Andaman Islands : An experience for lifetime

Andaman & Nicobar Islands are situated about 1500 KMs east of the mainland (South India) in the Andaman Sea. Tourists are allowed to visit Andaman Islands while the Nicobar Island is a tribal area and restricted due to security concerns. There are over 500 islands in the Andaman, while only a few are inhabited. Since the usual travel plans are made for about a week, we can either cover North Andaman or South Andaman in one visit.

 

Our plan was a trip to South Andaman. You have to know that the optimal duration should be at least 5 nights & 6 days to enjoy all the places with leisure & relaxation. We planned for 6N/7D duration which was sufficient to cover the South Andaman Islands which included Port Blair, Havelock Island and Neil Island.

Disclaimer: Although our entire trip did not go exactly as planned due to a heavy rainfall on the second day, thanks to the after-effects of cyclone Gaja, we covered all the places by making up time on the last 2 leisure days including the day of our return flight. So in this article I will be writing the details of the places as per my experience, but considering the timeline as per my original plan. ☺

Day 1 of Andaman islands: Port Blair

Port Blair, the capital of Andaman, is your first stop if you are travelling by air. An early morning flight (to land by 10:30 – 10:45 AM) is recommended so that you do not lose out a day of sightseeing. The recommended itinerary for Day 1 is to cover Cellular Jail, Corbyn’s cove beach and Chidiyatapu.

As soon as we landed, we went to our hotel in a prepaid taxi. We befriended the taxi driver and hired him for the rest of the day for sightseeing, covering the above mentioned places, for Rs.1400.

  • Cellular jail:

The Cellular Jail is a historic place where hundreds of freedom fighters were imprisoned by the British in the pre-independence era. The building is a work of art and engineering with 7 long wings all connected to a central tower, which is the only entry/exit point to ensure no escapes from the prison.

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A model of the Cellular Jail

Hiring a guide seemed useless, so we looked around on our own for about an hour or so. People who are interested in history can try to get tickets for the sound and light show for the same evening.

  • Corbyn’s Cove beach:

Corbyn’s Cove is a nice beach where some water activities are conducted. Parasailing and Jet-ski rides are the recommended ones. We did not participate as we had previously experienced them in Mauritius, and also because we did not carry a set of clothes to change.

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Corbyn’s Cove beach
  • Chidiyatapu:

Chidiyatapu is a famous sunset view place in Port Blair which is about 30 kms away from Corbyn’s Cove. There is a sunset view point at the entrance of Chidiyatapu, while about 2-3 kms further there is the Munda Pahar beach which is also a great point of view.

After Corbyn’s cove, we immediately started towards Chidiyatapu as we had to reach before 4:30 PM for the sunset. However, we were not very lucky as it was a cloudy and rainy evening. Nevertheless, the beach was very beautiful with a forest view on one side and some other islands ahead.

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Munda Pahar beach, Chidiyatapu

 

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Munda Pahar beach, Chidiyatapu

We started our return at 5:00 PM. I remembered my friend’s warning that it gets pitch dark within a few minutes by 5:00 PM IST, or even earlier on rainy days.

People with tickets for the sound and light show can head back to Cellular Jail. Since the show does not take place on rainy days, we just had to return to our hotel.

Day 2 of Andaman Islands: Ross Island & North Bay

On the second day, after breakfast, we headed to Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex, also known as Aberdeen Jetty. This is the place to book passenger speedboat rides to Ross Island and North Bay Island.

The speedboats start to function at around 9:00 AM in the morning. The price is Rs.750 per person for a round trip of Aberdeen–Ross Island–North Bay Island–Aberdeen.

  • Ross Island:

Ross is a small navy-maintained island and is just a 5 minute speedboat sail from Aberdeen Jetty. As we reached, the boat person gave us 60 to 90 minutes time to return to the jetty.

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Ross Island is also a historic place from the time of World War II. At the entrance is the Japanese Bunker, and a little further are ruins of buildings from the time. A severe earthquake in 1941 caused extensive damages to these buildings. There are ruins of Chief Commissioner’s Bungalow, Church, Bakery, Swimming pool, Stores, Club, Power House, Water treatment plant, etc. There is a water pond in the middle of this island which is filled with lotus leaves.

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At the back of the Island is the Ferar Beach. It is quite a beautiful view of the clear blue sea and the waves hitting up the stones near the shore. We had to climb down a long flight of stairs to reach the beach but it’s worthy for the view.

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Ferar Beach

The best part about this island is that there are no predator animals, so you can see deer, rabbits and peacocks running around without fear. You can touch & pet the animals but feeding them is a punishable offense.

