Among the most remote islands on the planet, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie pretty high up on the list. One the seven union territories of India (the same administrative status as Puducherry and Delhi), the archipelago is located more than 1,000km off the east coast of India, actually closer to Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand, and right between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The Nicobar Islands (the southern group of islands) are mostly inaccessible to tourists, in an effort to protect tribal reserved areas. The archipelago is indeed still home to some of the most isolated aboriginal indigenous people; the Jarawa and Sentinelese in particular keep maintaining their isolation from the rest of the world, and refuse most attempts at contact. Home to roughly 400,000 people, the archipelago is mostly uninhabited and Bengali is the dominant and most spoken language; it is a blessing as the Bengali alphabet is one of the prettiest on the planet! Covered by a tropical rainforest canopy, the islands supports a profusion of wildlife with a number of endemic varieties of plants and species.
Port Blair is the gateway to the Andaman Islands; it can be reached by air (flights from Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, and Bhubaneshwar) and by boat (about 50 hours from Chennai, Kolkata or Visakhapatnam). Ferries connect islands within the archipelago with surprising reliability. Besides Port Blair, Havelock and Neil Islands are by far the most popular tourist destinations.
The most visited island of the Andaman Islands is famous for its pristine beaches and reefs that make it a great destination for chilling and scuba-diving, but also wildlife watching. The island itself is small and covered by the rainforest: the only two roads are easily covered by motorbike or autorickshaw. On the East side, the road goes past most hotels, scuba diving resorts, and beaches (from Beach #1 to Beach #5). The road that crosses the island to the West allows for a look at the island’s interior, goes past the access path to Elephant beach, and reaches Radhanagar Beach (Beach #7) and the remaining resorts on the island.
Havelock was once home to Rajan, the last swimming elephant on the island, which died in 2016 at age 66. There was once about 200 elephants working on the island for the logging industry, to help with timber extraction. In 2000 the Indian Supreme Court banned logging on the islands to protect its biodiversity, and Rajan was one the few tuskers not to be sold away. It was a celebrity on the island for over a decade, adopted by Barefoot Scuba and swimming with tourists using its trunk as a snorkel.
Havelock is today one of the top diving destinations in the world, mostly thanks to three brothers (Dickson, Jackson and Johnny) who have been exploring the waters around the island since they were kids and have discovered most diving spots. Unsurprisingly - naming discoveries is a privilege for diving and space exploration alike - the best dive sites are now named after them: Dickson’s Pinnacle, Johnny’s Gorge and Jackson’s Bar. Read more about diving here on the blog.
Considering how hard it is to get here and the beauty of nature around, it may be excessive to say that Jalakara is a sufficient reason in itself to make the trip to the Andaman Islands. But it certainly feels like it. Jalakara is the first boutique hotel in the archipelago and by far the best place to stay at. Work began in 2008 in what was then an overgrown banana and betel nut plantation, and doors open to guests in late 2015. Jalakara is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning the source, and an ideal place for rejuvenation.
Organically designed, Jalakara is more like a home opened to visitors than a resort: three rooms, three suites, and one private villa, spread across the landscaped property in the middle of the tropical rainforest. Each room is carefully decorated with elements from Rajasthan, and every detail, material and color is picked to convey overall harmony. Polished concrete interiors with pastel colors are highlighted by unique and traditional features such as golden faucets and wooden furniture. The simple and spacious bedrooms are only matched by the luxurious bathrooms. For example the Sky Room - high up and fully decorated in blue - is open on all side with large windows, but with complete privacy nevertheless. Hidden nearby is the Garden Suite: it has a bathroom that opens to the private garden, which boasts a large outside bathtub under papaya and banana trees, and an outside bed protected by shades to nap surrounded by the wilderness.
The pool and deck where food and drinks are served sits at the same height as the surrounding canopy, making it a perfect viewpoint to spot butterflies and birds alike. Varun, the general manager and the most beautiful moustache in the Bay of Bengal - is straight from a Wes Anderson movie and heads the small staff that originates from the foothills of the Himalayas. The service and attention from the staff is exquisite. (Afternoons are also a good time to challenge the staff on the badminton court: bring your game, the level is high!) The cuisine, made with locally-sourced ingredients, revisits traditional Indian dishes with a local touch (and a particular attention to the Western palate!). It is naturally the best food on the island, as well as the iced coffee, which is served with a bamboo straw that probably makes it taste better. Pack a picnic before getting off to explore the island or stay on the daybeds by the pool and book a massage at the spa: whatever you choose, make sure to enjoy every minute of your stay at Jalakara!
There are two locations (one close to the market, the other close to Beach#5) for this simple, traditional fish restaurant. Nothing fancy, quite the opposite actually, but fresh quality fish and lobster cooked with out without spices, plain rice, and polite service.
FULL MOON CAFE
Located on the same site as Dive India on Beach #5, Full Moon Café is a simple bar and restaurant run by very friendly people. The location and the dining area are really nice, and the food served is really tasty, whatever you choose in their diverse menu. It is highly recommended to go there at least for lunch or dinner while on the island.
Just a short ferry ride from Havelock, Neil Island shares some of the specificities of its bigger neighbor: pristine beaches ideal for sunset and snorkeling, and a quiet interior. Yet the vibe here is very different from Havelock: the atmosphere is very laid-back, and the flat landscape has a charm that even Havelock cannot offer. It is known as the “vegetable bowl” of the Andamans with many fields used for paddy cultivation. It is easily cycled from one end to the other to pick the ideal beach for sunset or sunrise. Spend some time at the market in early evening around shops and food stalls for a little attraction - that’s where and when the locals, mostly descendants of settlers from Bangladesh in the 1960’s, gather for playing or dinking masala. And do not miss the Natural Bridge, a natural rock formation easily accessible at low tide.
ELEPHANT & FOUR WISE MEN
In the shadow of palm trees and only 100m away from the sea, Elephant & Four Wise Men is an unusual place with a lot of charm. A dozen bamboo huts with rudimentary comfort are lined up for the adventurers who spend the night here. But the food here is nothing short of exceptional. They only use natural products: fruits and vegetables are straight from the garden, honey is homemade, and they even make unforgettable cheese and ice cream with their own cow milk. Come here for dinner and you might enjoy an outdoor movie! Finally - and perhaps most importantly - they serve the only espresso on the island.