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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plan Andaman Trip on your own-low budget and without package!

From what I noticed, majority of visitors to Andaman opt for package tour from major travel portals, which covers flight, hotel, sightseeing etc in a standardized itinerary. But my travel style usually involves booking a flight when I find the fare at their cheapest best, even if it means travel date is 9 months from now, then few months prior to travel plan hotel booking (usually booking.com or Stayzilla) and few weeks before actual travel, finalize the itinerary and rest of the plans. I try to use public transportation as much as possible, try to make the most of early morning and late evening time also and optimize my plan keeping cost low and value high.

But for my Andaman trip, when I had a few questions about local transport etc, most people who had been to Andaman had no idea, because they got transportation as part of their package and didn’t have to try a taxi, auto or bus journey themselves. Thus I had to figure out my trip details on my own. I learnt that Ola/Uber do not operate in the Andamans. Owners of Ross View Hotel where we stayed arranged cab for us on 3 occasions and rest of the time we managed on foot or auto. We managed entire Port Blair trip within Rs 20000 per person, everything included (3 Days, 3 nights, Flights, Port Blair, Havelock, Scuba dive, Ross Island and North Bay). If you are like me and prefer to plan a trip on your own, this post shares a set of possibly useful information about planning your trip to Andaman on your own, without booking any package.
Andaman as seen from window seat!
Below is our cost breakup, per person, on our latest 3 day trip to Port Blair

#
Activity
Cost (INR)
Remarks
1
Chennai-Port Blair Return flight
4950
Booked 9 months ago in spicejet sale
2
Hotel Stay @ Ross View per person for 3 nights
5720
35k approx. for 6 people, 3 nights (3 rooms)
3
Scuba Diving at Havelock
4000
Scubalove.in
4
Food expenses per person approx
1000
For 3 days
5
Local transport approx. per person
500
Taxi a few times, auto/walk otherwise
Because we were six per person cost/person has been low
6
Ferry to Havelock n back
1950
Makruzz
7
Boat to Ross Island and North Bay
600

8
Jetski ride
550

9
Miscellaneous, approx
710
Entry fee for cellular jail, Ross island, camera fee, taxi at Chennai etc

Total
20000

We did some minimum shopping, not included above.  Below section gives tips on various aspect of travel planning to Andaman

1. Booking cheap Flights to Port Blair
Port Blair has direct flight only from select cities- Kolkata, Chennai, BLR etc. From other cities it will be either one stop or connecting flight. Flight expense is the most prohibitive one during peak season. What we got under 5k in a spicejet sale during October 2015 which was a steal. Anything less than 9k is a good deal and 9k to12k is also decent in my opinion if booked in short notice and timing is convenient. More than 15k is avoidable if you ask me. Travel portals tie up with airlines and usually block a set of seats with airlines- if booking on your own is prohibitive, check travel sites for a package deal and see if that makes economic sense. Where possible, wait for a sale and book tickets in advance at lower rates.

2. Hotel booking in Andaman
Factor a budget of 2k per person, per night for a decent budget hotel, off season. Can cost more depending on hotel type, location and demand. I am hotel hotels in Havelock cost much more than hotels in Port Blair. Try booking on stayzilla or booking.com or call the hotel directly. If you have several days, you can split a few nights in Port Blair and few nights in Havelock etc, else keep your base in Port Blair. We stayed at Ross View Hotel, which was close to Cellular Jail and Netaji Stadium

Keep in mind that if you are booking in Havelock, book it on Day 2 or Day 3, not Last day. Return ferry may get cancelled if weather is bad, so you might end up getting stuck in Havelock. Be sure to be back in Port Blair the night before your return flight.

