When you think of beaches in India, what is it that first comes to your mind? Maybe Goa, or Kerala, or Pondicherry, or maybe even the Marine Lines of South Bombay. However, the top beaches of India, unfortunately (or rather fortunately) miss our imagination as tourists. These beaches that are being talked about here are, as the title suggests, in Incredible India’s Incredible Islands: Andaman and Nicobar.
This is the true remote wonderland of India that has to be explored by all avid travelers. So before you get on the journey to Andaman, here is a short yet concise guide on what to expect and all the remarkable things to do in these islands. Let’s jump right into it!
Why you should visit Andaman and Nicobar
Emerald. Blue. And You.
The best beaches, clearest turquoise waters, exciting water sports and marine life like no other. This official tourism logo of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands perfectly encapsulates a tourist’s life in the islands.
If you want a stress buster holiday to just wind down and do nothing, come to Andaman. If you want to get your blood pumping with some adventure sports like SCUBA diving, snorkeling, or jet skiing, come to Andaman. If you want to discover some of the rarest and endemic wildlife in the world, come to Andaman and Nicobar. Yes, this archipelago is also home to some of the most breath-taking and rare nature as it is separated by almost 1000km from mainland India. In fact, the island chain is closer to Southeast Asia than it is to the rest of India.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands can be proud of a rich tribal and colonial history, with Port Blair in particular having a great significance during colonial rule. So for all those history geeks out there, here is another reason for you to visit, as if there aren’t enough already. But one thing has to be said, just as Andaman and Nicobar were the first place in India to be free from British rule (by the Azad Hind Fauj), a mere trip to them will free your soul of any stress or worries that it may have!
Andaman and Nicobar Islands have beaches, forests, volcanoes, uncontacted tribes, history, adventure sports and a lot more to quench your wanderlust. Ooh, all this sounds so fun! No wonder they can be called India’s Incredible Islands.
How and when to visit Andaman and Nicobar
Andaman and Nicobar Islands are very well connected with the rest of India, considering it is so distant and remote to any other place in the world. The two main ways to reach Andaman are by ship or by air. The only airport is in the capital city of Port Blair and has regular flights from Bangalore, Chennai, Vizag, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Kolkata. Connecting flights from other cities are also readily available. This is the most convenient way to access these islands and only takes a few hours of travel.
Another way to travel to Andaman is by ship. There are regular passenger ships from Chennai, Vizag and Kolkata to Port Blair and these schedules are released in advance for you to book. Keep in mind that these aren’t luxury liners or cruise ships but rather passenger ships with just the basic amenities. And it will easily take at least a couple of days of travel time. These are much cheaper but as you can see also a lot more inconvenient and time-taking, so it is not recommended to proceed by sea.
Now that you know the pros and cons of different modes of transport to Andaman and Nicobar, you should also know when the best time to tour them is. For this the answer is quite simple, the time when the weather is most pleasant and cool for beach activities, watersports and general traversing of the island is in the winter months, November to March. In the summers it gets too hot and humid and in the monsoon, it is too wet, but in the winters, it is just perfect.
Best places to see in Andaman and Nicobar
1. Port Blair
Ah, the gateway to an oceanic utopia: Port Blair!
Port Blair is the capital and a bustling city in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N). It has a historic and cultural significance in A&N. The Cellular Jail, in particular, is a symbol of British oppression during colonial rule. Now it has been converted into a museum cum memorial for all those prisoners held there. You are bound to be moved by the hardships faced by the brave freedom fighters exiled to ‘Kaala Paani’. Cellular Jail has three main attractions: the gallery showcasing the Indian struggle for freedom, a library filled with books on the same and an eternal flame built in honor of the soldiers who died fighting for independence. But the best of Cellular Jail is reserved for the evening, when the sound and light show starts. This 45 minutes show is an ideal mix of information and entertainment as you learn the dark history of Cellular Jail. It will definitely leave a lasting and powerful impact on you.
