Travel Guide to Port Blair - Andaman Islands, India - The Andaman Odyssey
Port Blair is the capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a union territory of India. One cannot visit Andamans without stepping into this only urban-like part of the Andaman Islands. It acts as the entry point both through air and water into Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Due to this, you would very likely spend a couple of nights in Port Blair, so it is important to know the best way to use this time. Also, if you are interested in the history and culture of the Andaman Islands, Port Blair is the only place where you can learn about the heritage of these islands. Here is a compilation of places to visit and things to do in Port Blair.
Most travellers take a flight to Andamans and hence land at Veer Savarkar Airport. The airport is located close to major commercial areas of the capital city. Aberdeen Bazaar (a major commercial market), Phoenix Bay Jetty (where you take ferries for popular Havelock and Neil Islands), tourist attractions like Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex (where you take ferries for Ross & North Bay Islands), Cellular Jail, number of interesting museums, Corbyn's Cove (the only beach in the town) all lie in the vicinity of the airport.
There are then a few interesting attractions on the outskirts of Port Blair like Chidiya Tapu, Wandoor Beach, Jolly Buoy Island, Mount Harriet National Park, Collinpur beach, etc., which on its own can be a half-day/full-day trip. Together with all these destinations, it might take you around 4 full days to explore Port Blair.
The Andaman Odyssey is a series of 16 articles that covers Andamans extensively giving you all the information you might need to plan a trip (or multiple trips) to these beautiful emerald islands of India. Click on images below to read these articles -
12. Travel Guide to Port Blair (This article)
Understanding the Geography of Port Blair
The main Andaman Island is divided into 3 parts - North, Middle, and South Andaman. Port Blair is the major hub in South Andaman and lies in the southeast part of main Andaman Island. It hence has a good coastline facing the east. The popular islands of Andamans, namely Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) and Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep), are further towards the east of Port Blair city and can easily be accessed from Port Blair through ferries.
Places to Visit in Port Blair
Port Blair is the only urban area in the Andaman Islands. It has many attractions of interest, ranging from historical sites & museums to Marina Bay-type seaside attractions. Let's cover the major attractions within Port Blair city -
1. Seaside attractions in Port Blair city
As you move past Aberdeen Bazaar (a happening market in Port Blair), you will reach several attractions on the seaside. All of these attractions are next to each other and a leisurely walk in this area in the evening would be very pleasant.
1.1 Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex
Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex is the go-to spot for many fun and water sports activities. From Jet skis, banana boats, paddle boats, parasailing, etc., it is the place to take your kids for them to have fun. Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex is also where you can get tickets and ferries for day trips to Ross Island and North Bay Island (Viper Island tickets have been discontinued). The area has long 'V shape' jetties with the iconic statue of Rajiv Gandhi, and the entire place is a good stroll with a number of benches for you to sit and enjoy the sea breeze.
As you enter the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex, you will also notice 2 historically important memorials on each side. On the left, you would find the Aberdeen Memorial in memory of aborigines of Andamans who fought and lost a battle with the British in 1859. On the right, you would find the Tsunami memorial paying homage to those who lost their lives in the Tsunami of 2004.
Timing - 5:30 AM to 9:00 PM though the water sports are available only between 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM
There are no entry fees, but you need to pay for any activity you may want to do.
1.2 Marina Park, Aquarium
Right next to Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex lies Marina Park. It is a well-maintained park with certain attractions like the 'I love Port Blair' signpost, great lighting at night, hawkers serving chaats, a kid's play area, open lawns, an open-air gym, and several benches in front of the ocean make it a must-visit in the evenings. The park also has an aquarium and children's cycle park at one end. As the name suggests, the aquarium houses a number of interesting fishes that kids would love to see.
You would also be fascinated to see the huge Indian flag waving further up the seaside road, and a huge Indian map created inland on a slope visible from Marina Park.
1.3 Corbyn's Cove
The coastal road from Marina Park would take you to the only beach in Port Blair - Corbyn's Cove. The U-shaped landscape around the beach naturally stops rough waves, making it a pleasant beach to swim. Some water sports activities have also started here, which are priced on the higher side and hence not recommended.
