The Andaman Odyssey - Travel Guide to Neil Island
Andaman Islands are a place full of magical destinations, waiting to be explored. The most popular tourist destinations - Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil islands (Shaheed Dweep) which are administratively part of South Andaman district are located little away from the mainland in the sea towards east. Out of the two, Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is smaller and is located 16-17 kms southwest of the Havelock Island. Opened to tourists only few years ago, Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is just a tiny little dot on the map hidden in one corner of the Andaman Islands. If you look forward to a slow, laid back vibe, want to lie on deserted beaches, meet friendly people and snorkel or dive through the incredible corals, then Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is the place to get off the ferry.
Since we had already introduced Andaman and Nicobar Islands in first article and helped you create your travel plan in second article, in this third blog of the series – The Andaman Odyssey, we move on to Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep). We will detail out everything about Neil Island (Shaheed 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.
3. A complete travel guide to Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) - Current blog
Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is more popular among the foreign tourists as they like to spend more time in less crowded places. But in recent years, it is gaining popularity among Indian tourists as well. Usually foreign nationals who visit Andaman Islands for a month love to stay for weeks in this island and Indian tourist who tend to visit Andaman Islands for a week tend to just make Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep) a day trip or maximum a one night stay. While visiting Neil as a day trip is just a wasted effort, we felt one night stay to be simply too less to cover everything we wanted to at leisure. So, if you want to immerse yourself in the stillness and peace Neil has to offer, spending more time is definitely recommended. It is one of those places which will let you forget time even exists and lets you get lost in nature or get engage talking with friendly locals.
How to reach Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is well connected by inter island ferries from Port Blair as well as from Havelock Island (Swaraj 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 our detailed blog post purely on our experience with Makruzz here. Makruzz ship takes about 1.5 hours to cover the journey from Port Blair to Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep).
Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) jetty:
As soon as we disembarked from the Makruzz at Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) jetty, we were awestruck by the beauty of the panoramic view in front of us. The water was emerald blue in color and so clear that we could actually see the rocks and corals at the bottom right from the jetty bridge. As we walked towards the village of Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) we saw wooden fishing boats scattered at the white sand of the curvy beach on the left. This side of the jetty is the Bharatpur beach and towards the right end beyond the visible mangroves is the Lakshmanpur beach. Though there was some construction going on besides the jetty as it seemed they are making a new jetty bridge, the first impression of Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) was enhanced as we reached the end of the jetty. They had waiting areas in the form of small cute huts and dustbins to ensure cleanliness.
Conveyance in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
The widest part of Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is just about 5-6 kms. One can actually walk the whole island in about 2-3 hours, so says wikipedia. Tourists generally tend to rent a bicycle or a two wheeler which is a convenient option. However, auto rickshaws can also be hired on half day or full day basis to explore the island. All of the vehicle hiring can be easily done through the vendors outside the jetty. We hired a two wheeler, which was easily available, right at the jetty entrance. Two wheeler hiring cost is INR 500 per day. All the sightseeing spots are well connected by roads, which are not that great or wide, but quite manageable to drive.
People and Place - Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Neil is a very small settlement of about 4000 people. Most of the people have migrated here from West Bengal or Bangladesh when Hindus had to leave due to partition. Hence Bengali is one of the main languages spoken here. People are extremely helpful and kind. As the Island is small, everyone knows everything – you just have to ask for it. There’s a wonderfully unhurried pace of life in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) and people tend to enjoy it to the fullest. Just 40 kms from bustling Port Blair, Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) feels to be several universes away from all the hustle.
The island has 5 villages primarily named after characters from Hindu mythology - Ramayana:
Neil Kendra - Centre of island where Jetty & administrative offices are present
Ram Nagar (Summer Sands beach resort)
Sitapur (Sunrise point)
Lakshmanpur (Natural bridge & Sunset points)
Bharatpur (Water activities)
The main occupation for people of Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) is cultivation, especially vegetables. This island is one of the main suppliers of vegetables to its capital Port Blair. The main market has some basic shops and ATM. You can find eateries in many places as people set aside small verandahs outside their homes and run it as restaurant for earning few extra bucks.
Important tip: BSNL mobile network gives good connectivity at Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep) just like rest of Andamans. We also found Airtel network in most places at Neil. You can not expect internet but calls and SMS were working satisfactorily.
Stay Options in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Many budget as well as luxury hotels/ resorts are available for stay in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep). Prices can range from Rs.500 per night for backpackers choosing to stay longer to upwards of Rs.10,000 per night for the most luxurious room in high end resorts. We stayed at Summer Sands Beach resort located at Ramnagar beach and would definitely recommend it as your place of stay. You can read our detailed review of Summer Sands Beach Resort and see why we recommend them.
Places to visit in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
The names of the beaches in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) revolve around the names of the villages which in turn are characters in the hindu mythology Ramayana; which is extremely interesting. Towards the extreme east of the island is the Sitapur beach (Sunrise point), the extreme west is the Lakshmanpur beach (Sunset point). Bharatpur beach is towards the north and Ramnagar beach roughly towards south. Except the Ramnagar beach which is very rocky, all other beaches are fine white sand beaches with crystal clear blue water and very less rocks. Although Neil Island’s beaches are not as luxurious as its more famous neighbour Island – Havelock (Swaraj Dweep), they have their own unique charm.
