It remains a well-kept secret from the majority of Australians: a tropical island offering superb white-sand beaches, world-class resorts and pristine snorkelling and diving, all against the backdrop of an eclectic cultural mix stemming from a long history of exploration and occupation.
This is the island of Guam, the largest in a chain that forms the Mariana archipelago, probably better known in more recent history as a fierce World War II battleground between the Americans and the Japanese. About halfway between Cairns and Tokyo, it is now both a strategically important US territory and a first-class tourism destination.
With a tropical marine climate, coral reef and white-sand beaches, Guam is a water-sports paradise. The snorkelling and diving is world-class, with no fewer than 60 dive sites, including wreck diving. One of the best of dozens of snorkelling spots is the Ypao Beach marine reserve, at the southern end of the resort and shopping heartland of Tumon Bay.
History buffs will find numerous World War II memorial sites, including the War in the Pacific National Historical Park between the port of Guam and Hagatna. Delve further into local Chamorro culture and Spanish colonialism with visits to more traditional southern island villages, including Umatac where the explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island in 1521.
Eat and Drink
The food influences are Chamorro, Spanish, Filipino, American and more recently Asian-fusion – in other words, a celebration of cultural diversity. Tumon Bay and nearby Tamuning are the places to be for the widest range of restaurants, from high-end to fast food franchises, as well as Western-style bars and clubs.
For local specialities, don’t miss the fiery chicken or shrimp kelaguen or the delights of the Chamorro barbecue, with meat marinated in a mix of onions, vinegar and soy, accompanied by short-grained red rice. You will find some of the best barbecue at the weekly Wednesday night market at the Chamorro Village, Hagatna. Tuba is the traditional alcoholic beverage, made from the sap of the ubiquitous coconut palm.
Where to Stay
Guam continues to be a hugely popular holiday destination among the Japanese, with emerging connections with China and Korea. Combined with its high profile among Americans as a key Pacific military hub, this means tourists are well catered for in a wide range of accommodation. Huge US in investment in Guam has brought world-class five-star resorts to the island, underpinned by more moderately-priced lodgings.
Tumon Bay is host to the greatest concentration of resorts and hotels, and has been dubbed a smaller version of Waikiki with its beach setting and other attractions such as shopping, dining and nightlife. Other places to stay include Hagatna, Maite, Tamuning and Mangilao.
Speciality shops, gift shops, mega-malls, the most luxurious luxury brands, flea-markets and street markets… for such a small island, Guam has it all. Tumon is the place to be for biggest concentration of high-end brands such as Bvlgari, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. There are more than 50 outlets alone in and around The Plaza and DFS Galleria centres of Pale San Vitores Road.
For those looking for shopping further afield, there are major malls in Hagatna, Tamuning and Dededo. Dededo also hosts an early-morning flea-market on weekends. Shopping in Guam is duty-free, but rules apply to duty-free goods when re-entering Australia. It pays to check with Customs: customs.gov.au
Guam Like a Local
Hiking, or boonie stomping as it is known by the locals, is a popular pursuit for those wishing to get off the beaten track. There are plenty of undeveloped areas on Guam with hikes through forest and jungle to hidden waterfalls, World War II sites, caves and pristine beaches. Visitors can join a group hike to various island destinations with Guam Boonie Stompers, who meet at 9am each Saturday in the centre court of Chamorro Village in Hagatna.