The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a large group of nearly 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal. Although part of India politically, they are closer to Indonesia and Myanmar than to the Indian mainland. They were just north of the epicentre of the earthquake on 26 December 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.
- 1 Port Blair — the laid-back capital of the Andamans and the only entry and exit point. Spend a day or two here walking around and enjoying fresh seafood and seeing a couple of the nearby sites like Ross island, Wiper Island, Bambooflat Island leading to mount Harriet.
- 2 Diglipur — the largest town in the far north of the archipelago, it is a base for trips to the nearby Smith and Ross Islands.
- 3 Mayabunder — Mayabunder is well connected to Port Blair via 240 km of Andaman Trunk Road. The distance is 136 km by ferry. Mayabandar is also a port of the Andaman islands
- 5 Wandoor — a relaxed destination, but known more as the gateway to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
- 2 Barren Island — the island with the only active volcano in the whole of India. It is a restricted area within the Andaman Islands.
- 3 Cinque Islands
- 4 Havelock Island — the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still limited) infrastructure. Famous for beautiful beaches, especially Radhanagar and Kalapatthar, and great for snorkelling and scuba diving
- 6 Little Andaman — Badly damaged from the 2004 tsunami, the island has recovered but is still among the less visited.
- 7 Long Island — great if you're looking for Robinson Crusoe-style camping; no facilities, so you must bring all of your own gear and food
- 8 Narcondam Island — a volcanic island that is home to the narcondam hornbill. Normally restricted for tourists by the Indian Coast Guard.
- 11 Rutland Island — beautiful mangrove forest and coral reefs welcome you to this, the least visited and most pristine of the islands
- 12 Smith and Ross Islands
- 1 Campbell Bay National Park — forms part of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
- 2 Galathea National Park — part of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve with rare species of plants and animals
- 4 Middle Button Island National Park — spotted deer can be found here
- 5 Mount Harriet National Park — named after Harriet Tytler who did early work documenting the monuments of Delhi
- 6 North Button Island National Park — home of the dugong, dolhin, water monitor and other animals
- 7 Rani Jhansi Marine National Park — a national park known for its coral reefs and marine life
- 8 Saddle Peak National Park — surrounded by tropical vegetation and forest, many species can be found here
- 9 South Button Island National Park — shallow water coral reefs popular for scuba diving
1,400 km from mainland India and 1,000 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 during British rule to imprison rebels and freedom fighters, in addition to hardened criminals. The majority of people living on the islands are descendants of migrants from the mainland. Some of them descended from the prisoners.
During World War II, the Andamans were the only part of India that was, 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.
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Climate data of Port Blair
Mid-January to mid-May has the best weather, and often the best diving conditions. The days are mostly sunny at this time of year, and the sea is sometimes flat enough to reflect the clouds. The monsoon usually hits around late May and lasts until the end of July. This is probably the worst time to visit the islands as there are strong winds, frequent rain and low visibility underwater. From August to November there are some occasional showers and slightly rougher seas but diving can still be great during this period of the year. The weather often takes a turn for the worse from the month of December to early January.
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 three parts - North Andaman, Middle Andaman and South Andaman. The capital Port Blair is on South Andaman.
Foreigners can hire a guide to communicate with local people. Most of the guides work as volunteers and have been serving tourists for many years.
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 30 days on 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, Narcondam 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 Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are rarely given. Application on an official form should be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.
For now the only way to reach the Andamans by air is from the Indian mainland to Port Blair. There are talks of opening up flights from Bangkok, which could drastically change the situation in the islands, but as of 2009 these remain just plans. 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 stay longer.
The main airport of the islands, Veer Savarkar International Airport (IXZ IATA) in Port Blair, is probably one of the most quaint and idyllic airports in India. There is a scenic view point where the whole airport can be seen. There are no night flights as the airport is handed over to the Indian Air Force after 15:00. In recent years, a lot of new flights have started to the airport, making it much easier to access the islands.
- Air India flies from Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam. They charge a much higher rate for foreigners than Indian residents.
- Go Air now flies daily from Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata.
- IndiGo flies from Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
- Jet Airways flies from Chennai, although this service is set to end 30 June.
- Spicejet offers flights direct from Chennai, Delhi, Kochi, and Kolkata.
- Vistara flies from Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata.
Flights to Port Blair are not really "low-cost" compared to the same airlines' mainland India flights, but are still cheaper than other ways to get to the islands. Price varies significantly with date, so if your travel dates aren't fixed, you can save significantly by being flexible. Advance booking at least several days before trip is recommended.
It's possible to take a ship from Kolkata (c. 60 hr), Chennai or Visakhapatnam (almost 4 days) to Port Blair. It is less expensive at only ₹1961 (as of November 2011). 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. The Bay of Bengal is not calm, and those who get seasickness easily should consider flying, instead.
The Andaman and Nicobar is a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles and a pricey seaplane service to Havelock Island, passenger ferries are the only way to move between the 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 two kinds of vessels: small "tourist" ferries, and larger "local" ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at ₹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 faster 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, samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they are more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.
An air-con catamaran ferry from Port Blair to Havelock is also available. Tickets are ₹650, 750 or 1000, with the latter being for a leather seat and individual TV. They can be purchased from a dedicated ticket booking window at Port Blair, thus avoiding the queue barging, and through guesthouses on Havelock.
