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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a territory of India although they are actually closer to Myanmar and Thailand geographically speaking. Although badly hit in the 2004 tsunami, most of the tourist destinations are back up and running and the islands offer beautiful sand beaches and a haven for nature lovers. The capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands is Port Blair.
Overseas visitors, Indians aside, will need a special permit to visit the islands which can be obtained easily in Port Blair. The permit does not give you access to all islands. For the Nicobar Islands you need a separate tribal area entry permit and this can be hard to get. Still, there is enough to keep you busy on the Andaman Islands.
There are 349 islands in the territory having an area of 8,249 km2. Of these, about 38 are permanently inhabited. The islands extend from 6° to 14° North latitudes and from 92° to 94° East longitudes. The Andamans are separated from the Nicobar group by a channel (the Ten Degree Channel) some 150 kilometrs wide. The highest point is located in North Andaman Island (Saddle Peak at 732 metres). The Andaman group has 325 islands which cover an area of 6,170 km2 while the Nicobar group has only 24 islands with an area of 1,765 km2.
The capital of the union territory, Port Blair, is located 1,255 kilometres from Kolkata, 1,200 kilometres from Visakhapatnam and 1,190 kilometres from Chennai. The northernmost point of the Andaman and Nicobars group is 900 kilometres away from the mouth of the Hooghly River and 190 kilometres from Myanmar. Indira Point at 6°45’10″N and 93°49’36″E at the southern tip of the southernmost island, Great Nicobar, is the southernmost point of India and lies only 150 kilometres from Sumatra in Indonesia. The only volcano in India, Barren Island is located in Andaman and Nicobar.
Sights to take in in Port Blair include the Cellular Jail, a large prison from the early 1900’s which has become a monument to Indian freedom fighters who were emprisoned here. Other sights in Port Blair are the Marine Museum, the Anthropological Museum, and the Chatham Sawmill.
Mid-January until mid-May sees the best weather, and often the best diving conditions. The days are mostly sunny at this time of year, and the sea sometimes flat enough to reflect the clouds. The monsoon usually hits around late May, lasting until the end of July, and is probably the worst time to visit the islands - strong winds, frequent rain and low visibility underwater. August through November some occasional showers and slightly rougher seas are possible but diving can still be great at this time of year. The weather often takes a turn for the worse for the month of December until early January.
Non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport. If you plan to arrive by sea, you'll need to arrange your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa. Visitors usually receive a 30 day permit, although some travellers arriving without a confirmed flight back have only received a 15 day permit. Ask for 30 days on your application; if you write in your return flight date, your permit will be issued to end on that date, which will cause unnecessary pain if you choose to extend your stay or, worse yet, get unexpectedly delayed by weather.
Permits can be extended by 15 days in Port Blair, for a maximum single stay of 45 days, although this extension is granted only in, to quote the local police guidelines, "deserving cases". You must then leave the islands and can return after 72 hours. The permit is checked when arriving at most islands, checking into hotels and booking ferries, and must be surrendered when you leave the islands, so don't lose it.
The permit allows overnight stays in the following locations: South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except tribal reserves), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding Boat Hobday Island, Twin Island, Tarmugli Island, Malay Island and Pluto Island). Overnight stays in the park are with permission only.
The permit allows for day-trips to South Cinque Island, Ross Island, Narcondum Island, Interview Island, Brother Island, Sister Island and Barren Island which can be visited on board vessels only with landing possible.
You can travel over sea to Port Blair from Kolkata, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam. In total, there are usually 4 to 6 sailings a month between Port Blair and the Indian mainland – once every two weeks to/from Kolkata (56 hours) and weekly (in high season) to/from Chennai (60 hours) on four vessels operated by SCI. The schedule is erratic though, so check with the SCI in advance or check the official tourism website (see below), which usually posts an up-to-date schedule. Delays are common though, so with hold-ups, and variable weather and sea conditions, the trip can take three full days or more. The service from Chennai goes via Cap Nicobar once a month, taking an extra two days, but only residents may disembark. There is usually a service once a month from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
Andaman and Nicobar are a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles and a pricy seaplane service to Havelock Island, passenger ferries are the only way to get between the islands.
