Let me start by saying I am not a beach person. I much prefer the cool mountain air to the salty breeze of the seas. That being said, the beaches of the Andaman Islands are unlike any other I’ve been to. The clear blue waters offer a gradient of almost every shade of blue. The soft white sandy beaches are clean and a pleasure to walk on, especially in the evenings. And oh the colours of the sky! They change into brilliant hues of blues, pinks, purples, and yellows throughout the day, complementing the seascape below.
This was also the first beach I’ve been to where I saw shells with residents still inside, instead of just empty washed-up ones. The greenery on the islands is also noteworthy. Everywhere you turn, you see a shade of either blue or green.
Even if you don’t enter the waters, like me, you will still find this location to be a relaxing and calming holiday away from the chaos of daily routine.
Things to do at Port Blair
There are a few things to do at Port Blair but you wouldn’t need more than a day to cover the main points. You can hire a cab for the day for convenience, but point-to-point rides would be cheaper since most of the day will be spent on a ferry.
The infamous jail built to exile political prisoners by the English colonists was a very humbling reminder of the struggles for our independence. The rows and rows of individual cells, the graphic montages of the labour and torture endured by the imprisoned, and the glaring reality of the gallows make you appreciate the sacrifice of so many people for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Veer Savarkar’s cell, Subhash Chandra Bose’s picture gallery, and the Martyr’s flame are some of the highlights here. There’s a light and sound show in the evening for those interested. The photo gallery showing the life and times of the prison and the hangman gallows were a little too much to take in for our 6-year-old.
There were people taking pictures of themselves locked in the jail cells, which I found to be insensitive. But I guess to each their own!
Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex
This is the central point for all water activities on the island. Ferries for other smaller islands also leave from here. There’s a promenade you can stroll on and a play park for kids as well. It is just under half a kilometre from the Cellular Jail so you can just walk up to it.
At the jetty, you can opt for water sports such as jet skiing. Our six-year-old loved the experience of the speed. For all other activities, you need to head to North Bay.
You’ll need to hire a ferry to take you to Ross Island and North Bay. You can choose to only visit Ross Island and back, or both islands. These are smaller islands and do not have the option for overnight stays.
Ross Island (Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep)
Ross Island was the administrative headquarters of the Britishers stationed at the cellular jail. The ruins of some of the structures like the church, printing press, and barracks still stand, supported by the tree roots that have grown over them. It gives an almost ghost-town feel were it not for the bustling crowd of tourists.
As soon as we alighted the ferry, we were greeted by herds of free-roaming chital deer grazing nonchalantly. Some of them let us get close enough to touch them. Our son was hesitant at first, but he did go near one of them. Unfortunately, the next deer he went near, bent its head and its antlers poked his face, which scared him but didn’t injure him.
Feeding the deer is strictly not allowed. Keep an eye out for other residents such as peacocks and red-whiskered bulbuls, especially near the jetty.
You can explore the island on foot, although you might not get enough time to do that since the boat stops here only for an hour. We hired one of the electric carts to take us to the top of the hill and then walked up to the lighthouse for a breathtaking view of the open sea.
The waves crashing just a few metres in front of us as we stood on a narrow bridge was an overwhelming experience. The cool sea breeze tempted us to spend more time here but it started raining mid-way so we headed back, glad that we packed our rain ponchos.
The same golf cart took us back to the jetty, stopping on the way for us to take a few pictures.
North Bay Island
Our next stop was North Bay Island. The iconic red and white lighthouse on the island can be seen in the older version of the 20 Rupee currency notes. It is known for the coral reefs around the island.
There’s not much sightseeing you can do here except trek up to the lighthouse. This is the place for all water sports. You can purchase the tickets at Port Blair or from vendors here on the island.
Some activities offered here include snorkelling, scuba diving, parasailing, and sea walking. You do not need to know how to swim for any of these activities. The instructors will provide some basic training before taking you further from the shore where you can see live corals and colourful fish. Kids under 10 are not allowed to do these activities, but they can accompany you on the boat. If you plan to do any of these activities, then carry your swimwear. The rest will be provided by the vendors.
There are two types of glass-bottomed boats that you can hire to see the sea without getting in the water. The small dolphin boat and the larger semi-submarine. However, with the water being muddy and the glasses too thick, you can barely see any blurry shapes of fish that come near the boat, let alone the colours of the sea life.
If you’re not participating in any of the water sports, you can skip this island altogether. The boat waits here for about 2 to 3 hours. There are small shacks that serve food but there’s no proper place to sit and wait. Tourists are not allowed into the water on their own, so you wouldn’t be able to enjoy a beach day either. I didn’t feel it was worth the time and money at all and would have preferred to skip this island completely. It is like any other over-commercialised tourist spot.
Things to do at Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)
Havelock is far from the madding crowd of Port Blair. The small island has just one main stretch of road that connects all the major tourist spots. Everyone drives within the speed limits here, even on empty streets, which was reassuring to see.
