Northern Mariana Islands
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is one of two Commonwealths of the United States; the other is Puerto Rico.
National anthem: Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi
Government: Representative democracy, Presidential system
Population: 61,174 (c.2011) World Bank
Official language: English Language, Chamorro Language, Carolinian Language
The Flag of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was adopted on July 4, 1976. In common with other states of the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands and Nauru, the flag for the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) shows a blue field and a white star. The decorative wreath or mwarmwar was added in 1981, and maintains the link between the islands and its sacred history and customs.
Located to the south of Japan and to the north of Guam, the Northern Marianas consist of 14 islands with the main ones being Rota, Saipan and Tinian. All of the islands were originally volcanic and each one boasts a variety of scenery including stunning bays, spectacular cliffs, fascinating caves and imposing mountains. The Marianas played a significant part in World War II and visitors will find there are a great many shipwrecks which bear witness to this. Along with these wrecks, an abundance of coral reefs and tropical fish make diving in the clear waters particularly good.
Out of all of the islands, Saipan has been developed specifically towards tourism and houses museums, parks, memorials and countless natural attractions. The beaches surrounding the island are brimming with pristine white sands, crystal clear waters and a whole host of water and beach sports. Many of the attractions are geared towards Japanese and Korean tourists as they are the majority of visitors, but there are many Western attractions and restaurants located throughout. You will find a number of hotels, both by the beach and inland. They vary in standard with some of the area’s most luxurious hotels lining the coastal road. Regardless of star rating, the hotels offer excellent service and good facilities.
Tinian and Rota are fairly quiet in comparison and have been much less developed. They are ideal for a quiet getaway where you can forget all about your daily life and chores. They boast stunning beaches and scenic parks as well as many WWII wrecks in the surrounding waters. Tinian is famous for being the launch point for the Hiroshima bombings as well as being a base for the Japanese military. You will find countless reminders of the war such as cannons, memorials and artillery on display. Both islands offer ample accommodation and some good quality hotels, although you won’t find the range that there is on Saipan.
Much of the islands’ history is based on WWII and while you will find many sites dedicated to the memory of soldiers who lost their lives, and museums telling stories of the war, there is much more to all three islands. They offer visitors the chance to see natural beauty at its best and indigenous wildlife in the countryside surrounding the towns. If you have children, they will not fail to be impressed by the beaches, parks, zoos and nature reserves on offer.
However old you are and whatever your tastes, a visit to one of the Northern Mariana Islands will ensure a relaxing break in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The local people are incredibly proud of their country and try their hardest to ensure that every visitor experiences a trip of a lifetime.
Throughout the whole of the Northern Mariana Islands, temperatures throughout the year are invariable. Saipan is in The Guinness Book of Records for experiencing the world's most constant temperature, averaging 27°C all year round.
Throughout the islands, humidity is always high but because temperatures rarely reach above 30°C and also because of the daily sea breezes, conditions are rarely unbearable. Whenever you visit, you can be guaranteed sunshine, even in the notorious rainy season.
The rainy season lasts from July through until November and despite seeing a great deal of rain, there are still intermittent blue skies. One thing to watch out for however is the typhoons. These will undoubtedly wreak havoc and cause devastation as well as injuries. If you are travelling during typhoon season, be sure to heed all advice if one hits. The dry season generally lasts from December through until June, although it is still possible to see some rainfall, especially as the humidity builds. It is advised to always take rainwear, regardless of when you go.
The first European to arrive on the islands was Ferdinand Magellan who arrived in 1521. He landed on nearby Guam and claimed all of the islands for Spain. Magellan was met offshore by the native Chamorros who were very hospitable, offing refreshments and kindness. Unfortunately, relations soon to a turn for the worst as in Chamorro culture, there was no such thing as private property and a small fishing boat that belonged to Magellan was taken and used. It was not robbery or a crime in the Chamorro culture. The Spanish did not see it this way and dozens of locals were killed and a village of 40 homes burned before the boat was retrieved.
The islands immediately earned their title ‘Islas de los Ladrones’ (or ‘Islands of the Thieves’) and because of clashes of culture, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack just three short days after his arrival.
