Travel Beyond Beaches: How To Fully Explore the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Amidst the mighty waters of the Bay of Bengal lies a perfect kaleidoscope of secluded islands, crystal-clear lagoons, and picture-perfect palm trees. But beyond these natural splendors lies a beguiling world of mysterious caves, high limestone cliffs, and coastal mangroves. Andaman and Nicobar Islands conjures more than sandy beaches and lagoons. It is a green oasis not only for honeymooners but its off-beaten destinations are perfect for travelers of the gutsy kind, millennials seeking new adventures and adrenaline junkies.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a stunning series of lush atolls tucked around 1,500 km away from the Indian peninsula. Due to its prime geographical location and rich resources, the archipelago fought many colonial powers until victory was won by India post Independence. Port Blair located in South Andaman is the island’s capital city and the gateway to the other neighboring islands connected via ferries and seaplanes. South Andaman Island, Havelock Island (Swaraj Deep), and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) are the three most popular attractions among tourists.
Besides its beaches, this island paradise is full of surprises giving you the ultimate offbeat experiences. Go trekking in the virgin jungles of Mount Harriet National Park to Madhubans, drift away in the labyrinth of limestone caves in Baratang, see glowy lava against the grey ash at Barren Island, or experience a castaway life in Little Andaman. Tread off the beaten track and embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience in this unexplored wilderness of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
When the jungles beckon: Wilderness of the Jewels of India
The closest wilderness to Port Blair gives travelers a chance to tread away for a day from the touristic beaches to an unexplored utopia of tropical rainforest and exotic species of plants and animals. Popularly known as the ‘Trekker’s Paradise’, the nature trail from Mount Harriet National Park to Madhuban Beach is one of the most scenic treks as it passes through a stunning beach which was once a training camp for elephants. The dense jungle is surrounded by over 150 plant and tree species, butterflies, endemic animals, and birds namely the nearly threatened Andaman wood pigeon, cuckoo- dove, and woodpecker indigenous to the island. The rustling leaves, faint light filtering through the canopied trees, strange sounds of nature, ruddy pathways speckled by boulders of black stones, locally known as ‘Kala Pathar’ stretched across 16 km in distance, makes the perfect expedition for adventure buffs and adrenaline junkies.
For a more unpredictable and crude experience, head over to North Andaman where sits the highest point of the archipelago. At Saddle Peak National Park, you will hike through the densest of jungles canopied by mammoth trees, crossing through knee-deep streams, and exploring unexplorable pathways with the distant roars and sounds of nature reaching the highest peak of the Andamans, the Saddle Peak. It is an ideal escapade for the physically fit and adventurous beings. Located at a distance of 300 km from Port Blair, you may have to spend a week in Diglipur, obtain permits from the forest department and arrange a local guide before beginning your trek at this mountainous region.
Where fire meets water: The volcanic beauty of the islands
Whenever you imagine a volcano erupting, India is not the place that you would think of at first. But yes, the country does have one and is located far in the northeast of Port Blair. There is something deeply fascinating about watching a volcano erupting spewing bright orange lava against the dark grey cinder. This majestic spectacle can be witnessed in a private boat or a helicopter ride from Port Blair to Barren Island. The island is not much popular due to its remoteness and lack of measures to promote the rawness of the archipelago. You do not need to be physically fit, or wear a fire-retardant flight suit, a gas mask, and a flight helmet or save up money to watch a volcano erupting. All you have to do is, book a private catamaran with prior permits, for at least a 3-day trip to Barren Island, anchor away from the shore and watch the mountain fuming. If you are lucky enough, you may even get to watch the incandescent show of lava flowing down the slopes. For a more thrilling experience and a little heavier on the pockets is boarding a helicopter to get the best aerial views of the island. Due to its recent eruptions, first occurred in 2019, and later witnessed mild explosive activity in February 2020, this is the best place to watch an active volcano in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Barren Island is one of the best destinations for scuba diving. Its mineral-rich ocean floor and ledges of black sand are the perfect canvas for exploring the vivid hues of the underwater world of corals, sponges, and rich marine life inhabited by manta rays, sea snakes, Barracudas, and more. Dive into the mystical expression of this hidden gem and discover the ‘Incredible India’ in its raw form.
When Little Andaman is surprisingly ‘little’ known: The unexplored treasures of the Little Andaman Island
Located in a secret corner of India, tucked away at a distance of 120 km from Port Blair and 8 hours of travel time, lies a little slice of paradise. One of the largest islands of Great Andaman, Little Andaman is lesser known due to its remoteness. The island is home to charming villages, grandly stark black limestone cliffs, crystal-clear lagoons, hidden waterfalls, and the idyllic Little Andaman Lighthouse. The most prodigious spot on the island is the Kalapathar Lagoon. Three large boulders of black limestone cliffs guarding the relentless waves of the Indian ocean form a crystal-clear pool on the opposite side. These waves have also created small cave arches under the cliffs where one can explore the tiny underwater world or climb up the cliffs to enjoy the mesmerizing views of the mighty ocean.
Trek through the lush tropical rainforests to the fifty-foot White Surf Waterfall or visit the picturesque hamlet at Whisper wave Waterfall. Dive into the pool for a refreshing dip and bask in the sights and sounds of the untouched beauty. For the best experience, hire a local guide to tread your way through the dense jungles and away from your acquaintance with salt-water crocodiles. The Onge are the indigenous Negroti people of the island with a population less than a hundred and mostly settled in Harminder Bay, tourists are prohibited from having any contact with them. Embark on a wild escapade to the southernmost tip of the island to visit the Little Andaman Lighthouse to enjoy the panoramic views of the solitary sentinel.
An island with wildlife outnumbering humans, a treasure trove of hidden gems, untamed beaches, a rudimentary lifestyle, and raw nature makes an ideal place to experience a castaway life for the fit and adventurous.
Where beauty is hidden under the earth: Shimmering hidden caves under white sandy beaches
Ever wondered below the white sandy beaches and green coconut trees there could be a mystical world of pitch dark caves with natural limestones forming and protruding from the ground. Drive, sail, and trek to Baratang Island to explore the obscure world of caves. If sailing through the mighty river, scurrying past thick mangrove forests, and squeezing through narrow murky trails is your plan of a unique experience, then a visit to these Baratang limestone caves is just the adventure for you. Begin your journey before dawn to reach the forest check post on the Andaman Trunk Road passing through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve. The indigenous tribe living in this part of the island with no more than 400 of them. The Andaman Government have undertaken strict measures to protect the tribe and tourists are prohibited from photographing them or from having any contacts with them.
Upon reaching the Baratang Island jetty, hop on smaller boats and navigate your way through the rich ecosystem that runs through the thick mangrove forests heading your way to the Limestone caves. Meander through a labyrinth of pathways marveling at nature’s wonder of stunning geographical formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and caverns. These limestone structures have always been changing and evolving into different shapes over years. After exploring the world beneath the feet, head over to another natural wonder of the island, mud volcanoes. Small craters emitting natural gases from the underground are a visual treat to the eyes and mostly found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Another breathtaking marvel on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the Alfred Caves in Diglipur, located at a distance of 300 km from Port Blair. Diglipur is home to over 40 unexplored caves, in which Alfred caves named after the scientist who discovered it, can be visited. The cave is also popular for the Swiftlet bird species known for their edible nests. A wild expedition for the thrill-seekers and adventure buffs waiting to be explored in this faraway land.
Go beyond the white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and turquoise lagoons to explore the unexplored world seeking new adventures, to understand and respect the splendors of nature and capture those moments forever.