What To Expect In Andaman & Nicobar: A Letter To A First Time Traveller
You’ve seen incredible pictures of the Emerald Isles, you’ve heard the diverse stories from your friends, but are you truly prepared to experience Andaman just yet? Let’s try to make your visit as adventurous as possible, while also being comfortable and well planned, so that your friends and family can savour the real beauty Andaman has to offer. There are a bunch of things you’ll need to know first before you’re on track to becoming a seasoned hand at isle-hopping in the Andamans.
#1 Rainy over- cast beaches?
While Andaman sees perfect island weather for most parts of the year, many tourists end up planning their holiday based on the flight costs. While you’ll save bucks doing this, you’ll also be risking gloomy skies and endless rain.
Monsoons begin in early May, continuing to pick up intensity until the month end, when day-long drizzles and strong downpour marks the typical season. Travelling to a beach only to see it over cast and drizzling not only ruins your perfect picture for Instagram, but also your holiday. Don’t be surprised if you end up stuck in your hotel all day as it pours outside.
We suggest that you skip this season, as the seas become too rough to dip into and unpredictable rain keeps beaches shut. Strong cyclonic depressions that result in high, dangerous waves are also common.
Heading to Andaman in early October/late march will give you smaller crowds, cheaper prices from beach-side vendors and calm and breezy weather. Anything beyond March puts you in peak tourist season, so if privacy and peace is what you’re looking for, head out before it gets busy!
The months of December to February see maximum tourist inflow, while holidays like New Year and Christmas also mark a surge in visitors. Not only do hotels become more expensive, but also prices of seasonal catch and seafood, so if you want to avoid crowds and save some cash, keep away during these months.
#2 You’ll need more than a week to cover the entire islands
If you want to do a short pit-stop and check out Port Blair and Havelock, four or five days is enough. While its not long enough to explore every nook and cranny of the famous Havelock, it gives you enough time to feel the vibe of the island.
If you have just three days on hand, make sure you land in Port Blair before 10 am, so that you can catch the ferry to Havelock or Neil Island on the same day. Ensure you’ve pre-booked the ferry too, because any later than 12 pm and you risk losing out an entire day because you’d have missed the last ferry.
However, we suggest you stay for a minimum of one-week to ten days, to truly satisfy your appetite for crystal blue seas and incredible cuisine. While Havelock and Neil are the most popular destinations, the island has a plethora of secluded and private islands bursting with picturesque beaches and scuba diving opportunities that most tourists miss out on, we can’t’ stress enough how amazing this can be.
Did you know that you can explore Long Island by foot, stay in a shared communal café and meet incredible travellers? You could also go to Diglipur and see the majestic twin islands – Ross and Smith. You could visit the limestone caves at Baratang and see turtles nesting at Rangat. But to experience these off beaten trips, you’ll need to spend at least ten days, so plan accordingly.
#3 Pre-book EVERYTHING
While most places can be explored on the go these days, don’t visit Andamans thinking you’ll “figure it out” when you get here. It is imperative to book hotel rooms and ferry tickets in advance. A lot of tourists on a tight schedule arrive in Port Blair and expect to book a seat on the locally run ferry, only to find out that certain ferries operate only on certain days or are fully booked, which happens for less travelled to islands. They end up wasting 2-3 days just waiting in the city, while they try to find a ferry.
On the other hand, although there are daily ferries that ply to Havelock and Neil, these are in heavy demand. Waiting in a queue only to find out that travel on the same day won’t be possible is a big dampener on a well planned trip. Each day is precious, so we recommend that don’t try to save a few hundred only to end up missing out on important places.
Local ferries are usually crowded, and preference is given to islanders over tourists, as their livelihood depends on the commute between islands. Long queues early in the morning for a ferry seat that is 4-5 days away is quite common. Nobody likes to spend a special holiday with their loved ones waiting in a queue at 7am, do they?
