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Northern Mariana Islands

Travel Guide Oceania Micronesia Northern Mariana Islands

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Introduction

Downtown Saipan

Downtown Saipan

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The Mariana Islands were lightly inhabited by the Chamorro people back in the 1520s when Magellan rocked up and claimed them for Spain. The Spanish sold the islands to Germany in 1899; the Germans lost them 20 years later to Japan; and the Japanese didn't fare much better, violently relinquishing their hold on the islands to the USA during WWII. Now, the Northern Mariana Islands are a territory of the United States, while the Japanese happily flock to the islands as tourists (after Guam, Saipan is their most popular destination). Meanwhile, the Chamorro have been more or less drawn out of the picture, so there is little cultural authenticity in the Marianas. But the photo-taking, scuba-diving travellers who spend their holidays here are not particularly disturbed by this fact. Saipan's and Tinian's collection of WWII wreckages make for extraordinary diving - that and the lush coral aquascapes.

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Brief History

The first European exploration of the area was that led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain. Three days after he had arrived, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack - a portentous beginning to its relationship with the Spanish. The islands were then considered by Spain to be annexed, and therefore under their governance, from the Philippines, as part of the Spanish East Indies.

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the rest of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to Germany. Japan declared war on Germany during World War I and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919, the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands to Japan by mandate.
Near the end of World War II, the United States military invaded the Mariana Islands on June 15, 1944, beginning with the Battle of Saipan, which ended on July 9 with the Japanese commander committing seppuku (a traditional Japanese form of ritual suicide).

After Japan's defeat, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United States. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. Similar to other U.S. territories, the islands do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, but are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a delegate (beginning January 2009 for the CNMI) who may vote in committee but not on the House floor

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Geography

The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam to the south, compose the Mariana Islands. The southern islands are limestone, with level terraces and fringing coral reefs. The northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on Anatahan, Pagan and Agrihan. The volcano on Agrihan has the highest elevation at 965 metres. Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island 130 kilometres north of Saipan. It is about 10 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide. Anatahan began erupting suddenly from its east crater on May 10, 2003, at about 6:00pm. It has since alternated between eruptive and calm periods. On April 6, 2005, large quantities of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift south over Saipan and Tinian.

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Regions

  • Northern Islands
  • Southern Islands

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Cities

  • Saipan is the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Garapan, on Saipan, is the centre of the tourism industry and is where the majority of hotels are located.
  • Kalabera is a small village in the north of Saipan, with an impressive cave.
  • Songsong is the largest village on the island of Rota.
  • Susupe is another village on Saipan, population roughly 2000.

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Sights and Activities

Diving

These islands have some great diving and reefs to explore. There are 18 dive sites to explore including the famous Grotto, voted the second best cavern diving site in the world by Skin Diver Magazine. Also scattered around the island are several World War II relics, including several B-29 bombers, Japanese bombers and sunken ships. Remember there are a lot of unexploded ordinances in the water making it smart to follow the policy of look and don't touch. For people that are not dive certified snorkeling and Sea Walking are also options. Sea Walking is a good and safe option for people that want to go 3 meters deep but are not dive certified.

Beaches

Relax on some stunning white sand beaches. The beaches are also a good place to do other activities as well. Such as jet skiing, wind surfing or parasailing. Remember that some of the beaches can get very crowded during the Japanese, Korean and Chinese national holidays.

Dinner Cruises

Tired of eating in every night? Check out the ocean at night by taking a dinner cruise. Most of the cruises include good food, live music and dancing. This is a great way to see an amazing sunset over the island. Here is a list of companies that offer dinner cruise service:

  • Sapian Sea Ventures
  • Saipan Sunset Cruise - Phone: 670 234 8230
  • Stars & Stripes - Phone: 670 234 7266

Other Sights and Activities

  • Gambling - Check out your luck at the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.
  • Spa - Relax at a world class spa.
  • Jungle Tours - Explore the jungle in the back of a 4 wheel drive jeep.
  • Golf - Enjoy some world class golf on these islands.
  • Submarine Tour - See the bottom of the sea in a submarine tour.

