William has always been fascinated by the stories of North Sentinel Island. A mysterious island way out in the Andaman Sea, untouched for centuries. The islands inhabitants are the last indigenous tribe in the world to have never had contact with modern society. They are genetically related to early man and may hold the key to some of the worlds greatest unanswered questions. Obviously we could never visit there, nor would we want to. But whilst travelling around India we thought we may as well take the opportunity to explore the Andaman & Nicobar islands.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of tropical islands at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. It is part of Indian Territory, and not all of these islands are inhabited or can be visited by tourists. Which, by the way, we think is fantastic. More governments should be prioritising the protection of natural unspoiled habitats and their indigenous people.
How we got there:
There are only 2 ways to reach the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. By air, or by sea. There are direct flights daily from many of the major Indian cities. The flights are cheap and don’t take too long.
If you want to sail from India mainland to the islands you will have your work cut out for you. The ships sail from the city of Chennai around 3 times a month. The journey takes around 60 hours. But the timetable is crazy and you will a tough job if you wanted to travel this way.
Because of this we decided to fly, and we managed to get some cheap flights from Chennai. The journey was a comfortable 2 hours and William was made up to spot the famous North Sentinel Island out of the window as we flew past.
Port Blair is the capital of the main island, and where your journey around these islands has to begin. As the only way to get to the islands is from mainland India, the main tourists here are Indian honeymooners. The tourist industry here is not westernised at all (which we adored). There are hardly any restaurants or tourist attractions, plus finding a decent hotel is tricky. We spent a day here before catching the boat to the next island. I don’t think we could have survived here longer than a day – there really isn’t much to do.
The Cellular Jail in Port Blair is a must visit. It is a remnant of the dark period of British Colonisation in India. The jail housed Indian freedom fighters who had to endure such horrors here. They were tortured, murdered and kept in horrific conditions.
The visit was harrowing, and uncomfortable. We were the only westerners there and we spent our visit deeply ashamed of our heritage and of the atrocities committed by our ancestors.
Despite this we feel it is so important to confront the past, to show the girls these dark periods of world history. The UK curriculum is extremely whitewashed and talks about the British Empire through rose tinted glasses. The truth that it was built on the backs of brutal colonisation, slaves and human trafficking is such an important truth to be heard.
We also spent some time at the Marina Park. It had a small children’s park, and a cafe. The beach here was sadly, incredibly polluted. Plastic trash everywhere which spoils the experience. You can read about our experience with pollution during our travels in this blog post about the dark side of travelling.
The World’s Worst Aquarium
There is also a small aquarium here which we nicknamed the ‘world’s worst aquarium’. It cost us 10p to enter and was essentially just shelves and shelves of sea creatures pickled in various sized jars. Great if you have a morbid fascination of dead sea life, if you have children like ours who are passionate about saving the oceans then I’d recommend you give this a miss.
From Port Blair we took the ferry to Havelock Island. It’s easy enough to buy tickets and embark. The journey took a couple of hours and was very choppy so William and the girls got seasick. The jetty onto Havelock Island is (much like everything in India) a health and safety nightmare. Juggling bags and kids whilst simultaneously trying hard not to fall in the sea was so much fun, not!
Havelock Island is one of the largest islands in the Andamans, and the main one for tourism. Although saying that there are still very few resorts, and no western restaurants, which is incredible as you get to really experience the culture of these stunning islands.
Where we stayed & how we got around:
We stayed at the Flying Elephant Resort, it was amazing. Basically just a group of huts set in the jungle. It was the best nights sleep we’ve had in ages. Really back to basics accommodation, and a real adventure for the kids.
The best (and only) way to get around the island is using the local tuk-tuks or rent a moped. The island is small, you could literally drive around the whole thing in a day.
What we did:
We spent each day exploring a different beach around the island. Sadly some of the beaches were polluted. A local lifeguard explained that the plastic rubbish is not local and sadly washes in when the tides changed. We did a couple of beach clean ups whilst we were here, and we urge people to get involved with these whenever they can.
Apart from the pollution the beaches here really are the stuff of dreams. Winding paths through the mangroves that lead to soft white sand and clear turquoise oceans. There are some great spots for snorkeling here and lots of dive centres if you fancied trying your hand at some scuba diving.
From Havelock Island you can get the ferry back to Port Blair or travel on to Neil Island, which is what we chose to do. The island is tiny, only 5km from one end to the other. Each point of the island is home to a famous beach. One sunrise and one sunset. Many people choose to wake early and watch the sunrise, then travel to sunset beach to watch the sunset.
Neil Island was not touristy at all. There were a few Indian tourists, but they mainly only came here on day trips from Havelock. We felt utterly stranded on a desert island, just like Swiss Family Robinson. It was heaven.
Where we stayed & how we got around:
We stayed at Pearl Park right next to Sunset Beach. It was a nice hotel with a pool and restaurant, there weren’t many people staying so we had the pool to ourselves.
Again the best way to get around Neil Island is by Tuk Tuk or renting a moped. There is a very small market in town, with stalls selling fruit, water and snacks. Plus a couple of tiny restaurants dotted about the island. There are no shops here, only street stalls so it can be a struggle to find food for the kids. We found a quaint little place called Blue Sea restaurant, the owners were so warm and welcoming, the girls played with their children and the home cooked food was delicious.
What we did:
They is literally nothing to do on this island except spend your days hanging out on tranquil white beaches drinking coconuts and snorkeling or diving in the crystal clear waters. Absolute bliss.
Watching the sunset on Sunset Beach was such an incredible experience, it literally felt like we were at worlds end. A gorgeous memory that will stay with us forever.
We feel so grateful that we were able to visit these incredible islands. They are a hidden gem, tucked away from the modern world in the middle of the ocean. Many people have nicknamed these islands the poor man’s Maldives.
If you want luxury, a wide choice of hotels, shops, wifi and good variety of places to eat then these islands are not for you.
If a back to basics escape from the crazy modern world, cut off from the internet and the pressures of society is more your thing then this is the place for you.
We adored these small slices of Indian paradise, and they will always hold a special place in our heart.
You can read more about our travels around India here.
Plus don’t forget to watch our Vlog from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.