you when you’re sleeping, so look up. Take into consideration that “hammocking” is strictly prohibited on Havelock Island, so you might meet some “friendly” cops one day.
Where to eat?
There are three major types of restaurants here:
- Small cafes for locals is the best option. Food is cheap and tasty, and if you are lucky enough you can find a restaurant with a European menu. We loved the Welcome Café on Central Market on Havelock Island.
- Resort restaurants. Typical small restaurants attached to huts’ reception. Food is usually average and overpriced. We do not recommend them.
- Restaurants in expensive hotels. Surprisingly, they are cheap. Not extremely cheap, but you can have a meal for two (with drinks and everything) just for 600 Rs. Just walk in any 5-star hotel and ask for a restaurant.
What to eat?
All food is typical Indian, but here is our selection:
- Grilled tiger prawns. On Andaman Islands there are no real tiger prawns, however, the prawns are huge and very tasty. Ask for a slice of lemon with them.
- Dosa. That is a pancake made of rice powder. Extremely delicious with nutella, honey or coconut.
- Various rolls. They serve rolls with everything: meat, fish, prawns, vegetables, etc. Interestingly, rolls are very close in taste to doner kebab.
- Thali. Traditional Indian thali is ideal here: with yoghurt, marinated mango and dal… it makes Indian cuisine lovers thrill.
- Fruit salads. Fruit stalls near the Havelock Beach offer a huge variety of fruit salads. Try mango and jack fruit.
How to entertain yourself?
Snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming and every activity that can be held in the transparent waters of coral reefs are at your service (prices range from 3000 to 18000 Rs.). The travel companies even offer swimming with elephants (12000 Rs.)! Andaman Islands are also paradise for fishermen; there are special tours for hunting for “sea monsters”. Every tour requires at least 5 people, so bring your friends or talk someone into joining you.
Company called “Barefoot” leads the entertainment market here, they guarantee quality, but, honestly, it is overpriced. Therefore, we recommend looking for cheaper options from small local companies.
Hiking in the tropical woods and bargaining at the market might also be quite an exotic entertainment :).
For more activities, check this page.
Internet is a huge problem on Andaman Islands. There is no mobile internet or Wi-Fi in guesthouses, so the only option is to go to the internet cafes, where you have to pay 300 Rs. per hour for a really slow internet connection. Internet is available only in Port Blair and on Havelock, as of March, 2014.
How to arrange your life?
The heart of life on every Andaman island is its central market. Just go there and you’ll be able to find the cheapest places to eat, supermarkets, fruit stalls, souvenir shops and so on.
Pharmacies are also situated nearby the market, but you have to be attentive while searching for them: they are not clean white places you are accustomed to, but ordinary wooden stalls. Hospital is located in Port Blair, however there are so-called Primary Health Centers on other islands, where you can get some basic medical treatment (one girl who was severely bitten by a wild dog on Neil Island, got just a dose of penicillin, so be ready for a century-old medical approach in case something happens).
What about money?
Money exchange points are available in every bank, and in Port Blair and on Havelock there are ATMs (not sure about other islands, but probably not). They work only when Internet is working, so be patient. Make sure that the ATM you are using belongs to the State Bank of India, otherwise you’ll have to pay the service fee of 200 Rs.
Fun and essential advice
- On arrival you get an official permit to stay on Andaman Islands, be sure not to lose or damage it (our permits tore apart after “swimming” in the sea waves and were glued together afterwards).
- Owners of resorts will try to persuade you that they have to keep your passport and permit in their office for the duration of your stay at their place. Nevertheless, according to the law they only need a copy of your passport, don’t give them anything else!
- Queues in front of the ferry ticket office are separated by gender: for men and for women. Those for ladies are much shorter, so make sure you choose the one for women. Indians adore sneaking without any line, and the best way to deal with this problem is to unite with other foreigners and push them back with your solidarity and elbows. Of course, you’ll feel sorry for your ruddiness and pushing afterwards, but that’s the price you have to pay for your ferry tickets (in addition to money, of course).
- If you can’t get any ticket you need not be desperate: you can arrange things with the captain of the ferry.
- While buying fruit salads, make sure they don’t put salt on your bananas and mangos (unless you prefer salty ones, of course).
- Always agree on prices with drivers before using their service. The normal price on the islands is calculated as follows: 1km = 25 Rs.
- While bicycling, watch out for dogs, they might bite your leg.
- Near some beaches (like Beach no.7 on Havelock) you might meet sun flies. They look like ordinary black flies, but it really hurts when the sting. Apply some anti-mosquito repellant.