The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of over 300 islands located in the Bay of Bengal, a group that extends for 750km north to south. These islands are over 1,000km east of India, between India and Myanmar (Burma). The people here were originally tribal people, but many Indians have emigrated from mainland India and have come to far out-number the original people of the islands. Most of the islands are uninhabited. Many of them have palm-fringed white-sand beaches with very clear water. Most are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. They are home to many species of animals and birds unique to the islands.
The Andaman Islands can be reached either from Chennai or Calcutta. Even though the islands are far to the east of India, time is still calculated by Indian time, which means it can be dark at 5.30 pm and light by 4 am during certain seasons.
The Andaman Islands have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world, and there are a variety of places for visitors to engage in these sports. Most of the best beaches and coral reefs are found on the other islands (not South Andaman Island), where the capital, Port Blair, is located.
Foreign tourists are allowed a thirty-day permit to visit the Andaman Islands; they are not permitted to visit the Nicobar Islands. Indians are not restricted and do not need permits.
The temperature stays almost even most of the year, between 22ºC (71ºF) and 33ºC (92ºF). There are two rainy seasons, one from June to mid-September and the other from November to mid-December. The best time to visit is from the end of November to the end of April. December and January is the busiest season.
There are Andaman Islands Tourist Offices (011 387-015) at 104 Curzon Rd, Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi, and at 3A Auckland Place in Calcutta (033 247-5084).
Marco Polo visited the Andaman Islands during his travels around the world in the 13th century. In the early 18th century, Kanhoji Angre, the tenacious Maratha admiral, used the islands as his base from which to attack British, Portuguese, and Dutch ships. One time the Portuguese and British combined to attack him, but he was never defeated. In the 19th century, the British took control of the islands and used them as prison colonies. The Cellular Jail was used beginning in the early 1900s to detain political prisoners and life-termers. The Japanese occupied the islands during WWII. In 1947, after India became independent, the islands became part of India.
Many people from the mainland have moved to the islands. Over the last twenty years, the population has increased from 50,000 to over 300,000.
Foreigners wishing to visit the Andaman Islands require permits. Permits are good for thirty days and may be extended a few extra days for a good reason. Indians do not need permits, although they must get permits to visit certain restricted areas.
Permits can be obtained at the airport. Visitors who arrive without a confirmed flight out may only be given a fifteen-day permit, which can be extended to thirty days at the Superintendent of Police, Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair. Visitors arriving by boat usually must have the permit before departing the mainland.
Permits are issued at overseas Indian embassies and should be requested when applying for a visa. Permits are also issued at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, or at the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta or Chennai. In Chennai, you apply at the Chief Immigration Officer, 26 Haddows Rd, Nungambakkam. When applying for the permit, give the exact arrival and departure dates, allowing three days boat travel time. You need two passport size photos.
When you arrive by ship you have to sign in at the Deputy Superintendent of Police at Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair to prove that you did not stay longer than 30 days. Permits are stamped when visitors leave the islands.
Not all of the islands are open to foreigners. Foreigners are permitted to stay overnight in South Andaman, certain places in Little Andaman, Middle Andaman, Neil Island, Havelock, and only in Diglipur on North Andaman. Day trips are permitted to the islands of Viper, Ross, Interview, Jolly Buoy, Red Skin, Cinque, Narcondum, Brother and Sisters. There are regular boats only to Viper and Ross islands. A boat can stop at the volcanic Barren Island, but you are not permitted to leave the boat. Most of the islands in Mahatma Gandhi National Park can be visited. Foreigners cannot visit any of the Nicobar Islands.
Andanmanese There are about thirty native Andanmanese remaining. They live mainly on small Strait Island. There were about 5,000 of them when the British arrived, but many died from diseases brought from the mainland.
Sentinelese The 120 Sentinelese people remaining resist contact with outsiders. They live on the North Sentinel Island by themselves.
Jarawa The 250 Jawaras live on a 750 sq km reserve on the islands of Middle and South Andaman. They do not appreciate people coming into their area, and when buses travel on Trunk Rd., they are protected by armed guards in case of attack.
Onge There are about 100 Onges living on a 100 sq km reserve at Dugong Creek on the island of Little Andaman. They are nomadic, and build temporary thatched huts, living in them only for about fifty days before moving on.