Corbyn's cove beach may not be as serene and clean as most other island beaches of Andamans. However this is the best you have in Port Blair in case you want to get into waters. You cannot see the sunset from this beach, but sunrises here are worth watching. There are a few Japanese bunkers as well on the rocky side of this beach, in case you are interested.
2. Historical Sites
Since the Andaman Islands were primarily homes of a few aborigine tribes, the history does not go back too far. The history of Andamans is limited to the last 150-200 years since the onset of British rule in India.
2.1 Cellular Jail
If you had planned a trip to Andamans 20 years ago before some of the turquoise beaches and serene islands became popular, the major attraction you would have wanted to see is the Cellular Jail. This iconic place is what Andamans have been historically known for. They have become a reminder of the brutality and torture experienced by some freedom fighters as they were brought to these islands away from the Indian mainland with no way to return.
Cellular Jail, a 3 storied, 7 winged radial structure, housed 600-700 prisoners who were made to do physical labour while the British established the nearby island - Ross island, as their home. While there are many heart-breaking tales of cruelty in the jail between 1906 to 1937, there were also stories of inspiration, revolt, and courage.
With the Indian freedom struggle momentum, the onset of World War II, and the intervention of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru & Rabindranath Tagore, the British were forced to empty the jail by 1939. The Japanese then took over the islands in 1942 as part of the World War II invasion against England. As the tides turned, the jail was then used to keep captured British soldiers and Indians who seemed to be loyal to the British. Notably, the Islands were notionally in control of Subhas Chandra Bose (an Indian revolutionary who had established good relationships with Axis powers like Germany and Japan in a bid to fight the British). Interestingly, during this time, a provisional government of Free India was formed here in Andamans as it became the first piece of land to be declared Independent, and an Indian flag was hoisted by Subhas Chandra Bose. However, as Japan surrendered towards the end of World War II in 1945, the British took over the islands and the Cellular Jail again.
One can understand the history of the jail and Islands in the Cellular Jail museum. One can also go around the jail to understand how it was designed. A single tower housing British soldiers would keep an eye on numerous wings to ensure everything was in order. Also, the wings' design is such that none of the wings face each other, thus preventing any prisoners from seeing each other.
One can also see inside the prisons and specifically go to the prison of famed Veer Savarkar (the airport of Port Blair is named after him). Another added attraction at the Cellular Jail is the light and sound show which describes the history and story of Cellular Jail in a heartfelt manner.
Note - We frankly were disappointed with the one-hour light and sound show of Cellular Jail. There were a number of things that did not work for us. The long queues are always a turn-off for us. The audience seats were flat at the same level instead of staggered in height (like an amphitheater) which is what one would expect for any show. Since it is in the open, we also experienced many mosquito bites. And finally, when the show started, we realized the 'light' part of it was simply bulbs/tube lights getting switched on and off in a pre-arranged manner.
For example, as the story narrates something about Veer Savarkar, the lights in Veer Savarkar's prison cell would switch on. It seemed like a 25-year-old technology that was never upgraded, whereas the world moved to lasers, projections, and pyrotechnics. The narrated story itself is heart-wrenching, but the lights part of the show put us to sleep. And it definitely did not seem worth the cost. So in case you are not able to cover it or decide to skip it, you would not miss much.
Entry ticket to Cellular Jail - Rs.30 for Indians & Rs.100 for Foreigners
Video Cameras - Rs.200 for non-professional & Rs.1000 for professional
Sound & Light show at Cellular Jail - Rs.300 for adults & Rs.150 for child
Timings of Cellular Jail - 8 AM to 4 PM
Timings of Light & Sound Show in English - 7:35 PM on Mon, Wed, Fri
Timings of Light & Sound Show in Hindi - 5:20 PM & 6:30 PM on all days, 7:35 on Tues, Thurs, Sat, Sun
Cellular Jail is closed on Mondays & national holidays.
2.2 Chatham Saw Mill
Port Blair's other place of historical importance is the Chatham Saw Mill. As the name suggests, this is a saw mill; Asia's largest and older saw mill that was established in 1883 on an island near Port Blair called Chatham Island. Run by the Forest Department, Chatham Island itself is connected to Port Blair through a bridge, and you can simply drive to this mill.
