Category - Guam

Guam Travel Guide

Guam Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

If you’ve spent time on neighouring islands in Micronesia, you will have become use to a sleepy, laid-back, slow-paced way of life. Guam however is bright lights, big city buzz – a mini Hawaii – and will snap you out of any relaxed, comatose state you may have gotten use to. Here you will find busy, congested highways, lined with shopping malls (anchored by stores such as Macy’s) and all the usual US chain restaurants. Expensive, high-rise resorts, which cater to a throng of Japanese and Korean tourists, line the shore of emerald-coloured Tumon bay (Guam’s version of Waikiki).

View from Two Lovers Point

View from Two Lovers Point.

Added into this mix are approximately 7,000 US military personnel (and their families) who are stationed at either Anderson Air Force base in the north or Naval Base Guam on the east coast. While on Guam it is impossible to escape the US military presence – in any restaurant you will most likely be dining alongside soldiers and their families, bars are full of soldiers and to get to these places you travel along roads such as South Marine Corps Drive, Army Drive etc.

I love Guam

Guam (population: 160,000) is the biggest and busiest island in Micronesia. The island is an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States (i.e. Guam is controlled by the US government but is not fully part of the United States – as such the US Constitution applies only partially). The official currency is the US dollar.

Guam is a fun place to spend a week, with many different attractions on land and in the pristine, tropical waters which surround the island. Being a US territory – services and infrastructure are well developed, which makes for easy traveling.

Location

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Located in the western Pacific (north of the equator, three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines), Guam is the southernmost island in the Mariana island chain.

Located off the east coast of the island is the Mariana Trench, which reaches it’s deepest point (10,911 metres/ 35,797 feet) at Challenger Deep, the deepest point on the planet. In 2012, famous Canadian film maker – James Cameron – was the first human to travel 11 km (6.8 miles) down into the depths of Challenger Deep on a solo voyage in a specially built submarine.

History

Magellan's obelisk at Umatac bay

Magellan’s obelisk at Umatac bay

Guam was settled around 2,000 BC by native Chamorros who are believed to have come from Southeast Asia and today comprise 38% of the total population. The first European contact was in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island – it is here where Magellan encountered the first “indios” since leaving South America. Despite Magellan’s initial visit, the island was not colonised by Spain until the 17th century who then used it as a stopover point for their Spanish Manila Galleons, which sailed between Mexico and the Philippines. During the Spanish period, many Filipinos settled on Guam and today comprise 27% of the population.

Guam Territorial Flag

The Guam Territorial Flag

In 1898 the Spanish surrendered Guam to the United States as part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War. However, the island was then captured during WWII by Japan, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese occupied Guam for the next two-and-a-half years, before U.S. troops were able to recapture the island in 1944. The Americans have been in control every since.

Today, Guam is supported by its tourism industry, with its second largest source of income coming from the United States Armed Forces.

For a more detailed history, you can refer to Wikipedia.

Sights

Guam Beer fan

For sightseeing, Guam can be split into three regions:

Northern Region

A large chunk of the northern region is off limits to visitors as its home of the Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), with the base stretching along the entire north coast. One place worth visiting is Ritidian beach on the the north-east coast. The road to the beach is a pot-holed, rough, gravel road, which follows the perimeter fence of the AFB. While I was bouncing along this road I could look over into the base where I could see a perfectly paved road with absolutely no traffic. While back-roads on the island can be rough, it seems roads on the bases are in perfect working order.

Ritidian beach is home to the Guam National Wildlife Refuge Unit which provides two miles of coastal walking trails. The refuge is open daily until 4pm. After this time, a locked gate on the main road prohibits any access to the entire area, so best to come during refuge opening hours.

Coco Palm Garden Beach

Coco Palm Garden Beach

Another, much rougher, gravel road (left turn before the refuge gate) follows Ritidian beach. I drove my (rental) car along this road but it really is only suited to 4wd. Most of the beachfront property is private with fences, gates and ‘no trespassing‘ signs lining the way. There is nowhere along this road which provides public access to the beach. If you persevere, you’ll eventually reach Coco Palm Garden Beach. This is one over-priced tourist trap. For around $90 each, Japanese and Korean tourists are bused in from their Tumon Bay resorts, provided a welcome drink, BBQ lunch, access to the beach (rocky/ coral reef), towel and fish food (?). The whole place closes down early in the afternoon to ensure all tourists are back at their resorts in time for their dinner shows. I arrived at 4pm and was allowed 2 minutes of free access to take one photo of the beach. The staff were not at all welcoming and certainly not happy that I was getting free access.

On West Marine Corps drive in Dededo is the Micronesia Mall – the largest mall on the island. Okay – if you have arrived on Guam from the real world then this mall will not seem to be anything special, but for those who have spent an inordinate amount of time on any of the sleepy, less-developed neighbouring islands – this is big deal.