Interesting tip: We would also recommend just wandering in a scooter aimlessly. The random streets in rural areas are sometimes most scenic and offer great experiences. Farms, coconuts and betel trees are aplenty on this island and all you would find by wandering around is lots of greenery and lots of great people.
Sitapur beach - Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Being on the eastern end, Sitapur beach is best visited to watch the sunrise. The road that leads to the beach is revitalizing with vast green fields, forest trees and variety of crops and vegetation on both the sides. One has to climb few steps down to get on the beach.The backdrop at Sitapur beach is full of old tall trees, mangroves and limestone formations. We selected a huge rock at the middle of the curvy beach to sit on, relax and photograph. The beach is clean, beautiful and unexplored hence unexploited. We do not recommend swimming as it’s rocky but one can dip their feet in sea and ease out listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves. The beach has no water sports or eateries or amenities like changing rooms. As the sun rose from the bottom of the ocean, the glittering water reflected silver light. We loitered around on the vast stretch of the beach after sunrise staring into the ocean and thinking of how lucky we were to witness this heavenly place. We recommend spending a good 1-2 hours in the morning over here. The beach is almost empty for rest of the day. It turns turquoise blue and is a delight to visit any other time too.
Important tip: The sun rises around 5 AM. It is advisable to leave your hotel by 4:30 AM so that you can reach comfortably and settle yourself and your camera in the best spot before the sun rises.
Natural Bridge - Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
The Natural Bridge also known as Natural rock formation or Howrah Bridge is located at one end of Lakshmanpur beach. The road to the Natural Bridge is from the main market. After parking the vehicle, it is a good 15 minute walk or rather a trek, firstly through a few stairs and then through rocks and mangroves. The initial path is through many stalls of coconut, fruits, imitation jewellery and small decorative items. After crossing that, one has to walk on sea coast through dead corals and rocks lined by extremely tall Mahua trees. This stretch can be uncomfortable and difficult for some. We spotted many small crabs and lobsters running around on the way. The entire walk was worth it as soon as we sighted the Natural Bridge. It is indeed a nature’s marvel. Setting sun and low tides made this place picture perfect. The bridge stretches from the mainland to the shore and creates a wonderful arch with green vegetation growing on its surface. The bridge is itself made of natural coral reefs. Watching the sunset with Natural Bridge in the backdrop was an experience in itself. We do not recommend this place for old people and infants as it is quite a rough walk. Visiting during low tide is recommended.
Important tip: We recommend having as much coconut water as possible in Andamans. It will not only keep you hydrated, you will be shocked to see the size of coconuts here. They are so huge that many find it difficult to finish one coconut in one go. While returning from Natural bridge there are many vendors selling coconuts and we suggest you have one before heading back.
Note that this beach also offers perfect view of sunset.
Bharatpur beach - Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Bharatpur beach has a sprawling stretch of white sand and greenery that overlooks a vast expanse of emerald blue sea water. This beach is well known for water activities; be it swimming or snorkelling or coral watching. We had already booked our snorkelling and scuba diving sessions in Havelock (Swaraj Dweep) but we highly recommend these activities at Bharatpur beach. The water is extremely clean and clear. One could also hire glass bottom boats for viewing the corals and marine life. Other water sports activities included Jet Ski and banana ride. The sea is full of colorful corals with schools of fishes swimming around. Changing rooms are also present here.
Lakshmanpur beach - Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
Lakshmanpur beach is famous for sunset viewing. This beach is usually secluded and hence is rich in terms of under water ecology. Corals, fishes and even sea cows or Dugongs are found here. Though swimming is not encouraged here due to rockiness, there are areas which are safer. The shallowness of the beach especially during low tides makes it one of the best diving sites around. The white sand and turquoise waters make this one of the most picturesque sights around.
Important tip: Note that you will have to walk to extreme left end of the beach to see the sunset. So plan reaching the sunset point on time accordingly.
Activities in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep):
As the waters in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) are more clean and clear than Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep), we suggest experiencing the underwater activities here. Both snorkeling and scuba diving are worth the experience here as the sea is shallow around the island shores and is full of colorful corals and fishes. We recommend booking the activities with Scuba Lov whose dive center is located at the Sea Shell Resort in Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep). We experienced their extraordinary services in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) and we are soon going to write a separate blog on our scuba experience with them. In case you can not dive, you may try out glass bottom boat rides at Bharatpur beach.
All in all, we had a wonderful stay in Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep) and while leaving we were really sad of not having more time to spend there. Going around paddy fields of Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep) on our scooter felt like going around a place which was a fusion of Hampi and Goa. Similar narrow lanes with laid back relaxed aura with no one to bother you. Neil island (Shaheed Dweep) is definitely one of those places where we would not mind settling down. Away from rest of the world, Neil Islands (Shaheed Dweep)provide that perfect escape clubbed with natural beauty. Hope you love it as much as we did.
Hope this article was useful to you in helping you plan your trip to Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep). 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 cover Port Blair and Havelock islands (Swaraj Dweep) in detail with recommendations for stay, food and transport.