By Rose Hansen
Ritidian Point may be famed for its powdery, white sand and jeweled waters, but beyond the splendors of its shoreline lies much to see. The beach itself is just the ornamental fringe of the 1,203-acre Guam National Wildlife Refuge, home of Marianas fruit bats, crows, and tree snails, plus significant remnants of ancient Chamorro culture. A fully-explored day at Ritidian will yield lattes, water wells, and pottery fragments—evidence of the once-thriving Chamorro village that likely predated the 1521 arrival of the Spanish by more than five hundred years.
Thanks to well-maintained trails that are open and free to the public, visiting these sights is easy. For a more intellectual experience, call the Guam National Wildlife Refuge (671-355-5096) ahead of time to schedule a guided tour that offers detailed information about the archeological sites. But if you’re like me, it’s just as enjoyable to forge your own way and stumble through history without holding someone else’s hand.
All trailheads are accessible from the main parking lot, but it’s more fun to follow the beach road through the jungle toward the southern point of the refuge. At its end is an alternate trailhead. En-route, you’ll spot several shaded pull-outs for cars and bonus beach access.
Unless closures are present, the refuge offers three trails: Nature (1.25 miles), .75 Latte Loop (.75 miles), and Ritidian Caves (.5 miles). Thanks to even grades and heavy shade, these trails are family-friendly for even very small children. There are also benches to rest on if you need to take or breather or just enjoy the surroundings. If you visit after a recent rain, watch your footing because the ground can get slick and the occasional upraised root or branch may catch lollygaggers by surprise.
But… lollygagging is completely understandable.
To beat the heat and sticky jungle air, head out early in the morning. Plus, most of those pesky mosquitos will still sleeping. But best of all? You’ll have everything to yourself. Save the crowds, barbecue, and party music for Tumon. In Ritidian, you’ll find a glimpse of Eden.
The nature trail follows the edge of a dense coconut grove, a throwback to Ritidian’s plantation days in the early 20th century. Today, geckos and toads skitter the ground, and if you’re very lucky, a monitor lizard. And every time you near the beach, you’ll start spotting butterflies.
These are blue-banded king crow butterflies, exclusive to the Marianas Islands and Palau. Its trademarks are blue dots on flexed wings as large as an outstretched palm. Even the most rambunctious children will be graced with close encounters with these whimsical, social insects.
Once away from the beach, the lush jungle is speckled with golden light. The Latte Loop Trail tours visitors past a preserved latte, a depression in the ground whose crater marks a centuries-old Spanish stone well, and hugs the feet of soaring limestone cliffs.
These cliffs are Ritidian’s grand finale. Anytime you near them, it seems a kind of reverence sets in. The limestone is adorned with clusters of caves, stalactites and stalagmites, and even the occasional natural arch. The Ritidian Caves trail ends at what some visitors refer to as “the cathedral,” a point in the cliffs where the limestone unzips to let in thick shafts of light and cascades of vines. Banyan trees hover overhead. True to its nickname, the spot feels nothing short of a place of worship. And given the sacred regard that Chamorros hold for banyans, Ritidian might just be as holy as it feels.
Access Ritidian via Route 3A from the Route 9/Route 3 interchange approximately 6 miles from the refuge headquarters. Travel north on Route 3A for 4.5 miles, then turn left and continue downhill 1.5 miles to the refuge. The road is heavily potholed, so drive carefully if you’re in a sedan. And be sure to stop at the scenic overlook. On clear days, Rota is visible!
Swimming is not recommended due to strong currents. Lock all vehicles and take valuables with you.