I must admit, I had to consult Google Earth after my sister suggested Guam as our tropical getaway. This tiny island appeared as no more than a speck on my monitor as Google Earth whisked me away from London, across two continents and eventually to a spot in the Pacific Ocean. If it weren’t for the word ‘Micronesia’ printed boldly next to it, it could have been mistaken for a small fleck on my monitor.
The pamphlet that my sister had picked up from the travel agent described “…A beautiful island paradise with sleepy villages, stunning waterfalls and pristine beaches”… Sigh! An island paradise… Images of Hula girls and piña coladas immediately filled my head as I watched the cold, drizzly London rain form streams across my kitchen window… This was just what I needed after a bad break-up…
Two-weeks-and-a-short-mini-break-in-Hong-Kong-later, I had reached this little speck of an island. It was the humidity that hit me first when we arrived at some unsociable hour of the morning. Unable to check in to the Hilton hotel at Tumon Bay, our tour guide swiftly led us from the airport to the 24 hour K-Mart. It felt surreal wandering around the aisles aimlessly whiling away the time, but then Guam is full of its unique contradictions.
It’s fair to say Guam is remote… and tropical it certainly is. But paradisical? I wasn’t so sure. Now a territory of the U.S. and once ruled by Japan for 2.5 years following the Pearl Harbour bombing, the juxtaposition of military presence and of a ‘Japanese theme park’ left me confused.
Japanese teenagers and US citizens seem to outweigh the local Chamorros… Historical villages have probably long given way to the burger joints, tourist stalls and the big branded hotels that now line the coastline. The Huffington Post described Guam as a “mix of Texas with Hawaii”… Add to that concoction a little bit of Miyakojima and ergo, you have Guam.
Still, the white stretches of sand and blue sky injected the first hint of optimism I had felt in years… It may not be on Conde Nast Traveller’s ‘Gold List’ but Guam just might be America’s most exotic destination. It enjoys near perfect weather all year round, it’s easy to stumble upon great live music at the beach while you’re having a BBQ dinner and the sunsets are truly majestic…
Enticed? If you are, below are 10 Things Not to be Missed while you’re there…
1. Hire a car and explore the island. The roads, although riddled with potholes in some areas, are generally straightforward and well sign posted. You can drive around the island in one hour. Do note that some areas are closed off for military.
2. For a history lesson, drive to Yokoi’s Cave – part of the admission price of Talafofo Falls. (Admission price is $20 for adults and $8 for children).
Shiochi Yokoi was a Japanese sergeant in the Japanese Army during the Second World War. He was among the last of the three Japanese holdouts to be found long after the war ended in 1945. Yokoi hid in an underground jungle cave for 28 years, afraid to come out of hiding, even after finding leaflets that declared the war had ended.
3. For the trekkers and ramblers, head to Talafofo Falls, part of Yokoi’s Cave (above) and one of the must see destinations of Guam. The 30-foot waterfall of the Ugum River cascades into a deep pool surrounded by jungle. Bring your mosquito repellant with you! The area is accessible by car or foot, and tourists can opt to ride a cable car to reach the falls. Entry also includes the Guam Historical Museum, the Observation Tower, a Ghost House and a monorail ride.
4. For the beach seekers, continue to the northernmost tip of Guam to Ritidian Point, a national wildlife refuge and pride of place as Guam’s most pristine beach. The White stretch of sand against turquoise waters and swaying palms is one of the few areas of Guam I’d consider as paradise!
5. For a touch of romance, drive to the coastal lookout of Two Lovers Point, a giant gilded statue of entwined lovers. Legend has it that two young Chamorro lovers jumped to their deaths from this cliff in a tale of two star crossed lovers.
The girl, from a wealthy, esteemed family fell in love with a young warrior from a very modest Chamorro family. When the girl’s father learned of their affair, he grew angry and demanded she marry a Spanish captain.
Unable to be united in this life, the lovers tied their long black hair into a single knot and leapt over cliff into the roaring waters below. The two lovers remain a symbol of true love, in which two souls are entwined forever in life and in death.
6. For the Sunset seekers, go to the Fish Eye Marine Park in the early evening so you can watch the sunset from the 1000ft wooden bridge.The 360-degree underwater observatory at the end of the bridge allows you to enjoy views of marine life and of the Piti bomb site. At 71 feet high, 31 feet of this submerged in the sea, the observatory is a feat of engineering in itself. After taking in the sublime sunset, cross the road to the seafood restaurant for an abundant buffet and be entertained by Polynesian dancers and flame throwers.
7. For a spot of shopping, go to the Chamorro Village on a Wednesday night for the night market from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm. An alternative to driving is the tour tram which will drop you at the village. It’s a great place to pick up your usual souvenirs… T-shirts, fridge magnets and trinkets. You can also grab a bite to eat relatively cheaply at the food courts.
8. For a stunning hilltop view of Umatac Bay, drive to Fort Soledad, a Spanish Fort constructed in Guam in the 19th century, . It was built to guard the bay from pirates and buccaneers. A cannon points out over the Pacific Ocean and at Umatac Bay where Magellan landed in 1521 to make the first contact between Guam and the West.
9. For the animal lovers, join a boat tour for the day and go dolphin spotting. Boat tours for the day start from around $70 US dollars and include snorkelling and a ride on a banana boat. We joined the ABC tour www.abcguam.com which included pick up and lunch.
10. I’ve saved the best till last – go on a scuba diving trip. I would recommend Lets Dive Guam www.letsdiveguam.com They offer different dive sites from around $85 US dollars for one dive. I’m not the greatest diver and saved the American Tanker dive to my sister and brother in law while I explored shallower waters where you will see plenty of Parrotfish and Angelfish. The American Tanker dive is for the more advanced diver… the concrete barge was sunk after WWII to help form the breakwater but due to faulty positioning, it sank on its side. According to the website there are a few open rooms along the ship deck which can be safely entered by divers without special shipwreck training but still, best to venture on this one with a few dives under your belt.