  • North Bay Island:

North Bay was about 10 minutes’ sail from Ross Island. The boat person gave us another two hours’ time to return. This is another island famous for snorkeling and scuba diving. Snorkeling is recommended at North Bay. It costs Rs.500 per person but the worth the money. We did not do either of them as we had plans of scuba diving in Havelock Island. For tourists who decide to snorkel/scuba dive but haven’t carried a separate set of clothes, there are some shops selling clothes, which can also be purchased as souvenirs (like “I love Andaman” T-shirts).

North Bay Island also has the famous lighthouse which has the honour of being printed on the Indian 20 rupees note. Climbing to the top of the lighthouse was a bit tiring. However, the view from atop is very beautiful with the rain forest on one side and the blue sea on the other. We could also see Port Blair at a distance while the cool breeze at that height made us forget how hot the day was.

The famous lighthouse seen on the 20 rupees currency note
The famous lighthouse seen on the 20 rupees currency note

 

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A view from atop the lighthouse

There are some more small shops near the Jetty where you can shop for seashell jewelry or souvenirs but I recommend they be done in Havelock or Neil.

P.S.: We were fortunate enough to plan our loo break at Ross Island itself, as the one is North Bay was nowhere near the word “clean”.

The boat dropped us back at Aberdeen Jetty and we could head back to our hotel before sunset time. We headed to the Cellular Jail again hoping to see the sound and light show at least on Day 2, but the tickets for three shows were sold out by the time we reached the counter. The fourth show was from 9:30 to 10:30 PM and since we had an early morning cruise the next day, we decided to skip it.

The cruise from Port Blair to Havelock should be booked in advance. There are 3 different types of cruises which travel between the islands viz., Government Ferry, Makruzz, Green Ocean. We had booked Makruzz which is apparently the fastest cruise ship service provider.

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A Makruzz cruise ship

Makruzz can be booked online in advance (for both to & fro dates). If you prefer this, I personally recommend you to book it about a month in advance, as the seats are limited. Fortunately for us, our taxi driver from Day 1 asked had about our plans and when he learned we hadn’t booked a cruise, he recommended us to do it on the same day. He took us to Makruzz office directly from the Airport, before dropping us to our hotel.

Day 3 of Andaman island: Havelock Island

The morning Cruise from Haddock Jetty (Port Blair), departure was scheduled at 8:00 AM. The Makruzz took about 90 minutes to reach Havelock. It is a standard price of Rs.100 for auto rickshaws to drop the tourists from the Jetty to their hotels/resorts.

Our resort was Symphony Palms Beach Resort, a really good place in terms of ambiance. They have the “wood” theme, so the entire resort is made to look like wooden constructions. The reception, the restaurants, all the cottages, every structure looks as if it is made entirely of wood (while indeed some part of it was wooden.) ☺

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Our cottage at Symphony Palms Beach Resort

We knew that the resort is situated on Govindnagar beach. We found out that the beach view cottages were at the other end and went to see. The sea water was about 300 meters away from the edge of the resort. We walked on the wet sand to reach the water but it was only ankle-high. It did not feel like much of a beauty. Well, more about it later.

We walked to the nearby two wheeler rental shop and hired a Honda Activa for our local use. The advance for the vehicle was Rs.2000 and the rent was Rs.500 per day. There are no petrol pumps at Havelock. We could buy petrol in fuel shops or the vehicle rental shops. The petrol prices were higher than usual, cost us Rs.100 per litre. Havelock is a small island and 2 litres of petrol for the Honda Activa was enough for us for two days.

  • Kalapathar beach:

We headed to Kalapathar beach which is about 5 kms from our resort (8 kms from the Jetty). It is a nice blue beach with some part of the water visible in blackish shade because of some large dark stones lying at the bottom of the shallow sea bed. We think that is why the name “kala pathar” has originated, but we never confirmed.

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Different colour shades of the water at Kalapathar beach

After enjoying for a good while at kalapathar’s waters, we headed back to the resort for lunch and then started towards Radhanagar beach in the expectations of a sunset view.

  • Radhanagar beach:

Radhanagar beach is the most famous beach of Havelock Island, it is especially famous for a magnificent view of the sunset and a paradise for people who love to play in the wavy waters.

This beach was about 11 kms from our resort (12 kms the Jetty), and the road is good only up to half of the way; the last few kms of the ride was bumpy. Once we entered the beach area, we were mind blown by the beauty of the beach. The evening light giving the water a shade of white and the foamy waves brushing our feet is an unforgettable scene.

