By Sam Clark
One of the potential frustrations of visiting the Maldives is the necessity of choosing between staying in a luxurious resort or getting off the beaten track and seeing something of the local culture. Resorts tend either to be located on private islands or on parts of islands that have been entirely cut off from areas inhabited by the local population. In light of this, Gan Island and the Equator Village Hotel are something of a rarity in that they offer guests the opportunity to experience a bit of both.
Gan Island has recently become much more accessible due to a new international route to their tiny island airport. Sri Lankan Airlines, as part of their new focus on expanding regional routes, has become the first international airline to offer a Maldives destination beyond Male. Currently, there are 4 flights a week between Colombo and Gan.
Located in Addu Atoll, the most southerly point in The Maldives, Gan itself has a fascinating history. A British air and naval base in the Second World War and, later, the cold war, this tiny (but surprisingly big by Maldivian standards) stretch of palm fringed land has played a significant role both domestically and internationally for decades.
Flying directly to Gan removes the need to transit through Male and change to domestic flights, air-taxis or speedboats. Beyond getting rid of the transit hassle, flying directly to Gan also minimises the costs involved with getting anywhere this remote in The Maldives.
Addu Atoll is comprised of seven islands, four of which are joined by causeways which are passable on foot or by cycle or vehicle. This is a somewhat unique feature in The Maldives, and means a visitor to Gan is able to enjoy the secluded ‘private island’ experience on Gan itself, while being able to explore the inhabited islands of Feydoo, Maradoo and Hithadoo and get a taste or real Maldivian life.
The Equator Village is located 1km from the airport and will hold some considerable appeal to people looking to visit The Maldives who are not inclined towards high-end luxury resorts. Located on a former military base, the hotel is not luxurious by contemporary international standards but offers a fantastic variety of facilities in a truly spectacular location. Simple in design and layout, all bedrooms come with en-suite bathrooms, hot water showers, fridges, air-conditioning and a charming veranda.
If you book the hotel on All-Inclusive basis, a range of local excursions and activities are included free of charge in the price. The hotel two snorkelling trips per day on the hotel boat, visiting an array of coral reefs in the area, again free of charge for all-inclusive guests. There is a weekly island hopping boat trip as a well as a guided vehicle tour of Feydoo, Maradoo and Hithadoo islands. All guests are given bicycles to explore the other islands of Addu. Local islanders are welcoming and friendly and there are a handful of coffee shops (Maldivians consume staggering quantities of coffee) and eateries to stop off at. The harbour is also worth stopping off at; it’s interesting to see the complex logistics of making such a remote place function.
The hotel also had a jovial atmosphere, with staff ever friendly and a lot of interaction between hotel guests – this is not a place you come for total solitude, unlike many of the Maldivian luxury resort. If you are looking for luxury then it is worth noting that there are also two higher-end resorts close to Gan (the Shangri La on Vilingili Island and the Canareef Resort on Herathera sland), which the direct flights can also be used to make access more convenient and considerably less costly.
Spending days jumping in and out of the sea at the hotel, snorkelling with baby sharks, wandering around the shores of Gan and taking advantage of the excellent activity list at the Equator Village… the trip to this unique island and hotel now seems something of a dreamy memory. I certainly plan to return to this slice of isolated paradise and I hope the Equator Village can resist the urge to ‘upgrade’, as it currently stands totally alone in what it offers visitors to the Maldives.