Saipan - the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands
The next stop after Guam in my itinerary for the Philippines & Micronesian travel project is Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands and the capital. Saipan is the principal island and major commercial center of the archipelago. The Island is formed by a rising coral reef, and offers beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear water and plenty of Pacific World War II history and also good scuba/freediving opportunities.
On Saipan, I also expect to find a well balanced mixture of beautiful nature with modern amenities, nightlife, and shopping venues. The island's turquoise lagoon hides wrecks and remnants of the Pacific War that are today protected by law. Towering cliffs and a pristine jungle lures hikers with caves still filled with the detritus of a war now remembered by ceremonies held at inspiring peace memorials built by many nations.
Alongside all of Saipan's highly interesting history and prehistory going back 4,000 years resides a fringe of new, modern resort hotels, restaurants and shopping venues of high stardard. Considered the downtown district, Garapan is where most of the restaurants, bars, and shopping centers are located.
One of the most well-known dive sites on Saipan is the Grotto, featured in the video above. It is by many listed as one of the absolute top diving spots in Micronesia, and even in the world! It surely looks wonderful, and even more so in this freediving video, but the Grotto has also claimed the lifes of divers of all levels. The recommendation is to stay in the Grotto, not to swim outside of it.
As Freediver HD wrote in this YouTube video:
"--- WARNING TO THOSE PLANNING TO DIVE HERE ----
The Grotto has claimed the lives of at least 6 to 10 divers since 2001, with deaths in 2005, 2006, 2008, including the deaths of students, advanced divers, instructors and dive masters.
I don't want to be responsible for a case of "monkey see monkey do". If you are planning to dive here - DO NOT SWIM OUTSIDE like I did. It's not about the distance or breath hold, its about the conditions outside. I swam out once, and I will never swim outside again. This video is edited to make it look like I was outside for a few seconds - the reality is I was stuck outside for around 10 minutes, with big waves pounding the cliff wall making it impossible to 'breath up' on the surface before going back in. Once you surface on the outside, its impossible to see the entrance to the grotto without first swimming down to about 6 or 7 meters. If the waves and current move you out of position just a few meters , you may never find your way back in. If you are stuck on the outside of the cliff, you'll have to make a 1.5km swim in fierce currents and pounding waves to make it to shore.
Also be aware that the exceptionally clear water gives you a false perception, and you may find you are way deeper and further into the cave than it looks.
I don't want anyone to kill themselves because of what they saw somebody do on youtube."