On the other hand, if you have a month’s time on your hands and are travelling during off season, pre-booking can be skipped, as a delay of a day or two wouldn’t really hamper plans. The extra time will also give you opportunities to mix with locals and explore niche places as you wait to visit another island. The islands have a number of shacks which will cater to you without prebooking, depending on the season.
#4 It can get really hot
During the summer months, like most islands, the air can become sultry and very humid. Carry light, cottons clothes and non-sticky creams to beat the heat. Another important essential is an umbrella and sunglasses. Just walking down streets to explore local stores is a huge hassle because of the sunlight and heat.
Avoid packing synthetic clothes, heavy dresses or formals. Keep it light and airy. While locals are broad minded and open, keeping some modest clothing for Port Blair and the bikini’s reserved for other islands might be a smart move.
The UV exposure is high during the summer so don’t let a gloomy day fool you. Carry and apply sunscreen at all times. Many tourists who are quite used to relaxing on beaches without sunscreen find themselves sunburnt after a few hours here.
#5 Carry your medicines and sanitary needs
If you suffer from a certain illness or allergic to generic tablets, please ensure you carry these along. While there are medical stores in Port Blair, the smaller islands do not have extensive medical facilities. Travelling extensively for simple medication can easily take up precious hours of travel time.
Keep common remedies like painkillers, cough syrup, pills for an upset stomach, tampons, pads etc. with you. Understand that navigating and reaching these remote islands is difficult and once you have reached the island, it’s too late to think of returning for a simple necessity like a pad. Keep this in mind especially for the less travelled islands like Long Island, Ross and Smith, Little Andaman, etc. However, you can be safe and rest assured that this will not be a problem in Port Blair or Havelock Island, as both are well equipped to handle any tourist need.
#6 Say goodbye to your social media
It is a well-known fact that internet connectivity is weak on the islands, given its long distance from the mainland. While plans to build an undersea internet cable are underway, for the near future you’ll have to say goodbye to data heavy apps.
Remember to download Google maps offline before your visit on all phones. While Vodafone, BSNL and Airtel and Vodafone have connectivity, other cellular network providers do not have coverage on the islands. If you plan to stay for a month or longer, buying a BSNL sim card is a good idea, as it is the only data provider with decent signal strength to experience 2G and above speeds.
If you plan to work on the islands which requires you to access the internet, warn colleagues or your boss that a delay is possible due to the internet problems. Never schedule an important call or skype meeting during your stay here, it’s just not worth the risk.
Don’t be surprised if you can’t stream YouTube videos. Prep for it by downloading good music on your phone and save any Netflix show you plan on watching too. Although it sounds tedious, most tourists end up loving the urban disconnect, enjoying the opportunity to take in the vast expanses of blue sea and pure white sands over their smartphone screens.
Carry any musical instrument you play, keep some speakers on you. Its an incredible experience to sit under a starry beach, hear the waves without worrying about constant notifications from your phone.
#7 Don’t rely on plastic money
ATM’s on the island are few and far between. Apart from Port Blair , Havelock, and Neil, the other islands do not have ATM stalls or POS machines to swipe your cards on. Ensure you carry cash on hand to pay for food and activities as well as to local vendors. This is important, as most swipe machines suffer from low connectivity and often do not work. Even if your hotel or café offers card payment, it won’t hurt to keep some cash as a back-up.
#8 Plan your holiday in advance
Decide on the exact places you want to visit. If spending a relaxed three days on Radhanagar beach, floating under the warm sun and seeing the shimmering sea is your idea of a perfect vacation, go ahead. Don’t worry about missing out!
But if you want to cover multiple places, plan a detailed itinerary or get a holiday package if you want to skip the hassle. Commuting between islands is the part where most tourists end up wasting time, so check with agents if you are unsure. Some places require you to obtain permits from local forest departments, so if you plan a far-flung isolated area for some adventure, you may find that it could be restricted without prior permission.
As always, if time is short and you do not want to end up wasting it, leave the planning to professionals. For a little extra money, you’ll save the stress and trouble of worrying over ferry timings and hotel bookings and instead spend your time with friends and family making unforgettable memories.