Love hearts at Two Lovers Point

Signed love hearts at Two Lovers Point

Just north of Tumon Bay is Two Lovers Point, a dramatic (400ft) coastal cliff from which it is said two lovers jumped to their death as the father of the girl wanted her to marry a Spanish captain which she refused in the most dramatic way possible. The views over the Philippine Sea and nearby Tumon Bay are spectacular, as are all the colourful love-heart shaped dedications written by visiting romantic tourists.

Tumon Bay from Two Lovers Point.

View south to Tumon Bay from Two Lovers Point.

Central Region

This is where all the action is and where you will spend most of your time. The central region is home to the tourist hub of Tumon Bay and to the island’s capital – Hagåtña.

Tumon Bay

Tumon Bay

Tumon Bay

With its stretch of high-rise resorts wrapping around the bay, Tumon is all about rest, relaxation, play and shopping. In between the resorts are large duty free shops catering to the needs of free-spending Japanese and Korean tourists. It’s here you’ll find US chain restaurants, Sushi & Korean BBQ restaurants, bars & clubs, spas, dinner theatres, specialty shops an Underwater World and everything else package tourists might need to enhance their tropical escape experience.

Tumon Bay Guam

Tumon Bay

During the day, the bay offers fantastic snorkeling – once you get well offshore (unfortunately too many tourists standing on the flat coral heads has killed all the coral close to shore). Although I wasn’t staying there, I was able to hire snorkel gear from the aquatic sports shop at the Hilton hotel and snorkel directly in front of the hotel (best snorkeling is out to sea from the cove).

Hagåtña

Guam Museum in Hagåtña

Guam Museum in Hagåtña

Guam’s capital is a small, relaxed, town which features a historic walking path, connecting all sights of interest.  A good place to start is the impressive Guam Museum – the museum tells the history of the island. Directly outside the museum is a sculpture commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island in 1981.

Across the road from the museum is the historic Plaza de Espana, which was the location of the Governor’s Palace during the island’s period of Spanish occupation. The palace housed the office and residence of the Spanish governor but was largely destroyed during the liberation of Guam in 1944. Today a few structures remain, including the the Chocolate House, the “Azotea” and the Almacen gate. 

Statue of Pope John Paul II and Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña

Statue of Pope John Paul II and Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña

Next to Plaza de Espana, is the contemporary Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica while behind the Plaza is the Senator Angel Leon Guerrero Santos Memorial Park. The park contains 8 ancient lattes. Nothing to do with coffee – latte’s were used in the Mariana islands as house supports, with a cap at the top to discourage rats and other vermin climbing up into the house.  

BBQ at the Chamorro village

BBQ at the Chamorro village

Towards the harbour, the Chamorro village is a great place for souvenir shopping and (only on Wednesday evenings) the best BBQ in town. The best time to visit is early in the evening with lots of pop-up shops and BBQ vendors. The earlier you order food the better as the lines get progressively longer as the night goes on, with everyone from locals, tourists and military families turning out.

Southern Region

The southern part of the island features small, quiet coastal hamlets built around picturesque bays. I covered this part of the island on a leisurely day trip following a circuitous route from Hagåtña by first crossing the island on highway 4 to the east coast (Pago Bay) then traveling clockwise around the bottom of the island back to Hagåtña. The east coast lies on the windward side of the island hence the beaches are much more dramatic and exposed than those on the west coast.

Talofofo Falls

Talofofo Falls

In Talofofo bay, Talofofo falls are worth the short detour off the coastal road. The falls consist of a series of scenic cascades on the Talofofo River and are reached by way of a very lazy cable car which transports you down into the gorge where the falls are located. A series of paths and bridges leads you around the falls back to the cable car.

Yokoi's cave.

Yokoi’s cave.

Also at the falls is “Yokoi’s Cave” – a replica of the original cave, which was located at the same sight but previously destroyed by a typhoon. This fascinating survival story involves a Japanese soldier who survived the US liberation of the island in 1944 by hiding in a small cave in the jungle. Yokoi survived for the next 27 years, sourcing water from the river and food from the jungle until he was discovered in 1972 by two local hunters. He believed Japan was still at war and didn’t want to surrender. He eventually returned to Japan to a hero’s welcome (and to receive $300 in back pay).

Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

As you travel around the southern tip of the island onto the west coast, highway 4 becomes highway 2 as you enter Umatac bay. This picturesque bay was where Magellan landed in 1521. At the center of the bay is an obelisk monument commemorating his landing, bearing the inscription, “Magellan landed here.” It was also here in 1565 that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi dropped anchor and stayed for thirteen days, formally claiming Guam for Spain. On either side of the bay are two forts (Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad and Fort Santo Angelo), which were built during the Spanish colonial period to protect the bay from pirates and other European explorers.

Continuing north along the west coast you’ll soon reach Naval Base Guam. Next to the entrance of the base is the T. Stell Newman Visitor Centre, part of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. The friendly, informative staff can provide you with a map of the park and information on what to see. Most of the points of interest (former battlefields, trenches and historic structures) lie along the coast north of the Naval base. The park tells the story of war in the Pacific and details the US liberation of Guam in 1944, which resulted in the defeat of the Japanese.

