The Andaman Islands are an archipelago of about 300 idyllic and little-visited islands in the bay of Bengal. They sit closer to Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar than to the mainland of India. Aside from a wonderful laid back vibe, friendly locals, beautiful beaches and lush green jungle, they are also home to some of the most amazing scuba diving we have experienced as well!
Be honest. Had you heard of the Andaman Islands before you starting reading this blog? Even if you had, did you also know that there is an entry permit required for all foreign nationals who visit the Andaman Islands? Yep. It is absolutely impossible to travel to these idyllic, faraway islands without a special little piece of cardboard.
So you better keep reading this guide to figure out how you can not only get to the Andaman Islands, but how you can get yourself an entry permit!
Getting to the Andaman Islands
There are two ways to get to the Andaman Islands from the Indian mainland, taking a Ferry or hopping on a plane. The Ferry takes (forever) a few days and departs from Kolkata or Chennai. Once upon a time these ferries were the only way to reach the Andaman’s. There are still many people who will argue that this is the only way to get the true Andaman experience. But I think these people may be a little (crazy) stuck in the past. The flight is much faster and easier in my opinion! There are flights leaving from all main Indian airports these days.
The planes are not only comfortable but they are much faster than the ferry. There were even whispers that the government would be opening flights and ferries from neighboring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar. This would be even faster considering the proximity of the Andaman archipelago to those countries. If this is allowed you can expect the tourism industry to go wild on these little islands!
Restricted Area Permit
OK, back to the permit. You will be asked for this special permit when booking ferry tickets, before boarding each new ferry and at every new island you visit. The entry permit for the Andaman Islands is almost like a Visa on Arrival for an entirely new country. It is called a Restricted Area Permit or RAP and is essential for all foreign (non-Indian) Nationals who visit the archipelago.
Luckily, the Restricted Area Permit is super easy to obtain when you arrive in Port Blair by air or sea. That means that you can easily catch a flight, or take the (ridiculously long) adventurous ferry from Kolkata or Chennai to Port Blair and obtain the RAP either way. Anyone who looks a little foreign will be called over to a desk. Here they will be asked to fill in a simple form and hand over their passport. 5 minutes later you should have your RAP in hand, no questions asked.
Well, in true Indian style you may be asked:
What’s your good name?
Where are you from?
You like India/my country?
But these are out of personal curiosity and not formal interrogations.
The RAP is valid for 30 days, and will allow you to visit almost of the Andaman Islands, but not the protected Nicobar Islands. Read this page for a full list of permitted areas. The RAP used to be valid for 45 days, but unfortunately this was reduced in 2016. If required, in a pinch, you will be able to extend this 30 days for a further 15 days. This is possible by visiting the Superintendent of Police in Port Blair.
So, once you have your Restricted Area Permit you’re in the clear, right?
Guard that little piece of cardboard with your LIFE!
Ok, that’s a little dramatic but we recommend keeping it safe with your passport because you will need it (everyday) often. You cannot check into a hotel without it, you cannot book ferries without it, you cannot pass ferry security without it, and you cannot enter a new island without it. There are even random checks when leaving some islands.
All of this seems a little backward considering most of these things are part of a chain of events. You wouldn’t be boarding a ferry unless you booked a ticket- and you can’t book without an RAP. You won’t be entering an island unless you caught a ferry, and you can’t get on a ferry without and RAP etc. But that’s India for you. It will only ruin your day if you get frustrated about it! Go with the flow man.
What to do if you lose your Restricted Area Permit on the Andaman Islands?
At this stage, I actually can’t find any information on what to do if you lose your RAP. So…. DON’T LOSE IT! Ha-ha. Seriously though…. India is difficult sometimes so just look after that bad boy. I would assume that the same person who issues the extensions would take care of replacements: The Port Blair Police Superintendent. But if you are on a different island this may be an issue.
Do you need photocopies of your Restricted Area Permit?
