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Saipan Port is on the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. This is an archipelago consisting of 15 islands and located in the western region of the Pacific Ocean; it is part of the United States. The language spoken by the locals are English and Chamorro. There is a huge area of forest on the island. The island’s produce includes coconuts, papaya, pepper, mango, taro root, bananas. There is also a rich marine life around the archipelago which includes tuna, wahoo, billfish and a lot more. Saipan is best known for sport fishing; Saipan has become one of the best destinations for vacation.
Long popular with Asian tourists, Saipan is the fastest-growing island in Micronesia, with golf courses, holiday resorts and duty-free shopping taking center stage as vacation attractions. But it operates largely under the radar when it comes to American travelers -- which is ironic because it's the capital of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
This tropical bump in the Pacific Ocean -- just 13 miles long and five miles wide -- is self-governing, but its citizens hold U.S. passports, and they trade in U.S. dollars. Saipan has a total population of about 70,000 people -- dominated today by Chinese, Filipinos and Japanese.
What does this mystery paradise look like? First, Saipan has virtually no tree line because the island was heavily bombed during World War II. Garapan, the largest town, was leveled during the war. Since the 1960's, it's been redeveloped and today houses shops, restaurants and ubiquitous 24-hour poker parlors. Saipan, the largest of 15 islands in the Northern Marianas, is thought to have some of the best beaches in Micronesia, many protected by coral barrier reefs. Saipan is also known as the site of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the earth's oceans at 38,635 feet. But take note: While the natural wonders of the island can be compelling -- especially the aquamarine waters -- the communities, including Garapan, are a bit downtrodden.
Saipan is probably best known to Westerners for its role in World War II. Victory in the Pacific hung on the outcome of the battle for the Marianas, and it was in Saipan that the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive took place. After days of bombing, shelling and strafing the island, U.S. forces landed on June 15, 1944 and fought for three tough weeks to wrest Saipan from the Japanese. More than 28,000 Japanese soldiers perished in the battle, while nearly 3,500 Americans were lost.
At Banzai Cliff, many Japanese jumped to their deaths, rather than facing capture, following the final orders of Lt. Gen. Yoshitsugo Saito, who said, "Whether we attack or whether we stay where we ar...As it says in Senjinkun (Battle Ethics), I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive." Allied soldiers would later call Banzai Cliff "Hara Kiri Gulch." Maj. Robert Sheeks -- who witnessed hundreds of people, including families, committing suicide -- later wrote, "There was death all around the place...You really think the world is coming to an end."
Memories of World War II are still close to the surface in Saipan, and today they form a remarkable record of a remarkable time.
Where You are Dock
Cruise ships moore to commercial harbor Tanapag .There are no facilities around. A few metered taxis call on the port, and cruise ships often run complimentary shuttles into Garapan, the island's primary commercial area. It's about a 30-minute walk to the main shopping district and gorgeous Micro Beach. It's easy to drive the island's U.S.-quality roads, and you can pretty much make a loop of the entire island in a half-hour. There are plenty of car rental agencies, including Hertz, Dollar, Avis and Budget. Editor's tip: If you do rent a car, be sure to take along a map that highlights the sites of the Battle for Saipan. There are also signs at the sites themselves.
So-called "local" handicrafts include carvings and woven wall hangings, but buyer beware. While they may have a"“Made in Saipan" sticker on them, they are actually manufactured in the Philippines. On top of that, they're pricey.
Things to See and Do
World War II Relics
Saipan is a great place for World War II buffs. Shown above is one of two World War II tanks that got stuck in the lagoon. There is also an airplane in the lagoon that attracts divers from around the world. If you want to catch up on your World War II history, stop by Memorial Park and check out the museum, then take a drive around the island and discover all the tanks, bomb shelters, and canons. If you are game for a quick flight to the nearby island of Tinian, you can also tour the airfield where the planes that dropped the atomic bombs took off.
Mount Tapochau
Mount Tapochau is the highest point on the island of Saipan, rising 474 meters (1554 ft) above sea level. The lookout point at the top offers stunning views of the azure colored ocean in every direction. Because of this amazing vantage point, Mount Tapochau was a strategic outpost during World War II. There are several informative plaques placed along the hiking trail that describe the views below, and how these sights were involved in the war. There is a dirt road going to the top, though it can be difficult to access without a 4-wheel drive vehicle, especially after a heavy rain.