This beach is truly deserving of the title of the top 10 beaches in the world. The white sandy beaches and the clear blue shades of the water contrast beautifully with the changing colours of the sky. It felt nice to walk on the clean beach enjoying the gentle waves as the sun set presenting you with breathtaking colours.
Our son thoroughly enjoyed building sand structures and finding treasures from the sea. Kids don’t bother with minor inconveniences such as the scorching sun or meal times, and he would’ve stayed there the whole day if we let him.
Keep a lookout for small crabs that camouflage perfectly with the sand, and shells that move. We saw live hermit crabs for the first time on these beaches.
We went here at the end of September just as the monsoon season was ending. The tides here are high in the mornings and recede in the evening. Post monsoon, the tides recede further making way for beach lounging and food shacks.
The Taj hotel doesn’t have a private beach, but it is directly accessible from the hotel from morning to sunset. If you looked towards the hotel from the sea, you wouldn’t even know there was a big hotel right there. The mangroves disguise the resort so that the beach life doesn’t get distracted by artificial lights at night.
Kala Patthar Beach
This is known as the sunrise beach. It is a 20-minute drive from Taj, where we were staying. We reached there exactly at 5 am as the sky started to turn a light blue. However, it was a cloudy day so we didn’t experience the full potential of the beach. The big black rocks that dot the beach make for a good place to sit and enjoy the waves. You might also find it bustling with sea creatures like crabs.
There is a row of vendors offering food and drinks, even early in the morning. We noticed many biscuit packets thrown on the pristine sands even though a dustbin was nearby. The callousness of people amazes me sometimes.
We spent just about an hour taking in the fresh morning then headed back to our hotel for breakfast.
If you plan to do any water sports on this island, then Elephant Beach is the place to go. A boat from the Havelock Jetty takes you to the beach. If it’s not raining, and you have the time, then you can also choose to trek there.
My husband had opted for the scuba diving package from the hotel. A day before the dive, the staff trained him in the pool for about two hours. This gave him some confidence for the dive. He left the next morning after an early breakfast. A trainer stayed with him throughout the dive. Since it had rained the previous day, the water wasn’t as clear as he had hoped, but it was still a thrilling experience.
Snorkelling, parasailing, and fishing are also offered here.
Reaching Port Blair
There are direct flights from a few mainland cities to the islands’ capital city. Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar Airport is a small one, but a much larger one is being built next door which will welcome international flights as well. It’s slated to open in the next few years.
Everyone needs to show their double vaccination certificates before baggage collection to enter the city. A soft copy is ok, but we got a printout just in case. You get a ‘vaccinated’ stamp on your hand to let you through. For kids under 5, there are no health certifications required.
For kids over 6 and other unvaccinated adults, an RT-PCR test is mandatory once you reach Port Blair. It is provided free of cost. A bus takes you to the testing centre where they do a nasal swab, and the results are sent to your phone the next day. This made it necessary for us to stay in Port Blair for a day as our 6-year-old wasn’t vaccinated.
Although most of the sites asked us to get an RT-PCR test for our son before travelling, no one bothered to check it and our son had to go for the government test regardless. Factor this delay into your travel planning.
When to visit the Andaman Islands
This is a tropical rainforest region high in humidity most of the year. Its proximity to the equator means that even though the temperature might not be very high, the sun is still strong enough to burn your skin. Use and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day to protect yourself.
During the monsoons, most water activities are closed. We travelled in the last week of September as the monsoons were receding. The weather was sunny and humid with intermittent rain, but the breeze was cool. October to February is the best time to visit, although the crowds and the prices increase exponentially during this time.
Getting around the Andaman Islands
The most convenient, albeit expensive, way is to hire a car. You can choose from the freelancers you’ll meet at the airport, or book through the travel desk of your hotel. ITC’s travel desk was especially helpful in arranging a cab for us whenever we needed it. They were just slightly more expensive than the regular fares.
There are also autos and buses you can use. You could hire a self-drive 2-wheeler for your stay as well if you are comfortable riding it. Just be mindful to follow traffic rules here.
On Havelock Island, we hired a cab from the jetty instead of booking it through the hotel as their rates were much cheaper. We used the same driver’s services for going around the island during our stay.
The catamarans to Havelock or Neil Islands need to be pre-booked online. We chose Nautika which was new and comfortable. The regular luxury seats were great and not much different from the more expensive Royal section.
The last ferry to the islands leaves around 1 pm from Port Blair, so if your flight arrives late afternoon, you’ll need to spend a day in Port Blair. It takes roughly 90 minutes to reach Havelock. Although they insist on you arriving an hour early for check-in, I felt 30 minutes would’ve been enough. They didn’t check any of our vaccination certificates or RTPCR reports. Our bags were screened though.
On the way back from Havelock, we wanted to make the most of our time at the resort, so we chose a late checkout and took the last ferry out at 3:30 pm since our flight was the next day. The jetty here doesn’t have an indoor waiting room. There are some shaded benches where you can wait. If you’re reaching early then it’s not a comfortable wait especially if it’s very hot or raining. You could also opt for an early morning ferry and catch an afternoon flight out of Port Blair.
