Micronesia
Guam, gateway to Micronesia 

Guam is the largest and most southern island in the Marianas Islands archipelago in the western north Pacific Ocean, covering 212 square miles, with a population of some 145,000 people.

Founded by Spain in 1668, Agana can lay claim to being the oldest “European” city in the Pacific. It is the capital of Guam, and is located on the western side of the island just north of the only deep-water anchorage, Apra Harbour. An international airport is nearby.

Throughout the city are unusual statues, including a revolving likeness of Pope John Paul II, which looks down upon the Plaza de España and completes one rotation every 24 hours. A small replica of the Statue of Liberty is in the Paseo de Susana park, and there is also a statue of a mermaid in Agana.

After the Japanese occupation of Guam in World War II, Agana was all but destroyed during the Allied campaign to liberate the island. A lone member of the Japanese forces, Corporal Shoichi Yokoi, stayed in hiding in the bamboo forests until 1972 — unaware that World War II had ended.

Guam is the most developed island in Micronesia, it serves as a transportation and communications hub and is regarded as the 'gateway' to Micronesia. There are traffic jams, fast food restaurants, large shopping centres, a university, lavish resort hotels and a large US military base.

In contrast, Southern Guam is made up of volcanic hills ranging in altitude up to 1,300 feet and has sleepy villages, good sandy beaches and an abundance of butterflies and rainbows. The central and northern parts of the island consist mainly of a limestone plateau with steep cliffs dropping down to a narrow coastal shelf.

The earliest inhabitants were the Chamorros who traced their origin to Indonesia and Malaysia. The island fell to the Japanese shortly after the Pearl Harbour attack and was occupied by Japan until 1944. It was retaken by America and made a United States Territory.

A wide variety of vines, shrubs and trees decorate the island giving it a lush tropical appearance and there are also many types of flowers.

Today, small scale agriculture provides families and local markets in the capital Agana, with pineapples, bananas, papayas, mangos, limes, avocados and melons, also cucumbers, green beans, squash, peppers and eggplant.

Although Guam's lifestyle is increasingly Americanised, which means most modern conveniences can be found, the old Chamorro and Spanish traditions are retained and that translates into a very relaxed gentle atmosphere.

International resort hotels line the shores of Tumon Bay less than 15 minutes from the airport and shopping centre.

Sea charter fishing is on hand and only a day's notice is needed to secure a boat charter which departs daily from Agana Boat Basin or the charter pier in Merizo.

Scuba equipment and snorkelling gear can be bought at duty free prices and if you're not interested in deep-sea fishing, you can rent scuba gear and go see the fish in their natural habitat on the coral reef.

There are lots of small sail boats and catamarans for rent at most hotels and resorts.

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Guam is a shoppers' paradise for the island has duty free status, which means you can pick up name brand merchandise and other items cheaper than in their country of origin.

In 1969 Guam initiated its visa waiver program whereby citizens of more than a dozen countries are allowed entry to Guam without a visa for a period of up to 14 days. However, travel onward to other US points is not allowed.

Hagatña (Agana)

The city of  (formerly known as Agaña) has been the centre of Guam ever since the Spanish first set about remodelling the island on behalf of God. The town is small enough to explore on foot in an afternoon and there are plenty of parks and historic buildings. Central Hagatña features the remains of Casa Gobierno, the Governor's Palace, which dates back to 1736.

Don't miss the revolving statue of Pope John Paul II, on the site where the man himself held mass in 1981. The twirling pontiff certainly beats the miniature Statue of Liberty in Paseo de Susana Park to the north. In the south-east of the park, a statue of Chief Quipuha stands forever condemned to survey the congested traffic of Hagatña's main thoroughfare, Marine Drive. Quipuha donated the land for Guam's first Catholic church, the site of the present Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral in the town centre of Plaza de España. Next door is Latte Park, named after the mysterious stone pillars, or lattes, moved here from an ancient Chamorro village. Dating back to 500 AD, the pillars are thought to have been the foundations for some very impressive native homes.

Tumon Bay

The tourist centre of Guam is just up the beach from Hagatña. Called Tumon Bay, it's essentially a one-road-deep resort strip fuelled by hotels, clubs and restaurants. It's also geared towards Japanese package tourists, which translates to high prices. Tumon Bay itself is quite shallow and at low tide it's possible to wade right out to the reef for a look around. Y'pao Beach Park is on the bay's south-west side and was once home to an ancient Chamorro village, as well as a leper and penal colony. These days it's a popular fiesta site. Up the other end of the bay is Gun Beach, named after a rusty old Japanese gun hidden in jungle growth at the foot of the northside cliff. The beach is notable for its very cool 'star sand', tiny orange grains with star-shaped points. It's actually the calcium carbonate shells of a common protozoan found on Guam's reefs.