Be realistic about your plan. Cramming too many places into your plan without accounting for delays in the ferry or taxi can leave you feeling frustrated. You can skip on places that you don’t desire to see, irrespective of what features on the ‘must visit’ lists. Take time to soak in each place rather than an exhaustive glimpse of many.
#9 Experiment with local delicacies
The fresh catch in Andaman is amazing and an absolute must. Don’t hesitate to ask the chef for the days’ special or try the lobster platter. Sea food is prepared in a number of styles which can always be customised to your own preference. There are several options for vegetarians too, so go all out satisfying your taste buds!
Unless you stay at the top hotels, the choice of liquor available to you will be small. Local brands like Kingfisher & Haywards are available. Liquors like standard IMFL and Indian liquour is what is available. If you are a wine person, expect to get nothing more than Sula, but anything niche will be hard to find. If you are particular about this, ensure you carry whatever you need. MRP bars are few and usually spread out, so don’t rely on buying your preferred poison after you reach.
#10 Carry the right cosmetics
Carry a good sunscreen and a scarf or hat to protect yourself from the heat while walking.You’ll have to carry all essentials with you as the brands you prefer may not be sold in local stores.
For people who like their makeup, carry hair essentials like frizz cream and serums. If you have treated or coloured hair, it is imperative you carry serum, as the weather will turn your hair dry.
Keep your makeup (if you must, we suggest you forget makeup) light and waterproof. Often even the most resilient and dry makeup will run down due to the heat, turning patchy and oily in a few hours.
#11 Select your hotel carefully
While it may seem tempting to just book the first decent and cheap place you find, fight that urge. Andaman has a variety of hidden, cozy hotels and shacks with a unique atmosphere. Imagine soaking up a beautiful view of the shimmering sea as you laze in a bathtub, instead of the usual repetitive identical rooms.
From eco-friendly shacks with cute, fluffy dogs to play with and hammocks to laze and read a book in, to glitzy beachfront hotels with massage parlors and secluded villas, Andaman has everything to offer.
If you plan a romantic stay with your loved one, ensure you don’t end up in a hippy shack with a bunch of loud tipsy backpackers and spoil the mood. On the other hand, if you want to join the same noisy group and be a part of the fun, ensure you choose a relaxed café that offers as much. Check with the hotel or with agents and specify what kind of holiday you want, to make the most of your experience.
#12 Commute on the islands
While tourists know about ferries that take them to another island, they are usually not aware of how to commute within the island. Renting a scooter or bike at Port Blair is not available or advisable. While traffic is low, the terrain is difficult to navigate & too many crossing and diversions, as google maps will not work at all. Stick to auto-rickshaws in Port Blair. Or rent a Full Day Cab/ Taxi.
On the other hand, renting a scooter is a must-do in Havelock. It gives you the freedom to explore the whole island at your own leisure, while also being easy on the pocket.
A smaller island like Long Island can be explored on foot. The roads are calm and usually pleasant to walk on. You can soak in the small shops and beautiful roads that run parallel to beaches without any vehicle.
#13 Keep an open mind
While you may believe that you would prefer a calm holiday without too much sport or adventure, keep an open mind. The islands offer many incredible opportunities like scuba diving in Havelock, kayaking through mangroves, surfing on the waves around Little Andaman, experiencing turtle nesting grounds in Diglipur and exploring the ruins on Ross Island.
Do not restrict yourself to mainstream holiday activities but rather ask your agent or locals on what new activities you can try to make your trip even better.
#14 Expect to be obsessed
If planned well, your first experience of Andaman will be unforgettable. From beaches rivaling the world’s best, to adventure activities that you never expected, an open mind will take you to unexpected places and interesting people. You’ll end up making friends who will remain close even once you leave the island. You’ll make friends on the island who you’ll wait to visit again. Andaman is not just a few islands, but rather an experience to savour. Trust that you’ll be back again, wanting more time in this incredible isle.
To making the best memories yet,