Nicobarese There are about 30,000 Nicobarese who live in villages and farm bananas, coconuts, yams and pigs. Their complexions are fair.
Shompen There are around 200 Shompens left. They live on Great Nicobar. They do not integrate with the people who have moved to the islands. They barter honey and nuts with the Nicobarese.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world is in the Andaman Islands because of the excellent coral and clear water. If you plan to snorkel, it is a good idea to bring your own equipment. What is for rent is often of low quality and expensive.
Jagannatha Guest House rents snorkel equipment for Rs 50 per day. Other places usually rent snorkels for Rs 80 per day or more.
TS Abhishek Hotel, Dhanalaxmi Hotel, and Guruswamy on Babu Lane, all rent equipment. Two popular places to go on a day trip are MG National Marine Park and the beaches at Chiriya Tapu.
There are several diving centers. Samudra (33159; fax 32038), in the Hotel Sinclair’s Bay View, charges Rs 2500 for a few dives around Port Blair; Rs 3500 for other areas.
You can take the PADI course for Rs 10,000 and the PADI Open Water Course (five days) for Rs 15,000. A certificate is offered that is recognized internationally.
Port Blair Underwater (85389; fax (040) 339–2718), in the Peerless Resort at Corbyn’s Cove, is PADI registered. They charge about the same prices as the Samudra.
Andaman Adventure Sports (30295; fax same), near the Anthropological Museum in Port Blair, charges a cheaper rate. The owner is an expert, but they are not registered by PADI.
Andaman and Nicobar Scuba Diving Society (32881; fax 33389), Bay Island Hotel on Marine Hill in Port Blair, runs good courses.
To dive in the MG National Park, visitors must pay an extra Rs 1000 to the park.
Coral can be damaged easily by even slight contact, so it pays to be very careful.
North and South Cinque are some of the most beautiful of the Andaman Islands. They have excellent coral formations. They are uninhabited, and visitors are allowed to visit only on day trips. Cinque Island has a sheltered bay and clear water, so it is a good place to snorkel. From where the boat lands, there is a path to the right leading to a beach on the other side of the island, which is ideal for snorkeling. If you are not going on a tour organized by a travel agency you will need permission from the Forest Department to visit. These islands are three hours by boat from Phoenix Bay and two hours from Chiriya Tapu, so it is expensive to get to.
Neil Island, located 40km northeast of Port Blair, has excellent coral and snorkeling. Beaches have numbers. Beach #1 is a 45-minute walk west of the boat jetty. Snorkeling is good at the north end of the beach. Many travelers prefer to camp out. It has a well with fresh water.
Hawabill Nest Yatri Niwas has rooms with four beds for Rs 350 and Rs 500 with A/C. It should be reserved in advance with A&N Tourism. The APWD Guest House (30215) has two rooms. To camp, visitors must first obtain permission from the APWD in Port Blair.
There are some basic food places in the village. Often there are no bottled water or cold drinks available.
Boats depart from Phoenix Bay to here (3 hr) on Wed and Fri at 6.30 am.
This island is located southeast of Middle Andaman and has sandy beaches and good coral reefs. There is a Forest Rest House and an APWD rest house on the island. It is a good place to camp. Campers must first obtain permission from the APWD in Port Blair.
From Port Blair and Havelock there are boats on Wed and Sat to this island (8 hr). The boat stops here before going to Rangat. You can rent a bicycle to get around. From Rangat visitors can sometimes take a lumber boat to here.
This island is not particular interesting and is not geared for tourism. You get to this island by boat or bus from Port Blair. The west side of the island is mainly made up of the Jawara Tribal Reserve. When the bus passes the Jarawa reserves the bus carries an armed guard, because the Jarawa tribals have been hostile since losing their land to Indian settlers. It is not a good idea to travel alone.
There are places to stay in Rangat and Mayabunder. To stay in the APWD rest houses, visitors need permission from the APWD Chief Engineer, whose office is near the Shompen Hotel in Port Blair (30215). The APWD rest houses are good places to stay, but are sometimes full. Permission to rent a room must be given by the local APWD officer. It pays to be respectful. It is hard to find bottled water here.
The closest nice beach is in Betapur, 20km away on the road to Mayabunder, which can be reached by bus. There is good snorkeling at Amakun Beach (9km).