Continuing along the coastal road you’ll eventually return to Hagåtña, where you can reward yourself with an ice cold glass of craft beer at the Mermaid Tavern and Grille.

Accommodation

Hilton hotel at Tumon Bay

Most visitors to Guam stay in expensive resorts – such as the Hilton – on beautiful Tumon Bay

Most hotels on the island are located along the long curving shore of beautiful Tumon bay, a short drive from the airport. These hotels are large scale, high-rise resorts which cater to Japanese, Korean and (increasingly) Chinese tourists who jet in for a few days of rest and relaxation. These tourists arrive on fully escorted tours with lots of money to spend in a short time, hence hotels around the bay are never cheap. If you wish to check these options, you will find them on sites such as booking.com

I used Airbnb to find a more reasonably priced apartment, which was perfect for my stay

Eating Out

Thanks to it being a US territory (and home-away-from-home for thousands of military personnel and their families), Guam offers more dining options than any other island in Micronesia. All the usual US chain restaurants are represented on the island. You can start your day with breakfast at Denny’s, lunch at Applebee’s and finish with dinner at the Texas Steakhouse. Its a glutton’s paradise. Added into the mix are numerous Japanese and Korean restaurants in Tumon Bay, which cater to the throngs of Japanese and Korean tourists.

McKraut's German restaurant in Inarajan

Lunch at McKraut’s German restaurant in Inarajan.

If you’re in the mood for fine German cuisine, you cannot go past the legendary McKraut’s German restaurant, which is located in the village of Inarajan on the remote south-east coast. The drive from Tumon Bay is about an hour but if you are exploring the south east coast then this is the perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner.

One ‘must do’ culinary experience on the island is the weekly BBQ at the Chamorro village in Hagåtña (see that section for more details). While in Hagåtña, the Mermaid Tavern and Grille serves their own craft beers to live music and great food most nights.

McKraut's German restaurant

Bar at McKraut’s German restaurant

For a taste of local Chomoro cuisine, the Meskla Chamoro Bistro in Hagåtña is an excellent choice. The restaurant was founded by a local celebrity chief (Peter Duenas) who’s aim has been to highlight Chomoro cuisine. This is a popular place so reservations are recommended.

Visa Requirements

Entry requirements for Guam are the same as the USA . Check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

UA154 arriving at Guam

UA154 arriving at Guam

By Air

Flights to Guam arrive at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (named after the first delegate from Guam to the United States House of Representatives). The airport is built on a high ridge above Tumon Bay and is within a three hour flight of major Asian cities in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The airport serves as a regional hub for United Airlines, however most flights are operated by Korean and Japanese carriers who carry hoards of holiday-makers to the island each day.

Guam airport is the terminus for the epic United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) – for more on this, please refer to my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Guam:

  • Air Busan – flight to Busan
  • Cebu Pacific – flight to Manila
  • China Airlines – flight to Taipei–Taoyuan
  • Delta Air Lines – flight to Tokyo–Narita
  • EVA Air – flight to Taipei – Taoyuan
  • HK Express – flight to Hong Kong
  • Japan Airlines – flight to Tokyo–Narita
  • Jeju Air – flights to Busan, Seoul–Incheon
  • Jin Air – flights to Busan, Seoul–Incheon
  • Korean Air – flights to Osaka–Kansai, Seoul–Incheon
  • Philippine Airlines – flight to Manila
  • Star Marianas Airflights to Rota, Saipan
  • T’way Airlines – flights to Daegu, Osaka–Kansai, Seoul–Incheon
  • United Airlines – flights to Chuuk, Fukuoka, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Koror, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro, Manila, Nagoya–Centrair, Osaka–Kansai, Pohnpei, Sapporo–Chitose, Sendai, Shanghai–Pudong, Tokyo–Narita, Yap
  • United Express – flights to Rota, Saipan

Getting Around

Guam travel guide

Bus

The Guam Regional Transit Authority operates inexpensive public buses which cover most places on the island. Services are not very frequent and only operate Monday – Saturday (no service Sunday or public holidays). If you wish to maximise your time on the island then car rental is the best option.

Taxi

Taxis are available in the main tourist areas with a fare from the airport to Tumon Bay costing about $6.

Car

Hire car Guam

The best way to explore Guam is with a hire car.

While public buses provide island-wide service, many attractions are off the beaten track, hence the best way to explore Guam is with a rental car. Daily charges on Guam are much more reasonable than those on neighbouring islands, with all the main rental companies operating from the airport. I hired a car through Alamo at a very competitive rate. Signage on the island is poor (typical for the region) so either a good map or navigation device is recommended.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Palau Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

 

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Island Hopping Route: Source - Great Circle Tracker

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Date of Island Hop: 26th of January 2017 – 3rd of March 2017

Introduction

Taking the United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) across the central Pacific has long been a dream. I recently got to live the dream when I incorporated UA154 into a longer journey from Los Angeles to Manila. This was a meandering odyssey from one side of the Pacific to the other, one which would take me to eight remote islands.

