The Andaman & Nicobar Emerald Islands
Located in the Bay of Bengal about 900km from India, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are one of the few undiscovered gems that have escaped the clutches of mass tourism. There are no concrete-and-glass resorts offering all-inclusive deals, no nightclubs / discotheques, no shopping malls and no fancy restaurants.
While the eastern fringes of the Andaman Sea have now become the playground of the rich and famous in Phuket and Langkawi, the Andaman Islands still retain the original wild and untamed character of this pocket of South East Asia.
The Emerald Islands
Measuring over 700 kms from north to south, including the inaccessible Nicobar Island chain, these 572 islands of the archipelago are swathed in over 86% primary rainforest. Only 36 islands are inhabited to the day, comprising a mix of colourful mainland Indian settlers, residual refugee communities from Myanmar, and the mysterious and endangered Paleolithic tribes of the Andamans.
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a veritable Garden of Eden and a naturalist’s heaven. The clean environment, roads, greenery as well as unpolluted fresh air attract all nature lovers.
The tropical rain forests and waters of Bay of Bengal are the home of a vast collection of plant, animal and marine life. Topographically the islands are hilly in places fringed with coconut palm, covered with tropical jungle and interspersed with flat stretches of crescent shaped beaches.
How to get to the Andamans
Permits and Visas
All foreign visitors to India need a visa. This must be obtained prior to your departure, as India does NOT issue visas on arrival.
In addition, foreign visitors to the Andamans also need a special Restricted Area Permit, which can be obtained upon arrival (flight or ship). You can also apply for the permit through your embassy while getting the Indian visa; however, we recommend getting it on arrival as it is a lot faster this way. This Restricted Area Permit, which is issued free of charge, is valid for 30 days and can be extended to 45 days.
The places covered by this permit for night halt are: South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except tribal reserve), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding islands – Boat Hobday, Twin, Tarmugli, Malay and Pluto) Night halt in the Park is with permission only.
For Day Halt: South Cinque Island, Ross Island, Narcondum Island, Interview Island, Brother Island, Sister Island and Barren Island ( Barren Island can be visited on board vessels only).
Indian nationals need no permit to visit Andamans. However, permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are given in exceptional cases. Application on a prescribed form may be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.
BY AIR: The quickest and most convenient way to get to the Andamans is to fly. Air Deccan, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Jet Lite (formerly Air Sahara), Spice Jet and Kingfisher all have daily regular flights to Port Blair from Calcutta & Chennai.
BY SEA: You can choose to travel by ship – which takes 60-72 hours and is only for the tough. There are three to four sailings every month from Calcutta and Chennai to Port Blair and vice-versa. Bookings are through the Shipping Corporation of India, and can be made in Calcutta (phone +91-22- 2234 5678) or Chennai (phone +91-22-2223 4675), and typically open a few days before the scheduled departure date.
Distance by Sea (kms)
Between Port Blair & Chennai- 1190
Between Port Blair & Calcutta- 1255
Between Port Blair & Vishakapatnam- 1200
Distance by Air (Kms.)
Between Calcutta & Port Blair- 1303
Between Chennai & Port Blair- 1330
Islands in the Andaman
Port Blair is the capital of the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is a small but picturesque place spread over a number of hills from Haddo across Secretariat Hill to Aberdeen Bazaar and South point. There are neat villages like Pahargaon, Shadipur and Garacharme.
The Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor is at a distance of 29 Kms. from Port Blair covering an area of 281.5 Sq.Kms. This Marine Park made-up of open sea, creeks and 15 small and large islands, is one of the best found anywhere in the world. Viewing of rare corals and underwater marine life through glass bottom boats,SCUBA diving and Snorkelling are a lifetime experience for anyone.
Cellular Jail located at Port Blair, stood mute witness to the tortures meted out to the freedom fighters, who were incarcerated in this Jail. The Jail, completed in the year 1906 acquired the name, ‘cellular’ because it is entirely made up of individual cells for the solitary confinement of the prisoners. It originally was a seven pronged, puce-coloured building with central tower acting as its fulcrum and a massive structure comprising honeycomb like corridors. The building was subsequently damaged and presently three out of the seven prongs are intact. The Jail, now a place of pilgrimage for all freedom loving people, has been declared a National Memorial.
