About the blog: Imagine a view of turquoise blue seas along a stretch of golden sandy beach while an awesome sunset is viewed at the backdrop of a natural rock bridge. The place is also a paradise for the scuba divers and snorkelers. Yes, I am talking about Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep), Andaman. We had visited Neil Island much before it was renamed as Shaheed Dweep.
Initially, we had decided on making a day visit here. However, we then changed the plan and decided to stay over for a night. In fact, after spending some time here, we extended our stay for two more days! You might wonder what our itinerary was for almost 3 days. After all, isn’t it a small island? Are there enough things to do here for so long?
Well, it is true that Neil Island, Andaman is a small place. The island covers an area of mere 18.9 square kilometers and stretches to a maximum length of 5 kilometers.
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You can actually do a day trip here from Havelock Island, see all the major beaches and get back. But once we were at Neil Island, we simply decided to stay back and enjoy the island at our own pace. We wanted to live on the island, feel its languid pace and simply be happy!
How to reach Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep)?
Neil Island is located in Ritchie’s archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and can be easily reached from Port Blair. The entry to Neil is the Bharatpur Jetty. The Government ships and the cruises plying from Port Blair are the only way to get in Neil.
Things to do at Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep)
Neil Island can spring surprises for travelers, tourists and backpackers alike in its offerings. The Island comprises 5 villages with a population of approximately 3000. The place still has an old world charm. There are only a couple of ATMS, internet signals and mobile signals are also few and scattered.
Neil is completely in contrast from the flamboyant Havelock. While Neil is calm, serene and still tucked away in time, Havelock is the bustling tourist spot offering a luxurious holiday. Just a few kilometers from each other, but Havelock and Neil are almost opposite in character. Neil is just a somnolent gem of the Andamans where time has also decided to take a break. So here is a list of things to do at Shahed Dweep or Neil Island.
1. Visit the tranquil beaches
This small island boasts of some gorgeous and secluded sea beaches. Inspired by the Indian mythology, the beaches are named after the characters from Ramayana – Ramnagar, Bharatpur, Sitapur and Laxmanpur. Beach hopping at Neil Island is the main attraction here. Even if you are here for a day, take a visit to these beaches of Neil Island aka Shaheed Dweep.
Beaches of Neil Island
- Bharatpur Beach or Beach No. 4
- Natural Bridge or Bridge No 2
- Laxmanpur Beach or Beach No.1
- Sitapur Beach or Beach No. 5
Bharatpur Beach or Beach No. 4
The primary attraction of the island is definitely the Bharatpur Beach or Beach No. 4. A pristine beach bordered by a few shady trees and followed by a clear turquoise sea kissing the blue skies. The Bharatpur beach is the perfect place for swimming and lazing around. You can also go scuba diving and snorkeling from this beach. And for those who do not want to venture into the seas, a glass bottom boat ride will show them the spectacular marine life. The coral reef is alive and we could view the most colourful fishes swimming in and out of the reefs here. We lost count of the varieties of fishes we saw!
Natural Bridge or Bridge No 2
The natural rock bridge is the next wonder in this little island. Located near Laxmanpur village, the local people call it the Howrah Bridge. During the low tide the sea retreats back and the coral reefs reveal their wondrous self. The underwater marine life is at your footsteps (literally). So we decided to walk over the slippery rocks and to view the marine wonders with leisure!
Vividly colourful fishes were darted about in the rocky pools. The starfishes lazily extended their tentacles. There are sea anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, mollusks and many others whose names I do not know. But the corals were the most captivating! There are not one but two natural bridges here.
To reach the second natural beach, you have to walk cautiously through the rocks and corals. You can reach there only during the low tide. So we recommend you to visit here twice. Should you want to climb the second bridge (yes you can climb it and over it), please be careful because there are numerous sea snakes and crabs lurking around. The snakes hide themselves very cleverly in the rocky holes. We tried to climb the bridge and I almost touched a snake! It actually looked like a green rock.
