THIS CLUSTER of tiny islands, collectively known as Ritchie’s Archipelago, are for the most part protected as national parks to preserve their remarkable biodiversity. Only three islands are open to visitors and are connected to Port Blair by ferry on specificdays of the week.
Neil Island, 36 km (22miles) northeast, is the closest to the capital and is inhabited by settlers from Bengal. Theinterior is lush with paddy fieldsand plantations; the island is the region’s main producer of freshfruit and vegetables. The relatively untouchedbeaches offer superb snorkelling opportunities. Havelock Island. 54 km (34 miles) northeast of Port Blair, is the most popular among visitors as it is well equipped, with government and private guesthouses, and also has a well-stocked main bazaar. It is worth trying out the tented accommodation on Radhanagar Beach, at the western tip of the island, where dolphins and turtles can be spotted from the long 40 stretches of white sand. The elephants found on the islandwere originally brought here to work the timber trade. Bikes and scooters are available and are the best way to explore.
The northernmost island in the archipelago, Long Island, 82 km (51 miles) north of Port Blair, attracts few visitors,perhaps because of the eight-hour journey to get there. It nevertheless has attractive beaches.There is just one rest house and virtuallyno public transport available,although bicycles can be hired. North Passage Island, 55 km (34 miles) S of Port Blair has a beautiful white sandy beach at Merk Bay.
ENVIRONS: Barren Island, 132 km (82 miles) northeast of Port Blair, has the only active volcano in India. It erupted twice in recent years, first in 1991 and then in 1994, after lying dormant for nearly two centuries. Rising sharply from the sea, its enormous cratercontinues to spew smoke. The island is now a wildlifesanctuary. There is no public ferry service and onlychartered ferriesmake the long, 20- hour journey from’ort Blair. Since Landing on the island is not permitted, divers are the only visitors, drawn here by the rich marine life.