Along the way, I detoured from United’s network by making a side-trip with Nauru Airlines from Majuro to Kiribati. I’m glad I did – the people of Kiribati are the friendliest people I encountered on my journey. More on them and the atoll when I publish the Kiribati Postcard blog.

This blog provides an overview of air services in this remote region and describes my travel experience. I will publish separate ‘postcard’ blogs from each destination shortly.

Air Services

The following airlines offer services throughout the Central Pacific region:

United Airlines

United offers the most comprehensive network in the region. The Island Hopper (UA154) travels three times a week (Mon/ Wed/ Fri) on a 14-hour milk-run from Honolulu to Guam with 45 minute stops at Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei & Chuuk. The same service operates in the reverse direction from Guam (UA155) also departing on Mon/ Wed/ Fri.

From Guam, United offer connections to other Pacific islands such as the Northern Mariana islands of Rota & Saipan, Yap (FSM), Palau and also Asia (Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai and various ports in Japan).

United Airlines Micronesia Routes

United Airlines Micronesia Routes.

Nauru Airlines

Nauru Airlines offer a weekly service every Friday (ON33) from Nauru to Pohnpei with stops on Kiribati, Majuro and Kosrae. The return service departs from Pohnpei on Sunday (ON32). From Nauru, you can connect to Brisbane or Fiji.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Air Niugini

As of December 2016, Air Niugini have commenced a weekly service connecting Port Moresby with Chuuk and Pohnpei every Saturday (PX072). The flight returns to Port Moresby every Sunday, with connections onto Australia and other Pacific islands.

Star Marianas

Star Marianas is a small airline offering a once-daily service between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (Rota, Tinian and Saipan). Their fleet consists of 12 single-engine Piper planes. Their office at Guam airport is located inside the freight building between the main terminal and the United ticket office.

Travel Costs

Not cheap!

Apart from swimming or building your own raft, almost the only way between these islands is via the thrice-weekly United Airlines Island hopper service. United operate largely in a monopoly environment and like any monopoly player they can charge what they like. There are no ‘deals’ on airfares in this part of the world. I paid just over US$1500 for a one-way economy class ticket from Honolulu to Manila. Ouch! You can get better pricing if you book a round trip.

Like United, Nauru Airlines operates in a monopoly environment, so there are no deals here. They are the only airline connecting Kiribati with the Marshall Islands with onward service to Kosrae and Pohnpei. The 75-min flight from Majuro to Tarawa cost AUD$385 return.

Air Niugini are currently selling one-way tickets between Chuuk and Pohnpei for US$83. United are quoting $289 for the same flight!

For travel between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, tiny Star Marianas airline offers much cheaper airfares than United Airlines.

I met few other travellers on these islands – no doubt the high travel costs deter many.

In-Flight Service

United Airlines

United offered a level of in-flight service typical of US carriers – i.e. minimal at best!

Meals

As per the itinerary below, only one meal was served on the 14-hour flight from Honolulu to Guam. On two of the legs I was served a ‘snack’ which consisted of a turkey-loaf sandwich. On the remaining legs, you are offered a small packet of almonds or pretzels.  Non-alcoholic beverages are free, however if you wish to have a beer you will be charged US$7.99. Wine and spirits are available at various (higher) prices.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

The one meal – breakfast  consisted of something that resembled a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. The over-processed offering was not prepared by United but was supplied by a 3rd party caterer and tasted awful. Best to bring your own food on this flight.

Entertainment

United’s Entertainment system is the old-style centrally controlled system, which is reset at the beginning of each hop. The only chance to watch a complete movie is on the 3-hour flight from Honolulu to Majuro. Since most hops are about one hour you will get to watch only the first hour of the movie of your choice. There are four movie channels to choose from. The flight map channel was never available. I recommend bringing a good book or providing your own entertainment.

Crew

Considering the crew on the island hopper work a straight 14-hour shift (with no crew quarters) they do a remarkable job at maintaining a friendly, professional level of service.

In order to satisfy FAA ‘flying-time’ regulations a 2nd pilot and co-pilot accompany the flight and takeover at some stage. They are seated upfront in seats 1A and 1B. Due to the fact that there are no mechanical services at any of the airports a United mechanic is also included in the crew. He is seated in the first row of economy class in seat 7C. All seats are blocked and marked ‘Crew Use’.

Nauru Airlines

Excellent service from this little-known airline. I would certainly fly with them again. Had I known they connected Majuro to Kosrae and Pohnpei I would have considered using them instead of United. Unfortunately, they only fly once a week. The airlines head office is located on Nauru but their principle place of business is Brisbane. The CEO is an Australian, maintenance is done at their facility at Brisbane airport and many of the crew have Australian accents.

Meals

A hot meal was served on all flights and all drinks were complimentary.