3. Local Transport in Port Blair/Andamans
Taxi:
  • Taxis are insanely expensive in Andaman.
  • Uber/Ola are NOT available in port blair yet and all taxi operators work with an overpriced, fixed deal like 2 hours/20kms- Rs 400 etc.
  • Distance and time is from Garage to Garage, not between your pickup and drop point. 
  • When we wanted to go to Corbyn’s beach from Netaji stadium, fixed rate for taxi was Rs 1200. (about 12 kms round trip, while we hail an auto for Rs 100 one way and Rs 150 return - I called same auto driver to come back and pick us up as it was night and no other auto could be found). 
  • Airport pickup and drop in an Ertiga cost us Rs 400 each (Airport is less than 3kms from hotel). In Chennai, I can travel 13-14 kms for half that amount.
  • In Havelock, for a 14 km journey (our scuba diving spot- Sea Shell Resort, Havelock, 1 km from jetty to Radhanagar beach and drop back to jetty) cost us Rs 1000 in a Tata Sumo. We were told peak season rate is Rs 1400. A bus ticket could have costed Rs 12 per person one way, but we didn’t have the time.
Auto folks are very reasonable in Port blair- we paid Rs 40 one way to go to Jogger’s park from Clock tower (about 4km), paid Rs 100 to go to Corbyn’s beach (6 kms from Netaji Stadium). Use them to the max and you will save a lot. Note down phone number of auto driver before getting down, just in case you don't an auto for return journey.

City buses are also available. If you have lots of time or can spend some time and effort to figure out which one works for you, then you can save even more. In Havelock, city bus can take you to Radhanagar beach for Rs 12 per person as against Rs 700 in a taxi. But islands have very few buses. Port Blair has plenty of private buses shuttling around.
During our 3 day trip, we availed taxi for airport pickup n drop, early morning drop to Havelock jetty and a taxi in Havelock to go to Radhanagar beach. We spent about Rs 2600 for these. Rest of the time we walked or took auto. Overall local transportation spend was Rs 3000, which worked out at Rs 500 per head because we were six people. If you are just two, per head expense will be bit higher.

Boat rides: Because Andaman has lots of islands, boat is also a major transportation mode. Boat services operate with a fixed per person charge, displayed at prominent places. We took Makruzz ferry to Havelock and back, at Rs 975 per person one way. There is a government boat which is lot cheaper but takes more time. From Rajiv Gandhi watersports complex boats operate to Ross Island, North Bay, Viper Island etc, at a fixed rate as shown below.

Bike rentals: I saw a few boards that offered bikes and scooters (like Activa) on rent. I didn’t try renting them myself as there wasn’t a need.

Self-drive cars- Not available. Unfortunately none of the self-drive car rental agencies (Myles, Zoomcar etc) have presence in Andamans as of now.

Helicopter Shuttle: If you are lucky and adventurous, you can try for a seat in helicopter. Government operates few helicopter services between Port Blair-Havelock and few other main islands. Cost per seat is Rs 1500 for tourists, Rs 600 for locals. This is very effective in terms of time taken and the view it offers from air (Royal (first class) class seat in Makruzz itself costs Rs 1600). But the trick here is that there are just a few seats in a helicopter (about 5 to 6), lots of restrictions on weight, baggage size and weight etc. I am told these are often taken up by government officials on ‘urgent work’.  There doesn’t seem to be a hassle free way of checking availability and booking a seat on a helicopter. (A website exists but usefulness is limited). Helicopter service is also dependent on weather. So in my opinion you cannot count on being able to take a helicopter ride to your destination. But feel free to try your luck.

If you need a helicopter entirely for yourself, you can rent one at a cost of about 1.1 lakh per hour. Not just flying, even waiting time is billed heavily.

Adventure/Activities
Scuba Diving: There are dozens of Scuba dive operators and different type of Scuba Diving experiences are offered priced between Rs 1000 to 5000. One in North Bay is cheaper, but a lot crowded. Deep sea dive off Havelock will cost little more. Please refer this post to know what all to check before booking your scuba diving.

Visiting various islands: Boats operate to various nearby islands at regular intervals and at fixed fare. You can walk in and buy a ticket. Time they allot (for you to explore an island and return to boat) is usually tight. If you are keen on doing relaxed photography or wish to spend more time at any island, negotiate for extra time.

JetSki ride and various other beach side activities are available at various jetties/beaches- you can walk in and book on the spot if it excites you

How many days to spend?
We could spend only 3 days and we covered only a small portion of Andamans. Most tourists do the same- visit Havelock, Ross Island, North Day, Cellular jail and return. Entire Andaman is much larger- refer map below- one will need a week or so to explore all places of interest. I hope to explore rest of Andamans on my next visit, whenever it happens.  You can check places of interest on tripadvisor, locate it on map and plan accordingly.
Hope these tips will help you save a few thousand rupees on your next trip to Andamans.