From this point on, the islands were considered to be annexed by the Spanish and were left under the control of the Philippines as part of the Spanish East Indies. In 1668, the archipelago’s name was changed to Las Marianas. Nearly all of the islands' native population died out under Spanish rule, but new settlers from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands were brought in to raise numbers again.
The Marianas came under German control for a brief period when Spain sold them to Germany, without Guam, but in 1919, the Japanese invaded and were eventually awarded them by mandate.
The Japanese used the islands as a military outpost and did not treat the natives well. At the time, they were allies to Nazi Germany and as such, they believed themselves to be a superior race. The Japanese tortured and killed many natives from the newley named Northern Marianas.
On 15 June 1944, US Marines landed on the islands and eventually won the bitterly fought three-week Battle of Saipan. This however was not the end of war in the Marianas as Saipan was the launching point for the bombing of Hiroshima. After Japan's defeat in WWII, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Defence and foreign affairs became the responsibility of the US which suited the locals and independence was not sought. A commonwealth in political union with the US was established in 1975 and a new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.
In the early 1990s, workers from all across Asia were drawn to Saipan with the promise of high wages and American citizenship. This was not the case and instead, they found sweatshops. In 1999, hundreds of workers filed law suits against several American clothing designers and retailers.
The clothing industry was once Saipan’s biggest earner, but in 2006, lost out to gambling revenue. Poker machines can be found in every village and the increase in gambling has increased social problems among many locals. It is one influence from the US that many are desperate to keep their distance from.
The Northern Mariana Islands may not boast dozens of theme parks or exciting children’s museums, but they are home to some wonderful wildlife, stunning beaches and warm waters. Kids will love getting close to nature at one of the many beaches and parks found all across the islands, while for those looking to get closer to animals; you will be in your element at Saipan Zoo.
People love spending time at the beach and Saipan’s beaches are regarded as the best in Micronesia. The most popular beach is Micro Beach, a one kilometre stretch of white sand with a play park and water sport facilities for children. Lau Lau Beach is great for swimming, while Obyan Beach offers spectacular views of Tinian Island. The island of Tinian boasts a wide array of water sports, suitable for any age group, and many places for family picnics.
Saipan Zoo is a great place to bring the kids to teach them about indigenous animals as well as animals from all across the world. You will find lions, tigers, monkeys, black bears, racoons, foxes and parrots as well as many more animals each in their own enclosures housing information and fun facts. There is also an on-site café and souvenir shop for some treats when you have finished.
While your children will be too young to scuba dive, snorkeling in the shallow waters will allow them to see many wonderful sights and dozens of species of tropical fish. The warm waters are incredibly welcoming and full of fascinating finds. Always make sure you heed instructions with regards to undercurrents and safety.
Water sports can be found in abundance across all of the islands, especially the three main ones: Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Jet skiing is popular as it allows speed freaks to make the most of the ocean and certainly gets the adrenalin pumping. The gentle trade winds that blow inland offer good conditions for windsurfers. The winds blow in all year regardless of the time of year. For those who would like to experience panoramic views, parasailing offers a unique opportunity to see the islands from the 30 metres above land. You are guaranteed never to have a view like it and it takes no experience to try it. Water skiing however requires a little bit of experience otherwise the chances are that you will never stand up. Once you are standing however, you will be sure to enjoy an adrenaline pumping ride.
The Northern Mariana Islands offer world class scuba diving with an abundance of coral reefs, caves and caverns, tropical sea life and fascinating wrecks. Saipan boasts over 18 different dive sites, including ‘The Grotto’, which was voted the number two cavern diving site in the world. There is a steep climb down of 103 steps leading to an impressive underground cavern with a high dome ceiling. The waters of Tinian are full of WWII relics which make for fascinating dives while Rota is home to a number of wrecks to explore including a Japanese WWII freighter. All three islands offer excellent snorkeling for those who cannot dive.
The islands offer a multitude of opportunities for golf fanatics. Saipan’s courses offer something for every level of golfer, ranging from beginner to professional. The courses all boast stunning ocean views and most have excellent facilities. You do not have to be a member to enjoy a round of golf on any courses across all of the islands, although booking in advance is advised.