A short boat ride away from the rest of the Andamans, Long Island is the ultimate eco-destination adventure. When you choose to spend a few days on this beautiful island, you are choosing to step back in time as well – for Long Island is a world away from computers, smartphones and even roads. With no cars or trucks, there are only paved walkways through the village near the jetty and this walkway eventually dwindles to a narrow dirt trail through the forest. This is the rare island paradise where trekking for hours is part of each day, the workday revolves around fishing and farming, and children play cricket on the village green surrounded by grazing goats. The friendly villagers are hopeful that their small eco-tourism industry can financially support the community, as Long Island’s main source of revenue used to be as a logging site of tropical hardwoods until the government passed legislation protecting the local ecosystem.
Life on Long Island is very laid back and relaxing, with the daily excitement being a big catch of fish in the morning, supplies coming in on the ferry from Port Blair or the arrival of a tour boat from Rangat. The staff of the Blue Planet offers training and certifications, night dives and multi-dive packages, can arrange snorkeling trips and all-day dive boat excursions to explore the surrounding shoals and reefs. Visit nearby Merk Bay on North Passage Island, or have a picnic lunch on the empty beaches of nearby Guitar Island. You can rent snorkel equipment for the day and explore the extensive coral reef system around Long Island, hiking for an hour or two through the jungle to reach the white sands and coconut palm plantation at stunning Lalaji Bay beach. Trekking across the island between the three villages, a rough trail takes you past picturesque family farms, rice paddies and abandoned huts that are being slowly being taken over by the surrounding jungle.
There are several places to have meals on Long Island – at the government guest houses, Lalaji Bay beach lodge or the Blue Planet. It’s suggested to order ahead of time to give the cooks time to assemble and prepare your meals for the day, or pack a picnic to go. Blue Planet offers locally sourced fresh coffee, fruit juices, and a variety of hot snacks like pakoras and pancakes. The fishing boats go out daily to catch a wide variety of fish and crustaceans for the Indian cuisine centered on grilled seafood, rice, fresh vegetables and fruits. There is some street food (like samosas) offered for sale from local vendors, and snacks and bottled drinks are available at a few places in the village. There are no bars, groceries or big restaurants on Long Island, so it’s a good idea to bring some favorite foods and drinks with you.
Blue Planet beach looks out over the waterway to Guitar Island, and sparkling Lalaji Bay beach is nestled on a narrow part of the island that is covered with thousands of coconut palm trees. These two beaches on Long Island are popular spots for both visitors and islanders, and the locals hire out their boats to transport tourists to uninhabited islands for swimming, scuba and snorkeling. On nearby North Passage Island you’ll find lovely Merk Bay beach accessible by private boat, and the beach on Guitar Island features a pure white sand bar bridge only visible at low tide. The Button Islands national park can only be visited with a permit from Long Island and offers spectacular vistas both above and below the surrounding waters.
There are several government-run properties near the jetty – Surmai Reef eco-huts, Tapovan forest house and Vanashree guest house. The Sea Mohwa Grove at Lalaji Bay offer comfortable eco-huts with an on-site restaurant. Privately-owned Blue Planet has a communal covered patio area enclosed by small rooms and eco-huts built from salvaged and recycled materials, plus a few huts for larger groups at another property about 10 minutes away. Guests to all these accommodations should be aware that they have been built as ecologically sensitive lodgings with an eye towards conservation of water, electricity and using local materials, which will offer intrepid travelers an authentic Andaman island experience.
Guided treks through the jungle can be arranged to see the caves, springs and other points of interest like the abandoned settlements along the northern coast, as well as world-class offshore scuba diving and snorkeling in unique reef and shelf locations around the island and neighboring waters. Boats can be hired at the jetty to take you over to uninhabited Guitar Island to spend the day exploring the coral reefs by scuba or snorkeling, and picnics can be arranged as well. There are often dolphin sightings offshore, and many locals will hire out their boats and their services to offer guided tours to the other nearby islands like North Passage and the Button Islands for the day, or along the coastline past the mangrove forests to Lalaji Bay beach. Every visitor goes to Lalaji Bay for the long strand of beautiful white sand beach and the extensive coral reefs, but visitors can also see the work that goes into coconut harvesting for export to the other islands on this working plantation.