Holiday Paradise or Middle of Nowehere? Three days on America’s easternmost island
“Welcome to Guam!” Puzzled, I am rubbing my eyes. It is not yet 5am and we have just landed at the Antonio B. Won International Airport (short GUM) after a five-hour long economy class night flight with United Airlines. Two hours of time difference compared to Hong Kong to be added, so it feels like in the middle of the night. Accordingly sleepy, I drag my feet along the hallways of the airport towards the immigration counter and shake my head in disbelief about the warm welcome that the passing cleaning squad has just given me – even at this unholy time.
Moments later, this gesture is being repeated by a surprisingly warm-hearted security guard. And finally, the lady at the immigration counter treats me with equally amicable cordiality: “Hello, sir! Thank you for visiting Guam! What’s the purpose of your stay?“ Guam is actually U.S. territory and I had to apply for a new ESTA authorization, but in contrast to other immigration processes to the United States I had encountered in the past, this questioning here is not as mistrustfully bold as I am used to it, but rather authentically interested instead. Salutatory, I also receive an island map with a South Sea beauty wearing a wreath of flowers and a coconut bra on its cover. Our first impressions whet our appetite for the upcoming days – Welcome to Guam!
High-calorie refreshment – American Style!
Firstly, we pick up our pre-ordered rental car. Without encountering any complications (they don’t even want to see our newly refreshed international driver’s license at all) we receive the keys and it’s still not even 6am. According to reservation, check-in at our hotel is only possible from 2pm onwards, but we have a car and a map of Guam, so the plan is easily conceived: island road trip!
After all, Guam is only 50 kilometers long at its maximum extent and between 6 to 19 kilometers wide, so it should be possible to drive round the southernmost and still largest island of the Marianas within a few hours.
To put some life into ourselves, we look for suitable breakfast options first and make a strike in Hagatna, the island’s “capital”, which is little more than a small settlement: “Shirley’s Coffee Shop” offers truly American breakfast, thick pancakes and black coffee, which makes us forget our short night.
History-loaded island tour
Refreshed and strengthened by this energy boost, we embark on our “Tour de Guam”. Highway 2 brings us down south to the „War in the Pacific Park”. The history of Guam dates back at least 4,000 years and the island was populated by its indigenous people, the Chamorra, long before Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 was the first European to take note of its existence. Colonialization of Guam started in 1668 and went to the United States after the Spanish-American War in 1898. During World War II, it was conquered by the Japanese and the islanders suffered heavily during this 30-month occupation, until American forces succeeded in reconquering Guam on July 21, 1944. This day is still celebrated as island-wide holiday each year. That park commemorates the acts of war in the pacific region, during which Guam has always been of central interest to the conflicting parties. Today, there are still huge bases of US Army and Navy, which cover approximately 30% of the island’s area and are inaccessible for “normal” citizens and tourists.
The next stop on our round trip takes us to “Sella Bay Overlook”, where we marvel at the island’s beauty for a good moment. Green hills on one side, turquoise waters on the other side and the sun shining brightly above our heads without any clouds – it seems as if our timing to come here was just about right. It is the beginning of May and the period from March to May is claimed to be the best time of year to visit the Marianas, which contain – amongst others – the similarly popular Saipan, too. Even though the whole year shows stable temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, the period between July and November is the rainy season with high amounts of precipitation and a certain likelihood of typhoons as well.
At the southernmost point of the island, we want to ferry over to Cocos Island, an island just off the coast, in order to catch up on some sleep under the palm trees on its much praised beach. However, as the island’s resort hotel had problems with its power generator, there were no ferries to Cocos Island during that time. The boat people ask us whether we wanted to do some water sports instead. Well… No, not really. Not that early in the morning. We rather prefer to explore the island a little more.
Yet there is not so much left to see. We pass a rock resembling a bear and skip the Talofofo Falls, as they would not bear any water during dry season at all. Then, we drive all the way up, passing the Andersen Base of U.S. Air Force until we reach “Ritidian Point”, a nice and rather secluded beach. There, we take a good rest during the lunch hours, before we make our way to the hotel to check in finally.
