Barefoot and boutique Jalakara hotel is a rustic rainforest retreat in India’s Andaman Islands. There are just seven rooms, each of which is completely different, a small spa and a lively pool scene. Its British owner liked it here in the middle of nowhere so much, he decided to stick around and share his patch of paradise. Those who voyage to Havelock Island (and it’s not a swift trip) are rewarded with a secluded jungle setting, views out to sea and a total digital detox – there’s no WiFi and fancy flatscreen TVs are replaced with projectors and DVDs rolled out on request.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm, also flexible if possible.
Double rooms from £176.58 (INR16,461), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include breakfast. There’s a three-night minimum… but you wouldn’t want to make the journey for fewer, anyway.
Anyone desperate for a digital detox should probably start it here: there’s no WiFi, and a boxset binge will require staff setting up a projector in your room and bringing along some DVDs for you to browse.
1 June to 30 September annually.
At the hotel
In rooms: air-conditioning, tea- and coffee-making facilities, free filtered water, kimonos to borrow and Ayca bath products. All suites have a fridge.
Our favourite rooms
The Garden Suite gets our vote mostly for its peaceful green space, but we also rate its antique Indian furniture, high ceilings and bracing indoor-outdoor bathroom. Families or honeymooners will enjoy the bold, breezy proportions of the Jalakara Villa, which has a pleasing amount of glossy teak, a hammock on the (teak) deck, an infinity-edged copper plunge pool and a super-king-size bed. Tall people should book into one of the double-height Sunset Suites.
There’s an outdoor pool on the main (rainforest-facing) terrace, which has a fancy French filtration system and a low chlorine level.
The spa offers traditional Indian head massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, Thai yoga massage, Ayurvedic rituals and facials. Private yoga lessons can be arranged on request.
Bring breathable fabrics, dehumidifying shampoo and insect repellent: this is the rainforest and it’s really hard to look good.
The hillside, step-covered set-up makes wheelchair access tricky.
All ages welcome, but the hotel is not especially suited to children due to the steep hillside setting (it’s not exactly prime pram-navigating territory). Babysitting and monitors can be arranged with plenty of notice (ie: when booking).
Food is locally sourced where possible, with local fishermen supplying the fresh fish; lobsters and prawns are caught to order. The hotel has its own fruit and herb garden. Cleaning products are all natural, as are the in-room bath products. Plastic use is discouraged.
At the edge of the terrace for prime island views.
Barefoot and bird motifs (to match the avian-themed ceiling display).
The hotel breakfast, served on the open-air dining terrace, gets off to a wholesome start with an in-season-fruit salad and a turmeric smoothie, followed by eggs, granola, pancakes, Andaman fishcakes or Welsh rarebit. The menu is designed by the hotel’s British chef-proprietor, with a focus on Andaman provenance (mostly: tropical produce and super-fresh seafood) and a few Thai touches. Expect dishes such as papaya and coconut curry, spiny lobster with hollandaise, and sugar-cured tiger prawns, with daily-changing seasonal suggestions.
The poolside bar has a resourceful mixologist who’s more than happy to muddle up whatever you fancy – though be warned that the selection is slightly limited to what’s currently available in the Andaman Islands. The wine and beer list is not as extensive as the hotel would like, so staff are happy for you to BYO if you’re after a fine vintage. Those on the wagon will love the list of freshly squeezed juices, coconut water and seasonal smoothies.
Breakfast is served between 7am and 9.45am. Lunch is between noon and 3pm. Dinner is from 6pm until 9.30pm. The bar is open from 11am to 11pm.
Jalakara is on Havelock Island within the Andaman archipelago in the Bay of Bengal.
The closest airport is Port Blair on South Andaman, two hours away from the hotel. Transfers can be arranged for 6,500 rupees for the lead passenger and an additional 5,000 rupees for each additional passenger. Daily direct flights land at Port Blair from various major cities across India, including Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. The last scheduled boats of the day leave Port Blair for Havelock at 2pm, so be sure to book a flight that lands before noon. On the return leg, book a flight back to the Indian mainland that departs after 2pm, otherwise you’ll need to book an overnight stay in Port Blair for the early start.
It’s advisable to make use of the hotel transfer service from Port Blair’s airport onwards to Havelock Island. A driver will meet you at the airport to whisk you to the jetty half an hour away, and provide ferry tickets for the 15-minute ride to Havelock. Private boat transfers can be arranged depending on availability.
If you’re not booking the transfer through the hotel, don’t leave it to the last minute – peak-time ferry tickets can be hard to get hold of.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel is within a short drive or cycle of the island’s best beaches. Impatient guests will be pleased to know that the closest patch of sand is a five-minute drive (or 25-minute) walk from the hotel. Other popular activities include snorkelling, scuba-diving, boat rides, night kayaking in the mangroves, deep-sea fishing and rainforest treks. The hotel can also arrange cooking classes. Head to Radhanagar Beach, a sweeping, white-sand shoreline that’s a 15-minute scenic spin through the rainforest away. It’s widely proclaimed as the best beach in Asia. Don’t miss a trip to the neighbouring village for a real taste of islander life in the Bay of Bengal.
For a casual beachside brunch, try Something Different on Govind Nagar Beach, which combines the best local flavours (tandoori chicken, momo dumplings) with international favourites (burgers, pizzas).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in India and unpacked their sarongs and saris, a full account of their break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Jalakara in the Andaman Islands…
It takes an epic journey to reach Jalakara: a probably lengthy flight to mainland India, an onwards voyage by air to Port Blair, a ferry transfer to Havelock Island, a trip into the landmass’s interior and a drive up a steep rainforest-flanked slope. But boy, is the secluded romance worth the slog. Jungle-surrounded Jalakara is a modern mix of concrete, wood and hand-thrown tiles, with just a handful of rooms. The British owner is a chef and it shows in the inventive food and drink offering; even though fine wines are hard to come by in these remote, rainforested parts the creative barman will mix up crowd-pleasing cocktails. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are in the Bay of Bengal – and the hotel has sea views whenever there’s a break in the jungle canopy. It’s so cut-off, there’s not even any WiFi. Robinson Crusoe would be proud