Andaman and Nicobar Islands Travel Guide

Andaman and Nicobar islands.  “Veritable Garden of Eden”, as the tourism department of the union territory terms it. Port Blair is capital and largest city of the Andaman and Nicobar island group, with a population of around 1,00,000. Located in the Bay of Bengal, about 1000 kms from the East Coast of India, Andaman and Nicobar attracts many visitors owing to its amazing coral reefs and marine life. Kaalapani or Black Waters, it was infamously known as a feared penal settlement during colonial times. Comprising of 572 tropical islands of which only 37 are inhabited, its a pristine tropical island with unique wildlife, lush forests and serene beaches. The capital of Nicobar Islands is Car Nicobar also known as Malacca.

Getting to Port Blair by Air:
Daily flights are operated by Jet Airways, Air India, Go Air, Kingfisher Airlines into Port Blair from Kolkata and Chennai. The flying time is approximately 2 hours and all flights land at the Veer Savarkar airport in Port Blair. The Veer Savarkar airport is small and its facilities are very minimal. Numerous taxis and auto rickshaws are available as you exit the terminal to take you to your hotel or ferry boarding point. Ensure you agree on a price beforehand to avoid long arguments.

Getting to Port Blair by Sea:
The ship is an option for travelers on a budget and without time constraints. With the flight connections being reliable and inexpensive for those planning well in advance, getting to Port Blair by sea is only recommended for those with extremely strong stomachs. Ships ply between the mainland and Port Blair, with departures from Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Chennai. Tickets for the ships must be booked in advance for the 3-day journey. For ship schedules to the Andamans visit www.and.nic.in/spsch/sailing.htm or http://www.and.nic.in/transport/index.php.

Getting to Car Nicobar by Sea:
Car Nicobar the district headquarters is 250 km from Port Blair. Ship service is available between Port Blair and Nicobar district. Normally ship is available twice in a week. One can obtain the ship ticket from the office of the Director, Shipping services (03192-245555) at Port Blair. Special Permission is required from Port Blair for Indian tourists to visit Nicobar Islands.

From Port Blair to Havelock:
Once in Port Blair, Havelock is easy to get to. There are three regular ferries that ply between Port Blair (Phoenix Bay Jetty) and Havelock on a daily basis. It is important to mention however that during peak season ferry tickets can be difficult to get as the demand exceeds the number of seats available. Tourists can choose between the slower Government ferry and the faster new Catamaran (called Makruzz) depending on their arrival time in Port Blair as well as their budget restraints. Please note that the ferry timings are subject to change without notice. Do recheck with us at the time of booking. All ferry transfers are subject to weather conditions, sea conditions, sailing permits and Department of Shipping schedules.

Arrival Ferries:
Source Destination Ferry Type Departs Duration On Board Canteen
Port Blair Havelock Government Ferry 6:00 am 2.5 hrs No
Port Blair Havelock Government Ferry 2:00 pm 2.5 hrs No
Port Blair Havelock Catamaran Makruzz 9:00 am 1.5 hrs Yes

Departure Ferries:
Source Destination Ferry Type Departs Duration On Board Canteen
Havelock Port Blair Government Ferry 2:00 pm 2.5 hrs No
Havelock Port Blair Government Ferry 4:30 pm 2.5 hrs No
Havelock Port Blair Catamaran Makruzz 4:00 pm 1.5 hrs Yes

The private ferry, makruzz departs at 9:00 am for Havelock and returns at 16:00, trip time is approx 1:30 hours. If you are arriving by 8:00am into Port Blair, this is a very convenient boat to take, as you no longer have to waste most of the day sitting around in Port Blair. This ferry is more expensive than the regular government ferry, however.Tickets (Rs 200-350 for the government ferry, Rs 750-1000 for the private ferry) have to be purchased in advance. In the off-season, they are quite easy to purchase if you get to the jetty half an hour before departure. However, during the peak season, especially between October and April, the government tickets sell out well in advance, tickets for the catamaran are usually readily available, as of now.

