Northern Mariana Islands

The Northern Mariana Islands are a chain of 14 volcanic islands situated directly north of Guam and south of the Japanese islands. Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are the Northern Mariana’s three main islands for tourism, but Pagan and Agrigan are two other inhabited islands. The Northern Mariana Islands is a tropical paradise of gorgeous beaches, crystal-blue waters, colorful reefs, beautiful bays, spectacular cliffs, bubbling volcanoes, and striking caves and rock formations. But you’ll also find a lively nightlife, fine ethnic restaurants, and prime shopping centers.

The Spanish were the first to discover the Northern Marianas, arriving in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed. After being greeted with refreshments by the locals, Magellan burned several of the village homes and then killed a number of the Chamorro natives after finding one of his boats allegedly stolen. He claimed the islands for Spain, and the Spanish maintain control over the islands until they sold it to the Germans in 1899. The Japanese took over the islands during WWI, before the Americans liberated it in WWII. The islands today are self-governing but enjoy a political union with the United States.

The Northern Marianas are home to a number of WWII memorials and historic sites, including underwater shipwrecks and sunken tanks. These underwater remnants along with the coral reefs and the myriad tropical fishes (like the manta ray, parrotfish, anthias, and hawkfish) make the islands a great place for scuba diving, snorkeling, and sportfishing.

The lush, tropical jungles are also great for bird-watching, as there are more than 40 species of endemic birds, including the Collared Kingfisher on Saipan and tropical terns on Bird Island. You might catch a glimpse of the rare Phillipine deers, fruit bats, or monitor lizards. In the interiors, you’ll also find a diverse flora that includes the Hibiscus, the red Flaming Trees, the Hong Kong Orchid, the Ironwood, the African Tulip, along with the customary coconut, banana, and papaya trees.

Gambling is also a big draw, especially among Asian tourists. The Dynasty Hotel and Casino is located in Tinian and is a complex of hotels, restaurants, and luxury shops near Chogna and Taga beach.

The food in the Northern Marianas is first-rate and eclectic as well. There are several local seafood specialties and fresh local fishes, and you can choose from an assortment of different cuisines: Chamorro, Carolinian, American, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Italian, and Indian.

But the Northern Mariana Islands are perhaps best known for its colorful festivals. These elaborate events offer exotic food and drinks, traditional dancing, cultural music, and participation in local crafts. In Tinian, for example, there is a Hot Pepper festival in February when the islands’ local arts and crafts, food and drinks, and cultural dance performances are showcased in a competitive format. The festival celebrates the famous Tinian Hot Pepper and features a hot pepper eating contest. The San Isidro Fiesta, held in Rota every March, is another example. The fiesta celebrates the patron saint and is a big community potluck, highlighted by a golf tournament and a cockfight derby. Most of the Mariana festivals, whether in Saipan, Tinian, or Rota, take place between February and July.