Saipan is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Saipan is 23 km (14 mi) long and 8 km (5 mi) wide. The best beaches and most populated areas are on the western and southern coasts, with the north and east being rugged and mountainous.
Because only one branch of the US Military - the Coast Guard - has even a small permanent presence on Saipan, many Chamorros on Saipan consider their culture more intact than on Guam. Therefore, comparisons between the two islands should take this into account. Furthermore, Chamorros on Saipan and throughout the CNMI still primarily speak Chamorro at home, while the same isn't true of Guam. While the differences between a commonwealth (as in the CNMI) and a territory (as in Guam) may not appear to be great (especially to a mainland US citizen), Saipan should not be referred to as a territory when speaking to a local. Finally, while the population of the CNMI, as on Guam, are US citizens and proud to be recognized as such, their independent identity is equally important.
1 Garapan, the capital, is the main hotel area on Saipan, and includes a number of hotels, bars and restaurants. The City of Garapan is the most urban area in the CNMI but is considered more of a "mini town". Restaurants, shopping centers and smaller stores and shops are all walking distance from each other. Although many unfamiliar tourists are able to take a "Taxi Cab" to and from the insular areas of the city along with the other villages outside of Garapan.
2 Chalan Kanoa is the site of the US invasion of Saipan. It has the main branch of the US Postal Service. It also has several restaurants and grocery stores.
While English is certainly the lingua franca on Saipan, few people on the island (adults in particular) speak English as their first language. Nevertheless, nearly everybody does speak English to varying degrees. Many local residents, who often use English at school or at work, speak Chamorro or Carolinian (both official in addition to English) or another of the Micronesian languages at home. The majority of people living on Saipan are overseas contract laborers, however. These people come mostly from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh and Thailand. Furthermore, Korean, Japanese and (more recently) Russian and Chinese tourists make their languages fairly prevalent in the tourist areas as well.
Most hotels are geared toward a particular language/nationality such as Japanese or Korean, which represent most of the tourism. A notable exception is Pacific Islands Club, which is geared toward a multilingual/multinationial clientele. Likewise, most of the SCUBA shops are geared toward Japanese or Korean tourism, though the heavy reliance on Philippine dive staff ensures that many will also be able to handle English-speaking customers.
For entry requirements, see the main article on the Northern Mariana Islands.
1 Saipan International Airport (SPN) is located in the southeast corner of the island and is the main gateway to the Northern Mariana Islands. Direct flights are available from Seoul and Busan (via Jeju Air and Asiana among other airlines); Hong Kong (via Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express); Beijing (via China Eastern Airlines), Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai (via Sichuan Airlines), and Hangzhou (via Beijing Capital Airlines); seasonally from Manila (via Philippine Airlines); seasonally from Kansai International Airport (via Asiana); and from the nearby islands of Guam, Tinian, and Rota (via Star Marianas Air, and via United from Guam).
There is no public transport as such, excluding shuttle buses running between hotels and the Duty Free shopping center in Garapan.
There is no public bus service on Saipan, but on Saipan PDI and other companies run a shopping shuttle bus to and from the Duty Free mall (DFS Galleria) in Garapan. DFS also has their own free shuttle from most of the major hotels.
Taxis on Saipan are expensive but plentiful, however the only place they are allowed to pick up or drop off passengers is at the airport or a hotel, and sometimes at DFS. There is also a large network of illegal taxis run by Chinese immigrants, that will take you anywhere for $15.00. For some Saipan residents this is their only means of transportation.
Because Saipan is so small, taxis from the airport to the main hotel area of Garapan can run upwards of $25-30, so plan ahead by arranging transportation through your hotel, which often charge $10 per person flat rate.
Car rental is a good option for getting off the beaten track, as roads are generally quite good. Most car rental offices are either at the airport or at major tourist hotels; some offer a free pick up and drop off service.
Mopeds can be rented for about $20, though roads are very dark at night and bugs predominate after dusk. Therefore, consider mopeds for day-tripping only, as drivers tend not to give heed to mopeds or bicyclists throughout the CNMI or Guam.
Saipan, Guam, and many other islands of the Marianas were all important battle sites during WWII, and many Japanese bunkers and armaments still exist on these islands. These sites are managed by the National Park Service under the "War in the Pacific" Parks designation. Saipan is fairly small and by renting a car or moped, it is easy to drive around the island and take in the natural splendor, as well as visit a number of parks. Scuba diving is also popular, and the underwater world should definitely be seen.
- Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff, on the northern tip of the island, were sites where thousands of Japanese civilians, trying to escape the fighting and convinced by the Japanese Army that they would be killed by the Americans, jumped to their deaths in the Battle of Saipan in 1944. The former is by the sea while the latter is on the rock outcropping overlooking it. Numerous Japanese memorials mark the sites.
