Freediving: Sapphire of the Pacific-Saipan

An unlimited underwater Romance in the Marianas

  • 7/21 South Diving Point: Obyan

  • 7/22 East Diving Point: Lau Lau Bay, The Grotto

  • 7/23 West Diving Point: Oleai, Ice Cream, Dimple

  • 7/24 World War II Site Diving: Ship Wreck, B-29 Wreck

  • 7/25 North Diving Point: Wing Arch, Spotlight

  • 7/26 Southwest Diving Point: Pipe, 360

  • 7/27 Micro Beach, Forbidden Island, Tank Beach, Kilili Beach Beach

Destination Recommendation Rate: ★★★★★

Overview

I was originally planning to Freedive in Red Sea, Egypt, yet my fellows preferred a destination with shorter traveling days. Thus, we had the unexpected Saipan, which turned out an unprecedented success throughout my Freediving trip history. Most of the flights to Saipan are indirect, so be prepared for a longer flying duration no matter which area you are from.

Unlike many destinations are overstated for their underwater beauty, Saipan is an authentic diving paradise where should have earned a more dazzling title long ago. For Freediving fanatics, this offshore-friendly island will feast you on a lifetime experience for “all-you-can-dive." Crystal clear water in a visibility over 30 meters is a norm , with spectacular blue hole and vigorous marine life, you hardly will not fall in love with this precious sapphire. One more good news for bikini divers, here is jellyfish-free.

Packing your own Freediving gears and renting an automobile driving yourself around will certainly fulfill your dream for unlimited diving. I appreciate the high-autonomy lifestyle for visitors here; many islands I’ve visited don’t even have roads for driving, let alone car rentals. Given that Saipan is an USA territory, the level of consumption is higher than other islands around the area. We chose to buy ingredients in super markets to make our own dishes for two points: saving money and avoiding terrible American food. The total expenses on this 8D7N trip is around USD1700, mostly spent on charter boat rental.

Freediving Trip Arrangement for Saipan

Saipan Diving Sites © FiDive To Be Free

Basically, diving sites in Saipan can be divided as five parts, based on the accessibility-the South, the East, the North, the West, the Southwest, and the WWII site. This means of division is more logical and sensible, according to my experience.

For the diving sites in south and east, you can drive there and get down to the water by yourself. For those in north, west and southeast, you must get there by boat. As for the WWII site, some people get there by canoe or kicking fins since it is not far away from the coastline, but it is strongly recommended to take boat to avert current or frequent-passing local boats.

We rent an economical compact car for the whole trip at USD352, including full coverage insurance. For the charter boat renting, it is USD50 per person for 4 hours including a captain, and USD70 for the trip to north due to a longer drive. In fact, it is highly NOT recommended that go to any Chinese-speaking diving shops asking for boat rental or joining their diving trips, if you are a Freediver, because they charge visitors an astronomical amount of money.

Please note that you should be an experienced and advanced Freediver to rent a charter boat. Usually, the captain will drive only and won’t be able to monitor or rescue you if something happens. You also have to prepare all the gear such as buoy, ropes, weights, personal equipment and so on by yourself unless you are doing this business with diving shops.

Fabulous Freediving Sites in Saipan

South Diving Points: Obyan

Since our accommodation is situated in the southern part of Saipan, we began our adventure from the South. The unpaved road to Obyan Beach is not easy, as there are numerous pits and rocks dispersed all the way. I had to drive slowly to protect our car from chassis damaging. Perhaps it is due to such difficulty, our twice visits left us an impression of pristine freshness and tranquility.

A 30 meters walk in shallow water full with scattered coral reefs from the shore to a sudden drop for 5-meter deep water is inevitable. The color of the water vividly mirrors the height drop; turkey blue for the shallow, sapphire blue for the deep. Until now I still can feel the thrill at the moment I saw this color, and I couldn’t wait any longer to dive in.

Visibility about 20 meters, white sand bottom, extended underwater rock landscape-diving inside Obyan is like flying in the infinite universe. There is no boundary, nothing thwarts you on your way. Nevertheless, we learned that it could be perilous to Freedive here because rip current occurs from time to time. According to our boat caption, tourists were dead and founded around Naftan by him many times. We always Freedive with a buoy and fix it on local sea buoy ( inhabited by some baby flame scallops), never leaving our fixing point too far away. For scuba diving, here is also popular site.

Obyan beach boasts soft sands and is an ideal place to watch sunset after diving, drying our bodies before getting back to our car.

East Diving Points: Lau Lau Bay

If you are seeking for depth training, here is the best place! As its name indicates, Lau Lau Bay offers a safer environment and static water for fanatics to enjoy an uninterrupted training. In the central bay could go as deep as 50 meters. It also took us a 20-30 meters walk to the point where we could start wearing long fins and float on the sapphire blue water.

