Saipan is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands.
All of Saipan is governed as a single city. The island is divided into villages, which correspond with neighborhoods in American cities.
Saipan is 23 km (14 mi) long and 8 km (5 mi) wide. The best beaches and most populated areas are on the western and southern coasts, with the north and east being rugged and mountainous.
Because only one branch of the US Military - the Coast Guard - has even a small permanent presence on Saipan, many Chamorros on Saipan consider their culture more intact than on Guam. Therefore, comparisons between the two islands should take this into account. Furthermore, Chamorros on Saipan and throughout the CNMI still primarily speak Chamorro at home, while the same isn't true of Guam. While the differences between a commonwealth (as in the CNMI) and a territory (as in Guam) may not appear to be great (especially to an American citizen from a continental state), Saipan is not a US territory in a strict legal sense. Finally, while the population of the CNMI, as on the Guam, are US citizens, they are citizens by Covenant. So their independent political identity is equally important to them as should be expected.
While English is certainly the lingua franca on Saipan, few people on the island (adults in particular) speak English as their first language. Nevertheless, nearly everybody does speak English to varying degrees. Many local residents, who often use English at school or at work, speak Chamorro or Carolinian (both official in addition to English) or another of the Micronesian languages at home. The majority of people living on Saipan are overseas contract laborers, however. These people come mostly from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, and South Korea. A small Thai population also exisits on the island. Furthermore, Korean, Japanese and (more recently) Russian and Chinese tourists make their languages fairly prevalent in the tourist areas as well.
Most hotels are geared toward a particular language/nationality such as Japanese or Korean, which represent most of the tourism. A notable exception is Pacific Islands Club, which is geared toward a multilingual/multinationial clientele. Likewise, most of the SCUBA shops are geared toward Japanese or Korean tourism, though the heavy reliance on Philippine dive staff ensures that many will also be able to handle English-speaking customers.
Saipan International Airport (SPN) is located in the southeast corner of the island. Direct flights are available from Tokyo and Nagoya (via Delta Air Lines), Seoul (via Asiana), Hong Kong (via Fly Guam) and the nearby islands of Guam, Tinian, and Rota. There will be direct flights from Shanghai and Guangzhou China starting early 2011 by Sichuan Airlines.
U.S. travelers required passports and had to pass through CNMI Immigration and Customs, as Saipan and the CNMI were considered international locations until November 28,2009. On that date the CNMI Covenant required that the CNMI Federalization of Immigration law became effective. The CNMI remains under CNMI Customs laws.
The Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America defines the unique relationship between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, recognizing U.S. sovereignty but limiting, in some respects, applicability of federal law. The Covenant was negotiated over the course of twenty-seven months (December 1972 to February 1975) by the Marianas Political Status Commission (an organization representing the Northern Mariana Islands) and a delegation representing the United States. The proposed Covenant was signed by negotiators on February 15, 1975, at Saipan. The Covenant is codified at 48 U.S.C. § 1801 note, reprinted in the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Code (with case annotations) and is also sold in pamphlet format by the Commonwealth Law Revision Commission.
Pursuant to Section 1003(a), some Covenant provisions became effective on March 24, 1976, the date of final approval. Remaining provisions took effect on January 9, 1978, and November 4, 1986, the dates specified in Presidential proclamations issued pursuant to Section 1003(b)-(c). On the latter date, qualified residents of the Northern Mariana Islands became U.S. citizens. On June 29, 2009 U.S. Immigration Laws were to take effect, however, they were delayed until November 28, 2009.
U.S. Public Law 94-241, § 1, Mar. 24, 1976, 90 Stat. 263, the measure approving the Covenant, was originally reprinted in the U.S. Code in a note under 48 U.S.C. § 1681. In an official edition of the U.S. Code published in 1986, several provisions of the act were codified (as amended) as 48 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1805. (See also C-201 et seq.)
The Covenant is an agreement entered into between the United States government and the government and people of the Northern Mariana Islands. The parties entered into agreement as two separate but equal sovereign entities. The Covenant governs the relationship between the parties.
There is no public transport as such, excluding shuttle buses running between hotels and the Duty Free shopping center in Garapan. Streets are named, but most buildings do not have numbered street addresses. Most locals navigate by landmarks.
