So, Saipan – we heard there wasn’t much to see on your small island and our expectations were low after reading a number of negative reviews online.
Sure there is poker in nearly every laundromat, an inordinate number of empty buildings, some falling into disrepair, an underlying problem with a gambling addiction, hence several 24-hour pawn shops – and nearly every market displaying permanent signs indicating “we accept food stamps” with some even displaying this offering in big bold neon letters.
But look deeper – the people we spoke with who came from overseas and now live on Saipan like the peace and quiet the island offers and the year round temperate climate (yes, Saipan is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most moderate average temperature year round – 81 degrees). For a small island, Saipan has a surprisingly number of outdoor attractions. And since Saipan is such a small island nearly everything is just a short drive away.
You can reach Saipan directly on a nonstop flight from several cities in South Korea, Japan and China as well as from Guam. Some airlines that fly here include Asiana, Delta and United. The airport is small and easy to navigate. Note that gates often close early, and if all checked in passengers are in the terminal, flights often leave before their scheduled departure.
Car Rental – you will find a variety of car rental options in the small building directly across from where you exit the airport. These car rental companies are open at all hours of the day or night – always during the time of arriving or departing flights. Most rental companies located here are the usual suspects – but we found one local company called Islander Rental a Car with reasonable rates. Visit: www.islanderrentacar.com
Aqua Resort – This gem of a resort is often ranked the best or near the top of all hotels/resorts on the island. It is located in the peaceful northern part of the island – minutes from the center of town (Garapan) as well as from some of the most prominent World War II sites on the island. The rooms are spacious, clean and each comes with a balcony either overlooking the pool or ocean. Two pools meet in the middle of a swim up bar. The beach and coral reef lies directly off shore – and during low tide one can easily walk nearly all the way to the breaking waves on the edge of the reef. Nice grounds, cafe, and restaurant. This boutique resort is where you come to relax, read a good book and do “a lot of nothing”. It is clearly more than several steps above some of the other resorts/hotels we visited. Visit: www.aquaresortsaipan.com
Sights & Activities
Bansai & Suicide Cliffs are both located on the northern part of the island. Visually these picturesque cliffs do not reveal the pain that occurred here some nearly 70 years ago. The memorials lining their edges do. Just looking down at the sheer drop and rocky outcrops below is enough to make one step back quickly. Hundreds of both Japanese troops and civilians jumped to their death here expecting capture and then torture by the Americans who had taken over the island after fierce battles.
Other nearby world World War II history includes relics of machine guns, tanks, a war cemetery, a bunker and several peace parks.
Bird Island is a very small rocky island off the north shore of Saipan. There is a large lookout area next to the road that can be very popular with tourists especially when the tour vans and or buses stop here. The views are beautiful – but for a more in depth visit – consider hiking to the shore near the island on the small trail that winds its way from the road through the jungle vegetation.
The Grotto is well worth visiting. It is a semi covered swim and dive spot connected to the ocean by several tunnels. It is very deep here and the surge is extremely dangerous ripping in and out quickly over the sharp coral. Access is either by jumping off a ledge (which you reach by timing your passage across where the surf rips through) or by following a rope into the water. Stay in the middle of the lagoon and don’t go near the dangerous edges. There is a cool ledge that sits slightly underwater in the semi darkness of one tunnel. Some free divers will swim the entire length of the tunnel – but with the surge, the depth and the coral all around – you need a lot of experience before you attempt something like this!
Managaha Island is merely minutes off shore – and the quickest way to get here is by walking on the beach in front of the Fiesta Hotel until a boatman flags you down. Or you can book a trip through any of a number of hotels in the city of Garapan. Note that tourists rates are slightly higher than rates for locals.
This small island has a number of what are arguably Saipan’s best beaches overlooking the coral reefs – but most people head for the well trodden (and dead) coral confines of the roped off swimming area which in a sense is a good thing considering the numbers of visitors that arrive here each day. Several snack shops are on the island, kayak rentals, scuba and snorkeling gear. Some people come over for the day and make use of the picnic facilities.
How many small islands have a wine namesake? Managaha Island wine is produced from California grown grapes and is available at Saipan’s airport.
Mount Tapochau is the tallest mountain on the island – at 475 meters. From the top you have 360 degree views of the entire island and bonus views of the two nearby islands, Tinian and Rota. This mountain played a prominent role in securing the island during World War II. Aside from the airstrip, this was the most valuable piece of real estate on the island during the war. The top of this mountain was important in the war effort as from the summit you can see nearly the entire island.
Massage – there are a number of shady looking massage businesses in the town of Garapan so you have to look carefully to find a decent one. After getting a recommendation we visited Sawatdee Thai Massage. The therapists are from Thailand; our massages were surprisingly good considering the fact that much of the authenticity that Thailand is known for is lost in translation in different countries (food, massage etc). We’ve had good massages in Bangkok that still were not as good as here. Phone: 233-8424 or email: email@example.com
Submarine Tour – just like the song by the Beatles, Saipan has its own “yellow submarine”. The Deepstar Submarine takes passengers near Managaha Island on tours of the coral beds, marine life and World War II artifacts including airplane and shipwreck sites. Visit: www.saipansubmarine.com
In order to see and experience the main attractions on Saipan you need three full days. For additional relaxation allow longer! The go to guides for exploring and researching Saipan are www.exploresaipan.com and www.mymarianas.com/
View more of our photos on our Saipan Photo gallery here