For most daydreamers imagining an Indian Ocean vacation paradise, the well-known tropical attractions of the Seychelles or Maldives quickly come to mind. But the beautiful Andaman Islands have been a well-kept secret known to travelers from India and Pakistan for many years. An Indian union territory since the 1950’s, these remote islands off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand are as close as a plane ticket (or boat ride) away. Each of the islands in the Andamans have their own personality, beckoning the curious visitor to live like a local, slow down and relax. The Andamans offer all the beauty, adventure and tropical pleasures any world traveler could want, in a corner of the world that not many other world travelers have discovered yet. A beach lover’s dream and every surfer’s paradise, with unexplored world-class scuba and snorkeling sites just waiting to be discovered – the Andaman Islands.
The majority of visitors to the Andaman Islands fly to India from their home country, then head out of several major Indian airports on non-stop flights to Veer Savarkar International Airport (IXZ) in Port Blair, located on South Andaman Island. Regular service is available to/from Chennai, Kolkata, New Delhi and Bhubaneshwar through Air India, Jet Airways, JetLite, GoAir, and Spice Jet. Service can be affected by weather and delayed by other issues, so it is recommended that visitors be prepared to stay in Port Blair at least overnight on arrival in case of arriving too late to catch the last ferry or boat to your island. When leaving to head home, remember to allow plenty of time to get to the airport – arriving in Port Blair the day before is a smart plan and gives you more time to explore the town.
There will be numerous taxis, cars for hire, shuttles and other transportation available to make sure you arrive at your jetty or wharf in time to catch the next boat to your island. However, if your plane is late in arriving, or you want to spend the evening in Port Blair or in one of the hotels on the coast, you’ll find that these friendly locals will be more than happy to take you to your accommodations. Remember to obtain your RAP (restricted area permit) from the Immigration Authorities before you leave the airport just in case you want to visit an island or wildlife sanctuary usually not available to tourists. For hassle-free airport transfers from Veer Savarkar airport to Marine Hill and Wandoor on South Andaman Island and Radhanagar and Vikay Nagar Beaches on Havelock Island, advance online reservations can be made with CityAirportTaxis for door-to-door service for yourself, 1 to 9 additional companions and 2 pieces of luggage each that includes 1-hour of wait time if your flight is delayed.
There are a small number of passenger ships that sail from the Indian mainland a few times a month, and even during fair weather the ships can take 4 to 5 days to arrive in Port Blair – this was the only way to reach the islands for many years. Considered a real experience in patience, this mode of travel appeals to backpackers and adventure seekers who don’t mind ‘roughing it’, as the ship and its’ crew provide the basic conveniences but no luxurious ocean amenities. You must bring your own food and drink, and a sleeping sheet or hammock is suggested to hang on deck. There are usually 3 to 4 sailings a month from Kolkata and Chennai to/from Port Blair, and one sailing a month to/from Visakhapatnam. Online booking for advance ticketing is not available, but there are STARS ticket counters available in Chennai and Kolkata and a ticketing agent for the Visakhapatnam departure near the port main gate in Vizag. Return passage from the islands can be arranged at the ticket offices in each port of call.
Most visitors to the Great Andaman Island will prefer to have a private car and driver, both for the ease of gaining access to local sights and activities, and having someone local take care of arranging the permits and transfers necessary to be driving in tribal reserves and other locations. When arriving at the airport there will be many cabs, cars and vans available to take you to your hotel in Port Blair, or to the designated jetty for your ferry on to your destination. Especially on South Andaman Island, having a local guide who enjoys sharing island experiences will allow you to just relax and enjoy being able to see the sights without worry. Most of the time you can arrange to hire a driver and vehicle at the front desk of your hotel or resort, or by choosing a local cab for hire who is available and waiting at the local ferry wharf.
A vital lifeline from South Andaman Island up to North Andaman Island, this 140 miles of paved road offers a long, winding day-long journey through a variety of ecosystems and rainforests as it carries you north to the coast at Diglipur. Because the road passes through the Jarwa Reserve (home to the Jarawa tribe) and interaction between tourists and tribespeople is prohibited, all visitors must travel on the road with either an approved driver/guide in a hired vehicle, or on a long distance bus (government or private). Vehicles travel in convoys, with armed escorts, so expect that there will be some delays and stops at different points along the route (be sure to have copies of your permit with you at all times). There are two channels between islands that must be crossed by vehicle ferry at the present time (with bridges coming in the near future) and the journey is a beautiful way to experience the real Andaman Islands..
