Have you ever noticed the tiny curved dots on the map paralleling west of the Marianas Trench? The Mariana Islands are a hidden treasure yet to be discovered. Not only are they the newest US destination, but they are also difficult to locate in the unique travel listings for the US. The Marianas archipelago is located south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, away from the popular tourist routes. Japanese, Korean, and Russian tourists have discovered the island chain decades ago and love it. Most of the western travelers, however, have never heard about these tropical isles.
The Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) is an island nation occupying the archipelago. The CNMI appeared in the news in 2009, as the US federal government announced the federalization of labor and immigration. Since November 28, 2009, tourists have the same access to the inhabited islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota (STaR) as they would when they enter the US. A temporary exemption was offered solely to Russian and Chinese travelers, as they may visit for a maximum 45 days without a US visa.
A quick search online describes Saipan, Tinian, and Rota as a tropical paradise offering the relaxing shores of magnificent beaches and crystal clear blue waters, as well as the lively bustle of night life, shopping, a wide range of ethnic restaurants, and a multitude of outdoor activities. The islands highlight many cultural and historical attractions, recreational activities, world-class golf courses, luxury hotels, homey island inns, restaurants, shopping centers, and spectacular scenery ranging from colorful underwater reef life to lush, bird-filled tropical jungles.
However, this is only a part of what the islands offer that create loyal repeaters and visitors who sometimes become lifetime residents.
There are hundreds of leisure destinations, ranging from simple to luxurious. However, few allow the visitor to be “at home” and to relax to enrich the soul. This state of relaxation can be experienced on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, where the unhurried, friendly lifestyle and warm, island hospitality magically touches travelers. After a day or two, stress from work and the rigors of daily life are released and the only worry that remains is to be present for one of the unforgettable Micronesian sunsets. The unique island spirit spreads tropical warmth into the heart.
A unique culture, rich history and beautiful nature are the other three keys to the islands’ discovery. The Mariana Islands are home to ancient mysteries and legends, sunken Spanish galleons with treasures still at the bottom of the sea, and heroic battles fought during WWII.
Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are known for their natural splendor and largely, undisturbed natural ecosystems. Ecotourism and nature adventures can be arranged with hotels and tour companies, and visitors can also enjoy many parks and hiking trails.
Home to two indigenous people, the Chamorros and Carolinians, these islands have found a way to preserve, as well as celebrate, their heritage. Visitors to the Mariana Islands will find many delightful opportunities to immerse themselves in this rich cultural experience. Each year, a variety of festivals celebrate Chamorro and Carolinian cultural traditions with song, dance, local crafts, and food. Visitors may sample local delicacies like the apigigi, a local dessert made with coconut and wrapped in banana leaves, at the weekly Garapan Street Market. This lively market in downtown Saipan is also famous for its local arts and crafts.
Northern Saipan is abundant in natural magnificence and WWII historical landmarks. Rota’s Bird Island Sanctuary is a must-see with its breathtaking view of a secluded emerald bay. The Japanese Last Command Post brings honor to those who perished in WWII, as the original tanks, cannons, war relics, and natural limestone cave fortresses remain intact.
On Saipan, visitors can enjoy panoramic views from high atop Suicide Cliff and sheer sea cliffs at Banzai Cliff. A super thrill for advanced scuba divers is one of the best underwater caves in the world, the Grotto, a huge limestone cavern connected to the open ocean by underwater passages. A trip to Saipan would not be complete without a visit to the pristine Managaha Island, easily accessible for day trips by speed boats. To view the entirety of Saipan, visitors drive up and climb the steps of Mount Tapochau, 473 meters high.
Tinian is only 4 km away from Saipan. A day trip to this island will offer unique memories and complement the experience gained in Saipan. The first surprise awaits the visitor near the Tinian Harbor. Gigantic (twice the size of humans), hand-carved limestone columns called latte stones are part of the House of Taga, home of Tinian’s legendary Chief Taga. The latte stones are one of the unsolved mysteries of the Marianas, artifacts left behind from thousands of years ago. History buffs will be amazed to discover another layer of WWII’s history nearby. The northern end of the island is home to the Atomic Bomb Pits and specifically to the Enola Gay, which was the first to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a weapon of war on August 6, 1945.
The beautiful island of Rota possesses a unique character and charm that wins over just about everyone that visits. The island offers the perfect balance between untouched ecosystems and a peaceful lifestyle, which resonates among the local residents. This is an island without street lights and traffic jams, where the soul flies together with the thousands of seabirds at the Sagua’gaga Seabird Sanctuary. The mind gets lost in the myriad of bright tropical fish inhabiting the colorful live coral reef at the Coral Garden sanctuary. The body momentarily loses the sense of time and space in the warm sea water by Teteto’s pristine beach. A must-see is the fascinating private collection of artifacts at the Marianas Trench Cave Museum, located inside a giant limestone cavern over 12 million years old, and the Taga Stone Quarry, a place where the brain is challenged to discover how the ancient Chamorros carved giant latte stones out of the limestone rock.
Nature-loving photographers will be addicted to the refreshing cool, clear water of Rota’s famous Swimming Hole and to the Tweksberry Park with its perfectly lined rows of coconut palms. Only here, on Rota, can a tourist see a colony of wild flying foxes (fruit bats), giant coconut crabs climbing palm trees, and tropical deer running in the jungles.
Grab a map and discover the enchantment of the Marianas!