Inarajan

A sleepy village with a smattering of Spanish-era influence and some of the island's richest Chamorro flavours, Inarajan is perched on Guam's scenic south-east coast. Along the waterfront is the Chamorro Cultural Village, a publicly funded complex of bamboo and thatch shelters where traditional Chamorro crafts are demonstrated. Salugula Pool is a natural saltwater pool with diving platforms and arched bridges. Down the road are the ruins of a concrete Baptist church built in 1925, and a bronze sculpture depicting a battle between two Chamorro chiefs, Malaguana and Gadao. In the cliffs across the bay from Inarajan is Gadao's Cave, which has ancient pictographs said to be drawn by Gadao himself. Another worthwhile trip from the town is to Talofofo Falls, a two-tier cascade with swimming holes. Be prepared for a fairly hefty entrance fee. Nearby Talofofo Bay Beach Park is one of the island's prime surfing haunts.

Cocos Island

About 3km (1.9mi) off Guam's southern tip, Cocos Island is surrounded by a vast barrier reef and blessed with good beaches and lagoons. While most of Cocos is privately owned, the west side of the island - a former US Coast Guard station area - is part of the territorial park system. To get to the park, called Dano, you must either hike over from the resort dock or commandeer a private boat. Picnicking and camping facilities are available. Boats go to Cocos from the town of Merizo several times a day.

Pago Bay Vista Lookout

An unmarked viewpoint just past the town of Yona on Guam's central eastern coast lets you gaze out over the Pago River as it empties into the broad Pago Bay. There was once a Spanish village at the mouth of the river but its inhabitants were wiped out in a smallpox epidemic in 1856. According to legend, a giant fish who wanted to cut the island in half at its narrowest point used to nibble away at the land here. But Guam was saved from bisection by a woman who wove her long hair into a net and scooped up the mischievous fish.

Mt Jumullong Manglo & Mt Lamlam

Inland from Cetti Bay and topped with large wooden crosses is the 385m (1263ft) Mt Jumullong Manglo, or Humuyung Manglu, the final destination of cross-bearers during the Island's annual Good Friday procession. A more difficult and more obscure trail takes you 400m (1312ft) up to the top of Mt Lamlam, Guam's highest point. Lamlam means lightning, so it's probably best avoided during thunderstorms.

Activities

Since Guam's greatest attractions are in the surrounding sea, scuba diving is high on the list of things to do. Underwater visibility is excellent and there are plenty of fishies and reefs. Surfing is also popular. Windsurfing and snorkelling paraphernalia is available for hire, as are canoes and kayaks. For the less sporty, the Atlantis submarine takes the paying public on tours of one of Guam's best reefs. On dry land, golf is the premier sporting pastime and there are seven courses on which to flaunt your plus fours. There's plenty of good swimming and hiking, especially at Tarzan Falls in central Guam, where such pursuits are known as boonie stomping - Guamanian American for venturing off the beaten track.

Country Profile

  • Full country name:Territory of Guam
  • Population: 150,000
  • Capital city: Agana (pop 1140)
  • People: 47% Chamorro, 25% Filipino, 10% Caucasian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and 18% other
  • Language: English, Chamorro
  • Religion: 98% Roman Catholic, 2% other
  • Government: Colonial
  • Location: Oceania, island in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines
  • Area: total area: 541.3 km² land area: 541.3 km² comparative area: slightly more than three times the size of Washington, DC
  • Land boundries: 0 km
  • Coastline: 125.5 km
  • Maritime Claims: exclusive economic zone: 200 nm territorial sea: 12 nm
  • International disputes: none
  • Climate: tropical marine; generally warm and humid, moderated by northeast trade winds; dry season from January to June, rainy season from July to December; little seasonal temperature variation
  • Terrain: volcanic origin, surrounded by coral reefs; relatively flat coraline limestone plateau (source of most fresh water) with steep coastal cliffs and narrow coastal plains in north, low-rising hills in center, mountains in south
  • Natural resources: fishing (largely undeveloped), tourism (especially from Japan)
  • Irrigated land: NA km²
  • Land use arable land: 11% permanent crops: 11% meadows and pastures: 15% forest and woodland: 18% other: 45%
  • Environment: current issues: NA natural hazards: frequent squalls during rainy season; relatively rare, but potentially very destructive typhoons (especially in August)

Note: largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Islands archipelago; strategic location in western North Pacific Ocean

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