There is no public bus service on Saipan, but on Saipan PDI and other companies run a shopping shuttle bus to and from the Duty Free mall (DFS Galleria) in Garapan. DFS also has their own free shuttle from most of the major hotels.
Taxis on Saipan are expensive but plentiful, however the only place they are allowed to pick up or drop off passengers is at the airport or a hotel, and sometimes at DFS. There is also a large network of illegal taxis run by Chinese and Korean immigrants, that will take you anywhere for less than $5.00. For instance, one person 3$/2 persons 5$ to anywhere downtown (except for airport and dock), phone numbers are as follows: Chinese taxi Team:(670)2858686; Korean taxi team:(670)4835151. For some Saipan residents this is their only means of transportation.
Because Saipan is so small, taxis from the airport to the main hotel area of Garapan can run upwards of $25-30, so plan ahead by arranging transportation through your hotel, which often charge $10 per person flat rate.
Car rental is a good option for getting off the beaten track, as roads are generally quite good. Most car rental offices are either at the airport or at major tourist hotels; some offer a free pick up and drop off service. If you plan to visit anywhere other than the most heavily-touristed areas, you'll want a vehicle with high clearance and four-wheel drive, as many of the back roads are unpaved and in poor condition.
Mopeds can be rented for about $25-$30, though roads are very dark at night and bugs predominate after dusk. Therefore, consider mopeds for day-tripping only, as drivers tend not to give heed to mopeds or bicyclists throughout the CNMI or Guam. Mopeds are also a poor choice during the rainy season (June through November) as the roads get very slick and sudden downpours can occur without warning.
Saipan, Guam, and many other islands of the Marianas were all important battle sites during WWII, and many Japanese bunkers and armaments still exist on these islands. These sites are managed by the National Park Service under the "War in the Pacific" Parks designation. Saipan is fairly small and by renting a car or moped, it is easy to drive around the island and take in the natural splendor, as well as visit a number of parks. Scuba diving is also popular, and the underwater world should definitely be seen.
Scuba diving and snorkeling on Saipan are deservedly the most popular activities here among western tourists, though gambling and karaoke/hostess bars are most popular among Korean businessmen, as well as some Japanese travelers. Garapan is coastally located, so other watersports abound as well. For scuba divers, the term "Fun Dive" is used for those who have already been certified and just want to recreational dive, while "Taiken dive" is used to designate first-time divers that take classes on Saipan. The same is true for the rest of the CNMI and somewhat so for Guam. While boat dives are available, you can still drive to some awesome dive sights, like Grotto. A cavern dive to open ocean is great. If you go outside, you will need a guide as it is very easy to get turned around outside and lose track of the tunnel back in.
For more detailed descriptions of individual dive sites in Saipan, see the Dive sites of Saipan article.
You may also want to check out one or more of the 5 golf courses. Two were designed by Greg Norman, one by Larry Nelson and another by Graham Marsh. The other course is considered a "local" course. There is also a 9 hole course that is great for beginners.
Recently, Segway of Marianas has started renting out Segway Personal Transporters for use in exploring downtown Garapan at reasonable rates.
The Saipan Hash House Harriers  meet every Saturday at 3:30PM at the Bank of Guam parking lot in Garapan to run, hike, jog, climb and otherwise trek through jungle, swamps, mountains, and other terrain. It's usually a great way to meet people and see a side of island life you might not catch otherwise.
Trekking and other land-based activities are available on the island. The Forbidden Island, originally occupied by evil spirits and now a bird sanctuary, can be reached by an hour's hike from the edge of the town of Kagman on the east coast. Take a snorkel kit to enjoy the diving area between the island and shore.
Most trekking activities will require a guide.
All beaches in Saipan are considered public park land, so feel free to wander into any resort and spend some time on their beaches. If you plan on swimming, do so when the tide is coming in, as it can suck the unwary out to sea when it recedes. Tide charts are available in the phone book.
Duty Free Galleria, in the center of Garapan, has the top name brands and fashions available for high prices (but supposedly lower rates than in Tokyo). Locally made crafts are available in some stores on the islands, but check first to make sure the items were not manufactured in the Philippines, Thailand, or Indonesia.
