Guam sounds like paradise. An American—easy entry, no language barrier—island in the middle of the South Pacific. But the reality is a little different. The US military, with navy and air force bases, has a dominating presence. Most of the tourists are Japanese. And Tumon Bay is filled with high-rise hotels and duty-free shops. It’s not quite the utopia you’d pictured. Unless you head to Ritidian Point.
Guam is in Micronesia, three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines. The largest and the southernmost of the Mariana Islands was inhabited by the Chamorro people for thousands of years. Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521, and Spain then controlled the island until ceding it to the United States after the Spanish-American War. The Japanese captured Guam in 1941, only hours after attacking Pearl Harbor. The islanders were terrorized for almost three years before being liberated by American troops. It has been a US territory ever since.
Ritidian Point may only be 12 miles north of Tumon Bay, but it feels worlds away. The northernmost point, part of the Guam National Wildlife Refuge, is the least visited part of the island. Drive down a bumpy, pothole-filled road, surrounded by thick tangan-tangan shrubs and betel nut trees. A wild pig darts in front of you. Two flightless Guam Rails stroll along tree line. You start to feel lost and overheated in your rental car. But keep going.
Eventually, you start to see azure water ahead. Follow the path through the tall grass. Coconut crabs stop digging in the sand as you pass. A Blue-tailed Skink darts up the side of a coconut palm. Kick off your sandals when you reach the powdery white sand. You have a pristine beach all to yourself. Almost to yourself. Two fishermen, too absorbed to even notice you, are knee-deep in the water in the distance. You peel off your shorts and shirt, and then practically run down to the crystal-clear water. Little fish dart away from your legs. You dive underneath a small wave, stare up at the sun as you float, and look back at your beautiful surroundings. An empty beach, swaying palms, and 500-foot limestone cliffs.
Spend the rest of the afternoon hiking through the wildlife refuge. Explore limestone caves with 3,000-year-old Chamorro artwork on the inside walls. Endangered Mariana fruit bats hang upside down in the corner. See the remains of the last Chamorro village. The archaeological site has a water well and pottery. Listen to brightly colored Micronesian Kingfishers call out to one another. Visit the stone foundations at Casa Royal, an early Spanish outpost. Search for nesting green sea turtles. And return to that perfect beach. Guam might be paradise after all.