My family's from Guam — here's why I think it's an underrated US travel destination



Slide 1 of 55: 
 Guam is a
 US territory in Oceania
 that is often overlooked by American tourists. 
 According to travel search site Skyscanner, few Americans
 plan trips to this destination. 
 As the largest island of
 the Mariana Islands, Guam's rich culture
 and adventure-friendly terrain make it one of the most underrated
 travel destinations
 in America. 
 The indigenous people of Guam are CHamoru. I'm half CHamoru,
 and most of my CHamoru family lives on Guam. When I visit them,
 we go on adventures
 all over the island and surrounding waters. 
 These photos of
 tropicaljungles,
 coral
 reefs, and some of the most culturally rich destinations Guam
 has to offer will show why it should be No. 1 on everyone's
 travel bucket list. 
 Visit
 Insider's homepage for more stories.
Slide 2 of 55: 
 Source: Guampedia
Slide 3 of 55: 
 Source: 
 CIA World Fact Book
Slide 4 of 55: When I visited my family on Guam, I flew from the contiguous US by connecting through either Honolulu, Hawaii, or Tokyo, Japan.
Slide 5 of 55: Guam is actually much closer to Japan than any US state. It takes less than four hours to fly there nonstop from Tokyo, but almost eight hours nonstop from Honolulu.
Slide 6 of 55: 
 Source: 
 CIA World Fact Book
Slide 7 of 55: 
 Source: 
 CIA World Fact Book
Slide 8 of 55: 
 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
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 Source: Guam
 Seawalker
Slide 16 of 55: 
 Source: 
 Trip Advisor
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 Source: 
 Trip Advisor
Slide 18 of 55: 
 Source: 
 Guampedia
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 Source: 
 Guampedia
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 Source: 
 Guampedia
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 Source: 
 Guampedia
Slide 22 of 55: 
 Source: 
 National Wildlife Refuge
 , 
 Guampedia
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 Source: 
 Guampedia
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 Source: Guampedia
Slide 25 of 55: 
 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
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 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
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 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
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 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
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 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
Slide 30 of 55: This is a traditional CHamoru home. It's supported by latte stones, which are a type of pillar used by the ancient CHamoru people that features a tall column and a hemispherical stone on top.
Slide 31 of 55: 
 Source: Guam Museum
Slide 32 of 55: "The presence of our ancestors can be seen and felt as people tour the river and grounds," Valley of the Latte CEO Daniel Tydingco told Insider.
Slide 33 of 55: 
 Source: Valley of the
 Latte
Slide 34 of 55: Visitors can gather and watch as a tour guide shows them how ancient CHamoru people wove baskets and made fire.
Slide 35 of 55: The tour is also interactive. Visitors get the chance to make fire themselves.
Slide 36 of 55: Then, the tour guide gives everyone some time to explore the lands. The valley is home to chickens, caribou, lizards, and wild dogs. My family explored the village with me even though they had been there before.
Slide 37 of 55: "For our locals, many of them take great pride in being able to visit a place that celebrates our history and culture and are proud to share it with guests that they bring with them," Tydingco told Insider.
Slide 38 of 55: 
 Source: Guam Museum
Slide 39 of 55: 
 Source: Guam Museum
Slide 40 of 55: The Guam Museum has a history of destruction and rebuilding, just like the island of Guam itself.
Slide 41 of 55: 
 Source: Guam Museum
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 Source: Guam Museum
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 Source: Guam Museum
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 Source: Guam Museum
Slide 51 of 55: A wall of this exhibit is dedicated to those who were affected by the war. My cousins and I ran our fingers down the wall and found "Chaco," one of our family's names, on it several times. When I found great-grandpa Manuel Chaco's name on the wall, I immediately pictured his aging face as I remembered the story he told me of how he and my great-grandma Josefina Chaco had a baby — Norman — in a concentration camp. Norman Duenas Chaco died in the camp before the war ended.
Slide 52 of 55: 
 Source: Guam
 Museum
 , 
 Guam Daily Post
Slide 53 of 55: Tolentino told Insider that Guam's economy relies on foreign tourism. Tourism employs thousands of people and provides growth opportunities for local businesses.
Slide 54 of 55: At the same time, tourism commercializes Guam, introduces foreign illnesses and diseases, and it's Guam's only driving economic force, according to Tolentino.
Slide 55 of 55: Ultimately, Tolentino believes that the people of Guam will support tourism as long as it does not challenge the community’s core family values. In my experience as a CHamoru, this includes respect, collectivism, and courage. Coming to Guam might give you a sense of these values, too, and that's part of what makes this tourist destination so underrated.