This beach is generally crowded; a lot of people were playing in the water when we visited too. However, believe our luck with regard to the sunset, the clouds once again did not want us to witness the famous scenery. We waited with hope that the clouds would clear a bit, but time passed by and it was 5:00 PM before we knew it. Darkness started to take over within minutes when we decided to head back.

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The clouds blocking our sunset view at Radhanagar beach

One more unforgettable part of this journey of Andaman Islands was the ride back from Radhanagar beach to our resort. Half of the way (the bumpy roads) do not have street lights as well, we were riding in the pitch darkness with only our vehicle’s light on the road. Even though it was just past 5 in the evening, it was a bit scary..!

Day 4 of Andaman Island: Enter Neil

Neil  is one of the most beautiful islands in the Andaman Islands. It is about an hour cruise from Havelock, and yet again a booking is required with Makruzz or Green Ocean.

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A typical plan at Neil would be as follows:

Arrival day:

  • Arrival in the morning, check-in to hotel
  • Visit Bharathpur beach for activities like Jet-ski ride or glass boat ride
  • Visit the Howrah Natural Bridge
  • Visit Lakshmanpur beach to enjoy the sunset

Next day:

  • Early morning visit to Sitapur beach sunrise view point. Take a paddle boat to the middle of the sea to enjoy the beautiful sunrise from the eastern most sea of India.
  • Do some shopping on Bharathpur beach (nearby to the Jetty)
  • Return to Havelock/Port Blair

A one night stay at Neil is highly recommended. Unfortunately for us, it was not a part of our original plan, so we had to visit Neil and head back to Havelock on the same day. ☹

The time we had was enough to cover the Howrah Natural Bridge, Lakshmanpur beach and some shopping at Bharathpur beach. So that’s what we did by hiring an auto rickshaw for Rs.400 to cover these places within 3-4 hours.

  • Howrah Natural Bridge:

Our auto driver dropped us at the entry point and told us to get back within 40 minutes. (Do not hire any guides here, there’s nothing much to hear from them). We had to climb up some stairs, walk around a mini-hill for about 5 minutes, climb down on to the rocky beach, and then slowly walk on the slippery dirt-road/rocky path to witness it. Getting there could be challenging for people who are not fit enough, but on reaching the place, they can be astounded by the rock formation. It is basically a bridge-like coral formation which is about 2 storeys high, and it is quite a beautiful sight. We spent some quality time and decided to head back.

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The Howrah Natural Bridge

Returning on the rocky path and climbing the flight of stairs was tiring, so we stopped for a lemonade in one of the series of shops on the mini-hill. The shop lady sweetly entertained us by cracking jokes about couples while we relaxed with lemonade and some freshly cut star-fruit.

  • Lakshmanpur beach

Lakshmanpur beach is supposedly one of the best sunset view points in the world. It is said that one can enjoy the mesmerizing view of the sunset while the corals & pearls in the shallow waters shining under the dull light.
Because of our imperfect planning, we only could visit this beach at about 11 in the morning when the atmosphere was piping hot and there was absolutely no one else at the beach! Nevertheless, we did enjoy the privacy, the beauty and the calmness of the beach and after some time headed back.

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Lakhmanpur beach
  • Bharathpur beach

Bharathpur beach is more of a commercial place with a lot of shops selling corals, pearls, seashells and other marine stones of a wide size and colour range. There are some water activities as well like Jet-Ski and Glass boat rides.

We had less than an hour for our cruise back to Havelock, so we did some light shopping and headed back.

Upon reaching our resort back in Havelock by 3:00 PM we decided to re-visit Radhanagar beach, this time to completely drench and play in the water and hopefully catch that sunset view. We enjoyed the beach again but yet again the clouds decided to hide the sunset from us. For the third time! Ever seen a luckier couple?

We spent the evening of Day 4 at our resort, when we got a call from the reception asking if we are interested in Scuba diving. While we heard that “Barefoot” was one of the top scuba diving agencies in Havelock, there was another agency which was tied up with our resort, “AquaNomad”.

Upon speaking to the agency person we found out that they have a number of PADI* certified trainers and about the two different types of diving packages available for beginners. The “Try Dive” package included 15 minutes training and 30 minutes underwater, a certificate from AquaNomad and no other amenities. Then there was “Discover Scuba Diving” (DSD) package which included 25-30 mins in-depth training and 45 minutes underwater, a certificate of credit issued by PADI, and a small insurance in case of any adverse side effects due to diving.

