The Andaman Islands are also called the “Maldives of India” and the name is well-deserved. The archipelago lays in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 1400 km East of India and 1000 km West of Thailand. It is a tropical paradise giving home to hundreds of animal species and plants, beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. But, don’t let the postcard perfect scenery fool you – this Paradise comes with nature’s creatures as well. The Andamans are a very wild place where it’s possible to see many types of wild animals such as salt water crocodiles, venomous snakes, frogs, sea kraits etc. Some of the islands are inhabited by the Sentinelese people (one of the many indigenous tribes living on the islands), who resist contact with the outside world and remains hostile to any attempt.
It is a true gem, an adventurous off-the-beaten track destination. If you are in India, it’s a must see. Go until it’s too late!
How to get there?
The archipelago belongs to India and the only way to get to Port Blair (the archipelago’s capital) is through mainland of India. There are flights every day from Chennai and Calcutta. Otherwise there are ships as well, but it is not for the faint-hearted. It takes about 4 days on rough seas which can be way too long even in deluxe cabins. (Rumor has it that it’s planned to open direct flights between Bangkok and Port Blair. This would bring many tourists to the islands with the all the unwanted effects of tourism. We hope that it will not happen any time soon.)
You will need – obviously – the Indian Tourist Visa but in the Andamans tourists can only stay a maximum of 30 days regardless of a 3 month or longer Indian visa you have. Upon landing in Port Blair, you will receive a permit that you have to keep with you at all times. With this permit you can visit certain islands but many are off-limit for tourists.
Things to do in Port Blair
In Port Blair there is not much to do or see. There are couple of museums and that’s about it. It’s a small capital city, that feels like the time has stopped about 50 years ago. Make sure to book the ferry to Havelock Island (or wherever you’re heading) as soon as you arrive. Ask the guesthouse to book it for you or go by yourself to the ferry terminal. Take the private ferry, it’s more expensive but better standard. They get booked out very quickly and you will get stuck in Port Blair just like we did… 🙂
Where To Stay In Port Blair
We stayed 1 night at Hotel Lalaji which offers a basic accommodation, it’s OK for a night but don’t expect anything fancy. Once you are there, check out Excel Bar & Restaurant on the rooftop. The owner is very nice, he will be able to give you travel tips and plan your tip further plus there is WiFi! Another option is to stay at Aashiaanaa Guesthouse, they have nice and clean rooms.
Another good advice: Internet is hard to find in the capital city and even harder on the islands. Make sure to have your return flight booked before you even get to Port Blair and forget about spontaneous online bookings once you are there. We had to go back to the airport in Port Blair to buy tickets as we did not find Internet good enough to do an online booking in Port Blair.
Havelock Island = Paradise
Havelock Island is a 2 hours ferry-ride away from Port Blair. If the weather is nice you can stay on the deck and enjoy the amazing view of the uninhabited, lush green islands. When you thought that Port Blair was at the end of the world, there is even further. Havelock Island is as close as we got to Paradise.
Once you arrive at the port, ask a tuk tuk driver to take you to places that match your budget. There are plenty of simple and cheap bamboo bungalows at also some more expensive hotels as well. The basic bamboo huts cost 10 dollars or less a night. While many of the lodges have ‘resort’ in their names, none come even close, thankfully.
Food is as cheap as anywhere in mainland India. The majority of the population originates from immigrants who came to the island since the colonial times, mainly of Bengali, Hindustani and Tamil. So you will find lots of delicious curries, seafood dishes and some Western food also.
Things to Do On Havelock Island
The pace of life is slow, the locals are friendly and still not too affected by tourism. Imagine a tropical Paradise island – what would you do there (without WiFi haha)? Lay on the beach, hang out at your bungalow, read, sleep, have a nap in the hammock, sample local foods…
- Go on a snorkeling trip! We went on a full day trip, there was only us and another couple. We highly recommend to do this, you will see more islands from the motorboat and colorful underwater life, some corals as well. Unfortunately, here too, most of the corals are bleached. We had lunch on the shores of an uninhabited island which was amazing!
- Rent a scooter and drive around the island! You will see beautiful rice fields and farming people. You will need your own transportation if you want to get around anyway.
- Visit beach no.7 (Radhanagar Beach) – it is a beautiful long beach, not a living soul in sight! During our stay we visited this beach two times. Once it was closed, because saltwater crocs were seen. This is the infamous beach where an American tourist was devoured while snorkeling off the beach by a large crocodile in 2010. We did not swim here but not many people did actually.
- Trek through the jungle to see Elephant Beach! Be prepared that the path is not very obvious, and after rain it will be very muddy and slippery. We removed our flipflops and were walking barefoot. And… Watch out for snakes. We saw a really big one, laying on the path and so we did not get to the beach but turned back and ran 🙂 But other travelers who did go, said it was amazing. At the end of the trail you need to cross mangroves to access the beach and it’s a god idea to mark the route you take to get back.
Are there crocodiles in the Andaman Islands?
Yes there are. As we mentioned above, there has been a crocodile sighting during our stay and we were there only for a week. The deadly crocodile attack of an American tourist back in 2010 have been largely covered in the media but most likely there are other incidents that we don’t hear about. The incidents often go unreported due to the lack of accessibility to mainstream media.
When we asked locals about crocs (around beach 7, or anywhere in the islands) they always smile and say they’ve never seen any. It might be that they just don’t want to scare tourists away? Perhaps, yes. Anyway… It is a beautiful place but we can’t emphasize it enough that it is also dangerous! The nature is fairly untouched and wild and therefore you have to be very cautious.
Salt water crocodiles are generally prefer the security of mangroves or other thick coastal vegetation by day and emerge to hunt by night. So never dive or snorkel close to the mangroves and never swim at sun down!
We read somewhere that while you are in the water one person should always watch… This of course did not happen when we were snorkeling. The 4 of us were snorkeling and the boat’s driver was sleeping or swimming as well. Since salt water crocodiles travel in open sea also, perhaps it was a dangerous thing to do to snorkel near the islands…
In summary, we would say that we had an incredible, unforgettable time on Havelock Island! Don’t let the crocs put you off, do go and see this place for yourself. But be cautious, read and be informed before you go!