When it comes to tropical Indian Ocean paradises, you can’t get much better than the Maldives or Andaman & Nicobar. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the choice between Andaman or the Maldives for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their remoteness, these islands are vastly different. Having spent time in both, we compare them below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to check out.
Maldives vs Andaman & Nicobar: Which is the better destination?
For beach lovers, you will find spectacular beaches and turquoise swimming waters in both the Maldives and Andaman & Nicobar – we tell you some of our favorites further on in this article. However the Maldives, as a nation made up of 1000+ different islands and cays, probably just shades it when it comes to world-class beaches and perfect swimming water.
However many islands in the Maldives are privately owned by a resort complex, and so activities on the island revolve around the resort and what it offers. That also means that many of the beaches in the Maldives are not public.
That’s not the case in Andaman & Nicobar where the beaches are public. So you have the right to sunbathe and swim on them all. Therefore these islands tend to give you a more local experience where you can explore the country, eat local food, go for picnics on the beach, and interact within the community.
It’s also possible to island hop around Andaman & Nicobar, exploring each island’s unique qualities, as well as the stunning forests and landscape that exists throughout the Indian archipelago. In contrast, island hopping the Maldives is a very different experience as the islands are mostly owned by private resorts and therefore access can be limited.
The landscape from island to island in the Maldives is also very similar, which is probably summed up best by the fact that the highest point throughout this nation is just 2.4 meters! In comparison, the highest point in Andaman & Nicobar is 731 meters!
There are also several different types of accommodation options in Andaman & Nicobar – from guest houses through to five-star hotels. That makes the Indian archipelago a far more affordable destination than the Maldives, which is focused on high-end resorts and is very expensive. Although as it specializes in this, the resorts tend to be exceptionally well run with great service.
In our opinion, the Maldives is very much a beach-focused holiday with few excursion options. Although it also has some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving spots, so expect a lot of underwater fun in the Maldives too. It’s the perfect place if you want a vacation that revolves around the beach and resorts.
Andaman & Nicobar, in contrast, is an interesting island in terms of culture, and there’s many hiking opportunities and excursions to do away from resorts. We outline some of our favourites later. Which makes it the perfect vacation for those looking for sun, sea, and sand, but also a bit of adventure.
Below we look at some of our favorite places in both destinations, before comparing the culture in each. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
Maldives or Andaman & Nicobar: Stunning Indian Ocean paradises
Ever seen pictures of crystal clear turquoise water, with those stunning wooden hotel huts sitting over it? That’s what you should expect throughout the Maldives, a country that specializes in up-scale resorts and honeymoon vacations.
Some of the world’s best beaches happen to be in this nation too. One of our favorites is the powder white coastline at Lhaviyani Atoll where the palm tree lined beaches look like a computer screensaver. We’ve found that the west side of the atoll has wider beaches and softer sand, so is perfect for a day’s sunbathing.
As many of the islands are privately owned by resorts, you may be limited as to where you can go on each island in the Maldives. That’s not an issue in Andaman & Nicobar though.
However what this means is that if you’re staying at a Maldives resort you are pretty much guaranteed to have a spectacular beach, and a coral reef for snorkeling, right beside your room. When it comes to high-end beach vacations, this country really does excel.
It also excels when it comes to snorkeling, with a spectacular colorful underwater life that can be seen easily thanks to the gin-clear water. However most snorkeling is done with a resort, due to the privately owned nature of many islands in the Maldives.
One of the best snorkeling spots is Manta Point, which is home to Manta Rays! Also known as Emas Thila, this is probably one of the best places in the world to swim alongside these gentle giants, just make sure you take a great underwater camera with you – like this one.
For a burst of color, Banana Reef is another great spot to snorkel and dive. Here you’ll see rays, sharks, and many different types of reef fish including Royal Blue Tangs. You might not have heard that name before, but you will recognize the fish if you’ve seen ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Dory’ was a Blue Tang!
Andaman & Nicobar
The Andaman & Nicobar islands are breathtakingly beautiful, with white sand beaches giving way to a rainforest-clad interior, and colorful culture-packed towns.
Swaraj Dweep island has some of the best beaches, and won’t disappoint sun-seekers. Head to Kala Pathar beach for unbelievable turquoise hues, and a secluded coastline that feels like a deserted island. A trip to Radhanagar for the sunrise or sunset is a must too – this coconut-tree lined beach has picture-perfect sunsets, and calm, clear, warm water for swimming.
Our favourite spot for snorkeling, and one of the best in the Andamans, is Neill Island. This gorgeous coral-reef ringed island is small – you can walk around it in two hours – but packs a real punch. Teeming with colorful tropical fish thanks to the protected coral reefs, this is also one of the best places in the Indian Ocean to swim with turtles.