Entertainment

There is no entertainment, best to bring your own.

Crew

Very professional, efficient, Australian trained crew.

Itinerary

Boarding passes from the island hop.

Boarding passes from the island hop.

 

Honolulu – Majuro (Marshall Islands) – Kosrae (FSM) – Pohnpei (FSM) – Chuuk (FSM) – Guam (USA)

Itinerary - Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Itinerary – Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Guam – Palau – Manila

Itinerary - Guam to Manila.

Itinerary – Guam to Manila.

 

Majuro – Tarawa (Kiribati) – Majuro

Itinerary - Majuro to Tarawa

Itinerary – Majuro to Tarawa.

 

Island Hops

Hop 1: Honolulu (HNL) – Majuro (MAJ)

Honolulu (USA)

The first thing you notice when you check in for the island hopper is that the preferred item of luggage used by many of the islanders is the durable and robust Coleman cooler box. These are packed with all sorts of food and other goodies and wrapped shut with duct tape.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific - the Coleman Cooler Box.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific – the Coleman Cooler Box.

After checking in I decided to find some breakfast. Since I’d had an early departure (4:30 am) from my hotel in Waikiki, I was famished. The only dining options open on the air-side were Burger King and Starbucks. I chose Burger King and later, once on the flight, I was happy that I did. Breakfast is the only meal served on the 14-hour flight and breakfast this morning consisted of a cheap imitation McDonald’s’ Egg McMuffin.

Our flight left on time at 07:25 am. I would later learn (while waiting for a delayed UA154) that the flight is often delayed departing HNL due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Guam.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

During the flight we crossed the International Date Line into Saturday and landed on time at Amata Kabua International Airport on Majuro atoll (capital of the Marshall Islands).

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

With the exception of Honolulu and Guam, all airports on the island hop have small ‘1 gate’ terminals. There are no air bridges, instead United supplies a pedestrian ramp-way at each terminal. There are also no taxi-ways, planes make their turns at the end of the runway, which is no problem as there is almost no traffic.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Arriving at Majuro: Flight arrived on time at 10:35-amPassengers line up at immigration to hand their arrival form (supplied on the flight) to the friendly immigration officer who normally grants a 30-day stay. Once you have passed immigration, you wait for your bag to be delivered through an opening in the terminal wall. Everything here is done manually so things take time but normally there are few passengers disembarking. Most remain in-transit. Once you have your bag you clear customs and hand in your Customs declaration form, which would have been handed to you on the flight.

There are few hotels on Majuro and most of them provide a shuttle transfer from the airport. If one is not provided, there are many shared taxis, which shuttle along the one, long road on the atoll.  The fare from the airport to downtown is US$4. Fares around town are just 75 cents.

I stayed at the Marshall Islands Resort, which is where most tourists seem to stay.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Transiting Majuro: Passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk selling snacks and a nice old Marshallese lady selling local handicrafts. WiFi is available for purchase. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration. I saw transit passengers getting stamps.

Hop 2: Majuro (MAJ) – Tarawa (TRW) – Majuro (MAJ)

Tarawa (Kiribati)

While I was in this remote part of the world I decided to make a detour from the island hopper route and fly south to another remote atoll nation – Kiribati (pronounced: Kiribass).

Kiribati is one of the least developed nations in the Pacific. Most of its inhabitants live in make-shift constructions on the over-crowded atoll of South Tarawa. This is not a destination for those who dream of holidaying on a Pacific paradise isle. This is a developing nation, where most people live in grinding poverty. The beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific are used as a toilet by the 50,000 inhabitants and the tiny atoll (100m across in most places) is covered in litter. Things are changing with large investments being made by the Australian & NZ governments in various aid projects, which include the installation of public toilets, sewage treatment plants and rubbish collection.

If you are adventurous I would highly recommend a visit to Kiribati. Without exception the people are very warm and friendly. I spent a week on the atoll and was sad to leave. You will not meet any other tourists here but plenty of aid workers.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

The island is served by weekly flights from Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airlines. Nauru Airlines flies every Friday from its base on Nauru to Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Kosrae and Pohnpei, returning the same way on Sundays. The airline is a delight to fly with, offering a high level of service. All flights to Kiribati arrive at Bonriki International Airport.

Fiji Airlines offers a weekly connection to their hub at Nadi (Fiji), with onward connections to other South Pacific destinations.

Arriving at Tarawa: Flight arrived on time at 10:05-am. Passengers are processed by the friendly immigration officers, who grant a 30-day stay. Bags are delivered through an opening in the side of the terminal.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Most hotels will provide a shuttle service, but if you need to use public transport there are minibuses which run frequently from the airport along the new (Australian Govt. / Asian Development Bank funded) main road. The currency of Kiribati is the Australian dollar.

Departing Tarawa: There are just three check-in desks at Bonriki Airport; two for domestic flights and one for international flights. Once you have checked in you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk then wait for security screening to open. There is just one gate which is used by both domestic and international passengers. Security staff only admit one group at a time, usually allowing international passengers into the lounge once their flight is close to arriving. Unlike other airports in the region, there is no terminal fee charged here.