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Weather

The climate on the Northern Mariana Islands is characterised by tropical conditions with little variation regarding temperatures, and a distinct wet season. Average daytime temperatures hoover around 29 degrees Celcius and the highest recorded temperatures are just a few degrees at most islands. At night, temperatures drop to a balmy 23 degrees Celcius with a record low of 19 degrees at Saipan!
The wet season last from July to October, with August and September seeing the most rain. During December to May, conditions are much drier but occasional downpours during the late afternoon are still normal. During the wet season, tropical storms and even cyclones are a real possibility.

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Getting There

By Plane

Saipan International Airport (SPN) in the capital is the main gateway to Northern Mariana Islands. There are direct connections with several Asian countries. From South Korea, there are flights from Seoul and Busan with Asiana while from Japan, there are direct flights with Northwest Airlines from Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.

Continental Airlines, via its subsidiary Continental Micronesia, has flights from the Philippines and Guam. People travelling from North America have to connect in the latter one.

On top of the regular flights, there are many seasonal charters from China (Air China from Beijing, China Eastern and Spring Air from Shanghai and China Southern from Guangzhou) and Taiwan (EVA Air from Taipei).

Rota International Airport (ROP) has flights to Guam by Freedom Air and Continental Connection of Continental Airlines (operated by Cape Air).

By Boat

Saipan, Rota and Tinian all have harbor facilities for yachts.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Cape Air flies between Saipan and Rota. A few other small airlines fly this route as well and also between Saipan and Tinian. The latter takes 12 minutes, to Rota is about half an hour.

By Car

Renting a car is great option of getting around Saipan which has a fairly extensive roadnetwork and relatively few cars. Most roads are tarred as well. This also applies to most roads on Rota and Tinian, although some back roads might require you to rent a 4wd car. You can rent cars at the respective airport or major towns and hotels. Traffic drives on the right and your national driver's licence (in English) or an international driving permit is required.

By Bus

Shuttle buses travel between major towns and hotels. There are no scheduled passengers services and taxis are very expensive but abundant.

By Boat

There is a ferry between Tinian and Saipan taking slightly less than an hour one way.

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Red Tape

The same visa waiver program as for the United States applies, though also visitors of Taiwan and Hong Kong are added to the list.
Note that people from the following countries, can not enter the Northern Mariana Islands at all (so also no visa is granted whatsoever):

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Fujian Province of China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Details about the above and more information about applying for a visa, check the Marianas website.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of the Northern Mariana Islands. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.

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Sleep

Saipan's accommodation options are concentrated towards giant package hotels. Rack rates are often ludicrous but heavy discounts are available, especially outside the Japanese holiday seasons. Cheap motels are few, hostels are nonexistent, and camping is not recommended due to security concerns. Options are even more limited on Tinian and Rota.

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Drink

The main beers available in Saipan establishments are Budweiser and Miller products, usually sold in bottles only. However, a few places do serve Fosters or Victoria Bitter on tap, and a few have Miller Lite on tap as well. Other brands widely sold are San Miguel (Philippines), Tsingtao (China), Sapporo (Japan, bottled in Canada), and Corona (Mexico). Plenty of stores on Saipan have low-priced, good quality wine available, and there are plenty of harder drinks as well as mixers available everywhere.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Northern Mariana Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Northern Mariana Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B and tuberculosis are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

People have reported their cars being broken into in Saipan's tourist areas, and some people have also had their apartments or hotel rooms burgled. Don't leave valuables lying around and use common sense when walking around tourist areas, especially at night. That said, Saipan is safer than a lot of other destinations, with muggings and other violent crimes against tourists being extremely rare.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Northern Mariana Islands flag

Map of Northern Mariana Islands

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Capital
Saipan
Government
Commonwealth in political union with the US
Nationality
N/A (US Citizens)
Population
80,000
Languages
Carolinian, Chamorro, English
Religions
Christianity (Catholic)
Currency
US Dollar (USD)
Calling Code
+1670
Time Zone
UTC+10

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This is version 18. Last edited at 8:11 on May 21, 13 by Utrecht. 8 articles link to this page.

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