Best time to Visit:
The traditional peak dive season in the Andamans has been from December to May – the sun is shining, the seas are flat and visibility is at its best during this period.

June and July are monsoons – some days, the seas are very rough and we cannot go very far. Other days, it is calm and sunny, and the diving is surprisingly good. In the past few years, June has not had a lot of rains and has pretty much become an extension of the peak season.

August is a bit of an unusual month – it has been raining a little more than normal the past few years, but the seas haven’t been too rough, and the diving has been very good at this time.

The September to November period is becoming the “hidden season” when it comes to scuba diving in the Andamans – there are occasional to regular rains, and the seas are marginally choppier than what it would be in March or April, but the fishlife is mindboggling – enormous schools of fish occupy your entire vision, turtle and manta sightings are common and the reefs buzz with excitement and action. All our dive staff agrees that the diving during this period is the best that they’ve ever done in their years in the Andamans. So if you are interested in really primo diving, but without crowds, consider coming in this time period.o

A word of warning, however: weather conditions are becoming more and more erratic these days, and we are having more “nice days” in the so-called off-season and more “rough days” in the peak season. The above is meant to be indicative, based on recent trends, but we really have no way of predicting the impact of climate change.

Flora & Fauna:
Andaman & Nicobar Islands are blessed with a unique tropical rainforest canopy, made of a mixed flora with elements from Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and endemic floral strains. So far, about 2,200 varieties of plants have been recorded, out of which 200 are endemic and 1,300 do not occur in mainland India. The present forest coverage is claimed to be 86.2% of the total land area.

This rain forest despite its isolation from adjacent land masses is surprisingly rich with a diversity of animal life.
About 50 varieties of forest mammals are found to occur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Some are endemic, including the Andaman Wild Boar. Rodents are the largest group with 26 species, followed by 14 species of bat. Saltwater crocodile is also found in abundance. The State animal of andaman is the dugong, also known as the sea cow, which can be found in Little Andaman. About 270 species of birds are found in the territory; 14 of them are endemic, the majority to the Nicobar island group. The islands’ many caves are nesting grounds for the Edible-nest Swiftlet, whose nests are prized in China for bird’s nest soup.

The territory is home to about 225 species of butterflies and moths, including some of the larger and most spectacular of the world. Ten species are endemic to these Islands. Mount Harriet National Park is one of the richest areas of butterfly and moth diversity on these Islands.

The islands are well known for of prized shellfishs, especially from the genera Turbo, Trochus, Murex and Nautilus.

Permits:
Indian passport holders do not need any permits to visit the Andamans.

Health:
The Andamans are quite safe when it comes to malaria and other tropical diseases, but do consult your doctor about shots, vaccines and preventive medication. Otherwise, the general rules of traveling apply: do not eat uncooked veggies or food cooked in unsanitary conditions; drink bottled water; use bug repellant, etc. There is a good hospital in Port Blair, but medical facilities in the other islands are minimal. It is recommended that you bring preferred or prescription medication with you. Otherwise, we keep a fairly well-stocked first aid box as well, with a full complement of disinfectants, bandages, etc.

What to Bring:
Most of the Andamans operate on cash, with a few of the bigger hotels taking credit cards. Money-exchange facilities and an international ATM are available in Port Blair and now, there is an ATM in Havelock as well.

Some recommendations: long trousers for the evenings, bug repellant, high SPF sunblock, a hat, a small flashlight, sunglasses, towel, swimwear, anti-diarrheal medication (incl oral rehydration tablets), prescription medication, memory cards, spare batteries & reading materials.

Port Blair & Havelock are both on the GSM network, so your mobile phone should offer roaming there. Indian residents please note – Airtel, BSNL and now Vodafone work in Havelock. They even offer data, but that connectivity is really slow and intermittent.

Certified divers should bring their C-card and logbook. Divers insurance is a good idea to have as well.

