Guam

Guam

Guam’s slogan, “Where America’s Day Begins,” has been a big draw for Japanese tourists (1 million annually), who get a chance to experience a little bit of Americana in the sun. As a result, Guam is considerably more developed and faster paced than its Micronesian counterparts. It has upscale shopping centers, golf courses and chain restaurants.

Guam is the largest landmass in Micronesia and is the southernmost island in the Mariana chain. It has its share of natural wonders, with a limestone forest and high cliffs in the north and rolling hills and low mountains in the south. The island’s center, especially on the west coast, is the most developed. There, you’ll find six-lane highways and a mini-Waikiki with major hotel chains lining scenic Tumon Bay.

Guam is a major melting pot, and you’ll have to go a bit out of your way to experience its cultural traditions, which have survived primarily in the villages on the island’s south. There, residents continue to fish, farm and live at a decidedly slower pace, although a good many commute into the “city” to work.

Guam’s residents are a mix of native Chamorros (45% of the population), Micronesians, Filipinos, Japanese, Southeast Asians and immigrants from mainland U.S. Although Guam’s culture was almost completely erased by 400 years of Spanish colonial rule and the diseases it brought, many Chamorros are now trying to re-establish an identity by reviving their native tongue and customs. Military land used since World War II is slowly being returned to original land owners. Also, the economy is seeing a resurgence since a major typhoon hit in 2003 and SARS put a scare into Asian tourism.

In all, Guam is a progressive island with a well-educated population that is the central hub of life in the northwestern Pacific.

Geography

Guam is just north of the equator and is not the South Pacific, but the southernmost island in the large Mariana Island chain that stretches northward halfway to Japan. Shaped something like a shoe, Guam is not all that big—it’s 31 mi/52 km long and about 8 mi/13 km wide.

The island has sheer cliffs along the northern coast, jungle-covered mountains, flowing rivers and waterfalls in the center of the country, and rolling hills and sandy beaches in the south and along most of the western coast.