Disclaimer: All information as observed by this blogger during his visit in August 2016. Rates, availability, experience may vary over time. Please use your discretion.
Indian Bloggers
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20 comments :

Rajiv said...

Something doesn't seem right here. I found the fares in Andamans cheap actually. I am sure you checked with more than one drivers, no? 400 for the airport pick-up is too much. We took an Ertiga, the 4km journey cost us 100 bucks. That's what the driver quoted.

We paid the same from the Phoniex Jetty to the airport. You btw, have made a killing at the return fares ;)

Cheers,
Rajiv

magiceye said...

Wonderful post! Very informative!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Deepak

Jyotirmoy Sarkar said...

Its very helpful post specially for those who always love to travel themselves.

Swati & Sam said...

A very helpful post ... we did opt for tour package and paid 12K per person excluding flights in 2013. Our driver who came to pick us up from airport said we paid a very hefty amount and share his contact details to book directly if we had to rent car on our next visit.

Next time do visit Baratang Island -- limestone caves there are amazing and Jolly Bouy island is spectacular ..

Dhananjay Murthy said...

Good Information, Like you did i also used to book the flights directly whenever there is a sale and hotels(internationl) from booking.com or agoda.com, within india my experience with stayzilla in recent is worst, i prefer makemytrip or yatra would be better or sometimes direct booking.

Many times i observed sometimes we have advantage with our own planning and disadvantage also compare to local travel agents. They get discount prices in hotels and tickets compared to us

This time i have planned to book local travel from Portblair through Traveltriangle.com i got a quote of Rs.13500 pp for 5 days which inclusive of hotel,all entry,boat,local transport basically except food. Seems to be work lucrative. As you mentioned above if we are only two then local transport cost will go for toss .

I booked ticket for 3rd week of october,chennai to portbalir for Rs.4622 ,taking your example Rs.1700 for food,Scooba dive Rs.4000 which works out to be Rs.24022 will translate to Rs.4764 per head per day, in the above case for three days which works out to be Rs.6666 . Advantage is we are staying in beach resort, Havlock Island and covering one day trek to mount harriet, Not finding any disadvantage. Let me go and update once i finish the travel.

PS: Same thing i am doing for 7 day srilanka trip in next week, as i will be staying in 5 cities .

ವಿ.ರಾ.ಹೆ. said...

Really very useful information Nidhi. Thank you. Next time if possible, try ship journey from Chennai to PortBlair or back :)

jainchandresh said...

Grt and informative post ..For Frequent travelers like us , booking fixed itinerary packages is not a viable option economically . And yes researching on our own and freedom to roam at own pace is the real fun

Ami said...

Perfect timing as I plan my trip

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Ami- Have a nice trip

@Chandresh- yes. Thanks

@Vi Ra He: Timing is the concern. Will consider it though

@Swati- Good to know. How many days?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Rajiv: When was your visit? We asked hotel staff to arrange transport- not sure if they quoted excess- I checked few websites, where rates were similar. Of course one can find a taxi which is on its return journey during which driver might be happy to offer a cheaper ride.

@Jyotirmoy: Thanks

@Dhananjay: Have a nice trip. Thanks for sharing your observations. Good to know about the deal you've got. It seems great deal. It is always good to research more- local operators can offer better deal than generic travel portals based in mainland. Enjoy.

Prabhavathi said...

very informative post...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Prabhavathi

Unknown said...

Very nice description. Very useful

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks

Unknown said...

i am planning trip from 2nd sept 2016 to 8th sept 2016. anybody else is planning??. Give some helpful tips. Want to know what all places are closed on what days.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Best wishes.. Monday is when most of the museums and attractions are closed

Devashish Patel said...

Nice post and useful information. But are 3 days genuinely sufficient, or you just hop skip and jump ?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

I feel I should have spent few more days exploring the northern part... agenda for next time

Vipul Vaibhav said...

ive just shared my trip to Andamans in detail on my blog as well, will appreciate your views

https://travelwale.blogspot.in/2016/08/andaman-islands.html
https://travelwale.blogspot.in/2016/08/andaman-islands-part-II.html