Last summer, when both Mike and I were desperate for a holiday, but it wasn’t going to be happening soon, a friend mentioned that he’d recently visited the Andaman Islands. Dec described these beautiful islands, complete with unspoilt beaches, lush jungle interiors and cheap beer. I’d never heard of them, but I was intrigued. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are an archipelago of 200 to 300 islands, many of which are protected as areas of ecological importance, situated in the Bay of Bengal. A hotspot for holiday makers from mainland India, and with a growing eco-tourism economy, it really is as good as it sounds. We were sold.
Arriving into Port Blair after a pretty rough flight from Delhi (we left at 2.30am and I can best describe the flight as a commuter bus, plus the food as awful) we stepped on to the tarmac of the island’s tiny airport to feel the sun on our faces and to breath in considerably cleaner air than we were used to! The first stop for any foreign tourist when arriving in the Andaman Islands is to get a permit to be there. There are quite a few areas that are off limits to tourists and you need to carry this piece of paper everywhere (we were asked for it at hotels and the ferry, but you can be stopped by the police as well). Thankfully it’s pretty easy to get hold of, all you need to do is fill out a relatively lengthy form (naturally, this is india after all, land of admin) and present your passport. But just don’t lose it.
Port Blair is teeny tiny, but really rather lovely. The pace is much slower, everyone is friendly and the sun shines. For the first time in our travels I felt like I could relax. It’s also the last place in the Andaman Islands where you can get your admin sorted - across the islands there are very few ATMs and everywhere is cash only, even the fanciest hotels. Even if there is an ATM it’s likely that it won’t work, so you need to make sure you money up before you head on to any of the other islands. It’s also the place to be if you need to stock up on any supplies that you might be picky about (like toiletries). However, there’s so much more to the island than provisions and paperwork, and we genuinely loved our time hanging out here.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands have a rich history, and the Cellular Jail give an interesting insight in to the British Colonial regime in india, sharing the stories of political dissidents who were held there. It’s a weirdly beautiful spot that has been turned in to a museum and monument, with lush gardens where you can sit on a hot afternoon. I didn’t know a lot about the politics of the Colonial Period, and spent much of my time at the Jail muttering how sorry I was that my forefathers had behaved in such an inhumane way. The rest of the time was spent posing for photographs with Indian Nanas - turns out that having ginger hair and pale skin makes you a bit of an attraction.
One place that I really wish we’d have been able to visit was Ross Island, the former home of the British officers based in the Andamans. It’s now in ruins, abandoned and overgrown. It’s supposed to be quite something, but unfortunately there are no ferries on a Wednesday - our one free day in Port Blair!
When it comes to food and drink Port Blair isn’t lacking, there are loads of places to suit all budgets, from hole in the wall restaurants dishing up delicious thalis, to fancy cocktail bars complete with live music (a truly interesting experience, all the latest hits, all sung in an odd american accent). There are also plenty of places to stay, again at a range of price points, but we’re very loyal to a tiny homestay where you’re looked after by delightful staff who cook the best food!
Eat and Drink
Gagan Resturant - right by Aberdeen Bazaar (the centre of town) this little hole in the wall serves up great Thalis at really reasonable prices, walk through the sweet shop downstairs and head up to the teeny restaurant. Look lost and someone will point you in the right direction.
Annapurna - a bustling canteen style restaurant that's a great choice for lunch.
Sea Shell Port Blair - the sister hotel of where we stayed on Neil Island (details coming soon!) and one of the fancier bars on the island (this is the one where there is live music! You are in for a treat!). The roof top bar is a great place to hang out in the evening, although I have to admit I don't rate the food all that much.
Nico Bar at the Fortune Resort Bay Island - just around the corner from Sea Shell should you fancy a little bar crawl, this is another hotel bar, but it's a nice one and doesn't feel too much like a hotel bar. Plus it's got lovely staff and nice views.
(it's worth noting that Sea Shell and Nico Bar are both a little out of town and the guards aren't always amazing at finding tuk tuks, although don't let that put you off!).
We stayed at a couple of places as we came in and out of Port Blair, but the one that shone through was Ocean Terrace, a lovely homestay in an area called Dairy Farm (near the mini zoo if you need a more precise location - tuk tuk drivers struggle to find it). The caretaker was a lovely man who made delicious food and was so kind and thoughtful throughout our stay.
Read about the rest of our adventures in India here.