Story and photos by Jessica Peterson
It’s no wonder Guam receives one million visitors a year. White sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and a gentle ocean breeze welcome visitors from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, China, and the U.S. And with all the first world amenities Guam offers, it’s surprisingly mellow. What has coalesced at 13 degrees North is pretty much the best of both worlds — old and new. From centuries-old Spanish forts to multi-level Louis Vuitton stores, Guam is the crossroads of ancient culture and modern commerce. Refusing to be pigeonholed, the island with a population of only 156,000 has become all things to everyone — the shopper, the adventure lover, the spa goer, the beach bum, and the culture enthusiast, to name a few.
The sun streams through the opening in the curtains at your hotel of choice on Tumon Bay. This room, like many in Pleasure Island, has a waterfront view. The Philippine Sea is already a stunning turquoise when you finally make it to the balcony for coffee and a light breakfast. You can see the waves breaking gently on the reef. The pool below looks inviting, but you do actually want to soak up the waves, so you slather on sunscreen and head downstairs.
Twenty steps later, your toes sink into the sand — and this early, it feels like your own private beach. Where are all the tourists? you wonder. By noon, you know. Beaming moms and dads are snapping happy pictures of their toddlers playing with sand and seawater for the first time. Twentysomethings are paddling through the shallows in boats shaped like giant rubber duckies. You rented a snorkel mask and fins and are amazed at how many colorful fish you see so near to the shore. Who’s watching who? you wonder when petite, translucent, pin-nosed fish near the surface eye you curiously. You’re glad you rented an underwater camera. Your Facebook wall could use some sprucing up.
Just before you lobsterize, you hit the shops at The Plaza. Gucci, Coach, Prada — this feels like a mini Fifth Avenue. You’re just window shopping until you realize Guam is duty free. You choose a colorful scarf from Gap still not sure whether it’s a gift for you or a friend. You can decide later, there are still five more shopping malls to peruse.
It’s 1 o’clock as you slide into a chair at the colorful Ban Thai. You reluctantly pace yourself through the spicy buffet, full but not comatose and ready for a scenic drive. You are your own guide on the 3-hour tour, but it’s easy to follow the single winding road that hugs the southern curves of the island. You can’t wait to brag about standing on top of the world’s largest latte. Okay, it’s not that kind of latte, but it’s still a record-breaker.
Memorias Lalahita HillsYou stop off at I Memorias Para I lalahi-ta, to take in breathtaking vistas of the angular southern hills and the Philippine Sea. You can see the bright orange Umatac Bridge and even the storied Spanish fort, Fort Señora Nuestra de la Soledad, in the distance. You take a deep breath of crisp salty air. Is this paradise?
You make a quick stop at Kathy’s, a nondescript convenience store, for the island’s best pickled papaya. The spicy snack gets you through the rest of the lazy southern drive.
Rounding the tip of the island you see the tiny Cocos Island and make a mental note to take the ferry out for a day trip next time.
You drive through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it historical village of Inarajan for a dip in the crater-like pools. A gentle rain has bestowed a thin mist on the green beach. If it wasn’t for the 86-degree tropical weather, you’d think you were in Ireland.
A few miles later, you’re at Talofofo Bay and sinking your toes into one of Guam’s rare black sand beaches. The current is too strong to swim here, so content with your photos — perched atop the massive stones lining the beach — you head for Yona (pronounced joan-yuh).
Before you start down the hill towards Pago Bay, you take a quick right towards Del Carmen apartments for a spectacular view of the eastern coastline.
You arrive in time to nosh on some tasty Chamorro BBQ at Guam’s popular night market, Chamorro Village. You watch a 7-year-old ride a massive carabao and then catch a charming cultural dance by local high schoolers. You make a mental note to bring your nieces and nephews next time you vacation on Guam. You purchase inexpensive jewelry by the basketful at Surf Beads, satisfied with the quality souvenirs you’ll gift to your friends and family. You buy a box of spicy Pika Chocolate at Guam Chocolate — one for you, one for them. After petting a monitor lizard and holding a coconut crab, you can’t wait to sink into your plush bed at the hotel.