Tumon Bay – Center of attention for Guam tourists
The „Reef & Olive Hotel“, like many others, is located directly at Tumon Bay, the most popular and longest beach of Guam. And, like many others, it is of good standard, however, you can’t fight the feeling that it had seen its best days in the past. I have the impression that this destination was at its peak during the late 80s and early 90s. Yet, this does not seem to do any harm to the popularity of the destination. Especially Japanese tourists flock here with several flights each day and are welcomed by the local people in spite of the complicated historical background. Guam is particularly popular as wedding destination: Almost every hotel has its own small white wedding chapel next to the beach.
And, undeniably, Tumon Bay beach is beautiful. Its elongated sands attract strollers and there are also the obligatory water sports offerings, of course. After an extended two-hours walk up and down the beach, however, we prefer to lie down on a sunbed and spend the rest of the afternoon watching Asian tourists taking pictures of themselves in the most ridiculous postures, trying to make it look spontaneous – mostly without success. But for us as spectators very funny, indeed!
Less party, more relaxation
That evening, we enjoy a cold bottle of Guam Beer in the Beach Bar of close-by Gun Beach, while other tourists participate in one of the many dinner shows which seem to have been introduced in order to offer some entertaining distraction to bored tourists. After all, Guam is no exciting party destination. Besides that Beach Bar, there are a few places in Tamuning around Tumon Bay and there’s Globe Night Club – but that’s about it. All in all, it is a rather quiet destination which is more about wedding ceremonies or relaxation.
Thus, we kind of have to fight something like boredom on our second day and have to “force” ourselves to relax. After having our daily share of must-have American pancakes at the “Eggs’n’Things” diner next to our hotel, we spend the morning and early afternoon commuting between the nice Infinity Pool of our hotel and the beach.
As this is starting to bore the hell out of us at some point in time, we decide to visit the last remaining sight of Guam, a place called “Two Lover’s Point”. This is a legendary cliff, where a tragic couple once found death by jumping into the sea. Kind of a Guam-version of Romeo and Juliet. Certainly, the local souvenir shop doesn’t fail to sell love locks with which tourist couples can confirm their passion for each other here at this highly symbolic location. Sugary, but successful, especially with the wedding parties.
Moreover, you will find the official slogan of Guam everywhere around here: “Where America’s Day begins”. Looking from the United States, Guam lies to the West, but due to the location of the International Date Line it is de facto the easternmost territory of the United States. This peculiarity is being exploited in any imaginable kind of way and you’ll find this slogan on T-shirts, coffee mugs, fridge magnets and whatnot. Ironically, the people of Guam are allowed to elect the presidential candidate of their preferred political party during the primaries that precede each presidential election, however, they have no voting rights for the “official” election itself. Somehow limited, their “American Identity”, it seems…
Conclusion: South Sea flair with American touch for the ones seeking relaxation
To remind yourself that you are actually on U. S. territory, you could visit one of the air-conditioned shopping malls very now and then, or alternatively dine at Hard Rock Cafè Guam. Or you simply stay at the beach chillin’. In any case, three days are more than enough to get an impression of Guam and find a good deal of time for recreation. If you’re looking for exactly this, Guam is a go-to place. Those looking for exciting party nights out should rather think about the well-known party Meccas of South-East Asia.
Anyhow, Guam definitely offers a very distinctive flair: the “American Way of Life” represented by big cars, shopping malls, diners and fast-food restaurant chains with Drive Thru counters, mixed with South Sea atmosphere and the cordial kindness of the islanders. Definitely a recommendable trip to escape the East Asian metropolitan city life for a few days.
Have you been to Guam once? If so, what was your impression: perfect for relaxation or deadly dull? Or something completely different? Have you visited comparable destinations, e. g. Saipan or the islands of the Southern Pacific Ocean? I am happy to read your reviews, recommendations or “travel warnings”. Let me know about your opinion and write it down in the “Comments” section below. Thanks!
(Travel Period: May 2016)