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  • Getting Acclimated in Saipan
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    Getting Acclimated in Saipan

  • Taking in the History at Last Command Post Park
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    Taking in the History at Last Command Post Park

  • Cruising to Managaha Island
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    Cruising to Managaha Island

  • Cave Diving at the Grotto and Kalaberca
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    Cave Diving at the Grotto and Kalaberca

  • Friendly Locals and a Mysterious Quarry on Rota Island
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    Friendly Locals and a Mysterious Quarry on Rota Island

  • The Ancient Stone Pedestals of Tinian Island
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    The Ancient Stone Pedestals of Tinian Island

Northern Mariana Islands Road Trip
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Northern Mariana Islands Road Trip

By Lisa Maloney

  • Route distance:
    280.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    3 days

Short Roads, Big Rewards in the Northern Mariana Islands.

The short but scenic roads that line the 14 Northern Mariana Islands unlock a world of stunning ocean caves, pristine beaches and mysterious stone pedestals, all linked by the small planes that transport visitors from one island to the next. You'll also see examples of traditional singing and dancing from the indigenous Chamorro, expert seafarers that were the first people to inhabit these islands. Make sure you bring your swimsuit: You'll want to spend as much time as possible in the water.

01
Getting Acclimated in Saipan
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Getting Acclimated in Saipan

International flights land at Saipan International Airport on Saipan, the largest and most developed of the Northern Mariana Islands. There is no mass transit here, but most hotels offer shuttle buses to and from the airport. Once you've checked in to your hotel, the most affordable way to get around is by hiring a car. 

Start your adventure at the CNMI Museum of History and Culture. Here, you'll learn about the islands' history all the way from prehistoric times through iterations of governmental control by Spain, Germany, Japan and finally the United States. The museum also houses a number of Chamorro artifacts. Other opportunities to see Chamorro culture include restaurant dinner shows (look for performances that advertise Chamorro language and dancing specifically) and yearly festivals on each island, the largest of which is the CNMI Tourism Month that runs every May on Saipan.

20 km
0.5 hours by car
02
Taking in the History at Last Command Post Park
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Taking in the History at Last Command Post Park

After a short drive along Route 30 from Garapan, the hotel district on Saipan island, you'll find the Last Command Post Park. This park houses an abandoned Japanese Imperial Army command post in a hidden limestone cave that you can walk right into. The towering cliffs nearby — dubbed Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff — are where thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians chose to jump to their deaths instead of accepting their country's surrender to the United States.

End your day with a trip to the Bird Island Overlook, just five kilometers from the Last Command Post Park. The view from these spectacular, steep cliffs is one of the most popular photo opportunities in the entire archipelago.

13 km
0.5 hours by car
03
Cruising to Managaha Island
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Cruising to Managaha Island

Pack up your beachwear and snacks for an exciting speedboat ride to Managaha Island, a tiny islet off the west coast of Saipan where you can hire a guide — or go snorkeling or diving on your own — to see schooling eagle rays or fish darting in and out of World War II shipwrecks. 

Time your visit to coincide with the weekly Thursday night Garapan Street Market on Saipan Island. This is a chance to sample the glorious melting pot of local cuisine and culture with traditional singing and dancing, local arts and crafts, and a feast of traditional street foods like apigigi (young coconut cooked in banana leaves), kå'du fanihi (fruit bat soup) and the bright red rice dish hineksa' aga'ga', which gets its color from annatto seeds.

16 km
0.5 hours by car
04
Cave Diving at the Grotto and Kalaberca
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Cave Diving at the Grotto and Kalaberca

Enjoy 30 minutes of Saipan's best scenery along Route 30 on the drive from Garapan to the Grotto, one of the world's best cave dives. This limestone sea cave's clear waters are a spectacular cobalt blue verging on purple, speared through by shafts of light leading in from the open ocean. Only snorkeling and diving are allowed here (no swimming), and you'll want a guide to help you navigate the Grotto's many challenges, including more than 100 steep, cement steps leading down to the slippery, wet surf zone where incoming ocean waves pound against the rocks.

Less than five kilometers from the entrance to the Grotto is Kalabera Cave, which was once used as a Japanese field hospital and, before that, as a Spanish prison. If you're still feeling energetic at the end of the day, make the 22-kilometer drive to 473-meter Mount Tapochau, the highest point on the island, which gives you sweeping vistas over all of Saipan and its neighboring islands.

124 km
0.5 hours by plane
05
Friendly Locals and a Mysterious Quarry on Rota Island
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Friendly Locals and a Mysterious Quarry on Rota Island

Catch a morning flight from Saipan International Airport to Rota International Airport. Spend all day enjoying the exquisitely relaxed pace on the tiny Rota Island. Sample Chamorro food in restaurants that cater to tourists, but street vendors and market stalls will give you the most authentic experience.

Important local sights include the As Nieves Latte Stone Quarry, where you can see massive halagi (columns) and tåsa (capstones) that were abandoned before they could be assembled into the mysterious upright pedestals known as latte stones; the Rota Cave Museum, a giant, limestone sanctuary where you can view artifacts from ancient Chamorro culture all the way through World War II; the Sagua'gaga Bird Sanctuary for its breathtaking views over emerald waters populated by many thousands of seabirds; and the huge, natural limestone Tonga Cave, where concrete pads are the last evidence of a makeshift Japanese hospital.

105 km
0.5 hours by plane
06
The Ancient Stone Pedestals of Tinian Island
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The Ancient Stone Pedestals of Tinian Island

Catch a morning flight back to Saipan, then on to Tinian, home to the opulent Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino, the only full-service, international standard gaming casino in all of Micronesia. If you're not hunting for high-end glitz and glamor, many visitors instead go to the "House of Taga," the tallest standing latte stones in the Northern Mariana Islands, or the family-friendly Taga and Tachogna beaches. End your day with a flight back to Saipan, where you might want to spend another night before boarding your flight home.

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