In September 2016, my wife and I decided we would visit the Lakshadweep islands for our anniversary, thinking that a week or so over the new year would be ideal. We soon found out that visiting Lakshadweep was not going to be as easy as we thought.
First off, there is hardly any information available online, and whatever is there is quite confusing. So while we haven’t actually visited yet, I thought I would share some of the information we have managed to gather so far.
(Update: We’ve finally been there, and it was an incredible experience! Read all about it here.)
This group of tiny coral islands off the south-west coast of India is relatively unexplored, and offers breathtaking beaches, spectacular diving and a bit of interesting culture.
The best time to visit is between November and February, with nice weather and calm beaches. During other times of the year, the sea is a bit rough, and during the rains—around May to September—the weather has been described as ‘miserable’ by a marine biologist friend who does research there.
Most islands are very small. For example, the airport itself takes up almost half the entire island of Agatti.
Tourism here is tightly regulated, with Indian and international tourists alike requiring permits for each island they plan to visit. Itineraries are required to be decided and paid for in advance, and everything is expensive by Indian standards.
Only a certain number of islands are open to tourism, with the more popular ones being Bangaram, Thinnakara, Kadmat, Kavaratti and Minicoy. When flying in, the usual schedule involves staying on an island for a night or two while you enjoy the beach, the reefs and the local culture—if any—and then moving on to the next island. Considering that traveling between islands usually involves a long boat ride, this is understandable. If you take a cruise package from Kochi, you will probably spend most nights on board your ship.
Bangaram island is the most popular island among international tourists (probably because it is the only island that allows alcohol to be served – but that doesn’t mean it’s actually available). Consequently, it is also the most expensive, and the only accommodation being non air-conditioned cottages.
Another popular island is Kadmat, popular for its quiet, pristine beaches and its once-beautiful corals. Unfortunately, the corals have been recently been affected by a rise in ocean temperatures, causing them to largely die out.
Thinnakara is a tiny, mostly-uninhabited island that offers complete privacy in its tents on the beach.
Kavaratti is the capital island of Lakshadweep and is where you can see the most of the local culture. Unfortunately, unlike the islands mentioned previously, it is lies far to the south of Agatti.
Minicoy is the southern-most island in Lakshadweep, and has more in common with Mauritius in terms of language and culture that with the rest of Lakshadweep. However, visiting Minicoy is difficult because of the long sea journey involved, and tourists need to take one of the cruise packages from Kochi to visit Minicoy.
Travelling to Lakshadweep
The information available on the web is sketchy, and the official Lakshadweep tourism website (www.lakshadweeptourism.com) is not much better. This badly laid out site will give you some idea of what to expect, however, and also contains a list of pre-planned tour packages. It also has a list of ‘authorized’ travel agents that might be able to help you book your trip. The one in Hyderabad never answered our emails, so I have no idea if the rest are any better.
One can schedule one’s own itinerary with the tourism department (or maybe with one of the authorized agents). We used the tourism department’s official (!) booking email ID: email@example.com. The response levels are typical of a government-run department, and they don’t really volunteer any information unless pushed and prodded. It’s best if you try and figure out your own itinerary and just send it to them to give you a cost estimate. Once you get a quotation from them, you will need to transfer the entire amount in advance before they send you your schedule confirmation and permits.
For tourists flying in, your plans will depend on whether you want to travel to islands north of Agatti, or to the south. There is no accommodation on Agatti itself.
Accommodation at Bangaram is limited to cottages that are priced at Rs. 15,000 per night. They are not air-conditioned, but have an air cooler or ‘desert’ cooler. The boat from Agatti takes 30 minutes and costs Rs. 2,000 per person, one way.
Accommodation in Kadmat ranges from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 11,000. However, Kadmat is two-and-a-half hours by boat from Agatti, with boats running there and back only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That means one needs to stay there a minimum of two nights (three if it’s over the weekend). The boat from Agatti costs Rs. 4,000 per person, one way.
Thinnakara offers tents on the beach, which are priced at Rs. 10,000 per night. The boat from Agatti takes around 45 minutes, and costs Rs. 2,500 per person, one way.
Getting to Kavaratti involves a two-and-a-half hour boat ride costing Rs. 4,000 per head, one way, again on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Accommodation is limited to air-conditioned ‘suite rooms’ priced at Rs. 9,000.
If you plan on visiting Kavaratti or Kadmat, it might be a good idea to get it done during the first part of your holiday, since visiting any of the other islands will involve getting back to Agatti first.
There is only a single small Air India flight each day, from Kochi to Agatti, and seats begin filling up months in advance. Because we initially planned to travel over the new year—the busiest time of the year there—we could not get tickets, despite trying two months in advance. It might be a good idea to book your tickets a few months in advance before planning your detailed itinerary.
While planning your itinerary, keep in mind that there are no flights out of Lakshadweep on Sundays. Also remember that boats between Agatti (the airport island) and Kavaratti or Kadmat ply only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If one of these islands is the first or last one you plan to visit, plan to fly in or out on one of these days. Boats to Thinnakara and Bangaram ply every day, so you can include them any time. Lastly, keep island position and boat journey time in mind: Kadmat and Kavaratti are two-and-a-half hours away from Agatti in opposite directions, so travelling from Kadmat to Kavaratti or vice versa will take a minimum of five hours.
Top tips for planning your travel to Lakshadweep
- Lakshadweep is expensive, and facilities are basic. If you are looking for a budget holiday or luxurious accommodation, you might be disappointed.
- Start planning at least three months in advance. It will take you time to figure out what you want to do, and the process of finalizing your schedule with the tourism department will be excruciatingly slow.
- Try and book your airplane tickets before planning the other details of your trip. Once you finally get your schedule done and paid for, tickets may not be available any more, and the tourism booking office will not warn you about this.
- Don’t expect quick response times or insightful information from the booking office. It’s faster to send them a preferred schedule yourself, rather than asking them to suggest something.
- All accommodation and travel in Lakshadweep is 10% more expensive in December. This can make costing confusing if your schedule overlaps with other months.
- Cross-check the schedule and quotation you get from the booking office. Sometimes, they make mistakes with dates and pricing.