Laxmanpur Beach or Beach No.1
The sunset is quite captivating from the Laxmanpur Beach. And if you visit early in the morning, you will find the whole place to yourself. Just imagine yourself alone in stretches of silvery sands and blue waters meeting the blue skies as if in conspiracy! While in the evening, the place is abuzz with people coming to view the sunset from here.
Just near the Laxmanpur Beach, we met an old shopkeeper and his wife. He was originally from Bangladesh and had crossed the border after 1947. He was only a child then. After staying in many refugee camps, they were finally relocated at Neil Island, Andaman. He vaguely remembers his childhood days. He was very happy to talk to us and tell his tales of struggle. We had such a great time talking with each other that he invited us again the next day. And we happily came back again to some great conversation over chai and chips.
Sitapur Beach or Beach No. 5
Sitapur Beach is a lesser known beach, but is the perfect place for watching the sunrise. Very few people visit this beach and we were the only ones there in the morning. Sitapur Beach is lined by trees and there were huge rocks jutting out of the sea.
This place was damaged by the 2004 Tsunami and it still bears its marks. We walked slowly over the soft sand with the water rippling at our feet. Nothing can be as beautiful and tranquil as watching the sun rise slowly covering the sky as well as our lives with light! Sitapur beach is my personal favourite.
2. Go for Scuba Diving and snorkeling
The sea is quite clear and calm. Scuba diving and snorkeling will be a great experience at the island. You will get scuba diving operators at the Bharatpur Beach. They would take you quite away from the beaches in the sea and then you do your dive. Scuba diving is a must do activity at here. The corals are beautiful and the colourful marine life is simply fascinating. You can also do snorkeling near the beaches. Snorkeling is really a fun activity for the kids.
3. Water Sports at Shaheed Dweep
Neil water is a great place for water sport activities like jet ski, banana boat ride, sea walking, glass boat ride and more. Once at Neil Island, Andaman, forget yourself and simply indulge in all the fun activities and water sports.
4. Explore on a bicycle or motorbike
Once you are at Shaheed Dweep, rent a bicycle or scooter and explore the island. As I have already said the island is a small one, you can travel across the length and breadth of the island in a day.
We had borrowed a scooty and travelled the length and breadth of the island with it. As we rode our way through the island we met different people. A little boy stopped us by saying “Will you have mangoes?” My curiosity got the better of me and I said yes. He then ran to his garden, plucked mangoes from the trees and gave them to us. The mangoes did not cost much but the experience of having mangoes this way was priceless. We were also invited to go fishing with the villagers! Such are the people of Neil. They are happy to meet people and talk to them.
5. Talk to the locals
The entire Neil Island is a beauty in itself. All the villagers know each other. Each of them has a tale to tell. The people are simple there; we just went to them and chatted for hours. They were very happy to share their life stories with us.
One such person we met was Sadhana Di who was definitely an inspiring figure in the village. The best place to eat at Neil Island is the “Mega Restaurant” run by Sadhana Di. It serves Bengali platter and a host of seafood delicacies like crab, prawn and sea fishes. There are other eateries mainly with the resorts. But our favourite was the Mega Restaurant. Sadhana Di was so kind to us, she used to take us to her store and ask us “Which fish shall I cook for you?” I used to point at one and voila… it would be on our plate!
You will meet many such people at Neil Island, Andaman. Greet them and talk to them. Believe me, these personal conversations make the trip even more beautiful.
Absolute Highlights of Neil Island
- Neil Island 3-point Tour : visit to Bharatpur Beach, Rock Bridge and the Laxmanpur Beach
- Snorkeling and scuba diving
- Lazy time at the beach
- Explore the island on 2-wheeler
Pro Tip: Avoid the Glass Boat Ride. The glasses are dirty and you will hardly see and marine life through the glass. It is not worth the amount you will spend.
Choose what you want to do according to the time you have at your hand.