The lure of underwater coral gardens and unspoiled beaches specially a sand bar joining two islands are irresistible. Super place for SCUBA diving, swimming, fishing and Camping.
An island in Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, it offers a breath taking underwater view of coral and marine life. It is an ideal place for snorkeling , sea bathing and basking on the sun kissed beach.
Red Skin Island
Another island in Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park has a nice beach and offers spectacular view of corals and marine life.
At a distance of about 135 Kms. from Port Blair is the land of volcano, Barren Island, the only active volcano in India. The Island, about 3 Kms. has a big crater of the volcano, rising abruptly from the sea, about 1/2 Km. from the shore and is about 150 fathoms deep. Can be visited on board vessels.
About 38 Kms. from Port Blair, this island is the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still minimal) infrastructure. Beautiful beaches, great snorkeling and scuba diving.
Havelock is a magical place. Life moves more slowly here, untouched by commercialism and modern intrusions. Unwind after a day’s diving by relaxing on a hammock or sunning yourself on the beach.
Neil Island (36 kms. from Port Blair)
This beautiful island with lush green forest and sandy beaches is the vegetable bowl of Andamans. Connected by boat from Port Blair four days a week, it provides an ideal holiday for eco-friendly tourists.
Long Island (82 kms. from Port Blair)
Connected by boat four times a week from Phoenix Bay Jetty, this island offers an excellent sandy beach at Lalaji Bay, unpolluted environment and evergreen forests. The sea around the island is frequented by dolphin convoys. Lalaji bay, 6 kms. away from the boat jetty, is accessible by 15 minutes journey in dinghies or trekking through the forest.
Rangat (170 kms. by road and 90 kms. by sea)
One can enjoy the quiet village life and solitude of virgin nature here. You can also breathe unpolluted air, a rare commodity for the city dweller. Cutbert Bay beach (20 kms. away from Rangat bazar/jetty) is a turtle nesting ground. One can view the nesting of turtles during December – February season.
Mayabunder (242 kms. by road/136 kms. by sea)
Situated in the northern part of Middle Andaman, Mayabunder offers excellent scenic beauty and beautiful beaches. Inhabited by the settlers from Burma, East Pakistan and ex-convicts, Mayabunder has a distinct culture. Beach at Avis Island (30 minutes boat journey from Mayabunder), Karmatang beach (13 kms.) and mangrove lined creeks are the attractions. Karmatang beach is also a turtle nesting ground. One can view nesting of turtles during December-February season.
Diglipur (290 kms by road/180 kms. by sea)
Situated in North Andaman Island, Diglipur provides a rare experience for eco-friendly tourists. It is famous for its oranges, rice and marine life. Saddle Peak, 732 metres, the highest point in the islands is nearby. Kalpong, the only river of Andaman flows from here. One who comes by road from Port Blair has to take a boat from Mayabunder to Kalighat and from there journey by road to Diglipur (25 kms.), and from there to Kalipur (18 kms.) for viewing, Kalipur and Lamiya bay beaches.
Little Andaman Island (120 kms. by sea)
This island has a beautiful beach at Butler Bay, a waterfall and plantation of oil palms. Apart from this there are several sandy beaches all along the coastline of the island. The break water at Hut Bay offers an excellent view to the tourists. Little Andaman is the vegetable bowl for the Nicobar group of islands. The Onge tribals live in this island, so do Nicobarese apart from settlers from erstwhile East Pakistan and other places. However entry to tribal areas is restricted. Journey 8 hrs. by sea from Port Blair towards south.