We also experienced some rough seas on the way back. The turbulence was not pleasant, and if you get seasick, carry some medicine with you.
Hindi is spoken by everyone here. You’ll hear a lot of Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu also being spoken. Most will understand basic English as well.
Where to stay in the Andaman Islands
Port Blair, Havelock, and Neil Islands are the most popular places you can stay in the archipelago. Since we didn’t want to crowd our itinerary, we chose to skip Neil Islands. The Nicobar group of islands is completely out of bounds for all tourists and locals.
Although the names of these islands have been changed recently, they’re still referred to by their previous (shorter) names for convenience. Havelock Islands is now known as Swaraj Dweep, Ross Island is now named Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep, and Neil Island is Shaheed Dweep.
Where to stay in Port Blair
Our first stay was in ITC Welcomhotel. The hotel has a splendid view of the sea and the nearby islands as you enter the reception and the restaurants. We literally went Wow as soon as we stepped out of the car.
The rooms are small but comfortable for a day as we were just two and a half people. It might feel crowded with an older child. Get a sea-facing room otherwise, your view will be of a random back alley stairway. Our Airtel phone network was reasonably good in the common areas, and we used the complimentary wifi in the room.
On our way back, we stayed at SeaShell next door to ITC. Their rooms are tinier than ITC and don’t have much of a view. Their popular rooftop restaurant is their saving grace. Our phones didn’t get a good network in the room. The wifi here works on a code and only for a certain time. For just one night, only one of us could use the wifi and we had to ask for a new code every few hours. It was quite annoying.
The Lemon Tree Hotel is right opposite the airport so might be a better option to just walk to and from the airport. We didn’t stay there so I cannot attest to its facilities, but the proximity to the airport seemed notable.
Where to stay in Havelock Island or Swaraj Dweep
Taj Exotica offers the quintessential luxury island experience. Starting with the welcome song by the staff and coconut water from the trees growing in the resort, to the indulgent massage at their spa, it was truly an exotic getaway.
Their cottages are large and spacious and the whole property is filled with greenery and trees that are over a hundred years old. A short 5-minute walk takes you to Radhanagar Beach from inside the resort itself. Evening tea is arranged at the beach entry every day so you can sip some masala chai as you watch the sun go down.
Their infinity pool under ancient towering trees and overlooking the open sea is a visual delight and a perfect place to lounge in the afternoons. The ancient Andaman Ash trees and the towering Gurjan trees have been integrated into the resort seamlessly, often jutting out of ceilings in the common areas.
They also had plenty of activities for kids (some were charged, others free), including a game room, painting, treasure hunt, etc. Our son woke up at 5 am and had a full day of things to do till we slept at 8 pm.
The hotel had a good phone network and a stable wifi connection. We could make video calls even from the beach.
Barefoot Havelock is another great property and is located next to Taj on Radhanagar Beach. Friends who have stayed there have loved it.
Kala Patthar Beach has a lot more stay options for a variety of budgets. For those who prefer to be where the action is, this would be more suitable as there are also plenty of dining options within walking distance.
These islands run on generators for electricity, so be mindful of switching off ACs and lights when not in use.
Where to eat at the Andamans
We mostly ate at the hotels we stayed at. In Port Blair, the ITC had a multicuisine restaurant which was good, not great. On our day trip to North Bay, we ate in the semi-submarine boat. The menu offered mostly fried and quick service items only.
Amaya, the rooftop restaurant at SeaShell is the most popular place in Port Blair. It serves awesome grilled seafood among other Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes. The service and ambience were great as well. They have live music after 8 pm with some super nostalgic songs for the 90s kids. They’re open for lunch as well and you can get a view of the open seas.
At Havelock, the food and service at Taj were incomparable. Instead of buffets, they only offer à la carte, even for breakfast. This way, you get freshly made hot food and there’s less wastage. Our son who refuses to eat mushrooms at home fell in love with the mushroom risotto at their Turtle House restaurant by the pool. Seafood is the way to go in any coastal town, and the choice here is exceptional.
Almost everywhere you stay or eat on the islands, you’ll get RO filter water instead of bottled water. Very few stores sell plastic bottled water. We didn’t have any issues with the water quality throughout our trip. Each of us had our own water bottle that we refilled when needed.
Coconut water is widely available all over the island and is the best alternative to sugary drinks to keep you well hydrated.
Things to carry
- Mosquito repellant like Mostigo
- Aloe gel for bug bites and sunburn
- Hand sanitisers that attach to your backpack for easy access
- Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 50). We used the Ultrasun Mineral Sunscreen. Another option is Aveeno
- Large hat or scarf
- Swim gear
- Extra clothes (you’ll need them)
- Rain gear (it can rain any time in this tropical region)
- Reusable water bottles (please don’t buy plastic bottles here)
- A good book if you plan to lounge
- Face masks are required in the airport
- Vaccination certificates
- Basic first aid kit
- Band aid
- Medicine for motion sickness
- Anti-allergy medicine
- Pain reliever
- Nail cutter / Swiss Army knife
- Something to soothe an upset stomach
- Nasal decongestant
Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.