If crowded beaches aren’t your thing, the miles of beaches along Beach Road are a great place to unwind.
Saipan is famous for its stunning white sand beaches. One of the most popular beaches is Micro Beach, just in front of the Hyatt Resort where you can grab a chair and an umbrella, drink margaritas, rent surfboards and snorkle gear, and splash around in the crystal clear, warm waters of the lagoon. Another popular destination is Managaha Island, which is a 10 minute boat ride from Micro Beach. Mangaha has a beautiful white sand beach, a snack bar, volleyball nets, camp sites, and excellent snorkling. If you just want to get away from the crowds, however, simply walk along beach road and enjoy miles of uncrowded beaches.
Saipan's beaches are famously known in the region, and Micro Beach, a favorite of tourists and locals alike, is right in town and easily accessible. Amenities include a play park and water sport facilities along this stretch of pristine white sand (which shows up in a lot of Japanese TV commercials). Other popular beaches include Lau Lau, a good swimming spot, and palm-lined Obyan, which looks across to Tinian Island. Another terrific option: Blue Grotto, an ocean cave permeated by diffused sunlight
Memorial Park
Memorial Park is a popular place for both tourists and locals. There are walking paths, gardens, monuments, flowers, a footbridge, and places to grill for picnics. The park is located along the beautiful Micro Beach, between the Hyatt Regency Resort and Smiling Cover Harbor. There is also an outdoor amphitheatre and a museum. The museum features a movie about Saipan’s role in World War II and has an intriguing collection of WWII artifacts. Every visitor to Saipan should visit the museum to learn about Saipan’s history. If you visit Saipan in May, the Taste of the Marianas festival is held in park, and features local foods, music and dancing.
Banzai Cliff
Banzai Cliff is located in the northern part of Saipan, and offers some amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and the crashing waves below the cliffs. There are also many Japanese memorials located along the cliff. Similar to Suicide Cliff, Japanese civilians and soldiers jumped off of these cliffs during World War II rather than surrender to the American forces. The cliffs are a perfect place to sit and meditate or take photos.
Suicide Cliff
Suicide Cliff is so named because Japanese civilians and soldiers jumped off of the cliff to their deaths during World War II to avoid surrendering to the American soldiers. There is a lookout at the top of the cliffs offering breathtaking views of the crashing waves below. There are also many Japanese memorials with beautifully engraved stones and manicured lawns ideal for somber reflection.
Bird Island
Bird Island is a popular destination for tourists because the amazing view from the lookout, one of the most popular places to take photos in Saipan. More adventurous travelers can also hike down to the water and snorkle along the shoreline facing the island. Be sure to bring reef shoes, however, as the rocks are sharp. The area immediately surrounding Bird Island is a marine sanctuary, so please respect the rules posted in the area
Forbidden Island
A trek to Forbidden Island is a must if you’re going to visit Saipan, and is a perfect day hike. Park your car at the trail head in the village of Kagman and hike down the steep trail until you emerge from the trees for a spectacular view of Forbidden Island and the crashing waves. Once you make it all the way down the trail and reach the island, there are several tide pools that are perfect for snorkling or just cooling down in the water. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can find “Hidden Forbidden,” a small cave with its own secluded tide pool. Be careful of the strong currents when enjoying the water and bring athletic shoes for climbing over rocks on your way down.
Managaha Island
Managaha Island is undoubtedly the prettiest beach in Saipan. You can catch a ride to the island through Tasi Tours, or by booking a ride through any of the hotels in Garapan village. Once you get to the island, there are picnic tables, volleyball nets, a snack shop, rest rooms, and a gift shop. Don’t forget to bring your snorkle gear to see some amazing sea life. Or relax with a book and just soak up the rays. This is one of Saipan’s favorite spots, with camp sites available if you want to spend the night on your own secluded island.
Don't Miss
For an exceptional depiction of the historic Battle for Saipan, visit the American Memorial Park Visitor Center and World War II Exhibit Hall. The facility, operated by the National Park Service, opened in 2005 after more than six years in development. In the Exhibit Hall, you'll see footage of U.S. Marines crawling up the invasion beaches, amid exploding ordnance and open gunfire. You'll hear the drone of planes running strafing missions. In one of the most desperate scenes of the battle, thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians committed suicide, rather than surrendering to U.S. forces. In a stunning recording, a Japanese woman describes how she fled from the Marines and was preparing to jump to her death when she was captured by American troops. The 10,000-square-foot building, representing a Chamorro boat house, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the grounds, there's also a 1,200-seat amphitheater, a wetland and mangrove forest, Micro Beach, and the Marianas Memorial, honoring the indigenous people who lost their lives in the campaign.
