Diving Saipan

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Saipan, USA

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Country: USA  Area: North Mariana Islands

Water Temp: 27 - 30°C (81 - 86°F)

Visibility: 15 - 35m (49 - 115 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 30m (16 - 98 ft)

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Saipan is a part of the Commonwealth of the United States, and the largest island in the North Mariana Islands Chain. Saipan has a unique island ecosystem, and many opportunities to experience a variety of dive environments.

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There are underwater caves and caverns to explore, wrecks, coral reefs, wall, and drop-off dives to be done. Perhaps the most visited and famous site is “The Grotto”. It is consistently ranked as one of the best dives in the Pacific, and one of the top submarine cavern sites in the world.

Topside, there are breathtaking views from lush mountaintop jungles, offshore islands that are perfect for day-tripping, and WWII museums and landmarks to see. Sample Saipan's local cuisine, which makes use of the spicy peppers, taro root, coconut, and many tropical fruits that are cultivated by the island's farmers. Not surprisingly, the seafood is superb.

Grotto, Credit

Marine Conservation

Fortunately, environmental conservation in Saipan has been recognized as vital if the divers and tourists (and their cash and credit cards) are to keep returning to the island. There is concern over potential damage to the reefs, and overfishing. However the health of the reefs, and the many marine species they support is well-monitored. Most areas are in good shape and relatively unspoiled. Sea turtle conservation is ongoing on Saipan, given the extraordinarily precarious position these gentle and graceful creatures find themselves in.

Beautiful! Credit

Climate

Saipan enjoys a tropical climate with warm weather and sea temperatures year round. The rainy season runs from May to November. The rest of the year, there is fairly little rainfall, however the trade winds can be strong, restricting access to some open ocean dive sites. Severe weather is rare, and there is always good diving somewhere off the island, on pretty much every day of the year.

 
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The Diving

There are many different dives that can be done in the seas that surround Saipan.

Many sites are suitable for divers of any skill level, although some spots are seasonal. At any time of the year however, you will be able to find a protected cove, cavern, or shallow reef to visit. Night dives are possible and a popular attraction for the many divers who make their way to this corner of the Mariana Islands.

Saipan underwater, Credit

Marine life you can expect to see includes all your favourite colourful reef critters, from Clownfish to Parrots and Damsels. Further out, the open ocean sites are home to sharks, turtles, and large schools of tuna, jacks and Napoleon Wrasse. Most sites enjoy excellent visibility, and fairly calm conditions. The water is warm year round, and the above sea level temperature rarely falls below 25 degrees.

The Grotto is always a leader in the pack when it comes time for the dive mags to pull together their “Best Cave/Cavern” lists. A long, steep drop takes divers down into a massive sinkhole. There are three exits that allow you to leave at different depths. This makes the site suitable for divers of all abilities. There are walls and swim throughs, and for divers carrying a “Cave Card”, plenty of dark  caves and submarine caverns to explore. The sunlight filters through the rock formations in truly fantastic ways. Got a camera? Bring it.

Fishes hiding, Credit

Given the popularity of the site, be prepared for plenty of snorkellers and swimmers bobbing above your bubbles on the surface. There is even a life guard on duty at the site! Many visitors have recommended booking a night dive at The Grotto. The crowds are gone, and the site takes on an entirely different feel at night. The majority of divers say that one shot at this spot is not enough. Expect that you will want to make multiple dives to take in all that The Grotto has to offer.

The Grotto is near the north east corner of the island. Further north, off the tip of Saipan is Banzai. This is another one of the top sites in the area. It is only accessible during certain times of the year, and bad weather means banned Banzai. If you get your timing just right, you are in for a treat. Unique and abundant coral formations flourish, and the big fish come out to feed. A variety of rays, sharks, tuna, large wrasse and turtles are out in force. Check with your dive shop to see if a visit to this top spot can be arranged.

South of Banzai is Wing Beach. This can be done as a boat or beach dive. Lots of turtles to see, Spanish Dancers and there is no shark shortage in these waters. Whitetip and reef shark encounters are common, and the Giant Moray Eels grow fantastically fat and long in these waters. The currents can be strong in the area, so do take care entering and exiting, whether by beach or by boat.