Other notable mentions for your itinerary when in Port Blair are the Japanese Bunkers from the WW2 era, there are many around the town but only a few are well maintained so look out for the good ones. The Clock Tower is another remnant from British times. Gandhi Park is a lovely place to spend an evening with your family, as it is a peaceful location in the middle of the city. Within the park are Japanese temples, bunkers and a statue of MK Gandhi. One more must-see in Port Blair is Samudrika Museum. It is a comprehensive museum containing installations on the natural ecosystem, animals and birds of A&N and an aquarium with a variety of fish, corals and shells. It also has artifacts and stories of the various tribes of A&N such as the Jaravas and Sentinelese. But the most impressive part of the museum is the skeleton of a whale that just shows you how gargantuan these giants can be.
But how can we talk about Port Blair without mentioning Corbyn’s Cove Beach? This is the most popular and commercial beach near Port Blair. It is in the city limits and has a wide variety of beach activities and watersports such as snorkeling, sea karting, jet skiing and SCUBA diving. Obviously, it is also perfect for swimming and exploring the underwater world. Another underwater activity from Port Blair is the Glass bottom boat ride, where you get to see the beautiful ocean world without getting wet. The semi-submarine ride is just a more thrilling version of this for you to try.
To view even better corals and ocean life with coral reefs, mangroves, forests and lagoons, head down to Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, a half-hour drive away. Turtles, crocodiles, sharks and manta rays and a plethora of other vibrant fish and aquatic flora-fauna can be spotted here.
As it can be seen, along with being the starting point to your voyage of Andaman, Port Blair is also a great place for tourists.
2. Havelock Island
The beaches of Havelock Island are second only to – wait, they aren’t second to any place in India and maybe even the world. Don’t believe us? Ok, Imagine beaches with fine white sand that will make you want to swim in it, coral reefs that are super biodiverse, waters as blue as an Indian team jersey, and glow in dark coasts. That is Havelock for you.
The most popular beach of Havelock Island is Radhanagar Beach, which was voted 7th best in the world! Its bright sands and gleaming waters act in great contrast to the dark green of the foliage around the beach. This is a very romantic beach and is popular for honeymoons, so it might as well be called Radha-Krishna beach. Other major beaches of Havelock include Elephant Beach, Vijaynagar Beach and Kalapathar Beach. Before you get to Havelock, ensure that you pack your snorkeling kits, because the coral reefs are going to blow your mind away. After all, A&N is considered one of the premium SCUBA and snorkeling destinations in India. Likewise, parasailing is a good go in Havelock Island too.
But what truly sets Havelock apart from the rest of the A&N islands are the bioluminescence beaches. In the pitch dark of night, you can witness the sea glowing in a fluorescent blue in the most dreamlike experience of your life. Actually, it isn’t magic but phytoplankton algae lighting up the beaches to make it seem like the stars fell into the water. This is the reason night kayaking is so famous in Havelock. Out of the beaches, the mangrove tour is also very fun as you go through the murky waters of the marshes. There are some remarkable trekking trails around the island for you to explore as well. Havelock Island is well known for its healthy saltwater crocodile population, so look out for them too.
Havelock Island is great for all types of holidayers; it literally is the jack of all trades of islands.
How to get there from Port Blair: There are regular ferries to Havelock that take about 2hrs.
3. Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
On the island of Great Nicobar, you will feel solitude and tranquillity like no other. This southernmost island of India is so remote that it has developed its own ecosystem and is inhabited by only a few thousand people. Like the rest of Andaman and Nicobar, it has an amazing coastline and marine life. Combine all these together and you see why it has such a serene atmosphere surrounding it.
The Biosphere Reserve covers 85% of the island and within it are two national parks – Campbell Bay and Galathea. You will require authorizations from the Forest Department and District Forest Officer to visit this biosphere reserve. And even then you won’t be permitted to discover the whole reserve. This is because it is home to an indigenous population of the Shompen tribe and the government doesn’t want us to get in contact with them for their and the ecosystem’s safety.
