With its modest surroundings and slow living, the island of Gan is something of an anomaly among the numerous lavish over-water bungalows built solely for the luxury travel market. Here, Gannites (residents of Gan) lounge in plastic chairs along the sandy shoreline, and the air is filled with the sweet scent of coconut from local stalls selling the milky-white fermented coconut liquor.
This sleepy island is one of the only permanently inhabited parts of the country and is also a great jumping off spot to Addu, the most southerly island in Addu Atoll that was declared a nature park by the Maldivian authorities in June this year. This major initiative aims to combat the effects of climate change and bring tourists closer to nature in a sustainable way.
There are no petrol-powered boats or cruise terminals here. Instead, marked hiking trails and converted buildings ensure minimal environmental impact. Visitors can trek into the rainforests, cycle through the wetlands and dive into the reef.
Meanwhile, back on Gan, you’ll find a quiet town largely made up of buildings left over from its time as a British Royal Navy base. According to one local coffee stall owner, tourism has always been secondary for Gannites. They chose to reuse existing buildings because they were efficient and cheap to maintain, so why change what had worked for decades. This mindset, he proudly proclaims, is why Gan will never become a closed-off resort for the wealthy.
Instead, visitors can enjoy a more authentic Anglo-Maldivian experience at the homely Equator Village Resort, housed in the former military barracks, complete with tin roofs and white-washed walls. The former NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) store still has a distinctive military appearance and continues to be the main convenience shop in Gan, while locals are currently refurbishing the former Astra Cinema.
It’s all a far cry from the typical over-the-top hotels to be found elsewhere in the Maldives, but the result is an island that offers its own, very distinctive homespun charms.
Where to stay on Gan
For the honeymooner
Shangri-la’s Villingili Resort & Spa – This ultra-luxurious resort on Villingili Island is just a short boat ride away from Gan harbour, and is the ultimate escape for newlyweds looking for privacy while exploring the history and culture of Gan.
For the family
Equator Village Resort – This re-purposed British naval housing block is now a family-friendly resort fringed by powdery beaches and swaying palms, and offers the unique experience of relaxing on a former military base.
For the backpacker
Fehi Inn – This simple and clean B&B is surrounded by the beautiful shoreline. For those who want to cycle around the four interconnected islands, the staff can arrange bicycle rental.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of Silkwinds magazine.