A Guide to Exploring the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Shelley Seale travels far off the coast of India in the Andaman Sea to one of the country’s best-kept secrets: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Photo © Shelley Seale

This group of over 500 islands (only 38 permanently inhabited) jut out of the ocean with forested mountains, pristine beaches, coral reefs, and active volcanoes.

The best part? Although it’s far-removed from the rest of India, it still retains the feel and culture of the sub-continent.

Tips for Travel: Ferries and Getting Around

Visitors fly into the capital city of Port Blair, on the main South Andaman island. You can also travel by ship from Chennai, though the voyage takes 50-60 hours.

Port Blair is an interesting town to explore for a few hours, or overnight. Highlights include the Cellular Jail, built by the British to house political prisoners; the Anthropological museum for interesting history of indigenous island tribes; and the Chatam Saw Mill, which is the oldest in Asia.

Or, head to Aberdeen Bazaar, the main city square, to find restaurants and go shopping.

From Port Blair, ferries depart from two jetties for the other islands, which are really the draw for the Andamans.

Ferries from Phoenix Bay Jetty go to Havelock Island (2 hrs), Neil Island (1.5 hrs), Long Island (8 hrs) and other, farther destinations.

Smaller ferries from Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex will take you to the closer islands of Jolly Buoy, Ross Island, North Bay, and Viper Island. 

Roadworks on Havelock Island. Photo credit: iStock

Diving and Snorkeling

Ross and Inglis Islands are big draws for water activities, whether under or above the sea.

The unmapped waters of the Andaman Islands are one of the last frontiers for scuba diving (best from November-May). Corals abound with colorful reef fish, sea turtles, barracuda, tuna, stingrays, and the occasional dugong.

The shores of these areas also offer incredibly scenic kayak trips, paddling through mangrove creeks with a variety of bird species calling from the trees overhead.

The best place to arrange dive or snorkel trips is from laid-back Havelock Island, which is home to the first and only PADI 5-Star Instruction in the Andaman Islands, Barefoot Scuba.

The small islands and reefs that surround Havelock provide some of the best water activities on the island chain.

Barefoot Scuba is also dedicated to the conservation of the beautiful, fragile ecosystem found here; they participate in several conservation projects and donate a minimum of US $10 to Project Aware from each course fee.

In such a vulnerable environment, it’s important for visitors to vet any tour company they book for such stewardship.

Best Beaches

Havelock covers about 55 square miles, and has been inhabited by Bengali settlers since the 1950s.

It’s the most visitor-friendly island; the ferries come into Village Number 1 on the north side of the island (all towns are numbered on Havelock).

Villages 3 and 5 offer a number of restaurants, shopping from vendor stalls to nice boutiques, motorbike rentals, internet cafes and accommodations from budget to mid-range resorts.

But Havelock is also home to amazing stretches of beaches, many of them with few visitors; and some hidden-away eco resorts.

Radhanagar Beach on the western coast, also known as Number 7 Beach, was named "Best Beach in Asia" by Time in 2004, and is one of the most popular.

Elephant Beach on the northwest coast, and Vijay Nagar Beach on the east coast are also worth a visit.

Havelock Island. Photo credit: iStock

Wildlife Watching

Not only will you be spoiled with sea life underwater, but the Andaman Islands are also home to more than 250 species of birds - about two dozen of which are endemic to Andaman and Nicobar.

Some of the largest and most colorful butterflies in the world can be seen among the tropical flora — visit Mount Harriet National Park in Port Blair if you want to see butterfly colonies.

Wild boar is a native mammal, protected by the Wildlife Protection Act. The islands are home to a biosphere reserve and nearly 100 wildlife sanctuaries, one of which provides a habitat for saltwater crocodiles.

Tree shrews, macaques and Leatherback Sea Turtles are also found here. Protecting these species, some of which are endangered, is a top priority.

It’s essential for people to refrain from touching any wildlife including coral, and be careful when shopping to patronize local artisan cooperatives, and look for the “Sustainable” tag on items.


The diversity of terrain here paths the way for some interesting treks.

In places like Mount Harriet, easy walking paths make hiking accessible for just about anyone.

Other spots such as Chidia Tapu on South Andaman Island are more adventurous, with hilly terrain and dense forests that often require bushwhacking (it’s advisable to go with a guide).

On Havelock Island, the treks to the beaches are gorgeous hikes themselves, through mangroves - often with boardwalks available. The walk to Elephant Beach (about 45 minutes) is one of the best.

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1 Comment

  • sahitya said

    That's indeed beautiful post. Very interesting and well written.

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