Even after all this, it will definitely be worth visiting Great Nicobar. It has an embarrassment of riches of rare and endemic flora and fauna such as Nicobar pigeon, giant robber crab, giant leatherback turtles, Nicobar long-tailed macaque, Nicobar tree shrew and saltwater crocodiles. In the interiors of the biosphere reserve are a few hiking trails to explore the jungles in the most unadulterated form and also a vantage point to view Campbell Bay (largest settlement on the island) from.
Birdwatching is also a popular hobby in this region, as you can look for many different species of birds. At night time you can see the special Brown Hawks Owl and Nicobar Scops Owl. Oh, and you can see the magic of phytoplankton at play here too as the sea shines in the dark. You should stop by at Indira Point, the southernmost point of India, as you stare over at the infinite horizon marveling the expanse of the Indian nation.
Unexplored, pure and off the beat, Great Nicobar is every traveler’s dream and one of the best places to visit in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
How to get there from Port Blair: Helicopter rides are the fastest way to travel between Port Blair and Great Nicobar but it is exorbitantly expensive and has limited seats so a ship is the surest way to go but takes 24-30 hours to reach.
4. Barren Island
Volcanoes and coral reefs. What do they have in common? They are both active and thriving in Barren Island.
Barren Island is the only active volcano in South Asia and is possibly the most remote place in India, as it is over 138km from Port Blair. Not only humans but animals also find it hard to survive in these harsh conditions and frequently erupting volcanoes. But you will spot a few bats, goats, birds and rodents on the island. The person who named it Barren weren’t kidding, were they?
But the wildlife you have come to see isn’t on land but rather underwater. It is widely held in the SCUBA diving community that the reefs around Barren Island are some of the best in the world! Colorful and full of life, this coral reef is any diver’s fantasy. Manta rays, clownfish, corals that come in all shapes and colors, interesting basalt formations and other geographical wonders, everything under Barren Island will leave you enchanted.
However, there are a few challenges in going to Barren Volcano. You unfortunately cannot disembark onto the island and can only appreciate it from a distance. You will also require prior permission from officials and have to hire a private ferry or seaplane to take you to Barren Island, which can be rather expensive. This secludedness and strict measures, in all fairness, are a good thing, as you will hardly find any tourists and have the whole island for yourself. The volcano emerging out of the water, with no one else around, looks stunning and will blow you away (not literally). If you take a seaplane, you can even get a mesmerizing glance at the volcano from the top! This trip is worthwhile for that alone, making it a top offbeat thing to do in Andaman.
How to get there from Port Blair: A private ferry takes between 8 to 10 hours to reach Barren Island.
5. Saddle Peak National Park
“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”
At Saddle Peak National Park, you will surely be witnessing the miracles of the beauty of our planet. Situated in the North Andaman Island, Saddle Peak is the highest point in the archipelago at 732m. It is surrounded by lush green forests on one side and virgin white beaches on the other. You can take a trail from Lamiya Bay Beach (which is also popular for its pebbles) to the top of Saddle Peak which is about 8km long. On the whole way, you will barely meet anyone and will sense calmness like in no other place.
The National Park is thick and houses several quirky and endangered animals like saltwater crocodiles, Andaman wild pig, water monitor lizard, imperial pigeon and Andaman hill mynas while the coast surrounding it is infested with dolphins and whales among other species. Saddle Peak is the mouth of Andaman’s only river, Kalpong. Drinking the fresh and sweet water of this stream is sure to refresh you however tired you are from the trek.
Diglipur is the nearest town to Saddle Peak and your accommodation must be in it. You can afford to spend at least a couple more days here as there are more sights to behold. The mangroves of Ramnagar Beach and thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles of Kalinagar Beach (it is a seasonal nesting ground for these cute creatures) may not be the most conventional things to expect from a beach but just make them so much more enjoyable!
Trekking through the forests near Diglipur will give you two more natural wonders to relish. Alfred Caves are a set of 42 limestone caves that can only be reached by trekking through narrow jungle paths. The fascinating part of the caves is that it is the natural habitat of swiftlet birds (which have edible nests). Jal Tikry is another curiosity of Andaman for you to visit. These are some of the rarest phenomena called mud volcanoes where instead of lava, mudflows out of these mounts. It is quite the sight to observe.