In Rangat there are places to stay. The Hare Krishna Lodge and the APWD Guest House (74237) are basic places. Hawksbill (A&N Tourism) has A/C rooms for Rs 500 and dorm beds for Rs 85. It should be booked in advance at the A&N Tourism office in Port Blair.
Rangat can be reached by bus from Port Blair (6 hr, 3 daily) or by boat (8 hr, several weekly) from Port Blair via Havelock Island. There is a bus to Mayabunder (3 hr).
Mayabunder is 70km north of Rangat (3 hr by bus) and 160km by sea from Port Blair. The beach at Karmateng is a half-hour away by bus. There are several islands in the bay with beaches for swimming. None of the places in the area are good for snorkeling.
The APWD Guest House (73214) is a good, clean place in a great location. It should be reserved in advance if possible. It is the best place to eat in town. Dhanakakshmi Lodge is a dump, but it may be the only place available.
Yatri Niwas, Karmateng Bay, 10km northeast of Mayabunder, should be booked at A&N Tourism in Port Blair.
Mayabunder can be reached by the daily bus from Port Blair (9 hr). There are several daily buses to Rangat and Karmateng. To get to North Andaman Island, you take a ferry to Kalighat (2½ hr, daily around 9 am) or Ariel Bay, from where you can catch a bus to Diglipur. Also, private boats leave early in the morning to Kalighat (Rs 350).
The main place to stay here is at Diglipur, which is a nothing town. There is a sandy beach at Kalipur, to which buses travel. You can walk from there to Saddle Peak (4 hr), but you first have to have permission from the Forest Officer at Arial Bay.
There is a weekly ferry to here from Port Blair (14 hr) with bunk and deck class. For the ferry from Diglipur to Port Blair, tickets go on sale the day before departure at the office next to the Diglipur Rest House. You can also get tickets on the boat, but often only deck class is available.
There is a daily boat from Mayabunder on Middle Andaman direct to Diglipur (4½ hr). You can also take a boat from Mayabunder to Kalighat (2½ hr, daily) and then a bus to Diglipur. There are beds in the APWD Guest House (72203). The Yatri Niwas has rooms. It should be booked at A&N Tourism in Port Blair. From Diglipur there are regular buses to Aerial Bay and Kalighat.
In Kalighat there is a APWD Guest House. Balaji is a decent place to eat near the boat jetty. From Kalighat there is a crowded ferry to Mayabunder (2½ hr) around noon and regular buses to Diglipur.
Saddle Peak National Park
To visit here visitors must obtain a permit from the Forestry Dept. in Aerial. To get to the park you take a bus to Kalipur. You then walk south on the road from where the bus stops to a path and then take the second path on the right for around a half-hour until you arrive at the Forest Dept encampment. There is a Yatri Niwas Hotel at this place. You can walk to Lamia Bay, which has a beach and camping. From Lamia Bay it is a 5km walk to Saddle Peak (720m).
The last 100 persons belonging to the Onge tribe live on a reserve at the south end of the island. Foreigners are not permitted to visit the reservation. The best beach is about 20km north of the boat jetty. It is a good place to camp and swim, but is not good for snorkeling.
Basic supplies can be purchased from the village a couple of km north of the boat jetty. The only place to stay is the APWD Guest House, 1km north of the village. Rooms are Rs 150/200 and Rs 90 for a dorm bed. It should be booked at A&N Tourism in Port Blair. When you arrive, you have to register at the police station a few km north of the APWD Guest House.
Boats dock at Hut Bay on the east side of the island. There are one or two boats a week between Port Blair and Hut Bay (8 hr) for Rs 18 for lower and Rs 35 for upper deck.tc
North Passage and Bharatang Islands are open for overnight stays.
Interview, Narcondam, Brother, and Sisters Islands can be visited only on day trips, but there are no regular boats to these islands. You can take a boat to the volcanic Barren Island, but you are not allowed to leave the boat.
The only places to stay on these islands are in Forest Rest Houses (about Rs 80 per night), or in APWD Guest Houses. Reserve in advance in Port Blair at the APWD office near the Hotel Shompen, or at the Forest Department in Haddo. Some people bring tents and hammocks and camp out on the beach. You can rent a tent from Andaman
Teal House for Rs 60 a day. Fires are not permitted, so you should bring a kerosene stove with you. It is often not possible to buy kerosene on the islands, so you should bring your own supply.