The largest locally owned souvenir store is La Moda Isla . It's located on the north side of DFS Galleria. It's got a full selection of island oriented merchandise both made locally and throughout Asia. They've got a snack bar with free wifi.
There is a tiny branch of Bestseller Books, packed full of the latest titles as well as magazines and travel guides, in the Joeten Susupe shopping center. Music And, further south on Beach Road, carries discs by local musicians.
One of the classic adventures on island is a bike tour done by Marianas Trekking up on the North Coast. The guides take you up by van to the top of Suicide Cliff and then you can ride down, with stops at all of the historical sites, and a snorkeling stop at the Blue Grotto. The tour breaks for lunch at Mariana Beach and ends at the Mandi Asian Spa. It is a treat.
Many nice bakeries exist in and around Garapan and local breakfast places are within walking distance of the main hotel area. Seafood is understandably very fresh.
Vegetarian options are possible to find as well. For self-catering options, try one of the Joeten supermarkets for fruits and vegetables, some locally grown. For the unadventurous, there is Hard Rock Cafe, Tony Roma's, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Subway.
"Herman's Modern Bakery and Tan Marikita's Cafe" the first bakery and cafe in Saipan, making traditional and American breads.
Karaoke/Hostess Bars abound in Garapan all of which allow ample drinking opportunities if one is so inclined.
Coffee Care Saipan, is located part way up Capitol Hill road, is a great place to eat or enjoy some fine coffee. Need a ride? Call 323-5282. Or, send e-mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org
Thai House, next to the Cabrera Center in Garapan. Call them at 235-8424 for a ride.
The Spicy Thai Noodle Place (Tel : 235-8603) in San Antonio next to the Thailand Food Store has excellent Thai food.
Oleai Beach Club is a great 'sunset' bar and lunch spot on the beach in San Jose Village. It's popular with the locals because of their lunchtime $1 Taco Special.
Giovanni's at the Hyatt Hotel in Garapan offers the best Sunday Brunch in the Pacific for $34.00. Reservations are a must. The Hyatt also has a daily buffet lunch for $20.
Saipan finally has a multiplex theatre run by Wallace Theaters. Now with first run movies with Dolby Digital sound.
If you like to run, drink beer or both, there is an active chapter of the Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem) on Saipan. The Saipan Hash House Harriers meet every Saturday at the Bank of Guam building in Garapan at 3:30 PM in 'Winter', and 4:00 PM in 'Summer'. Join the Hash if you'd like to meet some folks from Saipan, see some of the lesser known areas of the island, and enjoy a bit of outrageous partying. The cost is US$10.00 per person for the run, all the beer, soda and junk food you can consume, and all the fun you can handle. The Hash also has a home page.
For those with a different idea of 'fun', there are plenty of night clubs, strip joints, karaoke bars and massage parlours.
The most popular dance club on island is the GIG (pronounce as separate letters, not as "gig"), in Garapan.
Most of Saipan's accommodation caters to package tourists. Rates are steep during Japanese holiday seasons but equally steeply discounted outside them. Internet bookings can regularly find rates below $60 per night, depending on the season.
Many hotels and restaurants on Saipan now offer free wireless internet access to customers that bring their own laptops, including Coffee Care, McDonalds, Wild Bill's in Garapan, Java Joe's in Dandan, and Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan in Garapan. La Moda Isla in Garapan offers free wifi in its snack bar area.
Visitors to Saipan are unlikely to be the victims of violent crime. However, methamphetamine addiction is a serious social problem, and addicts occasionally break into vehicles. Don't leave valuables in your car.
It is highly advised that visitors to Saipan (especially those who might suffer from neurological or mental health issues, but this applies to everyone) have medical evacuation insurance and/or a way to get to either Guam (which has somewhat better facilities), Hawaii in the US, or their home country should they require medical care. Commonwealth Health Center, Saipan's only hospital, provides substandard care to the extent that it almost closed in 2012, and even if not closed, is not optimal for health care of any sort. There are no facilities for behavioral health/mental health in Saipan, nor is Commonwealth Health Center qualified in dealing with neurological injuries or illness.