“The Caribbean of the Bay of Bengal”, “an undiscovered gem of India”, one of the “hottest spots to watch”. The Andaman Islands are easily one of the top islands we’ve ever been to & we like islands a lot, so that’s saying something. Their exotic nature & lack of history in heavy tourism make them incredibly remote, under developed (for now), & boast some of the best beaches in Asia.
If you have no idea where we are talking about, don’t feel bad. At the risk of sounding naïve we didn’t really know these beautiful ladies existed until we found ourselves with an extra week of time to kill & couldn’t pick a place to go. I know, sob story – poor us. Unfortunately, due to incredibly tight visa/tourism restrictions, Bhutan & Tibet, our top destinations, weren’t going to be possible this trip (just gives us a reason to travel another time 😊). I was randomly searching other places in or near India while Ben was perusing around flights from Delhi on hopper.com when we came across their name. Between the lush pictures online & the relatively inexpensive flight tickets, we were sold in about 10 minutes. We had loved trekking & I enjoyed the month spent pretzel twisting my body around at yoga school but we were both ready to just lie on a beach & do nothing…
Before we go any further & gush about these beauties there is a story we must share. While they may be on the “next hottest” list, the lack of reliable information & transportation will continue to hamper any tourism growth for the foreseeable future. What are we talking about you may ask? Mainly the incorrect or misinformation (even provided by their own tourism site) which, long story short, left us sitting in the hot sun for 4 hours begging to be let onto a ferry from Port Blair to Havelock (not the first time we’ve had to talk our way onto a ferry, but it’s getting old). All tickets require a “Restricted Access Permit” for non-Indian citizens, which is only issued on arrival, so booking in advance is not possible. The folks at the government ferry will refuse to sell you tickets, the private ferries book quickly during high season & in the off season when they run fewer ferries – do not be overly surprised to have to spend a night in Port Blair (a rather otherwise forgetful city).
The Andamans themselves consists of over 500+ islands, though only a few are open to tourists. Havelock is by far the most visited of the Islands & boasts the most well-known beaches. Until recently, no major resorts were open on the island; simple “mom & pop” resorts or small local chains provided accommodations to guests. Truth be told there’s not much to do on any of the islands, these are not like other “fluffed” up tourist areas with tons of on & offshore activities. However, if you are looking for quiet, isolated & raw nature (watch out for salt water crocodiles!) beside spectacular beach views, it hits the spot undoubtedly.
The queen of the Andaman beaches, Radhanagar has been voted top beaches in Asia & it’s easy to see why. Wide expanses of white sandy beach stretch out before a crystal blue ocean, nothing out to see in front of you but an occasional lone sail boat. Upon arrival, the immediate shoreline will be littered with a fair amount of local mainland tourists but a quick walk left or right & you can find plenty of space to stretch out & soak up the (unrelenting) Indian sun. Further north just a bit & tall, ghostly white trees reach hundreds of feet up to the sky & line your walk almost right up to shore. It’s as if a slightly odd cousin of the mighty Californian redwoods has been planted at the edge of the island.
Once home to the famous “swimming elephants” (hence the name), frankly its now a bit of a tourist trap. Don’t get us wrong, its beautiful & worth the 1.8km jungle walk to reach (I don’t recommend doing it by boat) but we insist you walk past the tiny roped off area for swimming & “safety snorkeling” (aka innertube snorkeling…) where throngs of Indian mainland tourists gather, to reach empty beaches for a little peace & quiet right around the corner. Here the currents seem completely different then Radhanagar, where there the waves were impressive & crashed down upon the shore; here it’s peaceful, calm, almost unchanging surf. The water is so still that on top it feels like a warm bath & only around your ankles & toes do you feel the cold currents of the bay. Frankly it’s a little weird but you get used to it while lazily floating in the bath lagoon.
Beach No. 5
As with the lesser famous beaches of the island, this one is simply known by a number but it was our favorite. Nestled along the edges of our resort, Wild Orchid, it was just a quick step out onto the sandy surf of beach No. 5. Since the islanders don’t think it deserves a name, we shall call it “Walker Beach” since it became our favorite. Maybe it was our favorite because it was so close or the least populated on our northern end, but it was gorgeous; the tide stretched out so far at low tide I thought we could walk to the neighboring islands. Crystal clear waters that faded into rich blues farther out, it was the perfect spot to do nothing. Which is exactly what we did.
A smaller & way less populated island than Havelock, its peaceful allure draws those travelers who really want to feel they can get away from it all. Either end of the island makes you feel you are at the edge of the world, almost literally. You can greet the morning on the east end at Sitapur “sunrise beach” after a 4am wakeup call & scooty ride & in the evening work your way down to the beautiful Laxmanpur or “sunset beach”. Natural bridge is a fun quick outing that will predictably draw the biggest crowds since there’s even less to do on Neil than Havelock which was frankly almost nothing.
Neil provides a more “raw” experience giving you a peek into the local island life. Mostly agricultural & fishing, the local town is like something you would see out of the early 1900’s; local shops open at sunrise, staying open until it gets too hot in the afternoons. Not an ATM nor bank is to be found anywhere on the island. Neil has only recently opened to tourism so do not expect a “resort-like” island experience, outside a few select options, or any real restaurants outside road-side shacks. If this is what you are looking for, the people are very friendly, the local foods are spectacular & you experience that remote island feeling you rarely find in places anymore.
Even with the various logistical & overstated expectations issue, this shouldn’t overshadow the real beauty of the islands. In a few years’ time once they get past their growing pains, I’m sure these gorgeous beaches will be filled with tourists & throngs of people wanting to explore their charms. If you’re lucky enough for a visit to their unique shores don’t ever pass it up.