We signed up for the DSD course and booked a slot for the next morning itself. The package was Rs.5500 per person including taxes. We were taken to their office and were shown a training video about scuba diving, the diving equipment, and the hand signs used underwater to communicate. After all the paperwork, we were dropped back to the resort.

*PADI = (Professional Association of Diving Instructors)

 

Day 5 of Andaman Islands: Scuba diving

A trip to Andaman Islands is incomplete without the scuba diving. An early morning dive session is always recommended as the divers will most likely have better visibility and all the marine life will be lively and active in the mornings. We were picked up at 6:00 AM and taken to the AquaNomad office where they handed us wetsuits and dive masks. Since I wear spectacles, they even checked for dive masks with prescription glasses for me. As one cannot wear spectacles or contact lens underwater, but has to enjoy the views of the marine life and the reefs, scuba agencies generally have this facility and I was happy to get one fairly fitting my prescription.

Since boat dives were banned in Andaman since April 2018, scuba diving now happens from shores only. We were taken to a secluded shore where only scuba divers and trainers were seen.

They geared us up and took us to the shallow waters for training. After knowing how the respiration regulator works, we took our first breath under water. It is an unforgettable experience, absolutely no words to describe. The trainers were very good at what they do, they helped us learn every step slowly and effectively. Once we are comfortable with the equipment, we were slowly taken into the deep waters and we started seeing coral reefs and a whole lot of fish!

There were a wide variety of marine life to see, fish ranging from the size of a fingernail to that of a large pumpkin. The view underwater was fantastic, and I must say, the calmness is unbeatable. The only sound you hear is from the exhaled air bubbles flying out of your regulator.

Since we were on the DSD course, we were taken to further depths than others who did the Try Dive with us. We were at 12 meters (about 40 feet) deep in the water. We were even shown the famous Orange and White clown fish which appears in the movie Finding Nemo. (Several people don’t know the name clown fish, they just call it Nemo). Well, I can proudly say “I found Nemo!”

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Nemo and Marlin in front of me!

We were underwater for more than an hour. Yes, they extended our dive time as the water was clearer than other days. We never felt like it was that long, but we were indeed in the water for 90 minutes. Maybe since the activities underwater are slow, it felt like time passed faster.

The divers were happy that we cooperated with them well and that it was a successful dive. Then we were dropped back to our resort by 9:00 AM. The rest of the day was a leisure.

 

Govindnagar beach:

We spent the rest of Day 5 at our resort and that is when we discovered that the Govindnagar beach is not as lame as we thought on the day we arrived at Havelock. Imagine our surprise when we saw the water which was 300 meters away from the resort’s edge 2 days ago, is now just 10 meters away! The wet sand we walked on was now the shallow sea bed covered with water and waves. The beauty of the Govindnagar beach was no less than others on the island. We stayed there after 5:00 PM as well, and saw the gibbous moon shine upon the waters.
It was breathtaking indeed.

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Moonlight upon Govindnagar beach

 

Day 6 of Andaman Islands: Return to Port Blair & journey back to hometown

The next morning, it was time to cruise back to Port Blair on our beloved Makruzz. While most people with a 5N/6D plan fly back to the hometown on the evening of Day 6, we had planned some extra leisure time at Port Blair, so we flew back on Day 7.

That was end of our trip, but you might need to know a few more details about food and money management. But before that, remember the disclaimer I mentioned at the beginning? It’s time for the reveal:

Since our Day 2 plan was ruined by the heavy rains, we visited Ross Island on Day 6 and North Bay Island on Day 7 separately. The experience was the same as described in the Day 2 part, only we had to spend some extra money for the two separate boat ride bookings.

 

My Number 1 recommendation for the “Don’t do” list:

I want to mention a very important part of the Andaman Islands tour which we failed to investigate ahead and lost some money, The Andaman Dolphin.

We thought that we can see dolphins playing in the open sea. So we bought tickets for the Andaman Dolphin at Rs.1850 per person at North Bay. We boarded a dolphin-shaped speedboat which increased our hopes of finding a dolphin. It had a big elliptical glass at the bottom through which we could see the sea bed and some marine life. We thought we will see dolphins through that glass. The boat started to move and a guy came in to explain what we are seeing through the glass and he literally screamed the word “coral” about 300 times in his 10 minute guidance explanation. It did irritate me but I was still in the hope of finding a dolphin. However, what we saw were 90% corals, 5% sea cucumbers and 5% small fish. Only good thing is that we saw the Blue Tang fish (Dory from Finding Nemo/Finding Dory movies.) After explaining about the “corals”, the guy said it’s time for our fun ride. The boat sped and sailed around the sea for 5 minutes and reached the Jetty. That is when we realized that the Andaman Dolphin is just the name & shape of the darn boat!