Flight departed on time at 12:00-pm.

Transiting Tarawa: Passengers are not allowed to de-plane.

Hop 3: Majuro (MAJ) – Kwajalein (KAJ) – Kosrae (KSA)

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

After spending an amazing six days on Kiribati I returned to the Marshall Islands for four days to explore Majuro and one of the offshore islands. The Marshallese are much more reserved than the Kiribati folks but still pleasant. More on my experiences there in my Marshall Islands Postcard.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro: The tiny terminal at Amata Kabua International Airport offers a decent cafe (home to the cleanest toilet at the airport), a few gift shops (which open when a flight is due), a small bank branch and a single check-in desk.

The check-in process is like a two-step shuffle, consisting of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 2: Take your tagged bag to the baggage guy who is located to the left of the check-in desk. He will inspect your bag (no x-ray here) and place it on a short conveyor which leads to the baggage cart.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you proceed to security screening and then immigration.

If you are hungry at the airport it is best to eat at the cafe in the departure area. Once on the air-side your food option is limited to one small kiosk selling snacks.

Flight departed on time at 11:20-am.

Kwajalein (Marshall Islands)

The first hop on this segment of the Island Hopper is a 45-minute flight from Majuro to Bucholz Army Airfield, which serves the island of Kwajalein . ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the Republic of the Marshall islands since pre-independence days. The island is home to a small population of US Army personnel and other contractors – all of whom need authorisation from the US Army to be there. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

In addition to army personnel, there are about 14,000 Marshallese residents who live on adjacent Ebeye island.

Arrival at Kwajalein: Only US military personnel, other authorized persons and Marshallese residents of Ebeye are allowed to de-plane here.

Kwajalein transit passengers:  Transit passengers are not allowed to de-plane. No photos are allowed at the airport as it is a US Army base.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

Soaring up out of nowhere in the middle of the deep blue waters of the Pacific is a lush green, mountainous island known as Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’). It is known as the “island of the sleeping lady” due to the profile of the central mountain range, which does look strangely like a sleeping lady. This is the first island of the FSM group you will arrive at if travelling from the east. FSM is an independent nation, consisting of the island states of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk (formerly Truk) and Yap.

Kosrae is tiny, remote, wild and beautiful. With a population of just 6,600 , the island is well off the tourist radar, receiving 300 tourists a year. When I disembarked I was accompanied by five returning residents. This is a special place and if you ever get the chance to visit you should do so. More to come in my Kosrae Postcard.

Arriving at Kosrae: A dramatically located airport built on reclaimed land across a channel from the island itself. Just a few of us de-planed here. I handed in my immigration form (handed out during the flight) and received a stay corresponding to the number of days I was staying on the island (this is standard practice throughout FSM). Customs were very relaxed – happy to see a tourist.

Note: Each state of FSM takes care of its own immigration formalities. For each state you enter, you will be required to complete the same entry form and will be stamped in/ out at each airport.

There are just two hotels on the island; Kosrae Nautilus Resort and the Pacific Treelodge resort, both of which will collect you from the airport since there is no public transport on the island and very few taxis.

I stayed at the latter and would highly recommend staying there. There are just two restaurants on the island, both located at the two hotels. The restaurant at the Treelodge – Bully’s is the best choice. The setting on the edge of the Mangrove is very special as is the food, which is prepared by a local chef who worked for years in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu. My favourite dinner was the $10 sushi platter, which included 21 pieces of freshly made sushi with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I was sad to leave here.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Transiting Kosrae: Like Majuro –  transit passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk operated by a nice lady who sells snacks. I especially recommend buying a packet of the local banana chips. They are the best. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Hop 4: Kosrae – Pohnpei

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After five amazing days on Kosrae it was time to take my usual seat (32F) on UA154 for the 1 hour flight to Pohnpei.

UA154 at Kosrae.

UA154 at Kosrae.

Departing Kosrae: Similar check-in process as Majuro:

  • Step 1: Upon entering the airport you present your luggage for manual inspection. There are no x-ray machines here. Once inspected the customs official will place your bag behind the check-in counter.
  • Step 2: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk.
  • Step 5: Proceed through security screening into the departure lounge,
  • Step 6: Buy a packet of local banana chips from the nice lady at the kiosk.

US154 departed on time at 1:47-pm

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

An hour after leaving Kosrae we landed on Pohnpei, home to the capital of FSM – the government enclave of Palikir. The landing here takes you over the fringing reef then past the towering Sokeh’s Rock – a huge granite plug, which is the island landmark.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

Arriving at Pohnpei: UA154 arrived on time at 2:50-pm. I handed my arrival forms to immigration, received my stamp for the number of days corresponding to my stay, passed customs, collected my bag and met my hotel shuttle.