Safety:
As long as you take the basic precautions – i.e. don’t leave your valuables lying around, don’t entrust your cash to strangers, etc. you should be fine. There is virtually no violent crime in the Andamans, especially against tourists, but avoid walking alone in dark, secluded areas nonetheless.

Places of Tourist Attraction in Andaman Islands:
Port Blair:
It is the largest town and the capital of the Andaman. It lies on the east coast of South Andaman Island and is the main entry point to the islands. It is home to several museums and a major base for the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Airforce. Port Blair is also famous for the historic Cellular Jail and other small islands which were once home to British colonists.

Important: Monday is a holiday in Andamans. Most places will be closed except North Bay, Ross Island tour and Havelock.  

Cellular Jail in Port Blair: Cellular Jail also known as the Bastille of India was built in 1896 – 1906 with bricks transported straight from Burma. This jail incorporates around 600 cells and between 1896 and 1908, the cellular jail was home to hundreds of Indian freedom fighters during the British Rule. Netaji Subash Chandra Bose hoisted the Indian National Flag near this Jail on 30th December 1943 to proclaim Independence. You will also find a Museum, an Art gallery and a Photo gallery inside the Jail open on all days except Monday. A moving Son-et-Lumiere (saga of the heroic freedom struggle) is shown daily inside the jail at 6:00 pm in Hindi and 7:15 pm in English. 

Cellular Jail

Cellular Jail

Chatnam Saw Mill, Port Blair. It’s one of the biggest and oldest in Asia. Within the saw mill there was a museum set up by Forest Department showcasing different types of timber wealth. The other places of interest within the city was Anthropological Museum, Marine Museum- Samudrika, and Water Sports Complex.

Snorkeling at Jolly Buoy is awesome, you can watch much better Corals and fishes here as compared to Havelock Island. To reach here, first you have to reach Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor. Wandoor is around 30 km from Port Blair. There is only few ferries which takes you from Wandoor to Jolly Buoy and generally leaves at around 9:00 am. In peak season (December – January), you might want to book those tickets in advance as they are limited. Tickets cost Rs 650 per head. Ticket cost includes one small round of trip around the corals in glass bottom boat as well as one small round of snorkeling. You can pay some more money to the guide to take an extended trip. At Jolly Buoy, everyone should do Snorkeling as it is a wonderful experience (No, you don’t need to know swimming for Snorkeling and it is completely safe). It’s a great experience to actually touch Star fish, Sea Cucumber and watch fishes at arm’s distance. If you are going to do snorkeling, don’t spend money on extra trip of glass bottom boat. It is a MUST TO CARRY eatables and water as you won’t find anything at all there to eat/drink. It is restricted to carry plastic bags to Jolly buoy, so you can rent the Jute bag at Rs. 1/bag (with a deposit of Rs. 100).

Sea walking. 25 mins. Sea Walking is a must for those who love to see the corals and fishes deep inside their habitat. You put on a oxygen mask, to which oxygen is supplied from oxygen cylinders on the ship. You move down a ladder into the water, where the sea divers will show you the corals. They also feed fish on your hands and hundreds of fish will gather in front of you. Only discomfort will be some pain in the ears as you move deep into the water. They take you down to around 20-25 feets below surface for approx. 25 minutes. To do Sea Walking you have to get to North Bay Island. You can buy tickets at Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports complex and get on a ferry to North Bay Island. Its advisable to carry another set of clothes to change. Though clothes may be provided by the company. You can ask your operator to bargain for free to and fro ride from the Island. Also, they charge Rs. 500 per person for under water photography. you can be particular about your photographs and pay only after checking you pics, as sometimes the photographs are not good. They will give you a CD of the photographs, you can check the photos on their computer.

Shop / Buy:
Jewelry, wood-carvings and Port Blair t-shirts are available around Aberdeen Bazaar.
Samudrika (Govt. museum). This is a govt. museum, ask anyone for directions. Autowala will take you there.
Sagarika (Govt. emporium). This is a government emporium where local made goods are available.

