The Andaman Odyssey - A Travel Guide to Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)
Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep), part of the Indian union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands lies 70 Km north east of capital city of Port Blair and is administratively part of South Andaman. Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) is the largest island of Ritchie's Archipelago islands, a group of 17 islands to the east of Great Andaman. Since Indian government has started advocating the tourism development in Andamans, Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) remains one among the most visited Islands in Asia. This emerald island of India is an intoxicating blend of beaches, nature and water activities, all fitting in so beautifully with one another that you cannot decide where one ends and another begins. It is a scenic natural paradise with pristine white sandy beaches, abundant coral reefs and lush green forest.
In this fifth blog of the series – The Andaman Odyssey, we present a detailed travel guide covering everything about Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) with recommendations of how to reach, where to stay, what places to visit, total duration to stay and what activities to experience.
The series of travel blogs - The Andaman Odyssey will serve as a one stop travel guide to you and give you all details along with recommendations to ensure you can plan your own trip.
Our other blogs of the series - The Andaman Odyssey will help you understand and plan your trip to Andaman Islands and give you a good idea of Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) with recommendation on places to stay and activities to do.
5. A complete travel guide to Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) - Current blog
Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) seems to be more popular among Indian tourists compared to foreign tourists who tend to prefer the quiet and laid-back neighboring Island – Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) which happens to be the smallest inhabited island of Ritchie's Archipelago. While Andaman is on the path to becoming the most favored honeymoon destination for Indians (being more affordable and easy to access and providing experiences somewhat similar to Maldives or Mauritius), most foreign tourists are attracted to these islands, primarily Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil (Shaheed Dweep) for their exotic marine life, diving schools and remoteness of pristine beaches.
Interesting fact: Havelock islands (Swaraj Dweep) in India, apart from a MRT station in Singapore; number of roads in UK (Norfolk, Bedforshire), India (Kanpur, Lucknow), Australia (Perth); towns in New Zealand, US, Canada are all named after Sir Henry Havelock who was a British General in India. He was credited with capturing Lucknow during India's rebellion of 1857 and thats where his tomb lies.
Duration of stay in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Havelock island (Swaraj Dweep) can be covered in 2 nights 3 days. However, we recommend having at least 3 nights in hand to ensure you truly soak in the essence of Havelock rather than rushing through your much deserved vacation. Also ferries you take from Port Blair or Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) will use up half of your days each side. So in case you spend just one night in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep), frankly you will be wasting your hard earned money.
How to reach Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) is well connected by inter island ferries from other main centers of Andaman, Port Blair and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) allowing you to reach there from either direction. While most tourists take the Port Blair – Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) – Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) – Port Blair route; we followed and would recommend the other way round ie. Port Blair – Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) – Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) – Port Blair. It does not make a big difference but we always prefer avoiding crowds and the suggested route means less crowd in ferries as well as on Islands.
While Government ferries do connect these islands through the year, we recommend private ships which are much faster, cleaner and comfortable. Makruzz and Green Ocean are 2 operators who ply between Port Blair, Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) daily for most of the year. We definitely recommend Makruzz which is an experience in itself. You can read a detailed blog post purely on our experience with Makruzz here. Makruzz takes about 2.5 hours to cover the journey from Port Blair to Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep).
Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) jetty:
To be frank, Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) jetty is not as serene as Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) jetty mainly because instead of Neil's picture perfect straight jetty, Havelock has a right angled jetty. Also the water is not as turquoise as Neil (Shaheed Dweep). However, the feeling of peace is similar. The blue water of the sea and the cool breeze were welcoming to the eye, body and soul. The jetty at Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) is huge and we had to walk quite a bit to reach the main road. You can easily get a 2 or 3 or 4 wheeler from the jetty that takes you to your hotel.
Useful tip: You can also get a luggage trolley like airports at the jetty. Just look around and carry your luggage through these trolley till the main road
Conveyance in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Just like other main tourist centers of Andaman, Two-wheelers as well as four-wheelers are available for hire right outside the Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) jetty and at many other locations throughout Havelock. Hence hiring a vehicle is not an issue. Tourists generally tend to rent a two wheeler which is a convenient option. Petrol is available at a few petrol pumps as well as some of the shops in the market. We hired a scooter to roam around in the Island. Two wheeler hiring cost is INR 500 per day.
Useful tip: Petrol of Rs.100-150 might be enough for 2 days in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep). Do not put excess fuel which you have to return back along with the vehicle
People and Place - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Havelock Island’s population of about 10000 mainly consists of Bengali or Bangladeshi settlers. While Neil island (Shaheed Dweep) villages were named after characters of Hindu mythological epic - Ramayana, Havelock island (Swaraj Dweep) villages are inspired from the other epic - Mahabharata. There are five villages in the Island covered by forests, farms and some commercial areas. Three villages where the lovely beaches are present and most hotels / resorts are built -
Govind Nagar (Has jetty and serves as entry point to Havelock)
Vijay Nagar (Has Vijay Nagar and Kalapathar beach)
Radha Nagar (Has Asia's best beach as ranked by Time magazine in 2004)
The other 2 villages are occupied by locals and are agricultural areas. You need to pass through these areas to reach Radha Nagar.
