Top Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Northern Mariana Islands
The Grotto, Saipan
There are no facilities here, other than a solar-powered emergency phone and a well-paved road. However, this is Saipan's BEST dive, and most unique, by far. Access to the dive site is by going down 100 steps into a natural, well-lit cave. (I've got your attention already, haven't I !) From the bottom of the staircase, step over a narrow but fast stream onto a large, teetering rock. Do a giant stride entry, and you will be in 15' deep water facing a 60' deep cavern with 3 separate, brilliantly lit underwater exits. SCUBA out, and you'll always see barracuda & a white tip shark, with frequent visits by napoleon wrasses, rays, and a host of other animals. If you're exceptionally good on air conservation, SCUBA left at 45', and you'll discover "the Bat Cave", a cave entirely underwater & as large as The Grotto. 2 sharks, bubble corals, glowing-eyed cave fishes and pink lace cave corals lie within. Safe for snorkelers within the Grotto, but only a very foolish person would snorkel outside, as re-entry is nearly impossible if you're stuck at the surface. Extremely good roads and well-marked paths make this Saipan's easiest-to-find shore dive. Drive North, past the "last command post" and "Banzai Cliff" memorial parks, but not as far as Bird Island lookout. If you leave paved road, you've gone past Bird Island, turn back. Watch for a turnoff on this well-paved road, leading LEFT (shoreward), and clearly labeled "The Grotto". Follow this wide, twisty road to a well-paved parking lot with plenty of divers' vehicles. There will be a staircase leading downward, and a banner like sign over the staircase telling you you've arrived at the Grotto.
Wing Beach, Saipan
The northernmost edge of this beach is a flat rock/coral slope, rather like a boat-loading ramp. It's a cut in an otherwise uninterrupted coral wall, so naturally it will have a strong outgoing rip current when waves are high. Follow the right wall outward. It will lead to gradually increasing depths, until finally you reach a massive tower beside an equally impressive 90' sea cliff that starts at 15' below the surface and goes down from there. Beside the tower is a 60' long deep "notch" or "valley" or "crack" that is as deep as the sea-cliff itself. Corals, morays, and a scattering of fishes make this site nice. It's not nearly as impressive or dramatic as other beach dives on Saipan, but offers a nice alternative if you just want to be utterly alone in crystal-clear water. Bring gloves, because you will have to stick your fingers into sharp holes to clamber back the last 60' shoreward against the rip-current. Head North. You'll pass the Nikko Hotel on the left, and then on the left, you'll see a dirt road (tough on a rent-a-car). Follow this dirt road to its northernmost extremity. You'll see that you're paralleling a loooong empty white pebble beach. This is Wing Beach. You're only interested in the Northernmost end, where there's a small empty field to park, adjacent to the beach. Gear up at your car, and walk down to the water. THERE ARE NO FACILITIES OF ANY KIND HERE. No bathroom, no other people, no phone, no water, no electricity.
Lau Lau Beach, Saipan
There are no facilities here, beyond the presence of a single guard and his radio. Locals in this valley live without electricity and running water. They have no phones. Nonetheless, this is one of Saipan's 3 best shore-dives, and has at least 4 interesting points of entry. Entry and exit are both the easiest you are likely to find for any shore dive. A rope marks the 15'-deep exit channel. Depths vary from 5' to 110'. Current is nearly non-existent. Likewise for waves, unless a typhoon is quite close. Life is a fantastic assortment of hard and soft corals, large schools of fish, and frequent large life sightings: turtles, rays, napoleon wrasses, and small white tip reef sharks. Excellent as a day or night dive, and only slightly inferior to Obyan for visibility. Viz ranges from near-zero at the rope exit point to >60' at greater depths. Clown fish colonies abound. An extremely poor washed-out dirt road leads down to this valley & wide, wide bay. The road then loops up to the far side of the bay. Consult local maps for the location of LauLau Bay, and simply search for the only road that leads down to this bay. Parking is in a jungle adjacent to the road and beach. Saipan employs a guard to watch over your car here. DO NOT park on the beach, as you 1) may get shot at by angry locals, and 2) you may be parking on turtle eggs.
