Beach worshippers and diving devotees could do worse than head for Micronesia. In the Pacific Ocean, around 5,150 km west-southwest of Honolulu, lie two thousand tiny tropical islands dotted over more than three million square miles. The islands belong to one of eight groups each with its own identity, language and heritage – Guam, the Republic of Palau, the Marianas, Ponhpei, Yap, Chuuk, the Marshalls and Kosrae.
In terms of territory, Micronesia isn’t one country. The island groups are linked in that they were formerly part of the U.S. Trust Territory of Micronesia. Guam is a United States territory while the Republic of Palau and the Marshalls are independent nations. The Marianas is a commonwealth connected with the United States while Ponhpei, Yap, Chuukand Kosrae are combined as the Federated States of Micronesia, which possess an agreement of free association with the United States.
The tiny islands are the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. Some islands are the tips of underwater mountains while many of the atolls are the rims of sunken volcano craters. The low coral atolls, with their serene blue-green lagoons, offer incredible diving opportunities.
Guam is the largest island and a popular beach and diving destination for Japanese, Korean and Taiwan visitors. Palau on the other hand is home to Micronesia’s strangest natural beauty, the Rock Islands – perfect for diving or kayaking. The Marianas are comparatively fairly touristy but away from the bustle of Saipan it’s possible to find plenty of tranquil beaches such as Tinian and Rota. The Marshalls are most famous for the island of Bikini Atoll where atomic bomb testing in the 1960s sadly led to radiation poisoning for many of its inhabitants. Otherwise these tropical coral islands are spectacular and offer fantastic diving and green vegetation.
The Federated States of Micronesia comprise of Chuuk, Kosrae, Ponhpei, and Yap. Chuuk is renowned for its rewarding wreck diving and ultra-relaxed pace of life, while Yap offers interesting legends, traditions and attractions such as a handmade seaside mens house and stone money banks. Ponhpei‘s rainforests are a visual stunner and the white sand beaches of unspoilt Kosrae are the perfect retreat.
Micronesia really is that paradise beach postcard come true. Minimal tourism means few crowds and the tranquility of the Pacific is exclusively yours to enjoy.
When to Go
The climate is tropical all year round with minimal seasonal variation. The average annual temperature is between 80 and 90F (27°C to 32°C) with up to seventy percent humidity, depending on the individual island. It’s very balmy and even more humid between July and November.
It can be slightly drier and cooler between December and March while April and May can be so rainy that Pohnpei is one of the wettest places in the world at that time.
Typhoons can hit between August to December. Lying off the tourist trail, there’s no real high or low season but January and February are likely to guarantee the best weather.
Most American holidays are celebrated like Christmas, New Year, and Thanksgiving. The top indigenous festivals are Yap Day in Yap in early March and Liberation Day on Kosrae on 8th September, marking America’s defeat of Japan after World War Two.
If you’re a tourist and only staying up to 30 days you don’t need a visa, plus your 30 days begin again every time you visit a different island group. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can extend your permit for up to a year.
The currency is $US and even $US traveller’s checks are accepted as cash in many big hotels, shops and restaurants. However, Micronesia is not necessarily the cheapest place to travel.
The distance between the islands and their dependence on imported goods means that you may spend more than you would like.
Budget accommodation is few and far between and the beach resorts are quite expensive. Generally speaking, the cheapest lodging is around US $35 to $50 a night, for something slightly better you could pay US $50 to $100 and US $100+ for luxury.
Food is well-priced though and you can eat well for around US $5 to $10. You’ll need to budget for around US $80 a day on a basic level and more if you want to splash out. Renting cars and diving can bump the costs up.
Don’t rely on cash points (ATMs) and commercial banks so make sure you have enough cash or travelers’ checks to get by on. Credit cards are accepted in some places such as Pohnpei and Kosrae and their use is spreading.
Tipping is not that common, although in Pohnpei it is becoming the norm to tip between 10% to 15%. Bartering for goods is not widespread either, except in a few markets, as most goods are imported and sold at fixed price.
Most of the islands have airstrips but Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae are well-linked by air. Road travel is, for the most part, decent but on some islands only the airport and main road will be paved.
Getting around by sedans, pickups, and jeepneys is the most common option. Buses are not part of Micronesian life – Yap is the only one where school buses ferry tourists between Colonia and the villages, otherwise there are private taxis.
On Weno Island in Chuuk there’s a great taxi share scheme and minivans operate in Pohnpei. In all honesty, car hire (at around US$50 a day) is your best bet if you want to explore the islands.
Travelling between the islands is another story. Boats are frequent and Chuuk operates plenty of commuter boats between the islands.
If you want to reach the islands further out you could hop on the cargo boats – not the most luxurious ride of your life but they’re cheap and cheerful. If you’ve got the money, private speedboats are another option.
The whole of Micronesia has less than 500,000 people. Eastern Micronesia is inhabited by people with marked Polynesian or Mongoloid characteristics such as lighter skin and dark hair that is straight or wavy but not curled.
In the western islands, tan-skinned Malays and dark-skinned Melanesians are found. Micronesians generally live in coastal villages that seldom have more than a few hundred people and Micronesian families are mostly matri-lineal that is, descent is traced through the mother’s family.
Most Micronesians are Christian, especially Roman Catholic.
English is spoken widely in Micronesia plus the native tongue of each island group such as Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Yapese, Kosraean, Chamorro, Palauan, Marshallese and Gilbertese (I-Kiribati).
While you might spot some men in coloured loincloths and women in woven skirts, Western clothing is commonly worn in Micronesia.
There are some outer islands such as Woleai, one of Yap’s outer islands, where there are rules against T-shirts, pants, baseball caps etc. but tourists are generally exempt from this, although you’ll receive a warmer welcome if you make an effort to fit in.
It is advisable to dress modestly wherever you are and note that swimwear is not always permitted in public areas.
Generally speaking, wear light and comfortable clothes especially to combat the humidity and heat during the day but evenings can get relatively cool with the ocean air so take long-sleeved warmer clothes as well.
Typhoid vaccinations are strongly recommended before any trip to Micronesia. Yellow fever and cholera depend on which islands you are visiting so it is best to check. Some islands carry the risk of Hepatitis A and B so take precautions and a tetanus vaccination is also advised.
Dengue fever can also occur while swimmers should, as always in topical waters, be aware of any poisonous fish and sea snakes. Sun protection is of course crucial.
It is usually safe to drink mains water which is usually chlorinated but can cause mild stomach upset in some cases. If you’re outside the main towns, stick to bottled.
Milk is pasteurized and, generally speaking, it is fine to eat dairy products; the same can be said for meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables.
All non-United States citizens require a U.S. visa if visiting.
In Guam, both American and Canadian visitors do not need a visa. U.S. citizens do not require passports or visas, however, proof of citizenship is required.
All other visitors require a valid passport.
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