I had a morning without an agenda and wanted to get some outdoor time in without adding to my overall exercise burden*.
*Side note: I have probably done more ‘exercise’ in the last 5 days than I have in the last 5 months. Between Crossfit classes, a morning run with friends, an ocean swim, and portions of a triathlon that I did this morning, I definitely have upped my exercise quota!
So, with a rental car at my disposal, I drove up to the north side of the island for some picture taking (and ocean staring). It turns out I also got to do a little bit of tourist watching since there was a surprising number of tour groups at these locations. It was surprising not because these are not tourist locales, but because it has been good to see that the tourist industry seems alive and well.
When you drive north, you end up on the one road that goes north which is an extension of what is known as ‘Middle Road’. You pass a few villages and end up in a less densely populated area known as Marpi. Here, the electricity poles disappear (thanks to Friends of Marpi) and the traffic thins on the two lane road. (This is all relative, there is no traffic here anyway). Here, there are fairly well marked signs to the tourists destinations.
First on my list is my favorite place to go, Banzai Cliff.
Here you are at the top of the island with ocean ahead of you (and very occasionally apparently if the weather is perfect you can catch a glimpse of some of the Northern islands). Dolphins and whales have been spotted here before too if you’re lucky!
I love this place because it is usually quite and in the shadow of the northern cliffs (including Suicide Cliff) of Saipan. There are scattered memorials to those civilians that lost their lives in what was a horrific event during World War II as the U.S. troops advanced northwards and civilians (Japanese mostly) feared for the conditions they would be placed in because of propaganda and threw themselves off the cliffs with their children in tow. That part is horrible, but there are many memorials around reminding people of the need for peace and the casualties of war.
From there, I drove to the Grotto by returning back to the main road and following the signs around the top of the island. The Grotto is a popular dive spot and you will always see tourists groups there with snorkels and dive gear. It was particularly rough when I went so I definitely did not plan to go into the water.
Here’s a view from the platform above (and a papaya tree!) You can probably barely make out the hole below with the water. If you look really really closely you can see a guy in the lower right hand cave portion of the picture — a tourguide.
And then from there I went to Bird Island — probably the most photographed place in Saipan — and for good reason!
The sun was out so you could see the aquamarine of the shallow waters. If you know the back Bird Island hike to that secluded beach you have access to some of the coolest snorkeling I have ever done (as well as easy access to the island when the tide is low). Be careful when the tide is high and I’ve been told not to try to circle the island because of dangerous rogue waves.
From there, I then drove just up the hill to Suicide Cliff. I used to do this as a run …. but my exercise level has been maxed as I mentioned above but, it is an easy drive with paved road all the way up.
All in all, a quick way to get views of some of the most breathtaking portions of Saipan in a short period of time. I did feel ridiculously touristy by going to all these places, but I guess if you are here as a true tourist then you should at least make an effort to see these places. Considering they are all so close together, it can be done in a half days’ time.