Obyan Beach, Saipan
Snorkelers will enjoy the yard/meter-deep shallows near the beach, but shouldn't venture beyond the drop-off, as coming back over the reef can be difficult. For SCUBA divers, this long, long beach has at least 5 entry points and an endless variety of hard and soft corals, frequent white tip sharks, shells, turtles, and napoleon wrasses, eagle rays, sting rays, and depths from 15'/5m to 60'/18m. Large patch of garden eels. Visibility is excellent (50 to 70 feet) at all times unless there's a typhoon warning on the radio. It's endlessly fascinating, if you have the right vehicle to brave the roads. I've heard a golf course will be built nearby-- which will mean bad things for viz, but great things for the access road. Perfect for day, night, advanced, and beginner diving. Go the airport, and go rightward along its fence (by car). The road will become littered with huge potholes. The airport will soon become invisible through the vegetation. Continue carefully along this road, looking for a right-hand turn and a wooden sign labeled "Obyan Beach", or just wait and follow one of the many, many divers' vehicles headed there. Obyan Beach, and the nearby "Secret Beach", are the only dive sites near the airport, and they are both accessed via this path. As you turn off to the right, you'll go down a washed-out road made of eroded white coral and sand. At the bottom of the road, you'll see a WWII Japanese artillery bunker and a large coral-sand parking lot. Directly beyond the bunker is Obyan Beach.
Tanapag Beach, Saipan
This is Saipan's easiest dive spot. It's a bit boring for snorkelers or licensed SCUBA divers, but perfectly safe and entertaining for intro-divers. You practice your skills in the currentless shallows, then follow a rope out for the duration of the dive. You follow the rope to a series of coral heads inhabited by small blue fish like kissing gourami, helicopter-like tiny boxfish, sea anemone and clownfish, sea cucumbers, and stonefish. Depths don't exceed 15'/5m. Bright, sandy bottoms and strong sunlight make this exceptionally well-lit. Visibility is a comforting 20 to 40 feet on all but the worst days. Short golf-greens type grass and tall palm trees along the beach make this an ideal place to picnic. Locals here can be a little edgy, and there's often a government-paid security guard at the site to watch over cars. This is THE PERFECT spot for someone's first intro or certification dive, particularly if the diver lacks skill or confidence. Head North, leaping the water on your left, from . After passing the garbage dump and the boat harbor, you'll see a very small tan-sand beach on your left. It'll usually be inhabited by 2 or 3 dive vehicles. Park anywhere except on the sand.
Secret Beach and Mushroom Rock, Saipan
This is Saipan's least-known shore dive, but one of its best. In the jungle clearing, gear up and walk shoreward through the jungle. There'll be a footpath path you can easily find & follow. It leads to a 15'/5m high natural wall lining a tiny, walled beach. Climb down this stair like portion of the wall, and you'll be on a narrow strip of beach dominated by a 25' tall round rock, nicknamed Mushroom Rock but more closely resembling a Golfball of the Gods. Walk out from the right side of the rock in shallow ankle-high water about 40'/13m, to a 15'/5m drop off. There are rarely any waves at all, and no current here, so entry and exit will be extremely easy. Giant Stride Entry here. Follow the walled channels outward to 45' depths with excitingly clean water, vibrant corals, and fish of very size. There are nice sandy bottoms if you'd like to practice skills. Do not expect ANYTHING in the way of facilities. You are utterly and completely cut off from civilization here... until the next boatload of Japanese divers plants its anchor just offshore. Happily, that's a rare occurrence, only happening when other boat dive spots are experiencing exceptionally bad weather. Locals also know this beach as "Boy scout Beach" and "Americans Scr*wing Beach", for boy scout encampments and for a well-known visit there by a big dive boat filled with Japanese tourists and loads of quickly used film, who were captivated by the oblivious lovemaking of a pair of Americans on the beach there. Bring your camera. Go to the airport, and follow the chain link fence (by car) along to the right. This will lead you to a paved-but-thoroughly-potholed road that will severely tempt you do drive on the grassy shoulder instead, and give you vague feelings of what broken-field running in an active minefield must have been like during WWII. Follow this sad excuse for pavement for about 15 minutes. In an otherwise unremarkable expanse of straight road, you'll see a sign for "Obyan Beach" (pronounced "OB-john"). Turn right here, and follow the many other dive vehicles down this entirely unpaved coral-gravel mudslide until you hit Obyan Beach itself. Turn back, and search along the right side of this steep road for the first right-hand turn, which will be a level road through ironwood jungle. Surprisingly, this road is always in good repair, even though it's no more than a pair of tire tracks in a straight, level line through jungle. This road parallels the line of the bay, keeping a respectful 300' distance from the water. After 5 to 10 minutes along this uninhabited road, when you begin to wonder if you've brought signal flares and survival gear, you'll see an unlikely turn-off to the right. It will be an even-less traveled dirt path that seems to lead into the forest and stop abruptly in a grassy clearing, apparently nowhere near the water. Be careful along this last bit of road, because there's a slippery rock on it that cars often can't handle. Also, trees bend close to the road and can maul your car badly here. I left behind the right-rear quarter panel on my truck there, one day.