The government ferry system on the Andaman Islands is utterly ridiculous, but it is also by far the cheapest way to travel to Havelock Island from Port Blair A one way ticket only costs 400 rupees, and a return ticket 800 rupees.
There is a slight catch, and that is you have to buy a return ticket. This seems reasonable, as it’s likely you’re only visiting and will want to return to the airport. However, you can only buy the government ferry tickets 3 days in advance. That means if you’re staying a week or two, you cannot buy a ticket for the date you actually want to return.
This system was new in place when I arrived in the Andaman Islands. And I was completely dismayed, when after fighting to keep my place in the ladies queue (and it is a fight!) the guy behind the counter would not issue my ticket. Nor would he explain why.
I stood my ground and refused to move from the window. (Thankfully I’d already been in India for over a month, and knew this kind of behaviour, although rude in the UK, is necessary and acceptable in India). I demanded he tell me why he would not issue my ticket.
He kept saying ‘you need to buy a return ticket’. I said back ‘that’s fine, I return on 31st December’ and he would simply shove my form back! Eventually I said, ‘what do I need to say to get my ticket?’ And he said, ‘write return date 25th December’. Which I did, and shortly after I left with two tickets. One leaving the day I wanted to travel, and another completely useless return ticket, which I would be unable to refund for the full amount.
Not only does this system extort international tourists, but it also makes it incredibly difficult to get a return ticket once on Havelock Island. As all the seats are full up with fake bookings.
Thankfully my resort in Havelock Island was able to help. For a small fee (100 rupees) they sent someone to get my return ticket 3 days before I was due to leave. The 100 rupees was well worth it to avoid the hassle of queuing for another ticket. And the resort successfully sold my unwanted return ticket for the 25th Dec to another traveller, who struggling to get one. (This shouldn’t technically happen, as it has a name and permit number on the ticket – but no one checks these when leaving Havelock Island).
A few tips:
▪️If you need a ferry ticket upon arriving in Port Blair, see if your hotel can send someone to queue for you. It is worth paying a 100-200 rupee fee to avoid the horrible experience of queueing in the ferry office. (Unfortunately my hotel said it was not possible to get government tickets, as they would be all sold out -this was a lie – and they insisted I book the ultra expensive private ferry, for which I’m sure they’d receive a sweet commission.) A more honest guesthouse is likely to help you out.
▪️If you do have to queue for yourself, and have a woman in your group, send her in as the women’s queues are generally much shorter. Unfortunately they are no less rowdy, and you need to stand your ground.
▪️Make sure you take copies of your permit and passport. The permit copy will definitely be required.
▪️Accept you will have to buy a return ticket for 3 days time, even if you don’t want it. Just write a fake return date, and accept that this is still a lot cheaper than the private ferries. And you may get some money back once on Havelock.
▪️When you get your ticket, check the name and permit number is correct. After all the hassle of getting my ticket, the permit number was wrong and I didn’t notice. The security guard very nearly didn’t let me board, and I was only allowed on after a lot of pleading.
▪️The ferry can be fairly rocky, and if you get sea sickness take precautions. There was a lot of dal coloured sick all over the boat, and no sick bags are provided.
Of course, if you’ve got a bit of cash, the private ferries are, without a doubt, much nicer, more comfortable and generally less of a pain in the bum. I believe you can even buy a return ticket for the day you actually want to travel – fancy that! But the cost is between 975-1,700 rupees (one way). If you’re booking last minute expect to pay the higher end of that budget.
However you get there, I can assure you Havelock Island will be worth the hassle and expense. It has truly beautiful beaches, some of the best is in the world. And is a great respite from mainland India.