As you arrive by plane you’ll be looking down on the capital of the territory, Port Blair, and see the multicolored roofs of this busy seaport city and the surrounding waterways, filled with boats of all sizes. Port Blair is the center of everything on South Andaman Island with a bustling bazaar market, nightlife, museums and light shows, as well as historical sights and national parks – the jumping-off point from the wharves and jetties to reach all the other islands. Hire a driver at the airport to carry you to your hotel, or catch one of the local tour guides with an air conditioned vehicle for an informative tour around the island. Venture further afield to see some of the more remote beaches along the southern coast, or head north on the Great Trunk Road to see the limestone caves of Bharatang, isolated mangrove swamps and mud volcanoes adjoining the lands of the vast Jarawa tribal reserve.
There’s so much to do on South Andaman Island – every watersport you can imagine is available here, as well as many interesting historical sites to visit. There is kayaking, scuba and snorkeling, game sport fishing, sea walks, and glass bottom boat tours available on most every beach access on the island. Visit Mount Harriet National Park for spectacular views of the island, virgin rainforests and formal gardens, and don’t miss making a trip over to North Bay to hike up to the lighthouse tower tour and spend the rest of the day snorkeling on the coral reefs. Shop the Aberdeen Market in Port Blair, tour the Forest Museum and Chatham Sawmill and see how the tropical hardwoods are harvested, and enjoy a glass bottom boat ride in the harbor to see the reefs near Ross Island. Ferries run daily to connect South Andaman to neighboring islands and many visitors enjoy day trips to Neil and Havelock islands, with several hours spent traversing the Andaman Sea going to and from.
Venture further away from Port Blair by car to the western coast near Wandoor and see the cement bunkers from the Japanese occupation during World War II on the beach strands at sunset, or head offshore by glass bottom boat to see the wonders of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, an underwater wonderland. The Biological Park on the southern tip of the island is stocked with monitor lizards and saltwater crocodiles, as well as numerous bird species native to the islands. For hiking, the nearby Munda Pahar Trek Point takes you on a strenuous hike through a dense jungle to a spectacular rocky cliff and lighthouse overlooking a vast expanse of sea. The northern journey by car or bus leads you quickly from civilization to wilderness, traveling on a narrow road through the Jarawa tribal reserve to the Jirkatang check post, where armed guards and locals are congregated to form protective convoys through the tribal lands to reach Bharatang and the ferry on to Middle Andaman Island.
Port Blair dining establishments offer a variety of different cuisines, and most of the larger resorts and hotel complexes on the outskirts of town have on-site restaurants as well. Some of the most popular restaurants are on the water along the coastline with spectacular views of the ports, bay or neighboring islands. Near the jetties on North Bay and Ross Island, you’ll find some stalls serving casual fare and coconut water while on day trips. You can choose from the freshest seafood and beautiful locally grown vegetables from the marketplace, fruits and juices, all kinds of Indian favorites like thali and curry, plus multiple vegetarian options. Continental, Asian, Chinese and American cuisine can be found in Port Blair and the surrounding resorts and hotels – some of the popular beachfront venues even serve authentic pizzas and pasta.. Late night activities like table games and karaoke are available in some of the Port Blair hotel bars and restaurants. When you drive farther north on the Great Trunk Road, or out exploring the more rural countryside south of Port Blair, there are a few outposts with some dining options available, but you are advised to pack plenty of food and drink for your trip in case of delays along the route.
There are many beaches on South Andaman and the neighboring islands near Port Blair that offer opportunities to enjoy watersports like scuba, snorkeling, and sea walks as well as swimming and walking along the shoreline. One of the more famous beaches is Corbyn’s Cove, a popular spot to spend the day under tall palms at the edge of the beach strand watching the jet skis and swimmers, then stay for the fun night life when the food stalls offer tasty bites under electric lights. Chidiya Tapu and Munda Pahad beaches are on the southern end of the island and offer quiet solitude for hiking and enjoying the rocky cliffs overlooking Rutland Island. Near the Biological Park in a remote area of the southwestern coast are Chota Baalu and Bada Baalu beaches, where swimming is discouraged because of saltwater crocodiles. Around Wandoor Beach and access to the islands of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine Park , there are several swimming beaches on the Bay of Bengal and a nature preserve at North Wandoor where there is still visible evidence of the extent of the 2004 tsunami damages on these shores. Further to the north, there is only one beach available to visit with a guide – remote Shoal Bay #19 beach on the edge of the forest reserve that looks east to distant Havelock Island.
With Port Blair being the governmental and military center of the territory, as well as the only international airport available, visitors can expect a wide variety of hotels, resorts, convention centers, hostels and small bare-bones beach huts to be available for overnight or extended stays. Near the airport there are a number of basic hotels, some with less than 10 rooms, that offer simple accommodations for visitors who may need to stay overnight to catch a ferry or who may want to have a kitchenette to prepare their own meals. The larger resorts are spread over the island, and offer deluxe accommodations with a tropical feel and amenities such as private beach access, pools, bar lounges with flat-screen TV’s, airport shuttles and inclusive meal plans. Most of the public beaches and major hotels and resorts offer shaded thatched huts and woven bamboo shelters along the waters’ edge for the comfort of visitors. Some wi-fi connectivity is available in many of the resorts and hotels, as well as in some hot spots in town, but speed may still be an issue for you on South Andaman.
If your journey takes you north towards Bharatang and Middle Andaman Island, one of the occasional sights you will see from your convoy will be the native Jarawa tribe lined up along the road to watch you – interaction is strictly forbidden, as is offering them food or any other items. The geological history of the islands is on display in the limestone caves, where millions of years of interaction of rock with water has created fantastical stalagmites and stalactites, and in the primordial jungles and mangrove swamps on the reserve that you must travel to reach the oozing and bubbling mud volcanoes, a reminder of the proximity of Barren Island, Asia’s only active volcano.
Port Blair offers visitors an intriguing overview of the past human history of the Andaman Islands in a most entertaining manner. The massive Cellular Jail site offers daytime tours and evening sound and light shows in both English and Hindi to tell the inspiring story of the Indian freedom fighters who were sent there to die from the mainland. Visit notorious Viper Island to see more prison ruins on a picturesque hillside overlooking the bay, and tour the Kalipani Museum to learn more about the native peoples of the islands and their prehistoric history. Nearby is small Ross Island, a British colonial ghost village being reclaimed by the jungle, with imported wildlife like deer and peacocks, and the Lone Sailor Memorial watching the harbor. There are two zoos, city parks with jogging trails, picturesque temples and churches on South Andaman Island, as well as colorful local market stalls along all the major roads that welcome visitors to shop and barter for their goods. Evenings in downtown Port Blair bring out everyone on the island to dine, shop and enjoy the cooler night air, the street vendors will be offering all kinds of tasty fare and of course, the freshly cut coconuts with a straw.