Saddle Peak and its supporting cast make it a vitality to discover North Andaman and its wonders. So do yourself a favor and make sure you don’t miss one of the best things to do in Andaman.
How to get there from Port Blair: By road, you can take a bus that takes 12hrs to reach Diglipur. But this is very inconvenient so most passengers opt for boats or cruises which take about 10hrs themselves.
On the northern edge of Middle Andaman Island, Mayabunder is a tiny town with more than its fair share for travelers. This is a location that is off the beaten track, and it will surprise you with its gorgeousness and quality of the experience. Karmatang Beach is a top-notch destination for all those in need of some quietude and peace, where you get to interact with Mother Earth in her purest form. Karmatang Beach is also famous for being the breeding ground for turtles, similar to Kalinagar Beach. The German Getty, or the old abandoned harbor from Japanese occupation during WW2 is also a good tourist attraction, offering striking views of the sea up to the horizon.
Aves Island, just off the coast of Mayabunder is a tremendous place that is so devoid of tourists it can be considered a private beach. The waters around these areas are also idyllic for snorkeling and exploring the sea world. Interview Island is another major attraction you cannot miss, as it is very distinct in that it has wild elephants. Yes, it is the only place in A&N where elephants are found in the wild. They are the descendants of elephants transported here for industrial work. Be it trekking or in a vehicle, in Interview Island you will have a most unique experience.
All in all, it can be said that a trip to Mayabunder will make you sing to it, “But I can’t help falling in love with you.”
How to get there from Port Blair: Mayabunder is an 8-9 hour drive from Port Blair. It takes you through the reserved Jarawa Forests. Or you could take a ferry from Port Blair to Mayabunder that takes 7-8 hours.
7. Mount Harriet
What is it with Andaman & Nicobar and astounding nature? Mount Harriet National Park is yet another illustration of exemplarily well-preserved forests in A&N. Named after Mount Harriet, the 3rd highest peak in A&N, the main attraction of this National Park are the trekking trails, ranging from short to long ones that could take the whole day. During the course of these hikes, you will see a bounty of rich animal life such as Andaman wood pigeon, Andaman Hawk Owl, Andaman Drongo, robber crabs, crocodiles and Andaman wild pigs. As you can make out by now, Mount Harriet is a bird and butterfly-watching dreamland.
Within the National Park, there is an imposing lighthouse to visit, some anti-aircraft guns from WW2, Nicobari Huts on display showcasing the delicate and diverse culture of the tribes of these islands. However, Mount Harriet National Park also has a dark past, as you stumble upon Kala Pathar, a ravine from where prisoners were pushed down to their death by the cruel British colonialists. You can pay your homage to the brave martyrs here as well as relish the scenery from here. On the brighter side, there is a small but well-kept orchidarium in the park. For any flower lovers, you can give it a visit. Mount Harriet is an impeccable picnic spot too, if you want to go with your families or friends.
Mount Harriet National Park is a place so beautiful that it even found itself a place on the old Indian Rs20 note. When Gandhi can make space for it on a banknote, you too should take a place on it for it on your itinerary and have a whale of a time.
How to get there from Port Blair: Driving from Port Blair to Mount Harriet will take you 1.5 hours. The sea route is much faster as the ferry takes only 15min from Port Blair to the base village of the National Park – Bambooflat.
8. Baratang Island
One more island in Andaman. One more destination that will leave you with the best travel memories.
Baratang Island is known for its natural beauty and geographical anomalies. The limestone caves in particular are exquisite. It looks absolutely spectacular, and mysterious as it looks like Earth is hiding all its secrets in these structures. Really puts into perspective all the miraculous sights that nature can create. An added bonus is that to get to the cave, you get to walk through some plush mangrove forests that add their own prettiness to the place. Awesome, right?
