Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Trip to Saipan Island

I find it hard to believe, but of all the 200+ posts I have done on Peyt's Island in the almost two years since I started it, the most popular post is the one I wrote about our trip to Saipan in October 2010. On a weekly basis, the stats indicate that most people make it to Peyt's Island by Googling "Saipan," "Saipan island," "Saipan pictures," or something like that. So it dawned on me that there must be enough people out there looking for info that perhaps a more informative write-up is in order.

For anyone reading this from Guam who has heard that Saipan is "just like Guam," I highly suggest you go and find out for yourself. While, sure, there are many similarities since these islands are a mere 100 miles apart, I promise you there are enough differences where you will feel like you escaped.

Getting to Saipan is an easy nonstop flight from Guam, Tokyo, Seoul, and major cities in China.  In fact, from Guam it is only a 35-minute flight, which feels like a blink compared to the 8 and 14-hour hauls heading stateside! And in fact, you can even fly in and out at normal times, no 4a.m. alarm needed. (Some of the parents remarked that it was weird being at Guam's airport while the sun was up and even felt like we were doing something wrong... so true!).

If you can, sit on the left side of the plane (coming from Guam) so you can see the island of Tinian on your way to Saipan. This is where the atomic bombs took off in the Enola Gay to bomb Hiroshima in WWII. On our way in I also captured the island's lovely golf course, sprinkled with beautiful red flame trees like the rest of the island is this time of year (June).
From the airport, pick up a rental car. USAA members will want to go through their website to get the member discount at Hertz. At $40/day, I found it was the least expensive rate on island. The rental office is on-site and a quick five minutes of paperwork will have you on your way.
Our rental car parade... already you can see how much tidier the roads and jungles are than Guam (less trash and not so overgrown... and surprisingly great roads!).

View from Aquarius Tower
Both times I have gone to Saipan, I have stayed in the Aquarius Towers. This simple but fantastic property is only 10 minutes from the airport, is extremely reasonably priced (call for military rates!), has a beautiful beach with views of Tinian on site, and a wonderfully helpful staff. They have a courtesy shuttle to and from the airport in case you choose not to rent a car. Best of all, this place has two bedroom/two bathroom and three-bedroom/two bathroom condos, so it's perfect for hosting a larger group or for a family with kids. It has a large living room area and a kitchen (bigger than the one in our house!) stocked with basic supplies. We chose to stay here so our group could save money on meals by eating in (there is a grocery store right next door). The ocean behind it has soft white sand, shady trees, and vacation blue/green water!

Once you are settled there are a number of places to start. In order to tour the island properly, I recommend you start by visiting the American Memorial Park Visitors Center in Garapan. It's really easy to find (check out your map from the rental car company), and they will show you a 20-minute video (upon request) for more background on the war. Take a few minutes to walk through the exhibit for more photos and information. The Visitors Center is open M-Sat., 10-6, and Sunday until 5p.

Once you have a better idea of all that crazy history, head north up the coast. Stop and check out the Last Command Post, off the main road on the right. There are bunkers and tanks to explore and photograph.

Drive up the hill and head to the east side of the island for a gorgeous view of Bird Rock, one of Saipan's signature viewpoints.
Continue up the steep hill until you reach the top of the Suicide Cliffs. This was yet another view that looked different to me. Guam's jungles are scattered with clumps of palm tree forests, but Saipan has a completely different look to it. The significance of this place in history combined with the serenity of the nature surrounding it make it a very memorable stop in the Pacific.
Amazing how much of the small island has no trace of human impact.

 We lucked out going while the flame trees were in bloom.

All of us Guammies were captivated by the sweet songs of the birds who once inhabited Guam but are now extinct thanks to the brown tree snake. It was so sweet waking up to the sound of birds chirping in the morning!

The next stop is down the cliff (uhh, via the road) and a quick right turn to the Bonzaii Cliffs. This is a great place to watch the sunset and listen to the waves crashing onto the cliffs.

 Saipan has some fantastic sunsets
 This one is from Memorial Park in Garapan.
 Breathtaking! Is this vacation or what?
 As far as activities go, there's the awesome Wave Jungle Waterpark at World Saipan Resort. They have an unpublished local rate that includes people from Guam! Just bring some sort of local ID. It knocks the entrance down from $80 (adult) to $30... and add only $10 to include a fabulous all-you-can-eat lunch at Buffet World!
There's fun shopping too... hit up the "I Love Saipan" souvenir shop on the main road in Garapan. Go next door for fancier shopping and to take your picture with the giant Saipanda. My favorite find was hot pepper sauce made from peppers that grow on Tinian.

 Snorkel out to the tank at Tank Beach, just up the coast from the Aquarius Tower

 Go diving in the Grotto, Saipan's most famous dive site, a fascinating cave that opens into the ocean.
Giant fans in the Grotto

 Check out some beautiful untouched beaches

There are lots of great places to dive and snorkel. I found the diving here to be crisper, with better visibility and way more sea life (bigger and more plentiful!) than Guam. We went with Harry Blalock at Axe Murderer Dive Tours and were not disappointed. He picked us up, provided all our gear and tanks, and toured us through the Grotto and other spectacular dive sites. (He also took these fabulous underwater photos with his fancy underwater camera!).

All this and there are also some fantastic places to eat on this island! Check out Godfather's for fresh seafood and a great local music scene. There's a Thursday night market in Garapan that's worth the stop for fresh produce (try the mini bananas!) and locally made souvenirs. And the rest, you will have to discover for yourself. I certainly encourage anyone who needs a break from everyday life to head there for a three-day weekend. It's worth the trip and definitely feels like an island getaway adventure... even if you happen to be island hopping.

Other Saipan posts:

Travel tips: Saipan uses US electrical outlets (so no converter needed!). Saipan's tapwater is unpotable, so invest in some bottled waters at the grocery store, and bring a water bottle to fill up at filtered water stations.


  1. Just a note- Bird "Rock" Is actually called Bird Island....

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  3. Thank you for sharing your vacation. My family and I lived on Tinian for 2 years and made many good friends. I really enjoyed your post.

  4. Well, the Tofu Fox is going to have to recommend this one! Now I want to go to Saipan! Those flame trees are GORGEOUS.


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