The main languages throughout Andamans including Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) are same - Bengali and Hindi; but many understand English very well, hence communication is never a problem. The pace of life is slow, the locals are friendly and still not too affected by tourism, and the facilities are moderately basic for the most part. The main market of Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) in Govind Nagar is big with lots of shops, banks, ATMs and big and small eateries. The map above will give you a rough idea of where you will arrive in Havelock island (Swaraj Dweep) through ferry and where these villages are located. People at Havelock source many basic items from Port blair. As tourists, we do not realize how difficult life here could be but seeing workers offloading things like gas cylinders from boats made us notice little things worth appreciating here.
Useful tip: Airtel, BSNL, Vodafone and Idea mobile network gives good connectivity at most places in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) unlike Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep). The internet connection is however almost non-existent.
Stay Options - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Many budget as well as luxury hotels/ resorts are available for stay in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep). Prices can range from INR 500 per night for backpackers choosing to stay longer to upwards of INR 10,000 per night for the most luxurious rooms in high end resorts. The east coast i.e. Govind Nagar and Vijay Nagar has the most number of stay options and is more developed commercially. Many small and big properties are located on this coastline. A few good properties are also located towards the west coast i.e. Radha Nagar which is an hour’s drive from the jetty; hence people prefer to stay at the east coast. We stayed at Symphony Palms Beach resort and Havelock Island Beach resort located at Govind Nagar beach and would definitely recommend them as your place of stay. We will be writing a blog reviewing our wonderful stay with these resorts in due course.
Places to visit in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Beaches are the main attraction at Havelock island (Swaraj Dweep). Beaches are numbered starting from Beach #1 which is the part of the jetty. However we feel it is better to ignore these numbers as they are confusing and difficult to remember. Names are easier to recall and identify. Out of the 5 main beaches in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep), 3 lie on the east coast in a single line whereas Radha Nagar & Elephant beach are located towards the western ends of the island. Due to tsunami and various other storms, you would find barren tree trunks on most of the beaches which also act as a good photography prop.
Radha Nagar beach - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Famously known as beach number 7, Radhanagar beach remains the most popular beaches of Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep). It was named as the “Best beach in Asia” by Times Magazine in 2004 and since then it is flocked by a lot of tourists from India as well as the world. Located on the west coast, Radhanagar beach is famous for sunsets. The clean and clear blue water in the front and a backdrop of tall trees makes this beach one of the most beautiful beaches. The whole stretch of beach is sandy and shallow and is good for swimming though there is an earmarked section where swimming is encouraged and life guards are present.
The approach road towards the beach is hilly, bumpy and steep and would take around 1 hour of drive if you stay at the east coast. The entrance of the beach is huge with lots of parking space and many eateries lined up on both sides of the road. From the parking lot, you can see a hint of water but as you get closer, the expanse of Radhanagar beach takes your breath away. Changing rooms and lockers are located near the entrance of the beach. It rained for a while when we visited Radha Nagar beach though it was November end which did not give us a chance to view a perfect sunset but the pinkish hues in the sky and white sandy beaches were enough to make it a memorable experience for us.
Useful tip: Strolling towards the empty ends on either side of Radha Nagar beach in the evening is one of the most romantic experiences you would have.
Elephant Beach - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Elephant beach is the most commercialized beach of Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) where various water sports are present. It is famous as an elephant (who is now old and retired) used to swim to this beach along with its mahout each day. Elephants were brought to Havelock mainly to uproot trees and carry logs of wood across the rainforest. It is better not to expect seeing any elephant here. The beach has locker facility, some fruit shops, changing rooms and toilets but are not clean enough as this is the usually the most crowded place in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep).
The beach can be reached in 2 ways; one by taking a boat and the other by trekking. If you choose to trek, a path to the beach starts from the road to Radha nagar beach which you can easily identify by the number of vehicles parked there or you could ask a local for directions. You can hire a guide that would accompany you through the trek as there are several narrow paths through the forests where you can be lost. It is advised to stick to the broad paths only. The trek is recommended only in dry weathers and may form a lot of muddy puddles in monsoon or rainy weather. You can trek to the beach in around an hour one way.
Boats ply from left of Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) jetty to the elephant beach. They offer a package costing INR 950 per person that includes to and fro motor boat ride and a 10 minute complimentary session of snorkelling. The boats take about 20 minutes to reach Elephant beach where you have about 2-2.5 hours of time to roam around and have to return back in the same ferry. 8 - 11 AM and 11 AM - 2 PM are two slots and you can take boats in either slot. The last boat leaves Elephant beach around 2-2:30 PM after which anyone present will have to trek back. Note that the rates change as per season.