Like Kosrae there is no public transport on Pohnpei – although the island is much larger in terms of area and population (34,000). You either have your own car or you walk. There are some taxis available around the capital – Kolonia. All hotels offer an airport shuttle service. I stayed in downtown Kolonia at 7 Stars Inn, which I would recommend. This is a good option if you want to be able to walk around town. Other hotels are further out of town.

Transiting Pohnpei: Once again, transit passengers are free to de-plane during the 45-minute stop and wait inside the departure lounge, where you’ll find one cafe offering hot food, snacks, beer (cheaper than on the flight), coffee etc.

Hop 5: Pohnpei – Chuuk

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After six days on Pohnpei it was time to re-join UA154 for the next leg of the hop – onto the diving paradise of Chuuk. My flight was delayed by 2 hours. This often happens so hotels along the route will always call ahead first to confirm the aircraft arrival time so their guests aren’t keep waiting around at the airport. The next island hopper was delayed by six hours!

Departing Pohnpei: Similar process to Kosrae with a slight variation:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee to the attendant next to the check-in desk. He will issue you with a receipt and your boarding pass.
  • Step 4: Proceed to immigration to complete formalities.
  • Step 5: Pass through security screening into the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at PNI is the largest in FSM. It offers one TV tuned to CNN, WiFi (paid) and one cafe, which serves a reasonable selection of food and drinks.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

As a keen scuba diver, Chuuk (formerly Truk) was one of the key reasons I planned this trip. During WWII, Chuuk was home to the Japanese Pacific Fleet. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans retaliated by launching Operation Hailstone. The attack took place over two days and involved a combination of airstrikes and submarine/ surface ship attacks. More than 50 major shipwrecks from WWII litter the seabed of the lagoon. Chuuk is considered the No. 1 shipwreck diving destination on the planet and has to be seen to be believed. Incredible diving and lots of beautiful islands to explore in the large lagoon.

Arriving at Chuuk:

Due to its underwater attractions, Chuuk attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Micronesia. Since it’s one stop from Guam most tourists choose to fly directly from there rather than sit on UA154 for 10 hours.

Due to the late arrival of the incoming flight to Pohnpei, we arrived 2 hours late on Chuuk. Again – very few passengers disembarked here, most were travelling onto Guam. Handed in my immigration form (same as the one used for all other FSM states), cleared customs, exited the airport and was surprised to see a hotel shuttle waiting for me. Why surprised? I had booked in L5 Hotel, which is across the road from the airport. It was the shortest shuttle ride ever. When I departed, I told the hotel I would walk to the terminal (2 mins).

You can’t beat L5 for it’s convenient location, the fact that the whole place is newly renovated and that the best restaurant/ cafe on the island is located on the ground floor. The restaurant has been established by a cafe owner from Honolulu. The food is the best on the island and they have the only espresso machine I saw on Chuuk. I did all my diving through The Truk Stop hotel, which I would recommend.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Hop 6: Chuuk – Guam

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After 6 days of amazing diving on Chuuk, it was time to fly the last hop of the island hopper to Guam.

Departing Chuuk: To my surprise I was informed by my hotel that the flight was actually running ahead of schedule. Luckily, I had a short walk across to the terminal where I checked in. The process here is the same as everywhere else in FSM… Once you pay the $20 terminal fee you get your boarding pass.

On the air-side there is a small kiosk selling snacks. These kiosks always get busy when the transit passengers file in off the incoming flight.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

Guam – USA

After almost a month on remote, tiny Pacific islands I was looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Guam. With its high-rise hotels wrapping around the emerald green waters of Tumon Bay, it’s shopping malls, outlets, American fast food chains, restaurants, bars etc – Guam is a mini version of Hawaii.

Guam is home to the native Chamorro people, a large Filipino population and a sizable US Military population who work at the two large bases (Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base). Added into the mix are 1000’s of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists who flock here for short breaks to spend some time shopping and relaxing in the Tumon Bay area. Here you will find all the large hotels but they are not cheap due to the islands popularity. I found a more reasonably priced apartment on booking.com.

The island is large, diverse and offers a wealth of sightseeing. Rental cars are cheap at the airport and essential if you wish to explore beyond the tourist enclave of Tumon Bay. I easily spent six days on the island. If you are in town on a Wednesday evening be sure to join the throngs for the best local BBQ dinner at the Chamorro village in Agana.

 

UA154 arriving at Guam

Arriving at Guam: If you have spent any amount of time on the other islands, the first thing you will notice upon arrival at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport is how big and busy it is. Lots of gates instead of the usual ‘1’ and lots of aircraft movement instead of one movement every few days. This is a busy airport with most of the flights shuttling tourists from Japan and Korea and now increasingly China. Guam is also a regional hub for United Airlines.

The island Hopper was early into Guam which would have been good news for the Guam-based crew. Arrival procedures here are the same as any other international gateway- but at this airport (unlike all others on UA154) your bag is delivered on a carousel – strange to see one after weeks of receiving my bag through a hole in the terminal wall.