Restaurants:
Aberdeen Bazar (landmark is the clock tower) is a good place for lodging/accomodation as well as food. Quite a few restaurants are present around this place.

Icy Spicy, Island Arcade (Pure Veg) near Junglighat Jetty. Tel: 03192-232704. Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in the North Indian taste. They also have a sweets and chaat counter which serves best sweets in Andamans.

Hotel Kattaboman (Pure Veg) at Aberdeen Bazaar (Opposite SBI ATM) South Indian food available at reasonable price.

Lighthouse Residency, MA Rd near Aberdeen Bazaar. One of Port Blair’s best restaurants, with a good (Indianized) Chinese-Thai menu and North Indian favorites. The speciality here is fresh seafood. The tandoori masala fish is outstanding, and they also have one of the few decent bars in Port Blair.

Gagan Restaurant just behind the Aberdeen Bazar Clock tower. Bengali dishes available here.

Hotel Blue Sea Aberdeen Bazar, next to Sagarika emporium. It is one of the newly opened place, service best South Indian food in the city. It is very clean and reasonable.

Ananda Restaurant Aberdeen Bazaar (after Hanuman Temple, about 200 yards from the Clock Tower). Try the range of south indian dishes. Bombay meal is also awesome.

Drink
Coconut water (daap or naaryal pani) is available everywhere for Rs 20 (Mar,2012).

Havelock Island: Havelock Island is the largest of the islands which comprise Ritchie’s Archipelago a chain of islands to the east of Great Andaman in the Andaman Islands. Havelock is situated 57 km North East of Capital City Port Blair. It is one of the few places that the administration of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands union territory of India has permitted and encouraged development of tourism, with a focus on promoting eco-tourism. The five villages are Govinda Nagar, Bejoy Nagar, Shyam Nagar, Krishna Nagar and Radha Nagar. Beach No. 7 on the western coast, better known as “Radha Nagar” Beach, is one of the most popular beaches on Havelock and was named “Best Beach in Asia” by Time in 2004. Other notable beaches include Elephant Beach on the northwest coast and Vijaynagar Beach (No. 5), Beach No. 3 and Beach No. 1 on the east coast.

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock

Please click here to know more about Scuba Diving at Havelock

Elephant beach, Havelock is a half day tour. Its one of the popular beach where the colour of water changes with light. The view is breath taking. Its the best place for snorkeling and glass bottom boat ride. The beach was rich in flora & fauna and the visibility of corals was stunning. Don’t miss the glass bottom ride here.

Kalapathar Beach, Havelock: This serene beach is lined with black rocks along the coastline. This is an unexplored and untouched beach and it’s a perfect place to relax.

Barren Island: Barren Island is located in the Andaman Sea. It is the only confirmed active volcano in South Asia. Along with the rest of the Andamans, it is a part of the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and lies about 135 km northeast of the territory’s capital, Port Blair. The first recorded eruption of the volcano dates back to 1787. Since then, the volcano has erupted more than ten times, with the most recent one which started in September 2010 and continued through January 2011.

Baratang Island: Baratang Island is an island in the Andaman Islands. It is one of the main islands of the Great Andaman group, a closely set archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, adjoining the Andaman Sea. Middle Andaman is to its north, and South Andaman to the south. Port Blair, the capital of the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is located approximately 100 kilometres to the south. Baratang contains the only known examples of mud volcanoes in India. These mud volcanoes have erupted sporadically, with recent eruptions in 2005 believed to have been associated with the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The locals call this mud volcano jalki.

Mud Volcano

Mud Volcano

Parrot Island is one of the highlights of Baratang Island. As the name suggests, the island is the natural habitat of the parrots and is abundant with it. Any traveller to Baratang must experience the unique sight of thousands of parrots returning to the island before the sun sets.

Parrot Island

Parrot Island

Limestone Caves is located 50 minutes away by boat from Baratang Island. The boat journey is quite an adventure. Going through the thick mangrove forest, you will feel like a real explorer. Do carry torchlight for exploring the caves.