The beach is full of water sports vendors who offer activities like snorkeling, banana boat ride, sea walking, jet-ski and scuba diving as well. Personally, we were not very happy with the beach visit and felt that it was too commercial just like some beaches of North Goa. The 10 minute complimentary snorkeling is only till few metres from the beach and you have to pay extra to go further deeper into the sea. They try to convince you that you will see good corals going deeper by showing videos on their mobiles, but trust us, they are fake. They also convince you to pay some extra money to wear full face mask which is safer but frankly, it does not matter. The boatman, the camera guy, the snorkeling guy all are part of the same team who want to make more money. It is common sense that more the crowd, less will be the cleanliness and visibility of water. Pictures below is comparison of what we saw with Scuba Lov (on left) vs what we saw in Elephant beach (on right) and we definitely recommend paying scuba diving shops such as Scuba Lov for snorkeling or scuba than visiting Elephant beach for underwater activities. The damage done to reefs in Elephant beach due to mindless commercialization is all together a separate reason to feel disappointed about.
We are not sure why many Indian tourists like visiting Elephant beach. Either they do not get they are being deceived or they just do not know existence of better experiences out there. Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) or even Andamans have so much better to offer than Elephant beach. After the disappointment, we wandered to one end of the beach affected by tsunami which was quiet and peaceful and we had a good time there.
Useful tip: We would definitely recommend trekking to Elephant beach if you are fit enough in the second half of the day. The last ferries leave the beach around 2:30 PM and you can find a deserted beach post this. You cannot do the adventure sports but can have a good private time here. It is advisable to start your return trek by 4-4:30 PM as it will be extremely difficult to find your path back in the forest after dark. If not for this trek, we would not even prefer visiting Elephant beach again.
Kalapathar beach - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
This beach is located at one corner of the east coast of Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and has got its name from the surrounding village named Kalapathar and the black rocks that line up its coastline. An early morning visit to this beach is recommended. We went here to watch the sunrise. The beach is average and you could spend about half an hour here. What we recommend is a visit to the Kalapathar village (Basti). Our early morning ride to the basti through the paddy fields and small huts is one of the most memorable moments we have had in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) and probably Andamans. The village is full of green fields on both sides, good roads and amazing people. It amazed us to find this quiet and peace in the normally touristy and happening Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep).
Vijay Nagar beach - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Vijaynagar beach’s coastline is lined by several beach resorts and restaurants. It is a beautiful spot to view the morning sunrise in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep). It is less crowded and mostly visited by backpackers who usually sunbath or take a dip in water. It is lined by coconut trees and makes a perfect relaxation zone. It also offers fairly good views for sunrise.
Govind Nagar beach - Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
Of all the beaches, we spent the maximum time on Govind nagar beach as we stayed right at its bank in Symphony Palms beach resort and Havelock Island beach resort. Number of other resorts and budget hotels are established on its shore. This beach is a stretch of white sand and clean blue water but is much more rocky compared to other beaches. Low tide allows one to explore shells and marine insects on the rocks and dead corals. The views are blocked by an island in the front which is far but visible. The sand is soft and we went for long walks on this beach. We also had a candle light dinner at its very shore while our stay at Symphony Palms beach resort. One can see sunrise from this beach as well but the sun would rise at an angle unlike Kalapathar beach where it would be straight in front of you.
Activities in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep):
We recommend you indulge in water activities like scuba diving and snorkeling at Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep). If you are older and not sure of these, you could also try sea walking which happens on Elephant beach only. Several diving centers are present at the east coast that offer right from a single diving session to week long/ month long certificate courses in Scuba dive. We had one of the most amazing experience in our entire Andaman Island trip while scuba diving with Scuba Lov located at the Seashell resort in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep). We highly recommend Scuba Lov for water activities as they are highly skilled and experienced and know the best sites around Havelock to Scuba dive. Read our detailed experience with them here.
We would also recommend 2 restaurants - Shakahaar and much acclaimed Anju Coco. While Shakahaar was Havelock's first pure veg restaurant and continues to attract veg tourists in huge numbers, Anju coco offers all types of cuisines in a cafe lounge type of setup. Anju coco happens to be the most popular place to hang out in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep). If you would love a drink, Venom bar at Symphony palms beach resort is the most sought after place and if you like to groove and move, Havelock Island beach resort tends to have one of the best parties on the island pretty frequently. Many resorts offer candle light dinner experience.
To summarize, Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) has something in store for all. From the party goer to the peaceful kind, the honeymooners to the diving enthusiast. Havelock island (Swaraj Dweep) is the jewel of Andamans. A trip to emerald islands of India is incomplete without setting foot on Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep).
Hope this article was useful to you and will help you plan your Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) trip. Let us know your thoughts or queries in comments section below. You can also directly email us your queries and we will surely respond back. Do keep reading our travel guide series - The Andaman Odyssey as we will write detailed articles of our recommended options to stay, travel and dive.