Boats, catamarans and ferries are the lifelines between islands for both locals and visitors in the Andamans. Port Blair’s busy commercial port is home to the Indian military, import/export companies, and a wide variety of options for getting from one island to another from the Phoenix Bay jetty, Haddo Wharf and Aberdeen jetty (aka Water Sports Complex). Everything that moves on the water is dependent on weather, so visitors are advised to plan their arrivals and departures on their vacation spots with an eye to watching the forecasts and in case of rough seas, plan for some delays or cancellations, and always arrive at your ship about an hour ahead of departure time. Helicopter and seaplane service is available and provided to island residents and visitors by the government mainly for emergency evacuation due to illness or injury, but also available for quick transportation between the islands. At the present time, there is only helicopter service at Port Blair at the airport that flies to the outlying islands on a daily schedule, and seaplane service could possibly be available in the near future.
These sleek vessels are the fastest way to get to Havelock and Neil Islands from Port Blair, and tickets can be purchased up to one month in advance as well as in person at the ticket office on the day of departure. It’s recommended to buy your tickets early, as these fast, luxurious ships are a very popular transportation for visitors. Remember to purchase round-trip tickets for your day trip to another island to be assured of getting back to your own island in a timely fashion. The private vessels of the Makruzz, Bhagya Express, ITT Majestic and Sea Link lines run several voyages daily between these three islands in the early morning and returning in the late afternoon.
The government ferry system connects many of the islands by sea and are the most dependable, usually running no matter the weather. Tickets are available a few days ahead of departure at the ticket office at the Phoenix Bay jetty, as well as through hotels and local travel agencies. There is a day-long ferry that goes from Port Blair to Havelock, Neil, and then on to Long Island several times a week, and the evening ferries headed back to port offer visitors a beautiful ocean view of the tropical sunset. There are also long-distance ferry services to Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur and to Little Andaman Island, weather permitting. The newest member of the government fleet, MV Coral Queen, is a favorite choice for islanders and visitors alike. The privately-owned MV Green Ocean is also available for crossings between Port Blair and Havelock Island – tickets can be purchased one hour prior to boarding at the ticket office on Haddo Wharf.
Many of these small double-decker boats are privately owned, and they are usually docked at either the Water Sports Complex (aka Aberdeen jetty) or the Junglighat jetty in Port Blair for quick trips across to Ross Island or North Bay Island. On the other islands, the tour boats are docked at the ferry jetty and available for hire. Bring drinks, snacks and cash, and enjoy the experience. You or your hotel manager can arrange for smaller private boat rides to do some sightseeing, diving, snorkeling, or spend the day on a secluded beach. For longer distance trips to visit uninhabited islands throughout the Andaman archipelago, it is best to check with your hotel’s concierge to make sure non-Indian tourists are permitted to go there, obtain any necessary permits, and remember that overnight stays are forbidden on most of the smaller islands for everyone.
Most of the colorfully-painted glass bottom boats available for hire are small and privately owned, and have a viewing window in the center of the ship with surrounding seats that allow you to look down and view the underwater life as you pass over the coral reefs, and are very popular near the Mahatma Gandhi Marine Reserve at Jolly Bouy Island. Part of the fun of this experience is the impromptu nature of the ride (you can find these inexpensive little boats almost everywhere), the shared camaraderie with your fellow passengers, and the breezy view at eye level of the beautiful water next to you. On Havelock and South Andaman Islands you will find larger vessels that offer higher-priced glass ‘side window’ boat tours that allow you to view the coral reefs and sea life out large portholes or windows and are more of a speed boat ride off the coast.
These little motorized vehicles, also called a ‘tuk-tuk’, are a quick way to get from one place to another in the Andamans. You can flag one down around busy Port Blair, or hire a one-way fare to get from the jetty at Havelock or Neil Island upon landing to your hotel (a blessing when you are hot and tired and ready to relax). Have cash on hand, and be prepared to feel the bumps in the road – it’s a fun way to live like a local, and perfect for an Instagram shot.
One of the best (and most economical) ways to really experience an island in the Andamans is to rent a bicycle to use for riding around, seeing the sights around town, getting a bite to eat, or exploring a dirt road through the nearby rainforest. Many resorts and hotels offer bike rentals exclusively for their guests, Port Blair has motor bikes available for hourly rentals, and near the ferry wharf and the local market areas in many towns and villages you can usually find decent bicycles for rent. Keep in mind that a valid motorcycle license is required for either any motorized bike rental, the roads may not be paved and petrol (gasoline) is sometimes hard to find.