No stop in Saipan would be complete without having a look at the chief landmarks of the horrific battle: the invasion beaches; Suicide and Banzai cliffs, where Japanese families and soldiers jumped to their deaths; and the Last Command Post, a cave where the Japanese readied themselves for their last push against American forces. There are also a number of peace memorials, World War II bunkers and a Japanese jail where pilot Amelia Earhart is rumored to have been held. Ask your rental car agency for a map of the landmarks, or look out for signs at the sites themselves.
Been There, Done That
One of Saipan's most popular tourist attractions is a submarine ride in Tanapag Lagoon. The sub has been specially designed with large viewing ports for full access to the area's tropical fish and wartime wrecks.
Active types should check out the diving and snorkeling opportunities. Several fabulous diving sites lay just off of Saipan, with attractions such as WWII wrecks, beautiful reefs, wall and cavern dives and a variety of marine animals -- among them, eagle rays, eels, octopi, butterfly fish and sharks. Visit www.mymarianas.com to get the specifics on diving outfitters.
Saipan boasts five golf courses, known for their impressive scenery and remarkable challenges. Several were designed by PGA players, and all are open to cruise ship passengers.
For some real local flavor, try your hand in one of the island's many poker houses. Poker machines are big business in the Northern Mariana Islands, and the electronic gaming devices -- which are legal -- can be found in virtually every village. They're open 24/7.
Eating Out
Garapan is easy on the palate, no matter your preference. For an island specialty, ask for the chicken kelaguen, barbecued chicken breast tha's chopped and served with freshly grated coconut, onion leaves and hot peppers. If you want a view of the beach while you eat, you should see Oleai Beach Bar and Grill. This is one of the famous restaurants in Saipan for its tacos and night band. For those who love Thai cuisine, Thai House is one of the most recommended restaurants for its shrimp in oyster sauce which they call Phad Thai and Phad Nham. If you want light and healthy sandwich, you should try Bobby Cadillac’s which also offers grilled food and pizza.
In the tourist district, you'll find Chinese, Korean, Thai and Japanese restaurants. One of them, Ubu Restaurant, offers free wireless Internet access. The top hotels, namely Hyatt Regency and Pacific Islands Club, tend to house the better restaurants. The Hyatt, for example, specializes in Italian, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. More interested in a fix that reminds you of home? Then look no further than the golden arches. Yes -- they're here.
Shore Excursions
In all honesty, the quality of the guided tours in Saipan isn't impressive. On our recent visit, it was only at the beseeching of passengers that the guide made a 25-minute stop at American Memorial Park, rather than just doing a drive-by. Our recommendation? If you're comfortable driving, rent a car, and check out the sites on your own. In all likelihood, you'll walk away with a more in-depth appreciation of what you've seen.
If you'd prefer an organized tour, here are a few options. Ships tend to dock for little more than a half-day, so the tours don't last more than four hours, and most are far shorter.
The most popular ship-sponsored excursion features a highlights tour of Saipan's wartime past with stops at Suicide Cliff, the Last Command Post, the Okinawa Peace Memorial and a run through Garapan.
The submarine tour typically includes about 45 minutes onboard and features a ride through the exotic seascape of Tanapag Lagoon. Expect to see sea creatures, as well as wrecks from World War II.
Feel like taking a hike? Ride up to Mt. Tapochao (at 1,554 feet, the highest point on the island) for a photo op and some spectacular panoramic vistas. This is a good option for an organized tour because the road to the top is not paved and is difficult to access independently.
If you want a variety of wines, chocolates, coffee and other treats, you should visit Expressions in Isa Drive. You will find items of top brand in the Duty Free Galleria at the center of Garapan. In this shop, you will also find unique items made by the locals.

For local souvenir items, you should visit La Moda Isla. It has a wide selection of locally made items from Asia. For book lovers, you can find magazines, books, and travel guides in Joeten Susupe. If you are into music, you should not miss a stop at the Music. Also, don’t forget to visit the main streets for shopping because it is where you will find the best local items sold at reasonable prices.

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