Floating in splendid isolation in the Bay of Bengal, the emerald Andaman and Nicobar Islands are considered one of India’s most pristine beach destinations.
This tropical archipelago encompasses over 500 islands known for breathtaking beaches, world-class diving, vast mangroves, and exotic flora and fauna. If you’re planning a vacation here, don’t miss these top sights across these enchanting isles.
1. Cellular Jail National Memorial
Also known infamously as Kala Pani Jail, this former British colonial prison in Port Blair has a tragic history as freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar were incarcerated here during India’s independence movement. Taking a guided tour of the jail’s tiny dingy cells gives perspective into our brave heroes’ suffering and sacrifice. Light and sound shows bring history alive at night.
The penal settlement was built in 1906 to exile political prisoners to these remote islands. The jail had 698 windowless solitary cells built in a central tower, akin to the spokes of a bicycle wheel, so no prisoners could communicate with each other. Prominent dissidents like Batukeshwar Dutt and Yogendra Shukla were also imprisoned here during the struggle for independence. The complex now houses a moving national memorial exhibiting artifacts, photographs and models recreating the prisoners’ lives. Don’t miss the evening sound and light show narrating the saga of freedom fighters and their overpowering urge for liberation.
2. Scuba Diving
With crystal clear azure waters and abundant marine life, the Andamans offer some of Asia’s finest scuba diving especially around Havelock Island and Neil Island. Divers can plunge into colorful reefs bursting with vibrant corals, sea turtles, reef sharks and even majestic migratory whales between December and March! Options are available for all levels, from beginners to professionals. To get the best deals on different activities, you must book your Andaman tour packages in advance.
Beginners can try fun dives up to 20 feet at sites like Lighthouse Beach on Neil Island. After a short theory class, dive masters accompany you on this adventure, revealing schools of angel fish, clown fish, parrot fish and the occasional black-tipped reef shark. No prior experience is needed!
More serious divers can take PADI certification courses and go deeper up to 65 feet at North Bay near Port Blair to explore labyrinthine coral formations and spot moray eels lurking within crevices. Night dives reveal bio-luminescent plankton lighting up waters like fairy dust. Advanced divers can witness giants like whale sharks and manta rays from December to May off the South Andaman coasts.
Reputable dive centers like Dive India, Infiniti Liveaboards and Andaman Bubbles offer guided packages, including gear rental, boat transfers and meals. Operators also adhere to strict safety protocols for a smooth experience. Remember to carry your certification card if you already have one.
3. Radhanagar Beach
Voted as ‘Asia’s Best Beach’ way back in 2004, the crescent-shaped Radhanagar on Havelock Island lives up to all the acclaim with its powder-soft sands, shallow azure waters, palm-fringed shores, and blissfully untouched beauty perfect for endless seaside relaxation under rustling palms. Catch memorable sunrises and sunsets here.
Flanked by green tropical forests on one side and the Andaman Sea’s turquoise waves on the other, Radhanagar is the ultimate tropical paradise. Spend hours reading a book on the shaded hammocks, strolling along the starfish-strewn beach, or swimming in the impossibly clear waters. For drinks and snacks, head to the shacks at the far end run by friendly locals.
With its incredibly serene vibe, Radhanagar appeals to those seeking solitude rather than crowded resort beaches. However, nights can get busy with campfires and barbeques under starlit skies. For accommodation, opt for seaside huts at nearby Barefoot Resort for direct beach access. The sun dipping into the horizon here bathes the sky in a fiery orange glow, creating picture-perfect moments every evening.
4. Limestone Caves at Baratang
A boat ride through lush tropical mangrove forests followed by a short trek leads you to Baratang Island’s mesmerizing limestone caves dripping with stalactites and stalagmites. As a bonus, you can spot glowworms illuminating cave ceilings like glittering stars in an underground night sky – an experience that’s nothing short of surreal.
Located about 90 km away from Port Blair, Baratang Island is accessible by a scenic ferry crossing dense mangrove forests. From the jetty, hire a shared jeep and make a pit stop at the mud volcano site where natural methane gas erupts from ground fissures, creating bubbling mud pools – a rare geological phenomenon.
