Every diver has a bucket list of dream islands. For me, the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean harbour a number of these idyllic destinations. The tropical atmosphere of the region is legendary where leisure and comfort beckon divers from afar. The welcoming local waters are crystal clear, perfectly warm, rich with life and varied terrain, as well as being home to a remarkable trove of World War II shipwrecks.
The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the USA, and are located at the northern end of Micronesia, approximately 2,000km south of Tokyo and 2,200km east of Manila. The Marianas consist of 14 islands stretching across more than 600km above the Western Pacific, just like a string of pearls scattered on the sea.
DIVING AMONG MOUNTAINS
The world-famous Marianas Trench is a stone’s throw away, with a maximum water depth of 11,034 metres – the deepest part of any ocean on Earth. In fact the islands themselves are the peaks of only a few mountains in that extraordinary submerged mountain range. The three main islands – Saipan, Tinian, and Rota Island – are blessed with sunshine throughout the year. With an average temperature of 29 degrees Celsius, and average sea temperatures of approximately 28 degrees Celsius, you can dive all year round, but the recommended season is from May to October.
For divers, the first questions that come to mind are likely: What are the most popular dive sites that must be visited and what marine life can be seen?First of all, no matter if it’s Saipan, Tinian or Rota, you can be assured of great visibility in any season, so you know you’re going to be happy. And while all three islands have very special cavern dive sites, Saipan’s Grotto is at the top of the list.
The Grotto’s unique cave terrain is arguably the most “prestigious” dive site in all of the Marianas, attracting both scuba divers and freedivers. There are three submerged tunnels and when you jump into the water, you can choose from the three large pockets that seem to transmit blue light from the sky above. The central tunnel is especially beautiful as it is adorned with many sea fans which hit peak density at around 22 metres. However, it is not easy to see such a fascinating underwater wonderland, because The Grotto is a shore dive. You’ll need to overcome more than 100 steps to reach The Grotto’s entry point, but believe me, if you can manage the trek it’s definitely worth the effort.
In the northeast of Saipan, there is another underwater cave that I personally like, called Spotlight. Around noon, a powerful beam of light enters the main opening above and illuminates the cavern. Like the name of the site, a diver can swim into this shaft of light and be transformed into the protagonist of a drama, performing on a stage. There is also a small chamber to the side of this famous location, where you can ascend to the surface, take off your mask and second stage, and take a look around and enjoy a quiet cavern, before diving back down and on with the rest of your dive. This dive site, however, does have seasonal restrictions, as it is less affected by wind and waves between May and October.