All passenger transport in the islands is handled by the government-run Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS), which also runs the ferries back to the mainland. The DSS operates two kinds of vessels: small "tourist" ferries, and larger "local" ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at Rp150-Rp200 one way from Port Blair to Havelock Island.
Tourist ferries seat about 100 people in padded bucket seats in a notionally air-conditioned cabin (which can still get sweltering hot). While you can access the top deck, there are no seats, shade or shelter outside. These boats are fast(er) and seaworthy, but top-heavy, and sway quite a bit in high seas. There is no canteen on board, so bring snacks or at least drinks.
Local ferries are considerably larger, seating up to 400 in two levels: padded "bunk" or "luxury" seating upstairs, and plain old benches on the "deck" downstairs. Neither class is air-conditioned, but ocean breezes keep temperatures tolerable, and a canteen dishes out chai, samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they're more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.
There's a new air-con catamaran ferry from Port Blair to Havelock. Tickets are Rp650, Rp750 or Rp1,000, with the latter being for a leather seat and individual TV. They can be purchased from a dedicated ticket booking window at Port Blair, thus avoiding the queue barging, and through guesthouses on Havelock.
In high season demand often exceeds supply, so book your tickets at least one day in advance, either through a travel agent or directly at Port Blair's harbour. Ferry ticket booking has now been computerised. This means you can book any ferry from any jetty - i.e. Rangat to Havelock from the Diglipur ferry jetty. This obviously depends on the computers working. Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notably cyclones in the Bay of Bengal.
Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
Taxis are available in Port Blair. They are usually the rather vintage Ambassador cars and often not very well maintained. They are slightly more expensive than the auto-rickshaws, but a more comfortable way to get around the island.
Scooters & Motorcycles used to be available for rent in Port Blair, however, its not very easy to get one now. Auto-rickshaws may be the best way to move around the city. However, in Havelock Island they are the best option to enjoy a ride to the Radhanagar beach or around. It may cost around Rp150 - Rp250 per day with a security deposit of around Rp750 - Rp1000.
Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local dhabas on Havelock, fish abounds. Be prepared to pay a little more for good fish and seafood dishes than for standard Indian food, but it's well worth it. Basic Indian food is also available, and as cheap as on the mainland in most of the small dhabas. Resort restaurants on Havelock can also whip up a limited set of more or less Western dishes, but the resort restaurants are pretty expensive for Indian standards.
Fresh coconuts are popular and widely available. Alcohol is available in some restaurants and at 'English Beer & Wine Shops' in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. The beers will not be cold except in local bars. Local bars are dingy and poorly lit, giving them a very eerie feel.
There are a variety of hotels around the islands which are run by Andaman & Nicobar Tourism. You can book all A&N tourism hotels both in person at A&N tourism in Port Blair, by phone on 03192 232694, or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org (currently they do not have access to email). Hours are 08:30am-11:0oam, 2:00-3:00pm.
The Andamans are a fairly safe destination. Tourism is still in its early stages which makes it almost hassle free. That said, you should keep your wits about you as you would anywhere.
The Andaman Islands are the home of some of the last un-contacted tribes of Eurasia. These tribes have resisted modernization for some time. An example is the Sentinelese tribe, who inhabit North Sentinel Island. They maintain their sovereignty over the island and will kill intruders. However, as a tourist, you will go nowhere near them, so this is not really an issue.
Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are found in suitable habitats throughout the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
While attacks on locals do occur every year within the island chain, the only attack on a foreigner within recent history occurred off the coast of Havelock Island in April 2010. While saltwater crocodiles generally remain within the rivers and coastal mangrove swamps, they do occasionally travel within the open ocean, as was the case in this attack. Attacks on humans in the ocean are very rare.
The main crocodile populations are around Little Andaman Island (Northern and Western sides), Interview Island and in the narrow straits that separate the main islands MacPhearson Strait, Andaman Strait, Homfrey Strait and Austen Strait. Crocodile populations are also known from many of the Nicobar Islands.
Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally not more than mainland India.
Ask Murli a question about Andaman and Nicobar Islands
I am a resident of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, born and grown up in these islands. I know this place very well and have good relationship with the people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, mostly all the travel agents and hoteliers and boat owners of Andaman know me
Ask andamantrips a question about Andaman and Nicobar Islands
I have been there many times and enjoyed all the inhabited island.
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