Getting there & away
Getting to the Andamans can be an adventure in itself if you take the boat from Chennai or Kolkata. It’s a long journey and you’ll need to plan ahead as there’s usually only one or two sailings a fortnight from each mainland city. Flying from Chennai, Kolkata or Delhi is relatively quick and easy but book ahead to ensure a seat in high season.
There are usually four to six sailings a month between Port Blair and the Indian mainland – fortnightly to/from Kolkata (56 hours) and weekly (in high season) to/from Chennai (60 hours) on four vessels operated by SCI (233347; www.shipindia.com; Aberdeen Bazaar, Port Blair). The schedule is erratic, so check with the SCI in advance or see the A&N Tourism (www.tourism.andaman.nic.in) website, which usually posts an up-to-date schedule. Also, take the sailing times with a large grain of salt – travellers have reported sitting on the boat at Kolkata harbour for up to 12 hours, or waiting to dock near Port Blair for several hours. So with hold-ups, and variable weather and sea conditions, the trip can take three full days or more. The service from Chennai goes via Cap Nicobar once a month, taking an extra two days, but only residents may disembark. There is usually a service once a month from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
If you’re buying your return ticket in Port Blair, go to the 1st floor of the A&N Tourism office where they can reserve you a berth under the tourist-quota system; you then take the approval letter to the Directorate of Shipping Services’ ticket office at Phoenix Bay Jetty. This process can take some days, so it’s simpler to arrange return tickets on the mainland when purchasing your outward ticket.
Classes vary slightly between the boats, but the cheapest class of accommodation is bunk (Rs 1510), which can be difficult to get. Next up is 2nd or B class (Rs 3870, 16 berths), 1st or A class (Rs 4860, four to six berths) and deluxe cabin (Rs 5880). Food (tiffin for breakfast, and thalis for lunch and dinner) costs around Rs 150 per day. Almost everyone complains; bring something (fruit in particular) to supplement your diet. Some bedding is supplied, but if you’re travelling bunk class, bring a sleeping sheet and be prepared for fetid toilets. Many travellers take a hammock to string up on deck.
Indian Airlines (Chennai 044-28555201; Kolkata 033-22110730; Port Blair; 233108; 9am-1pm & 2-4pm Mon-Sat) flies daily to Port Blair from Chennai (US$230) and Kolkata (US$245). Jet Airways (Chennai 044-28414141; Port Blair 236922; 9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun) flies at least once daily from Chennai (US$235). Air Deccan flies daily from Chennai, and Air Sahara flies daily from Delhi; their airport counters open to coincide with flights.
There’s been talk for some years about direct flights from Phuket (Thailand) to Port Blair, but these seem to have been shelved after the tsunami, and at least until the airport is upgraded to full international status. Check the tourism department’s website (tourism.andaman.nic.in) for updates.