The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is currently
undergoing massive change as its fiscally challenged capital Saipan
painfully comes to terms with the loss of its lucrative Japanese tour
market. But travel trends come and go; the charm of the islands
endures. It's therefore your mission, should you accept it, to seek out
the best of the CNMI.
first glance, Saipan can seem like a package-tour nightmare, a place
where Chamorro culture has devolved, tour buses constantly patrol the
sights, and solitude seems hard to come by. But catch the island at the
right time and at the right angle (in the right place) and you'll be
rewarded with some poignant experiences: flame trees in bloom;
melancholy historical sights; turquoise waters and white sands; and
fine diving and snorkelling. At some stage, you will need respite,
though, and that's waiting just south of Saipan in the form of Tinian.
This is a somniferous island, tiny in size but claiming a mighty
chapter in world history: American B-29s flew from here to drop the
atomic bomb on Japan. Tinian, for the most part, has escaped major
development (although it does have an ostentatious casino) and its
natural charms remain intact, like lovely beaches and rewarding hikes.
But the real jewel in the CNMI chain is beautiful Rota. Actually, Rota
is the Diamond Tiara of the Marianas, the crowning glory, an island
punctuated by a hilly interior, small farms, good spring water, enough
deer to maintain a hunting season and fiery orange sunsets that light
the evening skies. And a more friendly place you'd be hard-pressed to
find; by the time you've finished with Rota, your arm will be sore from
waving and your heart will be sore from having to leave.