Mangrove River

Mangrove River

Chidiya Tapu or Bird Island lies 35 Km South of Port Blair, at the southern most tip of South Andaman. The scenic beauty makes this place a nice spot for a picnic and line fishing. On this island you can explore the rain forests and spot the many variety of birds here. Just pick a trail and head down the path. But be careful and do not leave the trails and also do not forget to pack your binoculars. Chidiya Tapu is world wide famous for its thick, green vegetations, enchanting beaches, collections of corals, colorful butterflies and most importantly, the view of the sun setting in the wine red horizon. The place also offers excellent sites for snorkeling.

Neil Island: Neil Island is an island in the Andaman Islands of India. It is apparently named after James George Smith Neill, a British soldier responsible for several war crimes during the suppression of the 1857 Mutiny. The island is located 40 kilometres north-east of Port Blair.

Getting into Neil Island: As of now, there is a morning ferry to Neil and it leaves early in the morning (6:30 am-7:00 am), returning from Neil at 9:00 am. There is also a second 11:30 am departure that goes to Neil and then onwards to Havelock.

Ross Island: Ross Island is one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, about 2 km east of Port Blair. It was the Administrative Headquarters for the islands, before an earthquake rocked it in 1941. The headquarters were then shifted to Port Blair. One can see remnants of an opulent past in the ruins of the church, swimming pool and the chief commissioner’s residence with its huge gardens and grand ballrooms. There is also a cemetery and a small museum managed by the Indian Navy. The museum has on display a collection of old records. The small island with its treasure of ruins in it became the hot tourists spot in the territory.

Ross Islands

Ross Islands

Viper Island: Viper Island is near Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. It was the site of the jail where the British used to imprison convicts and political prisoners. It has the ruins of a gallows atop a hillock. The jail was abandoned when the Cellular Jail was constructed in 1906. In any talk about Andaman and its role in the freedom struggle, it is the Cellular Jail that finds frequent mention. But, many years before the Cellular Jail was constructed, it was the jail at Viper Island that was used by the British to inflict the worst form of torture and hardship on those who strove to free the country from the British rule. Viper Island is a serene beautiful tourist destination and can be approached by harbor cruise originating from Phoenix Bay Jetty in Port Blair. This place is visited by number of tourists as it has multiple attractions with historical importance and also has mesmerizing picnic spots with natural picturesque environments.

Viper Island

Viper Island

Rangat: Rangat is a town on the Middle Andaman Island. It is also one of the three counties (tehsils) administrative divisions of the North and Middle Andaman district, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  Rangat is 210 km from Port Blair and 70 km south of Mayabunder. The town is well connected by road and sea routes. The town has been described as a “ramshackle sprawl around two rows of chai shops and general stores divided by the Andaman Trunk Road. Some nearby tourist attractions are Amkunj Beach (8 km away) and Cutbert Bay Beach (18 km away). The latter is an important turtle nesting ground, especially from December to February.

North Andaman Island: North Andaman Island is the northern island of Great Andaman of the Andaman Islands. The main town on the island is Diglipur. Known for its marine life, the island’s main industries are rice and orange-growing. The island is home to the highest point in the archipelago, Saddle Peak at 738 metres. Diglipur is 290 km north of Port Blair. It is crossed by the Kalpong River, the only river of the Andaman islands. The city profits from tourism to nearby attractions in North Andaman, which include the Ross and Smith islands, the Saddle Peak National Park, the beaches at Ram Nagar, Kalipur and Lamiya bay, and mud volcanoes. Ram Nagar beach (15 km away from Kalighat) is famous for sea turtle nesting from December to February. The Chalis Ek Caves (about 20 km due douth of Diglipur, near the village of Pathi Level) and the Alfred Caves are a major nesting ground for the Edible-nest Swiftlet, whose nests are exported to China for bird’s nest soup. The Inter island boat visit to Aerial bay jetty thrice in a week Monday, Wednesday & Saturday from Port Blair. Departure 7:00 am & Arrival 15:00pm. Return Tuesday 7:00 am, Wed & Sat 21:00 pm.