Scuba diving and snorkeling on Saipan are deservedly the most popular activities here among western tourists, though gambling and karaoke/hostess bars are most popular among Korean businessmen, as well as some Japanese travelers. Garapan is coastally located, so other watersports abound as well. For scuba divers, the term "Fun Dive" is used for those who have already been certified and just want to recreational dive, while "Taiken dive" is used to designate first-time divers that take classes on Saipan. The same is true for the rest of the CNMI and somewhat so for Guam. While boat dives are available, you can still drive to some awesome dive sights, like Grotto. A cavern dive to open ocean is great. If you go outside, you will need a guide as it is very easy to get turned around outside and lose track of the tunnel back in.
- Aquasmith (Across from DFS), ☎ . American/Chamorro/Japanese dive Instructors Dive shop (Scuba diving/Skin diving/Spearfishing).
- Tripper's Tours, ☎ (6453). Canadian dive guide/instructor/underwater photographer & videographer with 15 years' experience, including 7 on Saipan.
- Dive Saipan. Korean dive shop
- Speedy Tertle. Russian dive shop
- G.O.D.I., ☎ . Dive Shop. Russian-, Japanese- and English-speaking.
For more detailed descriptions of individual dive sites in Saipan, see the Dive sites of Saipan article.
You may also want to check out one or more of the 5 golf courses. Two were designed by Greg Norman, one by Larry Nelson and another by Graham Marsh. The other course is considered a "local" course. There is also a 9-hole course that is great for beginners.
Recently, Segway of Marianas has started renting out Segway Personal Transporters for use in exploring downtown Garapan at reasonable rates.
The Saipan Hash House Harriers meet every Saturday at 3:30PM at the Bank of Guam parking lot in Garapan to run, hike, jog, climb and otherwise trek through jungle, swamps, mountains, and other terrain. It's usually a great way to meet people and see a side of island life you might not catch otherwise.
Trekking and other land-based activities are available on the island. The Forbidden Island, originally occupied by evil spirits and now a bird sanctuary, can be reached by an hour's hike from the edge of the town of Kagman on the east coast. Take a snorkel kit to enjoy the diving area between the island and shore.
Most trekking activities will require a guide.
- Marianas Trekking, Mariana Resort and Spa, ☎ . Mountain Bike Tours, ATV Tours, and Kayak Tours and all of it is done completely first rate. The guides are super friendly, the equipment is good, and the fun factor and local knowledge is definitely better than anything you could do on your own.
- Saipan finally has a multiplex theatre run by Wallace Theaters. Now with first run movies with Dolby Digital sound.
There are many opportunities for shopping in Garapan. The DFS Galleria is a large shopping center that offers duty free shopping with low tax. Star Sands Plaza is the largest souvenir and island lifestyle store on island where U.S retail brand outlet Everblue store can be found. ABC STORES has two Saipan branches with an initial inventory that includes stocked grocery, souvenirs, drugs and cosmetics, ABC has grown to carry anything a tourist would need. There is also a popular local department star called Joeten in Garapan that offers unique goods and items. The city of Garapan offers a variety of shops like The Athlete's foot and more.
Duty Free Galleria, in the center of Garapan, has the top name brands and fashions available for high prices (but supposedly lower rates than in Tokyo). Locally made crafts are available in some stores on the islands, but check first to make sure the items were not manufactured in the Philippines, Thailand, or Indonesia.
There is a tiny branch of Bestseller Books, packed full of the latest titles as well as magazines and travel guides, in the Joeten Susupe shopping center. Music And, further south on Beach Road, carries discs by local musicians.
One of the classic adventures on island is a bike tour done by Marianas Trekking up on the North Coast. The guides take you up by van to the top of Suicide Cliff and then you can ride down, with stops at all of the historical sites, and a snorkeling stop at the Blue Grotto. The tour breaks for lunch at Mariana Beach and ends at the Mandi Asian Spa. It is a treat.
Many nice bakeries exist in and around Garapan and local breakfast places are within walking distance of the main hotel area. Seafood from the local street markets is understandably very fresh.
Commercial chains on Saipan include Hard Rock Cafe, Tony Roma's, McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Subway. Vegetarian options are possible to find as well. For self-catering options, try one of the Joeten supermarkets for fruits and vegetables, some locally grown.
- Canton Restaurant, ☎ . Fantastic Chinese food and excellent service. Delicious roast duck and excellent steamed parrotfish. Oldest Chinese restaurant on the island.
- Coffee Care, Capitol Hill. Has excellent coffee and some very good homemade pasta dishes, sandwiches, soup, and desserts.
- Ebisuya, Susupe. Fresh bread, sandwiches, sushi, and homemade soup.
- Esko's. One of the few local places catering locally made treats dating back to the Spanish era. Excellent place to experience the real taste of the Marianas.
