The Northern Mariana Islands are a somewhat isolated group of isles in the Pacific Ocean located between Japan and the Philippines. The most popular islands—Saipan, Rota, and Tinian—played an important role in Japan during World War II. Bunkers and anti-aircraft weapons still sit on the islands today. The Northern Marianas have deep ties to the ancient past and to some of the most intense times in modern history. This is an ideal destination for beach bums, watersport enthusiasts, outdoor lovers, history buffs, and photographers alike.
Managaha Island is about a mile and a half off Saipan's west coast. It's uninhabited and primarily used as a day-trip destination from Saipan. Here, you can relax on the beach, snorkel, jet ski, or try parasailing. This island is also a great place to experience some of the northern Mariana's rich history. Managaha Island is officially recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is home to the sacred burial ground of Chief Aghurubw, the legendary chief of the Carolinians, and contains many bunkers and anti-aircraft guns used by the Japanese in World War II.
The Grotto is a collapsed cavern filled with seawater. It's an amazing place to explore for experienced scuba divers, though a walking tour here is a cool and unique experience, too. Follow the 109 steps down into the Grotto and take photos of the blue light emanating off the water, or try to spot butterflyfish, white-tip reef sharks, and barracudas. We recommend that you take an official scuba tour or travel with a guide, as the current can be pretty strong at times.
The Northern Mariana Islands are so beautiful and isolated, it's easy to forget that they played a huge role in the fight between U.S. and Japanese forces during World War II. American National Park serves as a tribute to the civilians and soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict that took place here in 1944. Pay your respects at the war monument before enjoying the other amenities at the park, including tennis courts, swimming, cycling, and an open-air amphitheater.
Don't let the name fool you. Micro Beach isn't small but very long and very wide. At low tide, the sand stretches for hundreds of feet. The water is perfect for families with children and inexperienced swimmers and the calm, persistent waves are great for windsurfing. There are picnic tables, a softball field, and a playground close by, too. If you're up for some exploring, the northern part of the beach was once the site of an ancient Carolinian village and there are World War II bunkers lining the shore. Micro Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Saipan and there are plenty of hotels, resorts, and spas here to prove it.
If you're up for a hike, plan a visit to the Old Man by the Sea, a rock formation covered in green shrubbery that looks like, you guessed it, an old man looking out at the sea. This rock formation is located on an isolated beach that's also home to some interesting caves. If you plan to hike to the Old Man by the Sea, wear sturdy shoes with good grip. The trek is slippery and steep at times and goes over hills, valleys, and some abandoned farms. It's a bit of a hike but the destination is worth the effort.
There are two ways to get to the summit of Mount Tapochao. Use an off-road vehicle to take the winding road to the top of the mountain, or bring along some supplies and good hiking boots and walk it. Either way, once you reach the top, the 360-degree view takes your breath away. This panoramic view from the top of the mountain was of strategic importance during World War II.
Naftan Point is one of the best places to scuba dive in the Northern Marianas. The ledge depth ranges from 45 to over 130 feet so there's a wide range of things to see. The top part of the wall features large clams and ornate coral formation. As you travel deeper into the sea, you'll spot beautiful fan coral and bright, beautiful animal life. You may even spot an octopus or two!
Eighteen latte stones once stood on this site, supporting what was once the largest latte house in the Marianas. The House of Taga honors the ancient chief who was rumored to have superhuman strength. As the legend goes, Chief Taga buried his daughter in one of the structure's capstones. This area is a part of a larger village that was constructed around 1000 CE and was once rich in cultural artifacts. Most of these were destroyed during World War II and only one of the capstones remains standing today.
On the northern shore of Saipan is Bird Island Sanctuary. Walk down the stairs from the parking lot to get a view from high atop the cliff or, if you're feeling adventurous, hike the jungle trail to the lower beach. When the tide is low, you can walk to the island from here. This is a protected area so it's rich in plant and animal life. You'll find deep pools of colorful ocean fish and thousands of birds here. It's a must-see for adventurers and photographers alike.
Another great place to visit on Rota is Pona Point on the tip of Sasanhaya Bay. This is the only spot on the island where you can see volcanic rock and the only area with freshwater streams. Pona Point is a popular place to fish, so it's become home to the annual Rota Cliff Fishing Derby. Try your luck at catching yellowfin tuna or skipjack while taking in the beautiful coastal views.