Entry requirements are the same as the US.

In the terminal, there are all the usual US car rental agents. I pre-booked a car with Alamo, which was reasonable at $30 per day. You need a car here unless you are going to spend a short time lazing around the beach. I also needed the car to get to my apartment, which was in the neighbourhood of Sinajana. If you have a craving for anything from your favourite US restaurant chain your appetite will be satisfied on Guam. From Denny’s to Tony Roma’s and many more – they are all here.

Hop 7: Guam – Palau

Guam – USA

After an amazing week on Guam it was time to move onto the next island – Palau.

Guam had been wonderful, providing all the conveniences of the US in the middle of the western Pacific. From wonderful infrastructure, large supermarkets (I self-catered a little) to all the restaurants and shops you would find on the US mainland. Where else can you shop at Macy’s in this part of the world? Although the most popular shop on the island is the ‘Ross – Dress for Less‘ outlet at the Guam Premier Outlet Mall. With opening hours from 6-am to 1-am, seven days a week, there is always a huge line of Asian tourists waiting patiently to pay for their bargains. More on Guam in my Guam Postcard.

Departing Guam: I returned my car to Alamo and proceeded to the United check-in area. The terminal is mostly used by large groups of tourists from Korea, Japan and China, with airlines from these countries providing frequent daily connections.

Exit formalities are the same as the US (i.e. no stamping of passports). There is a small food court on the air-side, which was full of diving groups from Europe waiting for a flight to Chuuk. Most of the shops close early so if you plan to purchase anything do it first. My flight departed on time at 07:55-pm but most of the airport was closed well before this time.

The flight time to Palau was 90 minutes with United providing yet another ‘snack’.

Palau

I had heard many good things about Palau and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being an expensive destination (it was the most costly destination on this journey) the diving was incredible, the environment is pristine and the local culture is very much alive and completely different to anywhere else in the region. The government has taxes galore, which they charge tourists, including a US$50 departure tax which includes a $30 ‘green fee’. Despite the expense, Palau is definitely worth visiting once in your life.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

Arriving on Palau: UA157 touched down at a wet Palau International Airport on time at 9:05-pm. Palau airport is larger and more modern than most in the region with air-bridges and at least two gates. The flight was half full so clearing immigration and customs was fast. I was granted a 30-day stay.

Palau passport stamps.

Palau passport stamps.

My hotel did not provide a shuttle service so I asked about car rental at the Alamo counter. They quoted US$70 per day – more than double the cost on Guam. Welcome to Palau! I decided to settle for a taxi but there were none. The kind lady at the Information Desk offered to take me instead for the same price ($25 to downtown Koror). She closed the Information counter and drove me to my hotel.

 

Hop 8: Palau – Manila

Palau

I spent a total of six days on Palau which is enough time to explore this little piece of paradise. During this time, I got to scuba dive with Manta Rays, countless sharks and other amazing marine life, drive a rental car around the main island of Babeldaob and explore the offerings of the main town – Koror. It was now time to wrap up this odyssey by taking my final flight to Manila.

Departing Palau: Due to the constant snaking line of traffic, which crawls along the one-lane main road of Koror, you should allow plenty of time to reach the airport. If you arrive too early you will find the door to the check-in area is locked. Once you have checked-in you go upstairs to pay your $50 departure tax ($20 terminal fee/ $30 green fee) then have your passport stamped and proceed through security screening into the lounge. In the lounge, you’ll find one over-priced Duty Free shop and a small kiosk. If you are hungry it’s best to eat in the one upstairs restaurant before you pass through immigration.

Flight time to Manila is just under 3 hours. United once again provided a ‘snack’. Non-alcoholic drinks are provided free of charge, anything else is available at cost.

Manila – Philippines

Arriving in Manila: Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)  has been operating over-capacity for years. Whenever I have flown in here I have been delayed while the plane is put into a holding pattern. Tonight, was no exception. After a smooth, on-time flight the captain announced we were in a holding pattern and would be delayed approximately 50-mins. NAIA has just two runways and four terminals with a capacity for 28 million passengers per year. In 2015, almost 37 million passengers passed through the airport.

United arrive at Terminal 1 which is the main international terminal. There are always long lines for immigration here.

After receiving my bag I proceeded outside to take a taxi to downtown. If you will be taking taxis (recommended in this crazy metropolis) it is worth installing the free ‘Grab‘ app on your smartphone before you arrive. This is the most popular ride sharing app in Manila (and other cities in Asia). Unlike Uber it deals with cash payments (useful in a city where a fare can be just $3) so no need to register your credit card. A regular taxi fare to Makati from the concession stand outside Terminal 1 is P650. The same trip on Grab will could less than P300. Always request the driver to use the (faster) Skyway which will cost you an extra P20 for the toll. There are Grab stands outside of each terminal, where a Grab representative will order you a taxi – so if you don’t have the app you can still use the service

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

From Manila it was onto the next adventure… more on that another time.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide