Arriving on quiet Neil Island, the first thing you see are the clear shades of turquoise, aquamarine, brilliant blue and deep green all around you – in the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea, the palm trees and mangroves stretching along the coast of the small island, and overhead a bright sunny sky. This quaint island is the perfect place to enjoy the natural beauty of a tropical paradise – the friendly islanders, deliciously fresh food, and uncrowded beaches welcome visitors to slow down, relax, and enjoy being unplugged from the modern world.
Recently re-named as ‘Shaheed Dweep’, Neil Island is located in the southern reaches of Ritchie’s Archipelago, and is accessible from Port Blair or Havelock Island by inter-island ferry, catamaran, private charter, and helicopter as weather allows. Arrive at the ferry wharf and enjoy the excitement of the unique main market bazaar of Neill Kendra, a bustling spot for renting tuk-tuks, bicycles and mopeds to explore the island. This is also a good place to find glass-bottom boat tours, rent jet skis, kayaks and private boat charters, and arrange dive trips or snorkeling adventures. Explore the many small shops and open-air stores, admire the colorful beauty of several Hindu temples, and enjoy a freshly prepared meal in one of the local small restaurants.
Plan on eating well at every meal, because with banana plantations, rice paddies, coconut palms, and fields of vegetables across the island – plus fresh seafood available daily – there is an abundance of healthy cuisines available. Neil Island exports abundant fresh fruit and produce, which is also incorporated into the many delicious offerings found in the local dining scene. There are casual dining locations scattered around the island, with vegetarian, Indian, Chinese, Continental and traditional island grilled seafood menus being the most popular with visitors. Because most Neil Island restaurants prepare your food when you place your order, plan for your meal to take just as long to be served as if you were making it at home. The laid-back vibe of the island encourages you to relax, make new friends, savor the fresh air and enjoy the wait – it will be worth it!
The island is small and relatively flat, so one can walk around the entire island in just a few hours. With just a few roads that lead to the beaches, and walking paths in the five villages, Neil Island is easy for all ages to navigate on foot or on a bicycle. Tuk-tuk transport is available at the ferry wharf, and there are a few cars for hire on the island as well.
There are several scenic and secluded beaches at different points around the island named after different mythological characters in the epic story of Ramayana – Lakshmanpur, Bharatpur, and Sitapur – as well as natural bridges, sea caves, tidal pools and coral reefs. Some beaches offer swimming, scuba and water sports, while others are perfect for relaxing, reading a book, or watching the tides change from the shade of a tree. The jungle on the eastern side of the island is a remnant of the tropical canopy that used to cover all of Neil Island before it was cleared for agriculture, and it is a favorite location for birdwatching, tropical flower viewing or exploring the rainforest.
Even though Neil Island is somewhat isolated does not mean that visitors will miss their creature comforts. Some of the lodging and overnight accommodations are more rustic and offer guests a glimpse of the island lifestyle that appeals more to backpackers and hostel trekkers who want to find lodging that suits their budgets – but you will find other accommodations are pampering luxury resorts, with air conditioning, private beaches, pools, room service, bars and restaurants on-site. Many of the larger hotels and resorts can arrange transportation, equipment rentals for diving, snorkeling, and picnics for all-day exploring. Ask the front desk to help arrange a private day trip to see the sea turtles nesting on nearby uninhabited Rose Island, which requires government approval.
Neil Island has little of the commercialization of the larger Andaman islands, so the highlight of your day could be as simple as walking to the end of the island to watch the sun setting into the distant clouds on the horizon, or enjoying a stroll along the beach strand at daybreak to join an impromptu yoga session with islanders and tourists. Movies, bars and late-night entertainment are missing from Neil Island, but evening stargazing and moonlit strolls on the beach will be some of your new favorite activities after dinner.