- Himawari, Garapan. Sushi, bread, pastries, and handmade fresh noodle.
- Wild Bill's Bar & Grill. Great omelets, hash browns, and pancakes.
- Winchell's. For donuts and coffee.
- Bobby Cadillac's. A casual deli and pizza spot with a bar. Hot pastrami on rye with melted Swiss cheese!
- Hong Wan (On Beach Road, central Garapan), ☎ . Sichuan, Shandong, and Pekingese cuisine. mid-range.
- Ubu (On Micro Beach Road, central Garapan), ☎ . 11:30-14:30, 18:30-23:00. Japanese cuisine. It's a branch of a restaurant in Tokyo, so it's fairly authentic. mid-range.
- Herman's Modern Bakery and Tan Marikita's Cafe. The first bakery and cafe in Saipan, making traditional and American breads.
- Coffee Care Saipan, Capitol Hill road, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or email for a ride. A great place to eat or enjoy some fine coffee.
- Thai House, Garapan (next to the Cabrera Center), ☎ (for a ride).
- The Spicy Thai Noodle Place (in San Antonio next to the Thailand Food Store), ☎ . Has excellent Thai food
- Giovanni's, Garapan (at the Hyatt Hotel). Offers the best Sunday Brunch in the Pacific for $34.00. Reservations are a must. The Hyatt also has a daily buffet lunch for $20.
- Java Joe's (across from the Joten/Pharmacy building in DAN DAN). A very simple, yet outstanding little coffee shop. With a big selection on coffee, lattes, and smoothies.
- Karaoke/Hostess Bars abound in Garapan all of which allow ample drinking opportunities if one is so inclined.
- Oleai Beach Club. A great 'sunset' bar and lunch spot on the beach in San Jose Village. It's popular with the locals because of their lunchtime $1 Taco Special.
If you like to run, drink beer or both, there is an active chapter of the Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem). The Saipan Hash House Harriers meet every Saturday at the Bank of Guam building in Garapan at 3:30PM in 'Winter', and 4PM in 'Summer'. Join the Hash if you'd like to meet some folks from Saipan, see some of the lesser known areas of the island, and enjoy a bit of outrageous partying. The cost is US$10.00 per person for the run, all the beer, soda and junk food you can consume, and all the fun you can handle.
For those with a different idea of 'fun', there are plenty of night clubs, strip joints, karaoke bars and massage parlors.
Most of Saipan's accommodation caters to package tourists. Rates are steep during Japanese holiday seasons but equally steeply discounted outside them. Internet bookings can regularly find rates below $60 per night, depending on the season.
- Gold Beach Hotel, Garapan. $30 per night if you can prove you're a local resident.
- Saipan World Resort, ☎ . Susupe. Massive hotel with all the facilities you'd expect set on a beautiful beach. The best thing to do here is to borrow a kayak (free), paddle out to the rusting tank hunks a few hundred meters offshore, tie up your boat and dive in to see the corals and fish lurking nearby. World resort stay includes free usage of water park. From $195 per night.
- Hyatt Regency Saipan, P.O. Box 5087, Capitol Hill Rural Branch, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 5 star hotel with 325 rooms and suites. Set on the beach front and amidst tropical gardens. The hotel has a pool bar, a beach bar and a spa.
- Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan, ☎ . Coral Tree Avenue, Garapan. Located in the heart of Saipan's Tourism district, on the white sands of Micro Beach, near shopping centers and nightlife, the Fiesta Resort and Spa, Saipan is a leading resort in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Many hotels and restaurants on Saipan now offer free wireless internet access to customers that bring their own laptops, including Coffee Care, McDonalds, Wild Bill's in Garapan, Java Joe's in Dandan, and Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan in Garapan. La Moda Isla in Garapan offers free wifi in its snack bar area.
- Information Technology Center, Joeten-Kiyu Public Library, Susupe. The best place to get online on Saipan.
- Japan, 2nd Floor, Bank of Hawaii Building, Marina Heights Business Park, ☎ , fax: .
- Palau, Joeten Dandan Commercial Center, ☎ , fax: .
- Philippines, Nauru Bldg, 5F, ☎ , fax: .
- Managaha Island. A small island sheltered in a lagoon, this is Saipan's best spot to snorkel. There are even some introductory scuba trails laid out in rope on the sea bed, which also make for great snorkeling sightseeing tours. You have to pay for the boat ride out, but it usually includes lunch. There are amenities out on the island. It takes about 15 minutes to walk completely around the island. It really is a great place to snorkel. Some snorkel and dive operators will offer rice or fish food to feed the fish, but this is unhealthy for both the reef and the fish and good tour operators will not do this. In addition, feeding the fish means that you will see a lot of the same kind of fish (often convict tangs), and miss out on many other colorful and interesting fish.
- Tinian Island is just three miles away across the Saipan Channel.