A short trek through the tropical jungle brings you to Baratang’s extensive cave network, with chambers adorned with fascinating stalactite and stalagmite rock formations. The natural limestone structures created by dripping rainwater look instantly recognizable as various shapes like pillars, tubes and even shivalingams.
As you venture deeper inside the caves, look up to see thousands of glowing fireflies clustering on ceilings, creating an enchanting bioluminescent display in the darkness. Local guides accompany visitors during the walk and boat ride with flashlights and safety equipment.
5. Ross and Smith Islands
Joined by a sandbar that disappears at high tide, the twin Ross and Smith islands off the North Andaman coast offer a slice of tropical paradise with azure waters, coral reefs, and blindingly white sands dotted with swaying palms. You can either chill on the beach hammocks or go snorkeling and spot colorful parrotfish, sea turtles, and even baby reef sharks in the shallows!
A short 20-minute boat ride from Diglipur jetty transports you to this pristine setting, far removed from touristy crowds. Relax under thatched shelters on the powder-soft sands or on hammocks tied between palm trees, gently rocking in the sea breeze. Changing tidal patterns slowly submerge the sandy isthmus that links the islands, creating a spectacular optical illusion.
Don your snorkeling gear to explore the rich coral gardens in the shallow turquoise lagoons protected by the island’s topography. Schools of angelfish, triggerfish and parrotfish dart around brightly-hued corals. With luck, you may spot hawksbill turtles and baby reef sharks hunting for small fish.
The dreamy beaches, swaying palms, crystalline waters and marine life encircling Ross and Smith islands create an ideal tropical escape to unwind from urban pressure and reinvigorate your senses.
6. Mangrove Boat Tours
A maze of serene creeks and emerald-green Pichawaram mangroves connects many islands near Neil Island, providing sheltered breeding grounds for sharks, crocodiles, and turtles. Spot all these native species alongside birdlife like kingfishers, sea eagles, and pied hornbills as local boatmen row you gently through these lush channels on guided mangrove tours.
A short drive from Neil Jetty lies the calm mangrove-lined waterways of Pichawaram that can be explored by small, manually rowed boats. As you glide peacefully along the creek, keep your eyes peeled for the unique biodiversity supported by these thriving mangals.
Mudskippers and fiddler crabs actively forage along muddy banks at low tide. The intricate mangrove root systems provide protected nursery habitats for juvenile sharks and rays to grow. Schooling fish like mullets and snappers dart past your boat. Birds like grey herons and little egrets stalk prey in shallows.
As mangroves merge into the open sea, you may chance upon saltwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the river mouths. Your local boat guide is knowledgeable about the flora and fauna enriched with interesting facts about these vital coastal ecosystems. Tours typically last 1-2 hours, covering 4-5 km of meandering channels.
7. Chidiya Tapu
Famed for its abundant birdlife and dramatic sunsets, Chidiya Tapu near Port Blair lives up to its name, which translates to ‘Birds Island’. Over 46 avian species like emerald doves, golden orioles, and Andaman woodpeckers flock here between December and March, besides occasional sightings of the rare Andaman serpent eagle. The coastal views and sands here are sublime as well.
Rising early morning is well rewarded at Chidiya Tapu’s lush mangroves and forests echoing with birdsong. Follow melodic whistles into thickets to spot Andaman coucals and grey herons stalking prey. Woodpeckers rap on woody trunks while flashy kingfishers flit across paths. Offshore, white-bellied sea eagles circle over pristine beaches and rocky perches.
Serious birders visit during the migratory season between November and April when winged visitors from colder regions join the resident species. Spot oriental bay owls, pelicans, ospreys, drongos, woodpeckers and more throughout the day from strategically placed machaans.
At sundown, wander over to the beach to watch the sky transform into a canvas of dazzling red, orange and purple hues – a perfect finale to a day of nature-watching at this biodiversity hotspot.
The far-flung Andaman and Nicobar Islands encompass the best of what tropical island life offers – with palm-fringed beaches, world-class diving, fascinating history, and rich indigenous culture. So escape the mundane and lose yourself amidst the extraordinary beauty of India’s Island paradise!