A paradise called Andaman Islands
It is one of my favorite destinations in the world: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands. I spend two periods of almost one month here and would love to go back one day. The Andamans officially belong to India, but are actually closer to Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand. The result is amazing white sandy beaches (one of the most beautiful beaches in the world) and spectacular nature combined with Indian budget prices.The Andamans consist of more than 570 islands that are all covered with palm trees, rare bird species, beautiful beaches and breathtaking coral reefs. Unfortunately you cannot visit all islands. These are the most traveled islands:
Port BlairPort Blair is more a city than an island. This is the capital of the Andaman Islands (and Nicobar). It is not a place where you want to stay very long, it is busy and there is not much to do. The main airport and port of the Andaman Islands is located in Port Blair and therefore this place mostly serves as a gateway to other islands of Andaman and Nicobar.
HavelockHavelock is the best known and most popular island of the Andaman Islands. It is located 57 kilometers from Port Blair, the capital. This island is best known for its tranquility, diving opportunities and beautiful beaches with crystal clear water. I spend most of my time here. I wanted to leave and explore other islands, but found myself staying longer than planned every time.
Havelock Island offers one of the best beaches in Asia and with colorful coral reef it is also an amazing diving spot. However because of climate change the coral has lost its color these days so now you have to take deeper dives (colder water) to fully immerse yourself in a colorful spectacle. Some dive schools can take you deeper even though you only have a basic Padi with an introduction deep dive.
Unlike islands such as Koh Phangan or Bali, it is not as touristy here. You are cut off from the hustle and bustle of the rest of India without internet and no nightlife.
How do you get to Havelock?
From Port Blair it is only possible to travel by boat to Havelock Island. You can take the ferry, which sails a few times a day. This costs 12 US dollar and takes 2.5 hours. If you want to travel faster, take the Catamaran Ferry. It takes 1.5 hours.
One year I finally made it to Neil Island. It is close to Havelock and is becoming increasingly popular. Although the beaches are not as impressive as the more famous Havelock, the quiet Neil does have its own unique charm. The only downside I encountered was that it was full of sand flies and because of that some beaches were not accessible.
I spend one week in total silence here and did my own retreat on this island. Every morning I wrote down what I wanted to eat and the sweet people of my resort went to the market every day to buy it fresh.
If you are looking for a relaxing time on an island where you can laze around, drink a beer and only hear the sound of waving palm trees and waves, then Neil Island is the best place to come. You can explore Neil Island in two or three hours. When I was there the end of April 2016 there were only 5 other tourist on the whole island.
How to get to Neil Island?
The island is 40 kilometers away from Port Blair. From Port Blair it is only possible to travel to Neil Island by boat. You can take the ferry, which sails a few times a day. This costs 12 us dollar and takes around 1.5 hours.
You can travel by boat from Havelock to Neil Island. The ferry is the best option to do this. Boats sail around 4 to 6 times a day and tickets cost between 15 us dollar and 30 us dollar (depending on the boat and class).
The island of Little Andaman is located in the south of the archipelago and a very popular surf destination. A perfect place to go "off the beaten track". You come here for very quiet beaches, the beautiful nature on the island and the good opportunities for surfing. Just note that the beaches are more rocky here, so it is more suitable for surfing than swimming.
Best time to visit
The best period to visit the Andaman islands is from November til mid-May. From mid-May til November the monsoon kicks in and you are most likely spending most of your days in the rain. Click here for the average weather on Havelock Island.
The best best time to visit
Starting mid-April most tourists leave the Andaman islands because of the upcoming monsoon. However this is not correct. The monsoon starts in May but Lonely Planet names it starts in April. This means that you will find only 50 foreign tourist on Havelock Island which has more than 3000 tourists in the peak season January (This was when we visited in 2016).
So if you like a quiet beach and just a few tourists around than this is the time to go. Only take into account that the ocean will be very warm at beach number 5. This is not a big problem, you can always rent a scooter to beach number 7 where you can enjoy a fresh rough ocean.
When applying for a visa for India, keep in mind that, regardless of your visa, every tourist receives a permit for only one month for the Andaman Islands. This is probably because they are afraid that people won’t leave the island. Which makes sense. I did not want to leave this peace of Paradise as well.
How to get there by ship
If you are worried about our climate and you are an adventurous traveler you might want to think about getting to the Andaman Islands by ship. There are three or four sailings every month from Kolkata and Chennai to Port Blair and vice-versa. The voyage takes about 3-4 days (50-60 hours ideally) and the ship normally berths at Port Blair for about two to four days. The SHIP is not a cruise liner. It has no entertainment facilities on board. Normally, sailing schedules are announced one month in advance for the Mainland–Island sector. Read more here.