Saipan is a tropical island in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a secret haven for scuba diving, golf, sport fishing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and beaches. Saipan is the capital and largest island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a chain of fifteen islands that are a part of the United States. On a map, you can find Saipan south of Japan and east of the Philippines, about 120 miles north of Guam.
Saipan’s western shore is lined with white sand beaches and an outer coral reef that creates a stunning blue lagoon, perfect for swimming, wakeboarding, sailing, windsurfing, and other water sports. The eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs and a reef. The highest point on the island is Mount Tapochau, which rises 1,554 ft. above sea level.
Saipan has the world’s most equable temperature in the world, averaging 81°F year-round. Although there is high humidity, the even temperature and fresh sea breezes keep conditions inviting year-round. The rainy season is from July to October, but there are as many sunny as rainy days during those months.The local people in Saipan are Chamorro and Carolinian, though there are also large populations of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, and U.S. expats. Many of the non-indigenous people came to work in Saipan’s tourism industry, or the former garment industry. U.S. expats often come to work in Saipan as teachers, lawyers or environmentalists and end up making Saipan their home. The result is a mixing pot of cultures among the local residents, and a thriving tourism industry that caters to people from all over the world. It is not uncommon to be at a restaurant and overhear conversations spoken in English, Chamorro, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog or Chinese.
Saipan and its neighboring islands were first inhabited around 2000 BC. The Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter the Chamorros on Saipan and eventually claimed Saipan as part of the Spanish Empire. You can still detect the Spanish influence in the Chamorro language and by the widespread Catholicism on the island.
Around 1815, when many of the Chamorros were relocated and imprisoned on Guam, many Carolinians from Satawal began to settle on Saipan. Germany briefly ruled Saipan from 1899 until about 1914, when Japan took over the island. Under Japanese control, the island developed fishing and sugar industries. In the 1930s, Japan began building up its military presence on the island, resulting in a military presence of approximately 30,000 troops by 1941.U.S. Marines landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944, during World War II, and spent more than three weeks fighting the famous Battle of Saipan to to win the island from the Japanese. The U.S. then used an airfield on the nearby island of Tinian to stage air raids on Japan, including the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the most popular tourist attractions on Tinian is the airfield, where you can view the massive holes in the runway used to load the atomic bombs before takeoff.
Saipan and Tinian were devastated by the war, as was the sugar cane industry developed by the Japanese. In 1947, after World War II, the United Nations created the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which gave the islands some level of autonomy, though the U.S. was given exclusive rights to administer the islands and establish and maintain military bases.
In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed off half of Saipan, using the northern part of the island for covert military manoeuvres. When the CIA moved out of Saipan in 1962, the Northern Marianas were finally opened to visitors. The following year, the Trust Territory government offices were moved into the CIA’s old offices on Saipan.
The people of the Northern Marianas voted to become a U.S. commonwealth in 1975. In return, the US military got to lease nearly 30 square miles of land in the islands. Under the terms of the commonwealth agreement, the Northern Marianas retain the right to internal self-government, while the USA retains control of foreign affairs. In 1986 a new commonwealth covenant became effective, granting islanders U.S. citizenship.Saipan is now a growing tourist destination due to to its warm temperatures, beautiful beaches, and world class scuba diving. Most visitors come from Japan, Korea, China and Russia, though U.S. mainlanders are also beginning to discover Saipan as an alternative to the higher prices in Hawaii, and its proximity to other Asian destinations.