The Japanese bombed the mill during their invasion in World War II. The bomb created a huge pit that still exists but is now filled with water. This history is well depicted in photographs, along with intricately crafted wooden products in the Forest Museum within the premises of Chatham Saw Mill. While you can walk around and see different operational workshops within the mill, there is nothing much to see here except the Forest Museum, a Japanese bunker, and a memorial. There is a souvenir shop where you can get wooden crafts and Andaman-themed products.
Note - If you are not really into knowing history, you can easily skip Chatham Saw Mill from your itinerary.
If you still prefer to visit Chatham Saw Mill, you might spend anything between 20 minutes to 1 hour based on your interest.
Timings: 8:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Entry Fee: INR 20
Chatham Saw Mill is closed on Sundays & industrial holidays.
Apart from the Forest Museum inside Chatham Saw Mill and Cellular Jail Museum inside Cellular Jail, Port Blair does have some other interesting museums.
3.1 Samudrika Marine Museum
As the name suggests, this museum is primarily about marine life and its treasures such as fishes, corals, shells, etc. Owned and maintained by Indian National Navy, the Samudrika Marine Museum has 5 sections covering marine life - flora & fauna, marine archaeology, history, and tribes of Andamans. One of the major attractions at Samudrika Marine Museum is an actual skeleton of a baby blue whale that was found on the shores of Andamans. There is also a souvenir shop near the exit of Samudrika marine museum, which has a fairly good variety of Andaman-themed merchandise.
Note - If you are not really into museums, you can skip Samudrika Marine Museum from your itinerary.
If you still would prefer to visit Samudrika Marine Museum, you might spend anything between 30 minutes to 1.25 hours based on your interest.
Timings: 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Entry Fee: INR 50 (adults), INR 25 (Children)
3.2 Zonal Anthropological Museum
It is natural to have curiosity about the tribes of Andamans. As you probably already know, many tribal communities of Andamans still live isolated from the world. They are unaware of technological advancements and modern developments. Their ways of life are reminiscent of how man used to live a few thousands of years ago. At the same time, the government prevents normal people from visiting these communities to preserve their indigenous life as well as prevent them from attacking any curious visitors. However, Anthropological Museum in Port Blair can give you a detailed insight into these tribes, their culture, and ways of living (Anthropology itself means the study of the human condition - history, culture, biology, and more)
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were historically inhabited by 6 aboriginal tribes -
4 tribes of Andamans are negroids, i.e., origins in Africa with darker skin and very little black colored body hair
Great Andamanese - Once the largest tribe of Andamans is now endangered and settled on Strait Island (near Baratang Island). They were the ones who fought the battle of Aberdeen in 1859, referred to earlier in this article, using bows & arrows to prevent a British invasion.
Onges - They inhabit parts of the Little Andaman Islands located further south of the main Andaman Islands. They are relatively friendly with the Andaman administration and welfare teams.
Sentinelese - Sentinelese inhabit North Sentinelese Island and the most hostile tribes currently. Even the efforts of the Andaman administration to establish a friendly connection with them have had very little success. You might have heard news reports of them attacking any incoming visitor.
Jarawas - Jarawas inhabit parts of the South and Middle Andaman Islands. They, too, are hostile to any visitors, but the administration have successfully made good connections with them and hence are friendly with them. If you are lucky, you might spot them on your road trip to Baratang or Middle Andaman Islands. Their hostility is the reason a convoy runs every morning as tourists head towards North Andamans to ensure the safety of visitors.
2 tribes inhabit the Nicobar Islands and are Mongloids i.e., originated in Central Asia (around Mongolia) and characterized by different physical features such as yellow-brownish skin & hair color, straight hair, and prominent cheekbones
Shompens - Smaller in population, they live in isolated areas of the Nicobar Islands. Shompens are hunters and gatherers. Pig rearing and farming are practiced in a very limited manner.
Nicobarese - Nicobarese are the largest population of all tribes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. They are also relatively more modern than all other tribes and are primarily farmers. Most have adopted Christianity as their religion. However, they suffered a huge setback during the Tsunami of 2004 as it destroyed many of their villages.
The Anthropological Museum effectively depicts the lives and cultures of all these tribes through clay models of houses, basic utensils, attire, tools, weapons, boats, etc., along with many photographs to give you a clear idea.
