Andaman Islands: Practicalities

See also in the Andaman Islands series,  Where, Why and Sherlock, Ross & Viper Islands, the ‘Angkor Wat of British Rule,’ and Port Blair Cellular Jail and the image on the 20 Rupee note.

Sherlock Holmes fired my imagination to see the Andaman Islands.

They lie closer to Myanmar and Thailand than India. Administered with the Nicobar Islands, they are a Restricted Area, though fortunately the Restricted Area Permit for the Andamans is available upon arrival. Travelers familiar with Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia will recognize the internal immigration process. Note that there are a number of areas in the Andamans that require additional permits, the RAP mainly covers the areas around Port Blair and the surrounding islands. The Nicobars are off-limits and the stuff of tears of hardcore country collectors.

Last summer I had a business trip to Mumbai (Bombay) that concluded on a Thursday. My wife had not heard of the Andaman Islands and wasn’t buying that a stop there was required to get back to New York.

Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar International Airport is served by multiple Indian airlines and prices have come down, you can get there from major Indian cities for around US$300. Many direct flights have stops but you can stay on the plane for the quick layover, as I did on GoAir.

Security in and out is tight. The airport has a neat list of 72 prohibited items. That did not stop one passenger taking large plants out of the island.

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The Andamans are not a luxury destination. Port Blair is noisy and chaotic with little island vibe, and only a few hotels on the coast. Backpackers head to Havelock Island to camp in huts. With only one full day and my interested focused on British Colonial remnants I stayed in Port Blair, selecting the Megapode Nest Tourist Complex, primary for the awesome name. It is mid-scale anywhere else, high-end for Port Blair. It is set on the hills above the city, looking out at the water. No beach. Checkout is 7:30 am. I negotiated 9:30 but at 7:30 am a young man was at my door insisting that I settle the bill or not be allowed to stay the extra two hours.

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I had the afternoon after arrival to take the ferry to Mt. Harriet, a full-day for a boat tour of the British colonial Ross and Vipers Islands, then a final morning before departure for a quick spin through the prison and museum in Port Blair. Anything more ambitious would require more time, more permits, and highly unreliable transportation. One of my keys to rapid travel is to always be wary of situations of dependence on boats.

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