I was at this island for almost 3 weeks (spent 4 days island hopping out of the 15). This island is not as ‘nice’ as Guam in appearance but it does offer a lot of snorkeling & scuba opportunities. (Location: Saipan)
It’s part of the country the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, which is protected by the US, so US citizens can travel here (flying though Japan) without complications, Canadians too, requiring only their passport.
The Language is English, Currency is USA dollars.
— Where to Stay —
In the city of Garpan and along the western coast are some pretty large and substantial hotels. We were house-sitting for one of the ex-patriots while they visited their families at home, so I can’t say much about the room but the hotels do look 4-5 star.
Note: In Tinian (island 1/2 hour to the south by ferry), we stayed in a hotel and another in Guam while Island hopping, both were clean with hard beds (it’s an Asian thing I’m told).
— Food —
Similar to what you can find in Can/USA but you have to look hard for it (there is a McDonalds). Food is more expensive on the island than at home because it all has to be shipped in.
Thursday Nights the main street of Garapan has a every reputable restaurant on the street selling complete meals for $5-7 dollars (oh yeah, this island is a US protected so they use US dollars).
Sunday or Saturday Morning on one of the more southern hotels (north of Kikili beach) has a open to the public all-you-can-eat brunch which is excellent, and not that expensive. I mention it because it was really, really good.
There are plenty of Japanese and Korean restaurants on the Eastern side of the island which caters to the tourists (who are mainly Korean & Japanese).
— Getting Around —
I’d suggest renting a scouter or car (we already had use of one) and drive around. Its just like the US or Canada, roads are good in most places and all the major snorkeling beaches have guards who watch the cars (except Kilkili which is open to the main street).
— Culture —
Around the island are many Japanese Shrines (WWII they occupied this island and lost it to the Americans). At the northern most point of the island is suicide cliff where they and their families jumped off instead of being captured. There are many old relics from the war around including in and out of the water.
At the north part of Garapan there is a museum which tells of the island (most WWII stuff).
There is also a statue at the top of the island and other things hidden around to look at.
On the west side of the island is less because it is far away from Garapan (tourist center) but if you have a car or tour that goes by its worth a look. (Note the houses which have at least one poorly constructed wall – that is so the owners can claim money when a storm passes though and ruins that wall… clever locals.)
— Shopping —
There are a few malls targeted towards tourists which expensive items with little tax etc. However I’d suggest taking a island hop to Guam where there is more selection. This is not a shopper’s paradise.
You can shop for your own food, which is good.
— Snorkeling —
On the east side of the island is covered with beaches, they are wonderful and generally deserted (for some reason all the tourists stay at the hotel and only take out bus tours.) They are missing wonders.
Water temperature is good, I was there during the rainy season (where it rained once) so all good.
I’d suggest you bring your own snorkel/scuba gear, there are shops where you can buy stuff, but is more pricey there. Also bring some good water shoes to walk back to your car with, trust me – its a wee bit rugged in a few places.
Note: Tides – I’m giving an estimate of the water depth based on when I was there which was generally estimated for low-tides.
Note: Where one would expect a rope to pull yourself back up the trench or coral edge back to the beach for snorkeling they are there and in good condition. This island has a lot of ex-pats and locals, tourists, who snorkel and scuba so ropes are well kept up.
Kilkili Beach (East) – About 10-15ft deep before “the drop” which is about 1/2km out. The ocean bottom is covered in some seaweed and sea cucumbers.
What makes this beach worth the visit (versus all the other wonderful coral attractions around the island) is that there are a few sunken tanks from WWII out in the middle of the water.
Pau Pau Beach (West) – Coral Beach, you swim over 5-6ft deep coral out about 20 yards and then it drops off to around 20ft and you can swim along the cracks. Lots of Fish & Corals were found off this beach, more than anywhere else on the island.
Grotto (North West) – This is basically a big hole carved out of the island by the ocean. It has stairs going down about 20 m to the water and once in the water (which can be tricky and needs to be times right) your swimming in about 30 ft.
About 20ft below the surface of the water is the exit to the ocean where you can swim along the edge of the island. This is a fun place to go and dive off the edge of the grotto into the big pool or for scuba divers. Snorkelers will find it more boring but its still worth a look.
Also at the grotto you have the opportunity to jump from various ledges into the water below.
Managaha Island – This island is just off the coast of Garapan and you will need to take a boat out to the island. You can get one at the hotels in Garapan and they cost $20 and they will pick you up at the end of the day. Its basically a 400m square island which is perfect for tourists (and this is where you will find them). Its white sand beaches and shallow waters (10-15ft if you go far enough) are full of fish and there is coral surround the opposite side of the island. Bring some drinks and lunch with you and plenty of sunblock and you will have a wonderful day.
As this is tourist oriented island, they do have a scuba trip where you go in the water to look at fish, I’d suggest avoiding that and snorkel/swim out, its not that deep off the island and other than sitting underwater your not going to see anything different than if your snorkeling 6 feet higher.
— Tanapag Beach –
Not sure if that is the name, but its the name of the city and the road you need to get there, so…
Its similar to Kilkili but more rocks and fish than sand and sunken tanks.
— Obyan Beach —
The beach is on the south edge of the island behind the airport. Its more traditional beach where scuba is very popular. These pictures where shot by my uncle while scuba diving.
You have a chance to see remora eels and sharks here, which can be good but for more serious and expert scuba divers.
Note: “The drop” around this island is along the Mariana Trench which is the deepest part of the ocean. About 1/2 kilometer off the island it basically drops to the trench.