Note - If you are really interested in understanding the life of indigenous tribes, you might spend around 1 hour in the Zonal Anthropological Museum
Timings: 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
Entry Fee: INR 20
3.3 Kalapani Museum
If you would prefer to visit just one museum in Andamans, Kalapani Museum is our recommendation. It is a private museum that provides the most comprehensive view of the entire history of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Spread across a 3-floor residential building converted into a museum, each floor of Kalapani throws at you interesting insights into different times. From understanding native tribes to the British invasion, building the Cellular Jail, to the Japanese invasion of islands. Kalapani is a treasure house full of rare photographs, actual documents, artefacts, clay models depicting stories, and so much more. The top floor ends with a short movie that is equally informative.
Though quite costlier than other government museums, Kalapani Museum is worth the cost given their staff is well knowledgeable and explains many key aspects that you need to know. In fact, we would recommend you start your Andaman trip with the Kalapani Museum. You would be able to relate so well as you visit other historical places. However, note that this museum is situated a little away from the heart of Port Blair. It is recommended to cover Kalapani Museum on your way to Wandoor or Chidiya Tapu.
Note - If you are a history buff, you could spend as long as 2.5-3 hours at Kalapani Museum, so plan accordingly. Else you could cover everything in an hour. If you are someone who cannot climb stairs, skip this place.
Entry Fee: INR 250, which includes an explanation by a guide, welcome tea, and a DVD explaining the museum
Timings - 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM
4. Other attractions
If you have even more time on your hands while at Port Blair, here are a few other things you could visit.
4.1 Murugan Temple
If you are a religious person, Sri Vetrimalai Murugun Temple is the best pilgrimage site in the Andaman Islands. Typical Dravidian architecture with intricate artwork would capture your attention as you enter this historical temple. Dedicated to Lord Murugan, i.e., Karthikeyan - Son of Lord Shiva & Parvati, Murugan temple attracts many devotees throughout the year, especially during Hindu festivals. Interestingly this temple was first built by the British on Ross Island to win the support of Tamilians. After Indian Independence, it was moved to its current location in Port Blair.
4.2 Nature Park and Interpretation Centre
Historically just a Mini Zoo, the Nature Park and Interpretation Centre of Port Blair is a new attraction that tourists can visit if they have time. It is Port Blair's biggest park and has a well-manicured garden and many attractions like a small zoo, butterfly observatory, treehouse aquarium, orchid and fern greenhouse, collection of medicinal & aquatic plants, spice trees, rock garden, children's play area, and more. The best part is the amazing sea view you get along with several benches placed for you to relax. If you are a nature lover, we recommend visiting this place to get a tranquil and peaceful experience.
Note - Mornings or late evenings are preferable to avoid the sun.
Timings: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Entry fee: INR 30
Pure vegetarian Restaurants in Port Blair:
It isn't easy to find good vegetarian food whenever we visit seaside towns that are known for delicious seafood. Having stayed in Port Blair for about a week in two visits, we have found some really good restaurants serving vegetarian food that might help our readers.
Annapurna restaurant and Hotel Kattabomman located near main Aberdeen Bazaar are 2 reliable pure vegetarian restaurants. They mainly serve South Indian cuisines.
If you are fed with eating roti, sabzi, and vegetarian thalis in Port Blair and want to try something different, Icy Spicy is your place. Icy Spicy is again a pure vegetarian restaurant, also serving bakery items and sweets. We tried a lot of dishes from their menu here, and all were yum, including the sweets. Highly highly recommended.
2 other places we would recommend eating which serve both veg and non-veg are Coco Anju resto (they are very famous in Havelock Island and opened their 2nd restaurant with same name in Port Blair) and The Hub (a small cozy fast food cafe sort of place) both located in Aberdeen Bazaar.
There is so much to discover and fall in love with in and around Port Blair. Our romance with this part of Andaman Islands has only just begun, and we're already counting down to our next trip to explore more in Port Blair! Have you been to Port Blair? How many of these places have you covered? We are also in process of curating an article for places to visit near Port Blair that often go unexplored. So, stay tuned.
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Hope this extensive guide on Port Blair helps you plan your trip. If you have any doubts or questions, drop them in the comment section below. You can also directly contact us via our Email or DM us on Instagram.
Note that timings & costs mentioned in this article could have changed since publishing this article.