The Nicobar Islands
Comprising of 28 Islands, with an area of 1,841 sq.Kms. the Nicobar Islands are separated from Andamans by the Ten Degree Channel.. The Nicobars abound in coconut-palm, casuarina and pandanus. Great and Little Nicobar have the Giant Robber Crab, Monkeys with long tail, Nicobarese Pigeons in plenty. Megapode, a rare bird is found in Great Nicobar. The southernmost tip of India is not Kanyakumari as has till recently been considered, it is INDIRA POINT in Great Nicobar Island. Nicobar group is out of bounds for foreigners at present. Indians may be given permission in exceptional cases on application.
Car Nicobar (Area 126.9 sq. km., Distance 270 kms. by sea)
A rustling fan, Car Nicobar is the headquarters of Nicobar District. It is a flat fertile island covered with cluster of coconut palms and enchanting beaches with a roaring sea all around. The Nicobari huts, built on stilts having entrance through floor with a wooden, ladder, are unique to this island. 16 hrs. journey by sea from Port Blair.
Katchal (425 kms. by sea)
Katchal is a tiny island in the Nicobar group. It was this island, which heralded the new millennium with the first sunrise on 1st January 2000. This island has beautiful beaches at East bay, Jhula and West bay.
Great Nicobar (540 kms. by sea)
The southern end of the Nicobars, this island has Indira Point (formerly Pygmallion Point) the southern most tip of India. The beach near Galathia is the nesting ground for Gaint Leather Back Turtles. This island also has biosphere reserve area. 50-60 hrs. journey by sea from Port Blair.
Being a Beach destination the water activities dominate here, but there are a host of other activities like trekking, Bird-watching, cultural tours that non-divers can indulge in. Here’s a complete list of activities you can participate in while on the Islands.
There is no greater adventure than diving. Whether you are a novice or an experienced proficient diver, there is always something new, fascinating or challenging about venturing into the underwater world. Diving in Andamans is a unique lifetime experience. The coastal water surrounding these islands is the abode of one of the richest coral reef ecosystems in the world. The specialty is that, here the coral reefs and underwater formations are undamaged by human activity and miraculously even the tsunami of 26th December 2004 could not damage them fully. The best season for diving is from December to April.
Havelock Island is the main dive destination in the Andamans and is home to the main Dive Centers- DIVEIndia and Barefoot. Cinque Island and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National park also offer some diving where the deep dive offers a terrific variety of marine life, including black coral, sightings of sharks and is ideal for the experienced diver.
One can enjoy the under-water marine life and view the rarest varieties of corals by snorkeling in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Carbyn’s Cove Tourism Complex, Havelock and other islands on all days from dawn to dusk depending on the weather.
Camps are just the right choice for the nature-lovers who wish to enjoy the sun, sea and the pristine beauty of nature by spending quiet holidays right on the beach. Tents are available on hire at all the Guest Houses at moderate rates.
One can go trekking through the nature trail from Mt. Harriet to Madhuban and enjoy the rare forest life, flora and fauna. There are other trekking routes also, Trekking equipment and the tents are available on hire from Andaman Teal House.
The outdoor enthusiast will find a variety of half-day hiking trails in Havelock, some leading to hilltops and others to secluded beaches. Combine that with a picnic hamper and have a wonderful day of solitude.
Interested in trawling for pelagics the old-fashioned way (i.e, without electronics, sonar and such)? Try a trip on a traditional island-style canoe (modified slightly to improve comfort) with a local fisherman who has spent decades fishing in the local waters. Fishing trips are strictly catch and release – absolutely no exceptions.
Explore the variety of bird life in the Andamans, including a chance to spot some of the many endemic species. You can see species ranging from the white-browed mynah & magpie robin to white-rumped munias, brown shrikes, white-bellied sea eagles, whimbrels, black-naped orioles, long-tailed parakeets, chestnut-headed bee-eaters and Andaman specialties like vernal parrots.
Mangrove cruises and Glass Bottom Boat Rides
Take a trip back into time. Board one of the island-style canoes and go exploring the narrow mangrove waterways. With luck, you may even spot one of the rare salt-water crocodiles that are known to inhabit the area.
Scan corals reefs in glass bottom boats off Jolly Buoy Island, at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, 29 km from Port Blair.