A Local's Guide to Guam, America's Most Misunderstood Territory

The little-known island is quietly experiencing a cultural renaissance

Scenic View Of Sea Against Sky
Janelle Onedera / EyeEm / Getty Images

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. There’s never been a better way to beat the heat than to head to the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about the biggest beach party you might not have heard of, how swimwear impacts climate change, the remote Tahitian village preparing for the world stage, and the best beaches in the United States.

Guåhan, commonly known as Guam, is the southernmost and largest island that makes up the crescent chain of the Marianas Islands. Although Guam inhabits only 170,000 people, the Marianas remains home to one of the oldest Pacific Island cultures dating as far back as 3,500 years. 

For many foreigners and Americans, not much is known about this U.S. territory besides its fixture in international headlines in 2017 at the height of nuclear missile threats by North Korea or through its subtle mentions (often as a punchline) in sitcoms. 

Over the years, the island has experienced a complete cultural renaissance. From locally-grown musical artists and published authors to community-focused wellness festivals and local craft breweries, Guam has been progressing in a never-ending movement towards revitalizing its indigenous language, customs, arts, and culture. 

If traveling to this part of Micronesia, know that the region is never short of island magic and warm hospitality. From the northernmost point of Litekyan (known as Ritidian) to the southernmost village of Merizo, Guam’s luscious landscapes, jungles, and beaches cover 30 miles in length and eight and a half miles in width.  

History

Today’s economic environment and Guam’s political status echo some of the island’s complex history; from the Chamorro-Spanish war, which lasted for 25 years, marking the end of 300-year Spanish colonization in 1898, to the Japanese occupation and U.S. liberation during World War II in 1944.

Due to its geographic location in the Pacific, just 1,565 miles south of Japan and east of the Philippines, foreign forces have historically made Guam a prime target. As of today, Guam is still an unincorporated territory of the United States with no political power to vote in presidential elections. 

Guåhan in the indigenous CHamoru language means “we have,” and despite centuries of colonization and its influences, the people of Guam continue to embed themselves in the core values of inafa’maolek (pronounced e-na-fah mao-lek), a system fundamentally built on reciprocity, respect, community, and harmony—a collective culture. 

Beaches

If you're heading to Guam to experience its beautiful beaches, Tumon, a favorite of both locals and tourists, should be first on your list. The beach stretches for about two miles from the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa to Lotte Hotel Guam, making it easily accessible for those staying on the hotel strip. 

The calm waters in Tumon are perfect for snorkeling, paddleboarding, or an easy jog with a beautiful view. If you’re planning to drive around the island, two other spots worth a visit are the Merizo Pier and Inarajan’s Natural Pool, located on the southern tip of the island. 

Keep in mind that there's no bad time to hit the beach: the island experiences warm temperatures throughout the year.

Scenic View Of Mountains Against Sky
John Souter / EyeEm / Getty Images

Adventure 

Guam is home to some of the world’s most gorgeous diving spots and hiking trails. Nature lovers can choose from over 44 hiking spots that range from easy to difficult. Pågat, located in the northern part of the island in the village of Dededo, is a hiking spot with remnants of an ancient CHamoru village and a swimming cave. A visit to this unique locale is definitely worth your time.

The trail is composed of limestone forests and rocks and descends downward before coming to a rocky plateau where a large sinkhole is. On the left side of the sinkhole, there’s a freshwater swimming cave perfect for cooling down after a hot hike, but before taking a swim, ascend the sinkhole to see remnants of Guam’s ancient village and latte stones, the foundation for Guam’s old homes.

These artifacts and sites are sacred to the CHamoru people; therefore, the removal or tampering of any of these sites is prohibited. During your visit, you may be pinched by a taotaomo’na, an ancestral spirit who is not wicked but may leave you with a bruise if disrespected. 

Other suggested hiking spots include Mt. Lamlam, the highest peak on the island and the world’s largest mountain, surpassing Mt. Everest. The submerged mountain stands at 1,332 feet above water from the Marianas Trench, whereas if Everest were dropped into the Marianas Trench, there would still be 6,000 feet of water above its peak.

