Saipan is the capital and largest island on the Northern Marianas. It is the most popular destination in the Marianas. This island is known for its WWII attractions, its duty-free shopping, its vibrant nightlife and festivals, its professionally designed golf courses, and its beautiful beaches where locals and tourists alike flock to for great swimming, tanning, diving, snorkeling, and other outdoor water activities.
Saipan was the scene of the famous Battle of Saipan in WWII between the U.S. marines and the Japanese, an event that was dramatized in John Woo’s movie, the Windtalkers. Today, you can visit Banadero, the command post of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. The Japanese tanks, cannons, war relics, and artillery are all preserved in a limestone, fortress-like cave. You can also bike or hike down the Marpi Pathway and visit the peace memorials dedicated to the soldiers and families who sacrificed their lives during WWII. You’ll also find the American Memorial Park in central Saipan, which was created to honor the lives of the more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel and Mariana islanders who died in the battle.
Saipan has many natural landscapes that can be explored by car, moped, bike, or even on foot, given the island’s small size. The famed Islan Maigo Fahang or Bird Island is a particular favorite among visitors because of its breathtaking views of the emerald bay. There are also panoramic views atop mountain and sea cliffs like the Laderan Banadero, which is more affectionately referred to as “Suicide Cliff”, and the Puntan Sabaneta (or “Banzai Cliff”). Magnificent sunsets can be enjoyed in the southern part of the island while strolling the Beach Road Pathway. And if you’re into exotic tropical flora, you should visit the award-winning Saipan Botanical Garden, which has hundreds of them.
There aren’t very many museums in Saipan, but the CNMI Museum of History and Culture is one of them. This museum showcases the life of islanders, past and present, and is a great way to learn more about the indigenous Marianas.
For those who are interested in diving and snorkeling, Grotto is one of the hot spots. It is considered one of the best cavern dives in the world and features a limestone hole that enters into a cave that has three different exit holes to the sea. Eagle Ray City is another popular dive spot with its 30 feet of rocky formation and its population of some 40 Eagle Rays. For snorkeling and other water activities, the Garapan and the Mañagaha are the places to go. The latter is an uninhabited islet that is a popular day-trip excursion for many visitors. They flock there to tan on the sandy beeches, admire the picturesque lagoon, or jet ski, parasail, and surf.
The golfing in Saipan is fantastic. There are five golf courses with four of them designed by professional golfers – two of them by Greg Norman.
Of course, Saipan is also a great shopping city with its duty-free status. The Duty Free Galleria is the main shopping center. It is located in central Garapan and sells brand name clothes and goods at supposedly cheaper prices than many other countries.
Saipan also holds a number of island festivals each year. The Annual Flame Tree Arts Festival, the Taste of the Marianas, and the Liberation Day Festival and Parade are the most popular. The Flame Tree Arts Festival in April features exciting dance performances. The Liberation Day Festival in May celebrates the island’s WWII liberation with nightly entertainment, food booths, and games. And perhaps the most popular event is the Taste of the Marianas in May. This is a food and beer festival featuring live music and dancing and international cuisine prepared by the islands’ top chefs. Also, the Garapan Street Market in downtown opens up every week at night and offers an opportunity for visitors not only to buy local arts and crafts, but to sample local delicacies like the apigigi, a local dessert made with coconut and wrapped banana leaves.