I would definitely advise making photocopies of your RAP. This may save you if you lose it. But it will definitely be convenient when booking your ferry tickets. In Port Blair and Havelock Island they needed to keep a physical copy of your RAP, so having a few prepared will save you time. On Neil Island they just had a look at our photocopy and gave it back to us, but to be safe I would always have a few ready to go.
The main point of entry to the Andaman Islands whether by sea or air is Port Blair. Although Port Blair isn’t the nicest of cities, it is usually impossible to avoid spending a night here whilst waiting for a ferry. It’s a bit dirty and dusty, which means in monsoon it’s very muddy, and it definitely lacks charm. You will find that the hotels here charge more and are decidedly lower quality than other places in India. Unfortunately this is most hotels- we did the rounds in a taxi on our first day and we were shown to many (horrible) poor quality hotels. We did the legwork and can recommend (bookingdotcom link) as a nice place to unwind before your island adventure starts. Definitely visit the lighthouse restaurant for a meal while you are (stuck) in Port Blair.
Getting around the Andaman Islands
Transit between islands is always via ferries. Unless you are feeling adventurous and happen to find a local doing the trip with a smaller boat this will be the way to Island Hop. Due to the limited Internet connections throughout the Andaman Islands, everything must be booked in person. We made the mistake of thinking we could arrive at 8am in Port Blair in low season and book our Ferry leaving for Havelock the same afternoon. Unfortunately this just didn’t work out. We went straight from the airport to the government ferry office. Our taxi driver warned us that we would need to book a day in advance. We still wanted to go for ourselves to save being ripped off at a booking agent. Then we arrived and saw a HUGE line, out the door around the building and into the car park construction area.
On Mondays the tickets to the main land go on sale, and because these are huge ferries there are always very long lines. But there are actually separate lines for each destination. Had we known this, we could have walked inside the office and would most likely have found a much smaller line for Havelock Island.
It wasn’t feasible to wait in that line with our big backpacks and so we went back out to the main road to get a taxi to the private ferry office to try our luck there. When we arrived there we were told that there was only one private ferry to Havelock Island per day in low season, and this was always at 8am. After our running around we admitted defeat and booked the private ferry for the next morning.
Private vs. Government
The Private Ferries are roughly double the cost of the Government ferries. They are a little more comfortable, with air-conditioning, and allocated seating. They also have a TV that shows a safety briefing as well as beautiful videos from the Andaman Islands throughout the trip. Your luggage is also be loaded onto the ferry for you. You will have to carry it off by yourself in our experience.
The Government Ferry is the best option for budget travellers and those who get seasick. They are comfortable enough, and although they have no air-conditioning there are fans and open windows that let a nice cool breeze inside. The price is much more affordable, and if there is a chance you get seasick- this is the choice for you. The Government ferries allow you to step outside onto the deck to get some fresh air, or throw up over the sides if needed. If you get seasick on a Private ferry you are stuck inside with only a paper bag to vomit into. We heard stories of people who don’t usually get seasick falling victim purely because other people started to be sick. They were all trapped inside with each other’s vomit! Grosse!
If you do get seasick, we also recommend taking the morning ferries. The sea is much smoother in the morning and there is much higher chance of turbulent water in the afternoon.
On the Islands
We rented a scooter on both Neil and Havelock Islands. This cost us 300 rupees per day and was the best choice for us. For example: Getting a rickshaw from beach #5 to beach #7 on Havelock usually costs 300 rupees one-way! It also gave us the freedom to explore every beach a few times, and we got to see all the rice fields and buffalo along the way.
Bicycles are available for rent on all islands, and on little Andaman these are your only choice as there are no motors for rent. On Neil Island the beaches are easily accessible by bike, and the roads on both Havelock and Neil are quiet enough for this to also be safe. Havelock Island is 12kms long, and although it is very flat- for us bicycles were not an option. But if you love cycling, or hate scooters this is still doable!
Have you been to the Andaman Islands, or are you planning a trip? Tell us about it in the comments!