Places to stay at Neil Island
Neil Island is a backpackers’ paradise with hotels and homestays having a homely atmosphere. It has a few luxury resorts as well. We stayed at The “Cocon Hut Resort”. It had a garden which eventually led to the sea through the mangrove creeks. Most of the resorts are located adjoining the beaches.
Whatever be the type of accommodations, the best part of Neil Island is perhaps its laid back atmosphere. The place has all the beauty and charm of the Andaman Islands. Apart from backpackers and other tourists, Andaman is also one of the best honeymoon destinations in India. Neil Island now has such luxury resorts suited for the honeymoon couples as well.
The main market of the island was in the middle – “Neil Kendra”. It had the marketplace and the only bank of the island – the SBI. The Ramnagar village was a little distance from Neil Kendra and was a little more populated than the rest of the island.
Place to eat at Neil Island
Neil Island does not have fancy restaurants. There are several beach-side shacks, especially on the Bharatpur Beach, where you can dig into some sumptuous fare. Alternatively, you can head to restaurants within the hotels and resorts.
You can expect to find a variety of seafood when dining out in Neil Island. Most of the dishes are prepared in a home-made style and are delicious. However, be prepared for a long preparation time, especially if you are eating at the shacks.
During our stay, we used to have our meals at the Mega Restaurant near Bharatpur beach. It is a small restaurant run by a local lady. We would order for our lunch in the morning itself and the dinner order during lunch time. The owner, referred to by all as Sadhana Di, treated us to Bengali recipes with a host of seafood delicacies such as crab, prawns and sea fishes.
You will also get food at cheaper rates at hotels near Neil Kendra.
What will it cost to visit Neil Island?
Neil Island had always been a backpacker’s destination. But recently, many luxury properties can be found here too. Overall, Neil is a very budget friendly destination. You can get accommodation starting from INR 500 to all the way upto INR 10000.
Food at shacks and small restaurants are cheap and bike rentals are also quite pocket friendly. Scooty can be rented at INR 800 per day. Water sports though have their own rates.
Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep) Travel Guide (FAQs Answered)
You can reach Neil Island from Port Blair by private ferries. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach. Government ferries are also available from Port Blair.
Helicopter services are also available from Port Blair to Neil Island. However, they fly only a couple of times a week and their schedules are generally undecided. Getting a ticket is often difficult.
Havelock and Neil Island are quite close by. Ferry services are available from Havelock to Neil Island. They are the fastest and most economical way to travel between the islands.
Usually a day trip from Port Blair or Havelock Island is enough to see the main attractions of Neil Island. However, we recommend you stay one night at the island. Neil is a small, uncrowded and beautiful island and also quite cheap to stay. If you are looking for a less touristy place, then you can spend a couple of days at Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep.
Neil Island is known for its beautiful beaches, white sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs. This small island has vast expanses of tropical forests and greenery. Because of its coral reefs, Neil Island is known for its scuba diving spots.
Neil Island is definitely a beautiful place to visit. However, the time you spend depends on what you want to do there. Ideally a day trip is enough to explore the attractions of Neil Island. But if you want to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the place, then we recommend staying one night at Neil.
The new name of Neil Island is Shaheed Dweep. On 30 December 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi renamed Neil Island to Shaheed Dweep to mark the 75th anniversary of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose’s declaration of the formation of the Azad Hind government in 1943.
Both Neil Island and Havelock Islands are beautiful in their own way. Havelock Island is bigger and has better facilities. Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island is one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. Neil Island is comparatively less crowded and secluded.
It is better to carry cash to Neil Island. There are only 2 ATMs at Neil Kendra, the market area of Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep. Some resort owners accept foreign currencies from guests in emergency situations.
The Neil Island, untouched by the noise and cacophony, still holding its old charm springs surprise at every step. The virgin beaches which eventually became one with the azure seas, the vast horizons, the sea sports are not the only beauties of this island. The village, their people all have their own stories which make the island a unique place. We left the island with wonderful memories and with the vow to visit the island again.