And if you’re interested in a thrilling water excursion, book a diving tour with Guam Ocean Adventures or hit the waves on a jetski with Joe’s Jetski. Experience the island’s southern charm with a Valley of the Latte Jungle Riverboat Adventure Cruise that will transport you to another time with an entertaining guide who will teach you about the island’s local wildlife and unique cultural facts.

Neighborhoods 

Guam is made up of 19 districts, also referred to as villages. The island can be generally separated into three parts—north, central, and south. Driving around the island is relatively easy as no highways or freeways exist.

Most visitors stay in the Tumon area, close to a strip of hotels, restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. This part of the island is often vibrant, with hotels and bars hosting live entertainment by local legends, making it a great spot to enjoy a nice beverage during golden hour. 

The island’s capital of Hagåtña (also referred to as Agana) is where you’ll find the three branches of the government, commercial establishments, and relics from Guam’s historical period under the Spanish. Stop by the Guam Museum to see over 300 historical artifacts, and take a stroll from the museum to the Plaza de España, where old structures of the Governor’s Palace remains from 1889. 

The coastal drive down south takes about two to three hours, beginning at Hagåtña. As you make your way down Highway 2, stop by Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledåd, the last of four Spanish forts built in the village of Umatac.

The southern coastline will give you a glimpse of the island's tranquil lifestyle and rich history. The southern seaside villages of Agat and Merizo host a Mango and Crab Festival each year that is well worth the drive.

Mom and pop stores are known to have some of the best “road trip snacks” and breakfast grab-and-go’s, including chicken kelaguen wraps, freshly fried empanadas, pickled mangoes, and spam musubis, that make for the perfect treats to pack while driving around the island. 

Guam Food

Akina Chargualaf

Food & Drink

For a complete CHamoru feast, visit Meskla CHamoru Fusion Bistro for Sunday brunch to try local favorites in a sit-down dining experience. The buffet layout includes the works, including the island’s staple of red rice, shrimp kelaguen (diced up shrimp seasoned with lemon and hot peppers), tinala katne (dried meat), hagun suni (spinach in coconut milk), fried titiyas (tortillas), and more.

The CHamoru Village Night Market has a line-up of live entertainment, hot off-the-grill barbecue, local crafts, and souvenirs every Wednesday night. 

For a refreshing bite, Asiga is a must. The beloved scoop shop produces plant-based ice cream, coffee, and other sweet treats. Their sea salt chocolate chip cookies are sprinkled with crushed salt flown in from the neighboring island of Rota. Their homemade ice creams blend local fruits like banana, calamansi, mango, and avocado with coconut soy and coconut cashew bases.

Every craft beer enthusiast must make a pit stop by Antigu Brewing to try their craft beers during sunset. This beachside bar has a revolving menu with seasonal flavors, including fruity sours, hazy IPAs, stouts, and light ales. If you’re looking for a beverage unique to Guam, try the Totche, a fruited and spiced sour inspired by a favorite local snack of young mango dipped in salt and hot pepper. Toche, translated in CHamoru, means “dip.”

Best Places to Stay 

Most tourist accommodations in Guam are found in the heart of Tumon Bay, a strip of over 15 hotels, from family-friendly water parks to a stunning high-end luxury experience. 

  • Pacific Islands Club is an all-inclusive beach resort with endless water sports and recreational activities ranging from snorkeling, sailing, and windsurfing to golf, archery, and outdoor tennis. The hotel is perfect for families who can spend downtime at the waterpark to keep the kids entertained for hours. 
  • For more luxurious accommodation, The Tsubaki Tower has first-class seats to sunset views of Guam from the infinity pool. The hotel offers deluxe rooms, spacious “outdoor living rooms” with ample balcony space overlooking the water, and chic suites with a working office space. 
  • Merizo Seaside B&B is the perfect getaway from the bustling streets of Tumon and ideal for artists and writers looking to spend some quiet R&R. The oceanfront property serves as a muse with three separate accommodations with access to kayaks, a hammock, high-speed internet, a private kitchen and entrance among other amenities. The B&B is also a short drive from the Merizo Pier and Inarajan Natural Pool. 
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