I can’t say we were misled. Since Hindi wasn’t our primary language, maybe I misunderstood when the person explained us what exactly it is.

This ride is technically the glass-boat-ride that is available in Bharathpur beach at Neil Island which is just Rs.500 per person for a 30 minute sail. Hence the recommendation in the “Don’ts” list. Even the glass boat ride is not so useful for people who have done/have plans to do scuba diving, but it’s their choice.

The Food at Port Blair:

As you would know, islands are usually famous for seafood, and so is Andaman Islands. Well, we are vegetarians and hence cannot give in-depth reviews about non-veg food or seafood, so apologies for that.

Port Blair: The hotel we stayed in was “Guru International” . I Booked through booking.com as i found the cheapest price there.The rooms were decent and the food menu was filled with non-veg and seafood dishes. We ordered vegetarian food and it was decent in taste & quantity. 

We had found two pure vegetarian places in Port Blair. One Punjabi Dhaba right around the corner from our hotel, and another called “Annapurna Café” a little further uphill from the Dhaba.

  • The Punjabi Dhaba menu was very limited, but the food was tasty. We had their nice & small butter rotis and awesome paneer butter masala.
  • Annapurna Café is more like a regular dine-in restaurant with a long and reasonably expensive menu. We had their Bombay meals to try a wider variety and the dishes tasted good. I have to mention, they just don’t know what pakoda is. They served us Onion bajjis when we ordered Onion Pakoda.

The Food at Havelock:

Our resort was probably a treat for non-vegetarians. The menu mostly consisted of a wide variety of seafood. Since we are vegetarians our choice was limited. Symphony’s restaurant is named “Charcoal” and well, the prices are at least double the prices of a small/regular dine-in restaurant in any city of India. A buffet meal (with about 5 veg dishes, only 2 being main course) was charged at Rs.1000 per person!

We stayed at Havelock for 3 nights (days 3, 4, 5 of our trip) but not until the afternoon of Day 5 that we discovered an amazing pure vegetarian restaurant just a few yards from our resort. It is named “Shakahaar, the one and only Pure Veg Restaurant”. Although the tag line seems to be out of audacity, I think they have the authenticity to use it; the food was absolutely delicious. The prices are fair, as the food quality and quantity were both better than most restaurants on the island, definitely better than Charcoal. Since we were on our anniversary trip, we even enjoyed a candle-light dinner at Shakahaar that evening and they did not charge anything extra for the setup. We had asked the same at Charcoal and they had offered us a candle-light setup for Rs.4500! Isn’t it ridiculous?

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To ease up a bit on food expenses, we had also carried a few ready-to-eat food packages from our hometown. It helped a fair share on certain days.

I can’t say anything about the food in Neil Island, as we were in and out between breakfast and lunch. I believe it will be pretty much same as Havelock.

Things we skipped At Andaman Islands:

    • Port Blair has some museums and other places to visit. We wanted to cover some on the leisure day, but never found the leisure time, thanks to the rain.
    • Havelock has another beach called Elephant beach. It is a secluded beach for which the trekking path entrance point is on the way to Radhanagar beach. About 2 kms on the trekking path leads to elephant beach. It is apparently beautiful too and is used for water activities like Snorkeling, Sea-walk, and probably scuba diving. (I heard from AquaNomad guys that scuba diving was banned at elephant beach since April 2018. We never confirmed.
  • Ramnagar beach & Sitapur beach on Neil Island: Since we were only for a few hours in Neil, we skipped these beaches. If you have a proper overnight stay plan at Neil, do not miss these.

A few points to remember Before visiting Andaman Islands:

  • Plan your stays and cruises well in advance to avoid spending extra on cruises like we did.
  • There is no proper mobile internet. In Port Blair sometimes the 2G network connects, but in Havelock and Neil it is zero.
  • Even at Hotels the WiFi does not work 5 to 6 days in a week.
  • The food and accommodation is expensive in andaman islands, especially for tourists. Manage your cash well.
  • I personally feel guides are unnecessary while sightseeing. Be careful, people may mislead.
  • The auto rickshaw people charge in fixed prices of 100 or 150 while travelling from Airport to hotel or vice versa, Hotel to Jetty and vice versa. However, when you hire them for local sightseeing, their prices depend on the distance.
  • Bargain on all the water activities in any beach. The quoted prices are usually a lot higher.

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