I had always daydreamed about watching the sunset on an island where palm trees cast slender shadows along a stretch of bone-white beaches with luminous blue waters… well you get the picture. A recent trip to Gan Island in the Maldives brought that fantasy alive.
Maldives means ‘garland of islands’ in Sanskrit and you only need to peep from your aircraft window to see why. Sprinkled 15,000 feet below are dozens of azure coral specks with names that sound like something one might say while tickling a baby: Dhiddhoo, Kudadhoo, Funadhoo, Nilandhoo, Goidhoo… I am on board the first international flight from Colombo to Gan Island in the Maldives. Prior to the Srilankan airlines flight one had to take a rickety seaplane from Male to reach Gan.
There’s a whiff of history in the frangipani-scented air at Gan. During World War II, Gan island was used by the British military as a naval base due to its strategic location. From 1941 to 1976, Gan served as a strategic outpost for the British Navy and later the Royal Air Force. Much of the military infrastructure remains intact, including the runway. Reminders of the British influence can still be seen today in the landscaping and in the style of buildings.
A short 20 minutes exhilarating speed boat ride lands me at Canareef Resort where a sunset villa bang on the beach with spacious four-poster bed and a private Jacuzzi awaits. Before diving into a leisurely seafood lunch, I wander out to claim my own scoop of beach on this talcum-shored island, stretch out in my hammock and listen to the surf. This is good life. The beach is scattered with Adirondack chairs, perfect for greeting the morning sun or the evening sunset. Fortunately, there are no snoozing sunbathers as I trek down to the water. If you are a stickler for solitude, Gan would be hard to beat. The island claims a population of only 30,000 which means the chances of finding another set of footprints on the beach are quite rare.
Things to do at Gan island
Watch the dance of the dolphins
Maldives is home to several species of dolphins, including Spinners, Bottle-Nosed dolphins and pilot whales. One way to enjoy the island is to go in search of these wild yet extremely friendly dolphins around the island while watching the sunset. I was amazed to watch them jump and race with our speedboat almost as if performing for us while frolicking in the ocean.
Discover the jewels of the ocean
Many a ship has met a watery grave on the shallow reefs of Maldives. This has led to some spectacular wrecks on the ocean floor of this tropical diving paradise. One such enthralling dive site is the British Loyalty Shipwreck that came to rest in 1946. Built in 1928, this 5.583 ton oil tanker was torpedoed twice during the Second World War. It was left in Addu Atoll after the British withdrew from the Gan Island. It’s fascinating to witness how marine ecosystems adapt to and takeover these sunken rusty relics of human civilization. Coral reefs growing over the hulls of wrecked ships, create a magical home for local marine flora and fauna. Living symbiotically among the coral are parrot fish, clownfish, wrasse, angelfish, triggerfish and turtles.
Grab rod and reel for some fishing
A fishing trip on a modern speedboat is a great experience for any wannabe Hemingway. Head out during the day for tuna and sailfish, or go at night to catch grouper, snapper, squirrelfish or barracuda. Live bait in the form of trigger fish, sprats and mackerel are scooped out from a large tank beneath the boat and hooked on the line and dropped over the side. Round off the trip by barbecuing the day’s catch. Sadly I caught none.
Learn how to windsurf
If you are up for some adrenaline ride the winds and negotiate strong waves at Gan. It is a great feeling to glide across the water – even better if you could do this for hours on end. It is just you, your board, the ocean, and the wind on your face. The season for surf lasts from March-October.
Watch the sun sink on a boat cruise
A sunset boat cruise aboard a dhoni, the wooden boat that is the Maldives’ standard mode of transport, is a blissful way to end the day. You can cruise around uninhabited islands, where you’ll be served drinks and snacks while local musicians play their traditional bodu beru drums to attract dolphins.
Witness life under the waves
For years I heard and read about scuba diving – the thrill of seeing colorful fish, the peacefulness of being in the water and so on. The wet-suite, flippers, swimming goggles, inflatable jacket, oxygen tank… diving is a bit challenging but definitely stunning. Even as seawater fills my throat and fog clogs my mask I am thrilled with the scenery and the opportunity to swim with groupers and turtles.
Note: The key is to keep your breathing nice and steady, and use calm, controlled movements. And be conscious not to touch, knock or stand on any coral – it took thousands of years to look as beautiful as it does!
When you have had your fill of the sea and its treasures head out to see some World War 2 relics near the beach area. You can cycle to the next island of Meedhoo to catch the oldest cemetery in the country, Koagannu. It was built about 900 years ago for the burial of the island’s first Muslims, and it was here that many of the ancient rulers of the islands are buried. The perfectly preserved low-rise, pale-blue buildings are where British soldiers were housed. Astra, a gorgeous Art Deco cinema that still shows films is a must visit.
Getting there: Gan island is just a hour and twenty minutes flight from Colombo. SriLankan Airlines operates four flights per week to Gan International Airport.
Where to stay: Canareef Resort is at a short 20-minute speedboat ride from Gan International Airport. Choose the sunset villa which comes with great ocean views, Jacuzzi and an open to the sky bathroom. Call: +960 689-6677.
Best time to visit: January to April is the nicest time with average temperatures of 28 degrees. July to October is the wet season with slight showers but still pleasant.