Little Andaman island: Little Andaman Island is the fourth largest of the Andaman Islands of India and is 120 km south of Port Blair. Hut Bay wharf, a deep water wharf that can be approached through a gap in the coral reef, on the east coast of the island is the entry point of Little Andaman Island. Daily boat services connect Hut Bay wharf jetty with Port Blair in ten hours voyage. The village of Kwate-tu-Kwage is located on Hut Bay. The low lying island has widespread rainforest and several rare species of marine turtle. Little Andaman Island has white sandy beaches and bewitching waterfalls. Butler Bay, 14 km from the Hut Bay Jetty, is a beautiful beach suitable for sun basking, coral viewing, surfing etc. Tourist huts are available on the seashore itself flanked by the coconut plantation. Netaji Nagar Beach is 11 km from the Hut Bay Jetty. White Surf waterfall in the midst of the evergreen rainforest is 6.5 km from the Hut Bay Jetty. Whisper Wave waterfall 25 km from the Hut Bay Jetty is also in the midst of the jungle. Journey to this waterfall includes 4 km trekking through the forest. From 4th km Crossing, you need to drive 800 m inside forest, where you will find a small waterfall that looks picturesque. The waterfall is 20–25 m high and there is a small bamboo grass all around.

A Government organisation, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Forest Plantation Development Corporation Limited (ANIFPDCL), conducts package tour from Port Blair to the Little Andaman Island. It has more than 30 elephants on the Island and organizes exciting elephant safari through the jungle near the White Surf waterfall. Well-experienced and tamed elephants are engaged for this purpose. ANIFPDCL has built a guest house and tourist huts on the beach. Little Andaman is often considered the counterpart of the Great Andaman island group. There is a road alongside the east coastal line and every village is name on the distance / km of the road by the residents.

Places of Tourist Attraction in Nicobar Islands:
Great Nicobar or Tokieong Long: Great Nicobar is the largest of the Nicobar Islands of India, north of Sumatra. Indira Point, its southernmost tip, is also the southernmost point of India. The island of Sumatra is located to the south of Great Nicobar. The island is sparsely inhabited, with a population of 9,440, largely being covered by rainforest and known for its diverse wildlife. The island was severely affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami with many deaths, and was cut off from all outside contact for more than a day.

Katchal: Katchal is one of the Nicobar Islands, India. Its is around 305 km south to capital Port Blair. Katchal was earlier known as Tihnyu, has been home to both indigenous and non-indigenous people. Katchal was one of the worst affected islands during the 2004 Tsunami. This region comes under the Nicobar district. The Island is not open to tourists and special permission is required from the local administration at Port Blair. At sunrise on 1st January 2000, picturesque Katchal Island was in the news. Many rich and famous people from around the world had converged on it for a glimpse of the millennium’s first sunrise. The Nicobar Islands can be divided in three groups – northern, central and southern. Katchal is the largest island of the central group of islands and had 35 villages (of which six were main villages). Currently even Indian nationals need a special tribal pass to visit the islands. The Hills of Katchal are composed of Calcareous Sandstone and marble slates, and in the beautiful tropical forest of Katchal one will find lots of Pythons, Black Monkeys and Pigs. Katchal is full of natural beauty. The eye-catching scenery of the beaches, the jungle, and the sunrise and sunset are some of the things that make the island really worth visiting. The main stay of their economy is Coconut, Betelnut or Arecanut trade.

Fauna:
The majority of the island is designated as the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve. Home to many unique and endemic species of plants and animals including the Nicobar scrubfowl, a bird), the Edible-nest Swiftlet, the Nicobar Long-tailed Macaque, saltwater crocodile, Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle, Malayan box turtle, Nicobar tree shrew, reticulated python and the giant robber crab or coconut crab.

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