Mud Volcanoes are found aplenty in Baratang Island as well, and you could give them a visit if you can’t get to North Andaman. If you are looking for some traditional sun and sand, look no further than Baludera Beach. This beach is tucked away in a quiet and cozy corner of the island so don’t be surprised when you see no one there except yourself. Mangrove forests on one side and sandbars and fallen old trees on the other, Baludera is also among the most picturesque beaches of A&N. Canoeing, snorkeling, or swimming in the waters here are also reasonably popular. In the evening you should go to Parrot Island, where you will witness the spectacle of thousands of parrots and other birds returning to their nests on the island.
With so much to do, Baratang Island is worth a lot more than just a day visit to Port Blair. It is among the top places to see in Andaman.
How to get there from Port Blair: The most common way of going to Baratang is by hiring a taxi, which takes about 3hrs to reach. Government buses are also available but these may take longer.
9. Ross Island
Ross Island is unlike any other in A&N. Like every other place in the archipelago, it does have the most scenic coastline and beaches. On top of that, you will find some wildlife in the form of peacocks, deers and ducks. But it has something more than that, it has archaeological ruins that add their own old-world charm to this already charismatic island.
The island was first settled by the British in the 18th century and in 1857 became administrative headquarters of the region. During this era, the British built various administrative buildings, hospitals, shops and churches. Now, almost all of them are in ruins and in a desolate state. There are creepers and trees all over them and oddly enough, it adds to the allure of the island, making it seem like they are creating an art piece over the buildings. Walking through the remains will make you wonder how life would have been in these same buildings just 100 years ago. The Presbyterian Church in particular is grand even when in ruins.
The Japanese had also left their legacy here, in the form of WW2 bunkers (and they are the ones who bombed the buildings to oblivion). Visit the Farzand Ali Store, which has loads of photos and artifacts from British rule. Ross Island has an open-air theatre and tram lines too! To cap off a fun-filled day, you can catch sight of the spectacular sound and light show on the island itself. It will complete a perfect tour of Ross Island.
How to get there from Port Blair: Ross Island is only a couple of kilometers from Port Blair so you can take a quick ferry to reach.
Food and Shopping in Andaman and Nicobar
“Good food puts you in a good mood.”
Any holiday is only complete when it is supplemented by tasty food. In that sphere too, A&N has got you covered. Being an island chain, Andaman and Nicobar are evidently rich in seafood delicacies. The cuisine in A&N is also heavily influenced by Bengal and Tamil Nadu so be prepared for an awesome fusion of both. Fish curries are the most sought-after dishes here, with varieties like Chilli Fish Curry and Macher Jhol. Prawns, squid and other seafood are also abundantly available with items such as Coconut Prawn Curry, barbequed shrimps, or delicious juicy crabs. For the vegetarians, all your typical street food like chaats are obtainable along with South Indian tiffins, rotis, naans and also Chinese. With such a diverse spread of dishes, food in A&N is going to leave you feeling finger-lickin’ good (on that note there are no KFCs in A&N).
For all the shoppers out there, Andaman and Port Blair in particular have a unique range of items for you to buy. The number 1 destination for all tourists is Sagarika Emporium in Port Blair, where you will find the largest collection of all sorts of things to buy. From timber crafts, to coconut art, to pearls and even the eccentric fishbone artifacts which are literally made of fishbones, you can find everything here. One thing you must purchase in A&N is the Nicobari Mats, woven in the authentic style of tribes of Nicobar. It will not only support these people but also give you a souvenir to take home. Other than Sagarika Emporium, Aberdeen Bazaar, MG Road, Market 3 (a beachside market in Havelock), Andaman Handicrafts Emporium and Queen Sea Covering Crafts. All things considered, shopaholics will have a field day in Andaman, especially Port Blair.
Whew, the more one reads about Andaman and Nicobar, the more they feel like Incredible India’s Incredible Islands. Apart from this catalog of places, there are many more superb things to do in this Union Territory. This is just the tip of a heavenly iceberg.
I’m sure you are itching to go on your fairytales vacation to this slice of paradise. So don’t wait anymore! Pack your bags, put on your boots and get on that plane. Oh, and get ready to have a blast of a time! Enjoy! And do tell us the wondrous experiences you’ve had on your holiday to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.