During the 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. The ferry ticket booking system has become computerised. This means you can book any ferry from any jetty - i.e. Rangat to Havelock from the Diglipur ferry jetty. Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notably cyclones in the Bay of Bengal.
Within the islands
- Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
- Taxis are available in Port Blair. They are usually the rather vintage Ambassador cars and often not very well maintained. They are slightly more expensive than the auto-rickshaws, but a more comfortable way to get around the island.
- Scooters and motorcycles used to be available for rent in Port Blair, however, its 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 ₹150-250 per day with a security deposit of ₹750-1000.
The only place with historical attractions of note is Port Blair, which houses British-era colonial buildings, including the notorious Cellular Jail, and a few World War II bunkers dating from the brief Japanese occupation.
- Jolly Buoy Island. A beautiful island where one can see underwater coral reefs, by snorkeling, or riding on glass-bottomed boats. This island requires prior permission to visit and does not have any food outlets, so pack your own food. Also, plastics are banned in this island. Typically 3-4 ferries leave daily morning and return by 14:00. Private arrangements are also possible.
- Scuba diving - Havelock Island is the main dive destination, but the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park has reopened. South Cinque Island is another possibility, enquire at Anugama Resort at Wandoor.
The best dive sites in the Andamans are in remote locations and are impossible to get without a private yacht charter. 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 about 160 km southeast of Port Blair) and 4 spectacular but unnamed sea mounts off the west coast. There is also a good wreck dive just south of North Brother Island. There are a small number of companies that operate live aboard diving and adventure charters in the Andaman Islands. Be aware that many companies that advertise Andaman Islands trips have never been there before.
- Snorkeling - is a fun, popular activity done at North Bay, MuaTerra Beach and Havelock Island.The equipment is cheap, and can be bought or rented.
- Surfing was possible on Little Andaman Island, but the island was devastated in the 2004 tsunami. Stay tuned.
- 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.
- See the only active volcano in India on Barren Island, but make sure it's smoking before you start on the overnight boat journey. The island is protected by the Indian Navy, and it is not possible to visit the Barren Islands.
- Don't take the Andaman Trunk Road. The ride is long, and the journey that takes you through some gorgeous reserve forests and up to Maya Bunder and beyond.
- Spot some sea cows and moon-bathe with plankton in a phosphorescent sea.
In Port Blair, you will find main shopping centre offering variety of seashell and coral souvenirs. Aberdeen Bazaar is considered as a prime commercial centre which houses various government approved shops such as Khadi Udyog outlets and Cottage Industries Emporium.
Apart from the main shopping centre, some other shopping places to explore include Prem Nagar, Machi Lane, Delanipur, Goalghar, Phoenix Bay and Junglighat. All these spots are located within the range of 3-4 km from Aberdeen Bazar.
The local furniture, made from local wood and mother of pearl jewellery, is well-known. Handicrafts made from cane, ashtrays walking sticks and some eye catching lamp shades created from coconut shell are ideal best souvenirs. Other popular souvenirs are:
- Nicobaree mats
- Straw hats
- Palm crafts
- Dried coral crafts
- Bamboo crafts
- Wood crafts made of paduk
- Beaded jewellery
- Mother of pearl artefacts like key chains and some other decorative items
There are a plethora of cafés and restaurants, private and government shops.
Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local dhabas 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 dhabas. 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 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 except in local bars.
- Local bars are dingy and poorly lit, giving them a very eerie feel.
- There is no pub culture nor any dance club.
Booking A&N Tourism Accommodation
There are a variety of hotels around the islands which are run by Andaman & Nicobar Tourism. You can book all A&N tourism hotels in person at A&N tourism in Port Blair, by phone on 03192 232694, or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org (but they do not have access to email). Hours are 08:30-11:00, 14:00-15:00.
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.
The Andaman Islands are the home of some of the last uncontacted tribes of Eurasia. These tribes have resisted becoming a part of the globally connected world for a long time. The most famous example is the Sentinelese tribe, whose home is North Sentinel Island. They maintain their sovereignty over the island and will kill intruders. However, as a tourist, you will go nowhere near them, so this is not really an issue. Avoid all travel to North Sentinel Island, while where you would go as a tourist would be no where near there, do not go near the island because they might throw spears or shoot arrows at you.
Saltwater crocodiles are found in suitable habitats throughout the Andaman and 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 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 also inhabit many of the Nicobar Islands.
Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally not more than mainland India.
The Indian country code (91) applies, and the area code for the entire Andamans is (3192). So, from outside India, you dial +913192xxxxxx. Within India, you dial 03192xxxxxx.
Mobile phone coverage used to be poor on many islands, but is now much improved. 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.
Internet access is slow but tolerable in Port Blair. BSNL EVDO Sticks on CDMA Technology Works the best with Speed up to 1 Mbit/s,Bsnl 3g Gives speed around 100 kbit/s and ADSL is un-serviceable most of the times. Private Players like Airtel,Vodafone offers Internet Access Through GPRS & EDGE which is pathetically Slow. Reliance Internet onky works in the city and is slow. A project for inter-connectivity of the islands with an underwater international Chennai-Singapore marine cable is under construction.
The mobile data network is weak whichever provider you choose to use. Free Wi-Fi is available in the big hotels and restaurants.
Tourism is still relatively new on the Andamans and as such the visitor has a special responsibility in guiding its development. Remember that this is India — local women are very conservative in their attire, and if you'd like to show sensitivity to their feelings, consider dressing conservatively yourself.
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.