Diving Saipan, Credit

The H&K Emily is a Japanese Navy bomber shot down during the war. The Allied forces gave these planes the nickname “Emily”. The wreck is in good condition, and all four props remain intact. The machine gun still sticks out of the nose of the plane, and it is possible to find bits and pieces of her scattered in the sand. Keep your eyes peeled for a control panel, chairs and other equipment that lies half buried on the bottom. Whitetip Sharks, Damselfish, octopus, eels and many other marine critters call Emily home. It's a shallow dive suitable for almost any diver.

Other popular sites around the island include Obyan Beach with its exceptional reefs and excellent visibility. Barracudas, sharks, eels, and octopus lurk in the cracks and crevices. Naftan Point is another trip worth taking. Located on the southern side of Saipan, it is perhaps the best wall diving to be had in the sea surrounding the island. Giant Clams, grouper, sharks and Barracuda are frequent visitors.

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How to Get there

Northwest, Continental Micronesia, JAL and Asiana Airlines all have frequent flights scheduled to Saipan. Francisco C. Ada International Airport is the gateway to the island. Interestingly, it is on the same site where the Japanese Army originally constructed an airfield for military purposes during WWII. In 1976, the international airport began receiving foreign flights from around the world.

Ironically, nowadays tens of thousands of Japanese tourists flock to the island in search of sun, sea, and of course, world-class diving!

The Sea, Credit

Getting around the island is much easier by car, although some people manage by bike. Rental cars are available and fairly reliable if you plan on making a lot of terrestrial trips. Most dive shops offer a pick-up service as part of a dive package when you book, but inquire when you make your reservation. Hotels and resorts can arrange airport transfers, and there are taxis available for hire.

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Where to Eat & Drink

Saipan has a good assortment of restaurants, bars, and  nightclubs to keep the locals and tourists alike occupied into the wee hours of the morning. There are steak houses, burger joints, and American-style restaurants, of course. But also many Italian, fusion and seafood restaurants that are well worth a visit.

Given the large number of Japanese visitors to Saipan, it should come as no surprise that there are several excellent sushi spots, ramen restaurants and fusion Chefs in residence.              

Garapan, Saipan, Credit

For those looking for a walk on the wild side, there are karaoke bars, nightclubs, and even strip clubs (this is technically/sort of America after all!) Take the usual precautions, and as long as you can stomach a steady drink diet of Budweiser, you will  be just fine. Probably.

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Other Activities

Saipan is a place of great natural beauty above sea level as well as below. Lush tropical forests are filled with unique species of flora and fauna. Several endemic bird species, including many kinds of dove and warbler, will keep even an armchair ornithologist occupied. Sit back and watch the coming and goings of the many tiny winged wonders that call the island home.

Corals in Saipan underwater, Credit

A hike to the heights of Mount Tapochau offers spectacular views across the island and the ocean. The Garapan Street Market makes a great day trip. Indigenous arts, crafts, and food are all on display, and on sale. You are certain to find a souvenir for that unfortunate someone that sadly could not tag along on the trip. The street stalls and markets are infinitely more interesting then wasting your time in one of the many modern shopping malls that have been sprouting up in recent years.

Colorful fishes, Saipan, Credit

As Saipan was the site of many battles between the Allied and Japanese forces during WWII, there are many historic sites and museums that may be of interest. If you simply cannot miss the best and brightest new Bond film, fear not. Saipan has a multiplex theatre complete with Dolby Surround Sound. Golf courses and tennis courts are also available at resorts around the island.

Family Friendly

While diving and water sports may be the real draw for visitors to Saipan, there are other family friendly activity options available. Larger hotels and resorts have organized kids programs, and most can arrange for baby-sitting services or supervision. The many sheltered beaches and coves mean that kids can swim and explore in a safe and shallow environment. English is spoken everywhere, health and hygeine standards are high, and there are plenty of other youngsters on the island. Worst case scenario, there are more than 50 cable TV channels available. Plant the young ones in front of the idiot box. If they haven't already got an ipad to distract them!

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Tips

Visas are not required for visitors from most countries for stays of up to 30 days. If you wish to spend more time on the island, it is possible to extend your visa without having to leave the country for another 30 days. American visitors can come and go as they wish, and stay as long as they please.

Resorts are the most common choice for most tourists to Saipan, however smaller hotels under $50 a night do exist. If you want to spend more time in the sea, and less money on a room, it's worth looking into less expensive accommodation options.

Saipan is a safe and hospitable place to visit. Exercise common sense as you would in any unfamiliar area, and you are unlikely to have any trouble.

Relaxing by the beach, Credit

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