Guam’s slogan is “Where America’s day begins” because it is — literally. Guam is an American territory west of the International Date Line. So it’s the first place in America that experiences a new day each day.

Source: Guampedia

Guam is in the North Pacific Ocean. It’s the largest and southern-most island in the Mariana Islands archipelago.

Source:
CIA World Fact Book

When I visited my family on Guam, I flew from the contiguous US by connecting through either Honolulu, Hawaii, or Tokyo, Japan.

Guam is actually much closer to Japan than any US state. It takes less than four hours to fly there nonstop from Tokyo, but almost eight hours nonstop from Honolulu.

Guam only has two seasons — wet and dry — and it’s a tropical marine climate. The dry season is from January to June, and the rainy season is from July to December. The temperature stays around 80 degrees all the time.

Source:
CIA World Fact Book

The warm weather is perfect for swimming. Guam is surrounded by coral reefs and has five protected marine preserves.

Source:
CIA World Fact Book

On the western shore of Guam in a village called Piti, the Guam Seawalker Tours offer a unique underwater adventure in a marine preserve called Piti Bomb Holes.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

This tour takes people to the seafloor to see schools of fish, complete with a Sandy-Cheeks-like helmet straight out of “Spongebob Squarepants.”

Source: Guam
Seawalker

Professional divers take each patron down to the seafloor using a ladder that is attached to a small boat.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

For 25 minutes, divers guide patrons around the seafloor using an installed railing for balance.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

The air pressure underwater makes it feel like you’re on an airplane. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but breathing underwater makes the experience feel like a reverse aquarium.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

After 25 minutes is up, the group goes back up to the boat, and the next group begins their descent.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

While waiting for other groups to do their tours, visitors can snorkel in a designated area on the side of the boat …

Source: Guam
Seawalker

… and the Seawalker Tour provides life jackets, snorkels, and goggles to do so. I think this tour is one of the most unique things I’ve ever done, and other visitors agree.

Source: Guam
Seawalker

“We were surrounded by so many different kinds of beautiful fish and corals,” one Trip Advisor review said. “I’ve lived on the island all my life and visit the beach often, but this was a completely new experience that was great to share with family …

Source:
Trip Advisor

“… It is a great activity for both tourists and locals,” the review continued.

Source:
Trip Advisor

But if hanging out underwater isn’t really your thing, there’s still plenty to do on Guam, like a hike through Guam’s tropical jungles. I recommend Ritidian Point, which is on the northern tip of Guam in a village called Yigo.

Source:
Guampedia

It used to be an ancient CHamoru village, but now Ritidian is a wildlife refuge. The refuge includes 832 acres of land and 371 acres of coral reefs.

Source:
Guampedia

Aside from wildlife, like snails, lizards, and fruit bats, Ritidian is known for its archaeological significance.

Source:
Guampedia

The caves in Ritidian have some ancient rock art, or pictographs, in them. The art is very difficult to preserve because of high humidity and mold growth.

Source:
Guampedia

Archaeological studies suggest that the first CHamoru people settled on Guam about 4,000 years ago.

Source:
National Wildlife Refuge

,

Guampedia

I went to Ritidian on the first day of my summer 2018 trip to Guam. I was still feeling sick from the plane journey, but my mother told me I couldn’t vomit on these lands because they’re sacred.

Source:
Guampedia

Ritidian is untouched land. Many CHamoru people believe that Taotaomo’na — the spirits of the “people before” — reside in Ritidian. It is widely believed that if you don’t respect the land, Taotaomo’na can pinch and scratch people in their sleep and make them physically ill. Needless to say, I kept my mouth closed until we left Ritidian.

Source: Guampedia

For another historically informative adventure, you can also visit the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park, which is on the south side of Guam in a village called Talofofo.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

Tour guides take visitors to the valley by boat, but you can take a kayak or a paddleboat if you are feeling more adventurous.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

When traveling through the Talofofo and Ugum Rivers, patrons can see wildlife in and around the river.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

The river supports wildlife in the area, including mangrove crabs, tilapia, catfish, mangrove snappers, trout, perch, shrimp, and halfbeaks.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

Once at the site, patrons can see how ancient CHamoru people lived in the Talofofo River Valley over 3,000 years ago.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

This is a traditional CHamoru home. It’s supported by latte stones, which are a type of pillar used by the ancient CHamoru people that features a tall column and a hemispherical stone on top.

