Welcome to Rota! Rota, also apparently known as the ‘world’s friendliest island’, is the southernmost island of the Northern Mariana Islands and is a short 20 minute flight from Guam. (I literally timed it from wheels up to wheels down as 20 minutes). I went for a short trip and spent a full 24 hours on this island. From the perspective of people in Saipan, Rota is known as a really quiet place. That’s usually the first comment out of people’s mouths that it is just so quiet. I’m not sure I felt that way – I would just say that it is beautiful (as is Saipan). It was a bit of a different breed of beautiful and I’m so glad I went to check it out.
When I arrived, the airport had a handy map of Rota — basically it’s an island with a bay at the bottom and consists of two villages – Songsong to the south by the bay and Sinapalo in the north-central region near the airport.
I had a friend staying in Rota also for work so she picked me up at the airport for a whirlwind trip. We went directly from the airport to the famous swimming hole. This natural swimming pool is protected by coral formations but apparently there is some connection to the ocean because you get waves in the pool. There supposedly even may be a natural spring that feeds the pool because the water is not the usual bath-water warm but rather, a nice cool temperature — just what you want at a pool!
As you can see from the picture, the water in the swimming hole is the usual beautiful clear and you can sit on the ‘beach’ portion and have the waves wash up on you. The swimming hole is a good depth, at about 5 feet at the deepest portion. Over the sides of the ‘pool’ there are little waterfalls from the waves crashing over the edge. It’s far enough away from the water that there’s no concern about any of the ocean waves coming over and so it makes for a great place to just hang out and relax.
After a little bit there, we went in search of a snorkeling spot that we had heard about. This was on the property of a friend and was some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever had — and so easily accessible! We drove towards the Japanese canon which is along the Songsong Bay.
Here you can see the whole bay — we went snorkleing off those rocks to the lower left of the picture. You can see what is known as ‘wedding cake’ ahead on the peninsula of the bay just ahead. This is apparently where Rota’s grotto is which takes a hike to get to. (You can’t do it without a local guide though)
See? At least 15 feet deep with beautiful fish and perfectly clear waters!
From there, we went to Small Island — a little island connected by a small driveway to the peninsula of the bay. This little island protects a little bay of its own to the south of the island and the contrast between the colors to the south and the north of the island are stark. There were some kids playing there on that Saturday so it was clear it was a fun hang out spot.
(Look! A bird!) Here’s the little bay from Small Island looking at the other side of the wedding cake formation.
From there after a little work pitstop, we went back to our hotel at the Valentino — this is really the place to stay. I guess you can also stay at the Rota Country club but it seems the Valentino is really your only other option. We found out that the PROM was happening. The population in Rota is something close to 3000 (or maybe closer to 2000) but suffice it to say, I think there are less than 30 seniors attending prom.
So, you can see our balcony just behind the backdrop. Fortunately, being in a small town makes prom much more sedate (and really fun to watch). We grabbed a delicious dinner at the Tokyo En (sashimi platter, delicious homemade shumai, fried tofu, local sweet potato croquettes)! and then came back to crash prom. The kids were all dressed up and they looked like they were having such a good time. Talk about a great location for prom. Here was the view if you turned around from the stage.
This is one of my new favorite pictures!
We also had some local sweet potato chips as a nighttime snack.
Rota is known for its purple sweet potato and they did not disappoint. Prom ended at around 9:30 PM (again, small town) and after many selfies and a few awkward dances, the kids went their merry way. You can tell the group was just such a good group of kids who grew up in a wholesome environment. At the end of the night, they all helped stack up the chairs and clean up a bit before parting ways!
The next morning we went for an about ~3 mile run to Songsong overlook. This beautiful overlook looks out over the small peninsula at the south of the island. You can see the contrast between the color of the sea on the right and the left. This was my first glimpse at ‘Rota blue’ — the lovely shade of blue that is really unique and captures your attention like a rare diamond.
It didn’t hurt that a small downpour led to a perfect rainbow from the overlook!
From there, we went towards the northern part of the island and went to an overlook nearby the Sinapalo village. The views really cannot be captures with a camera — expansive cliffs covered with trees and birds and the vast expanse of blue out beyond.
We ate our breakfast there (a chicken turnover that we had reserved in advance from the cafe at Valentino hotel – this turnover is so popular it has to be reserved the day before — if you show up at 6:30 AM they are usually all gone already) while looking out over the scenery. From there, we took a short drive to the Latte Stone park. You have probably seen some pictures of latte stone’s before on this blog. This iconic thing is a symbol of Chamorro culture (see my Tinian post about the House of Taga here). But, no one knows how they were made or excavated. This all happened in the time period between 1500 BC to 1500 AD. What tools did they use? It was fun to walk around these humongous stones and conjecture.
See the stone structures there (this picture from the airport) — those are mini version of latte stones.
There were a plot of so many of them — you can see how they basically ?maybe are trying to dig them out of the ground but it’s so unclear how they moved them from there.
We drove from there to the nearby Bird Sanctuary. This area is a protected area that has a great pathway to explore around.
Of course, the views from the Bird Sanctuary (see above) are gorgeous!
You may be able to barely make out the white dots on the trees below in the picture above — those are all birds making their homes. It was fun to see the birds fly around and they really were quite close to us on the cliff.
From there, we made our way back to the hotel for a final cleanup and we stopped by an old abandoned ocean-side water park. I guess it’s hard to upkeep this with so little tourism so it was a combination of eery but also cool to see – here you can see the water slide that goes into the pool but looks out over the reef on the west side of the island.
We then made a stop at Rota bakery for a coconut pie (aka a boku pie) with fresh coconut meat and headed to the airport.
Rota, you are gorgeous and offered so much in a short 24 hr trip. I hope I can be back to see the Rota blue waters again. This picture below is NOT filtered or adjusted in anyway — it was the one picture that really captured the blue that is Rota blue. (Taken from the backyard of Valentino hotel)