3 Different Ways to Enjoy the Northern Mariana Islands

Sprinkled along the Philippine sea is a cluster of 14 islands that comprise the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Only six of the islands are inhabited. The most populous of these are Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, with Saipan hosting the capital of the Commonwealth.

The warm weather, white-sand beaches, and abundance of natural flora and fauna make the CNMI a great vacation spot. Its proximity to Asia makes it a popular destination for visitors from Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Russia. Additionally, visitors from the United States and Guam frequent the island.

Below, we’ve listed some of the best things you should do during your visit to the islands.

Explore the Best Dive Spots in the Northern Marianas

If you’ve always dreamed of giving scuba diving a try, a trip to the Northern Marianas might be the perfect time to sign up for an intro dive or to get certified. All islands of the CNMI have exceptional diving sites. They are rich in coral reefs and natural underwater rock formations that make for some amazing scenes. A few stand out spots include:

The Grotto – Located off the island of Saipan, it’s a huge limestone cavern connected by underwater passages to the ocean. The site has been voted the number 2 cavern diving site by Skin Diver Magazine.

Eagle Ray City – Also located off Saipan, this dive site boasts frequent visits from the eagle rays that inhabit the area. The rays often come within inches of divers, and the interactions can make for great photographs and vacation memories.

Twin Coral – Situated off the coast of Tinian, the site is composed of two coral reefs and is known as “Turtle Point” due divers frequently spotting one of these popular sea creatures here. The reefs are also teeming with varieties of fish including parrot fish, grouper, and damsel fish.

Sub Chaser – Located off the coast of Rota sits the scattered remains of a World War II Japanese auxiliary submarine chaser.

Dump Cove – For divers interested in wreck sites, Dump Cove in Tinian is another exciting wreck dive site featuring relics from World War II like planes, tanks, ammunition, and jeeps.

Discover Popular Grub Hubs and Watering Holes

Make the most of your vacation in the Northern Marianas and pig out! Saipan has the best range of bars and grills in CNMI. Must try places include:

Bitoy’s Bar B Q – This popular BBQ place serves sweet-style Filipino barbecue. It enjoyed a cult following in the south of Saipan when it started in 2017 as a small stall in San Antonio. After a typhoon decimated the stall, its owner Reynaldo Faustino was all set to close the business, but its many fans clamored for the place to reopen. The stall is now located in Sugar King Park where it does brisk business. Be sure to grab a stick or two when in the area.

Godfather’s Bar – This is the place to go if you’re looking for an atmosphere that reminds you of a bar on the United States mainland. Munch on western bar chow like nachos, pizza, and cheese sticks while listening to live music.

Surf Club Saipan – This beachfront bar and grill offers a spectacular view of the ocean. Stop by for lunch to really enjoy the scenery, and savor delicious dishes including their crunchy lumpia— a deep-fried spring roll stuffed with meat. Other popular picks include their grilled items, like pork chop, steak, spare ribs, and chicken kelaguen.

Tour CNMI’s World War II Sites, and Learn a History Lesson or Two

The CNMI were a vital battleground in the Pacific theater of World War II, but its military history goes further back. Japan held control of the islands beginning in 1914 at the start of World War I but their administration of the islands continued through much of World War II. In 1943, US led allied forces began to effectively challenge the Japanese in the Pacific. In June and July 1944, they captured Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, turning them into Allied bases. In fact, the planes carrying the atomic bombs that were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took off from North Field airbase in Tinian.

Indeed, history buffs will find a lot to see and do in these islands. Today popular, WWII tourist sites in CNMI include the following:

Last Command Post – This site is a reinforced cave in Saipan that was built by the Japanese military in 1944 to help in their defense against the attack of American forces. In the 1960s, several old guns and military equipment from the war era were placed on display at this landmark.  

Banzai Cliff – On the coast between Puntan Sabaneta and Puntan Lagua Kattan on the island of Saipan sits a cliff that rises 30 meters above the area. It is called Banaderu. In the final days of World War II, hundreds of Japanese civilians jumped to their deaths from this cliff rather than face capture. As such, it came to be known as “Banzai Cliff,” a reference to the battle cry that Japanese soldiers made when charging toward their enemies. The site was later visited by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, who came to pay their respects decades after the war ended.

Suicide Cliff – Rising 800 feet over the plains for Marpi in Saipan, this cliff was the site from which Japanese civilians and soldiers jumped rather than surrender to American forces at the twilight of the Second World War. Memorials to the deceased are visible on the cliff’s edge today.

The cliff offers an unparalleled views of the northern tip of the island, an abandoned WWII airfield, and the Banzai Cliff. It has also been used as a launchpad for hang glider competitions and as a starting point for the “Banadero Trail,” a hiking trail that leads to the Last Command Post. 

Chalan Kanoa Village – Now the largest residential village in Saipan, this site was once home to the barracks of Japanese laborers working in the sugar industry in the years before the war. Pre-WWII, only the Japanese and Okinawans resided in this area. Remnants of their lifestyle can still e seen throughout the village today, including two well-preserved wooden residences.

Don’t let its small size fool you. There is so much to see and do in the CNMI! From underwater adventures to overland trails, a visit to the Northern Marianas will make for an unforgettable vacation.

Krissy Georgiadis

Written by Krissy Georgiadis

Law graduate and wanderlust sufferer. I like rum and beaches.