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  • A traveler’s guide to the Northern Mariana Islands

    photo by ctsnow on Flickr

    The Northern Mariana Islands are either a tourist’s paradise, or a nightmare, depending on how you travel. This Micronesian archipelago is not the typical tropical island paradise with abandoned beaches and interesting local culture, or at least not anymore, and not in a very obvious way.

    The Mariana Islands are often seen as a package tour machine, where there is little authentic culture left and all most of the island’s assets have been mobilized for the benefit of tourism. If you are looking for a package tour destination with giant hotels and some good scuba diving spots, you will love these islands, but even if you travel independently there’s no reason to completely dismiss them.

    If you travel off season and avoid the heavily touristy areas, you can find historical sites and quiet beaches. Here is a traveler’s guide to the Northern Mariana Islands, if you’re wondering what you can expect.

    Destinations

    photo by ctsnow on Flickr

    The Northern Mariana Islands have little over 50,000 inhabitants, most of whom live on the largest island of the archipelago, Saipan. Although there are fifteen islands in total, only Saipan, Tinian and Rota are inhabited. Saipan is the main gateway to the islands, and also where you will find most resorts and luxury hotels, as well as a few mid-range inns and budget hotels.

    Rota has a only a few villages and its atmosphere is calmer and less touristy than the main island, while Tinian is the most attractive destinations in the Mariana Islands if you are looking for cultural experiences (most of the locals are descendents of the native Chamorro people) and historical sites.

    Things to do

    Aside from the beaches and the resorts, travelers to the islands come for the excellent scuba diving and snorkeling spots in the Northern Mariana Islands. The coral reefs are in pretty good condition and you get to see lots of interesting fishes and corals, but perhaps the main attraction for scuba divers are the wrecks of ships and planes that sunk to the ocean floor during World War II.

    Gambling is another one of the islands’ charms if you have cash to spend, especially on Tinian where you can find several casinos. The nightlife on Tinian and Saipan are better than one might expect, although it also has a seedy side, with many hostess bars. You shouldn’t miss out on the local cuisine either – most of which consists in American and Japanese foods, but also traditional Chamorro dishes.

    Things to see

    photo by ctsnow on Flickr

    Saipan and Tinian were the sites of important battles in WWII, and these places are worth a visit if you are interested in history. Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff in Saipan have many memorials dedicated to the Japanese civilians who killed themselves during the Battle of Saipan, for fear of being killed by US soldiers.

    Tinian also has several interesting sites, like the airstrip from which Enola Gay took off, as well as the only remaining Shinto shrine on the islands. Keep an eye out for the limestone pillars carved by the natives thousands of years ago.

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