Close to Neill Island is Rose Island , a tiny uninhabited island that has some of the clearest waters throughout the archipelago. It also has some old remnants of an abandoned British penal colony that will excite history buffs!
For something a little more adventurous take a boat ride to see Barren Island which has the only active volcano in South Asia. This forest-clad island is also full of wild goats!
Another boat trip worth doing is one to the uninhabited Guitar Island. Amazingly, this island really does resemble a guitar from above, but it has more to offer than just that, with stunning beaches and lush green mangroves.
If you’re craving more greenery, then a trip to Saddle Peak – the highest point in Andaman & Nicobar – is a must. There are numerous trekking opportunities in and around the mountain, and as a wildlife reserve you will get to hear the sounds, and see the sights, of nature as you hike!
Maldives or Andaman & Nicobar: Experience paradise and island life
As the Maldives is more focused on resort-based holidays, interaction with the local community and culture tends to be limited. That’s unless you make a trip away from the private island resorts, and into the population centers.
Hotels and guest houses in Andaman & Nicobar are far more integrated into the community, so a vacation here will have more of a ‘local’ feel than tourist-orientated Maldives. That also opens up opportunities for excursions away from the hotel, as well as the opportunity to try street food – which is cheap!
As a majority Muslim country, the Maldives is a conservative nation, although within resort complexes you are free to act as you would in any liberal Western country. However if you plan to make any excursions into population centers – like the capital Malé or public beaches – then be sure to dress conservatively, and avoid things such as alcohol.
The culture in the Maldives is vibrant, interesting, and definitely worth discovering though.
Bodu Beru is a traditional rhythmic dance performed by upwards of 15-20 people, and was introduced to the Maldives around 1000 years ago. It’s been a tradition here ever since, and many resorts have cultural nights where dancers perform.
If venturing into Malé, a visit to the Maldives National Museum is a must. Not only does it give an insight into the history of this nation, but it also has a great collection of historical artifacts from the region, some several centuries old.
Andaman & Nicobar
The archipelago has become famous in recent decades due to an island that nobody visits due to fear of death – South Sentinel island! It’s home to an indigenous tribe that fiercely defends its territory, and has killed intruders in the past. You can learn more about the Sentinelese people, as well as other tribes and cultures that have inhabited these islands, at the Zonal Anthropological Museum in the capital of Port Blair.
Port Blair itself is worth visiting as it’s home to remnants of the British Empire, such as the Cellular Jail. The jail was used by the colonialists to house Indian independence activists.
Asia’s largest and oldest saw mill can still be visited to this day in Port Blair. The 19th century Chatham Saw Mill has exhibits, and is also a great place to pick up souvenirs made on the islands.
A trip to Sagarika Emporium will also give you the opportunity to see and purchase handicrafts from locals. Expect items made from materials found on the islands like pretty seashells, wood, and jute.
Maldives or Andaman & Nicobar: A taste of the tropics
Both island destinations have delicious seafood, and will provide a unique treat for your tastebuds.
Considering the first settlers to the Maldives came from India and Sri Lanka, the food here has an Indian twist.
Curry is therefore one of the most popular dishes. We recommend trying Mas Riha. Made with freshly caught tuna, coconut, and a good number of chilies, this is a truly unique and delicious Maldivian dish.
Seafood is also popular and traditional dishes include Garudhiya (a type of fish soup) and Kulhi boakiba, which is a fish cake made from smoked tuna, coconut, ginger and rice.
As for what to drink, resorts in the Maldives have countless number of cocktails to try. However the coconut water in the Maldives is delicious and refreshing – especially when drunk direct with a straw.
Andaman & Nicobar
Food in Andaman & Nicobar has a tropical island feel to it, but coupled with Indian influences.
Seafood is a huge component of cuisine on the islands, and in particular cuttle fish, crabs, lobsters, and prawns can be found in dishes up and down the archipelago.
Expect seafood to be paired with rice – which is locally grown on the islands! Coconut Prawn Curry, and Fish Curry, are two of our favourites.
Barbecuing is also popular in Andaman & Nicobar, and is done when enjoying a day on the beach as well as when trekking! Grilled lobster and crab are two popular dishes to expect.
The Maldives or Andaman & Nicobar: Which should you choose?
Both the Maldives and Andaman & Nicobar will provide an unforgettable experience, but also very different holidays.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort holiday where you’re guaranteed great beaches and world-class snorkeling, then the Maldives may suit you better than Andaman & Nicobar. Resorts are what this country excels in, however the prices are expensive, and excursions can be limited.
Andaman & Nicobar, on the other hand, will provide a vacation with great beaches and swimming waters, but also other excursion possibilities. Tourists and locals intermingle throughout the island, so an Andaman & Nicobar holiday will be more of a cultural and local experience than one in the Maldives. Accommodation and food options in Andaman & Nicobar are cheaper than the Maldives too.