Micronesia's Secret Treasures

Despite being off the radar for many travel agents, Micronesia offers some of the most unique offerings clients will find anywhere.

By: Arin Greenwood

SAIPAN, Micronesia To say Micronesia is off the map of most travel agents is an understatement. It is often left off maps entirely.

The Federated States of Micronesia include the islands of Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk (formerly Truk) and Yap, and is part of dozens of atolls spread throughout a part of the Pacific less-detailed maps often depict as solid blue.

There are close ties between the FSM, as it is often referred to, and the United States. English is widely spoken here, and U.S. dollars are the official currency (existing simultaneously and much more practically with Yap’s famous stone coins).

Micronesia’s weather is in the 80s year-round, and it is a top destination for clients who are into scuba diving. Commercial flights throughout Micronesia use Guam as a hub. Continental and Northwest are big operators that fly to and within Micronesia.

The islands themselves are incredibly diverse, each with a distinct culture and different tourist offerings (though all have plenty of beach and sun). And as might be expected from islands surrounded by lots of ocean, many of Micronesia’s best activities take place in the clear warm water.

Here’s a sample of some of the sites and activities that make Micronesia a secret treasure.

Palau’s Rock Islands: Around Palau are hundreds of mushroom-shaped limestone islands rising out of the clear turquoise water. Many of the islands can be hiked, and are covered with caves, waterfalls and World War II wrecks. One rock island, only reachable by kayak, has a swimmable lake filled with stingless jellyfish.

Yap’s Giants: Yap is famous for two giants: stone coins and manta rays. The stone coins large, disk-shaped traditional currency still in use for a few specified transactions mostly involving property are kept in a village’s Stone Money Bank. The giant mantas, with wingspans up to 14 feet, come every day to “cleaning stations” where small fish eat parasites off them; the mantas swim in slow circles while the cleaner fish dine.

Pohnpei’s Nan Madol: Nan Madol is an ancient town inhabited by members of the Saudeleur Dynasty from around 200 B.C. until the 1400s. The exact dates aren’t known, and estimations vary wildly, which adds to the mystery of this remote place. The enormous basalt structures are built on coral around a series of almost 100 islets and man-made canals. Some of Pohnpei’s spectacular basalt waterfalls are located within walking distance of Nan Madol.

Tinian’s Atomic Bomb Pits: The last stop before Japan for World War II’s atom bombs, nicknamed Fat Boy and Little Man, were pits on Tinian, now memorialized with small plaques atop the pits which have themselves been filled and covered with lush grass.

Saipan’s Golf: Saipan has five golf courses, each with its particular draws two are within feet of the beach, two are on rugged limestone cliff-tops, most have ocean views and one, a local nine-hole, has the occasional rooster walking across the green. The 18-hole courses all have teahouses, and while very well maintained are rarely fully booked.

Palau’s Babeldoab: While all of Palauan society retains traditional elements, Babeldoab, Palau’s largest island, contains Palau’s most traditional and remote villages. These villages will become less remote when the paved road currently under construction is completed in 2005. Babeldoab also has jungles, lakes, waterfalls, caves and other natural wonders.

Chuuk’s Wrecks: In 1944, the U.S. sunk hundreds of Japanese ships and airplanes in the Truk Lagoon, where they had been stationed as part of Japan’s large Pacific convoy. The ships and planes are now divable wrecks, having been transformed from machines of war into remarkable fish habitats, staying incredibly well preserved in the warm saltwater.

Saipan’s Kiteboarding: Saipan has some of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding in the world, just off beautiful white-sand Micro Beach. Every year, major windsurfing tournaments are held there, and the rest of the time it’s open season for the fit and well balanced (and those who ogle them) among us.

Marshall Islands’ Diving: Bikini Lagoon, on Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, is where the U.S. tested atomic bombs after World War II. In 1996, it was declared safe for scuba diving. The diving here is deep and is mostly of wrecks, including submarines, a Japanese battleship and the world’s only divable aircraft carrier.