Visitors can walk through the home and picture what it would be like to live inside one of these huts.

Source: Guam Museum

“The presence of our ancestors can be seen and felt as people tour the river and grounds,” Valley of the Latte CEO Daniel Tydingco told Insider.

The rest of the tour is a combination of exploration and demonstrations.

Source: Valley of the
Latte

Visitors can gather and watch as a tour guide shows them how ancient CHamoru people wove baskets and made fire.

The tour is also interactive. Visitors get the chance to make fire themselves.

Then, the tour guide gives everyone some time to explore the lands. The valley is home to chickens, caribou, lizards, and wild dogs. My family explored the village with me even though they had been there before.

“For our locals, many of them take great pride in being able to visit a place that celebrates our history and culture and are proud to share it with guests that they bring with them,” Tydingco told Insider.

My family also took me to the Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and CHamoru Educational Facility. This is a history, culture, and natural science museum located in the island’s capital — Hagåtña …

Source: Guam Museum

… but the museum wasn’t always here. War and natural disasters have shifted the museum’s location multiple times over the last century.

Source: Guam Museum

The Guam Museum has a history of destruction and rebuilding, just like the island of Guam itself.

The first thing that stands out about the museum is the building’s exterior. The 65-foot-high arch and other unique characteristics have made the building an icon in Hagåtña.

Source: Guam Museum

Museum director Dominica Tolentino told Insider that the building’s architect was inspired by memories of growing up on Guam, such as the woven patterns, sling stones, and latte stone elements included in the design.

Source: Guam Museum

This slab of cement on the front of the building resembles a book page, and the words come from an ancient CHamoru chief’s speech and lyrics from the Guam Hymn, which is the official territorial anthem of Guam.

Source: Guam Museum

But the inside of the museum is even more impressive. It’s complete with a permanent exhibition called “I Hinanao-ta Nu I Manaotao Tåno Siha: The Journey of the CHamoru People.”

Source: Guam Museum

The exhibition is 6,200-square feet in total, and it uses technology to make it an interactive and unique experience. “It is an exciting story about humanity and homeland, our relationship with the land and sea, and it provides a frame of reference for beginning to understand the human interactions which have brought us to where we are today,” Tolentino told Insider.

Source: Guam Museum

The exhibition is divided into several sections and presents the history of Guam chronologically.

Source: Guam Museum

The first gallery focuses on the diverse ecology of Guam. Stone, ceramic, and shell artifacts are presented here.

Source: Guam Museum

The next section of the exhibition focuses on the ancient CHamoru culture and ways of life before colonization …

Source: Guam Museum

… which leads us to the next section — early colonization. This part begins with Spanish contact and ends with the first American naval administration.

Source: Guam Museum

The exhibition then goes into World War II and post-war reconstruction. This display is accompanied by sound bites that feature stories by war survivors.

Source: Guam Museum

A wall of this exhibit is dedicated to those who were affected by the war. My cousins and I ran our fingers down the wall and found “Chaco,” one of our family’s names, on it several times. When I found great-grandpa Manuel Chaco’s name on the wall, I immediately pictured his aging face as I remembered the story he told me of how he and my great-grandma Josefina Chaco had a baby — Norman — in a concentration camp. Norman Duenas Chaco died in the camp before the war ended.

Finally, the exhibition ends with CHamoru’s perspectives on Guam’s political status and cultural revitalization. This covers the growth of tourism and the continued militarization of Guam. Most of Guam’s tourists come from Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan.

Source: Guam
Museum

,

Guam Daily Post

Tolentino told Insider that Guam’s economy relies on foreign tourism. Tourism employs thousands of people and provides growth opportunities for local businesses.

At the same time, tourism commercializes Guam, introduces foreign illnesses and diseases, and it’s Guam’s only driving economic force, according to Tolentino.

Ultimately, Tolentino believes that the people of Guam will support tourism as long as it does not challenge the community’s core family values. In my experience as a CHamoru, this includes respect, collectivism, and courage. Coming to Guam might give you a sense of these values, too, and that’s part of what makes this tourist destination so underrated.

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