A miracle is happening in the bay. Huge, colorful coral reefs thrives with various species right here. I found Saipan processes less dead coral reefs compared to other destinations. I was so grateful that I could be in such paradise again. Hundreds of diffident fish surrounded us, they swam to different directions in a pattern like ants do, as if they were busy pedestrians in a city, making me think of Atlantis.

East Diving Points: The Grotto

We came to Saipan for its well-known blue hole, the Grotto. I was so exhilarated about this site, and I thought we can dive as longer as we want, however, visitors are requested to be escorted by local guide to dive inside. The Grotto lay about 50 minutes drive from our accommodation in the South. We dived at Lau Lau Bay first in that morning, and drove the East main road up to the North. When we arrived, it was lunch time and several local guides suggested us take the chance because there were not many people inside at this moment.

We negotiated the escorting price and agreed to pay USD25 per person instead of USD30 for 2 hours. It is an expensive and unreasonable rate. You see, I could book a 4-hour charter boat for USD50 per person; paying for the captain, gasoline and miscellaneous fee is understandable. But the guides here did nothing. Just taking us down and leaving us aside; our guide said he could Freedive and take photos for us while negotiating, but it proved that he ripped us off. I do admit a safety crew is necessary here because certain areas are fatal for visitors if not informed and guided. However, it doesn’t justify the unfair charge.

Just let bygones be bygones and let’s focus on this masterpiece of Mother Nature. Have you ever seen such a breathtaking scenery in your life? The mysterious blue light shined sacredly and soundlessly in front of me as I was down in the 20-meter deep bottom. I felt I was too tiny and too feeble to figure out its beauty and existence, yet I felt I was part of it at the same time.

The Grotto fascinates me until today. Getting too close to the shining hole is forbidden as there is strong current outside and once taken away, you hardly can survive. If interested in the outside world there, you can join a scuba diving tour. But I believe the inside is more exciting for you also can see the sapphire-like light by looking up to the surface from bottom, which is caused by the sunlight piercing through the hole from outside.

West Diving Point: Oleai, Ice Cream, Dimple

It seems that many diving points located in the west side of Saipan could be experienced within one trip, but it is not plausible considering diving point locations, boat driving duration, and quality time spending on Freediving. This is why we separated our west side diving points into 3 mornings, 12 hours in total.

Oleai is full of lively coral and marine creatures. It ranges from 10-20 meters deep, and we encounter our first Eagle Ray here. It is super lovely! Looks like a fox with wings, covering by a spotted tuxedo. I unconsciously screamed with a mouthful of my silicon snorkel mouthpiece on the surface, and scared this cutie away. I then realized that they are shy and timid, so I tried to make my existence less interfering to them in my later approaches.

Next point is Ice Cream, our captain told us it name derived from its ice cream-ball-like assemblage of coral reefs. I had an impulse to lie on it, but if look the reefs closer, they are composed of many subbranches that are quite fragile.

One of the highlight we found was a pack of six eagle rays dwelling around here. We followed the gang for like 1.5 hour, never getting tired of watching them. I even risked my life many times ignoring my intensive diaphragm distractions at 15 meters deep so that I could linger longer around them. These lovely cuties are totally worthy of it.

Our last point is Dimple, where is from 20-40 meters deep. We wanted to explore deeper area, but our plastic rope is not long enough. Since most of the coral reefs are over 20 meters here, with the visibility of 30 meters and small current, we practiced Free Immersion diving instead of having fun dive under the sapphire blue.

The dock to the West and Southwest points is at Sugar dock, which is right in front of Mount Carmel Cathedral and boasts a fine beach. We enjoyed this dock very much.

Southwest Diving Point: Pipe, 360

I used to not understand why some people are crazy about dolphins; I have seen them a thousand times before and they are nothing special. Nevertheless, after my first zero-distance to see a wild pack of dolphins, they successfully made a conquest of me. Their loveliness almost made me melt. They are like happy fairies jumping around our boat, escorting us to our destination spot. I learned that on the way to Pipe, we passed through a Dolphin Passage.

I risked my life to extend my body and arms to the limit to take picture of them while the boat is speeding. I accidentally found I am that kind of person who will be out of their minds when spotting adorable marine animals. I think all the sorrow in the world disappears with their presence, and this scene one of the most unforgettable memory in my life.

Then we arrived Pipe, a point with clean, gorgeous sandy bottom about 22-25 meters deep. I like the feeling of “flying" here. The place where rock and reefs sits together, is likely to be the habitat of eagle rays, our captain told us.

It’s true, we found a pack of eagle rays soon. As the landscape is less covered here, we had to dive in a tortuous way to approach these diffident friends. The eagle rays here stayed deep, and since we were Freediving, it is exhausting to keep going down and following them. They moved fast, even though their movement looked like gentle and slow. I risked my life again and again by overlooking my desire to breathe. It seemed that Saipan is a dangerous place for people like me.

360 is a more friendly place for exhausted Freedivers; depth from 5-15 meters with shallow coral reefs and many fish.

World War II Site Diving Point: Ship Wreck, B-29 Wreck

For the points to WWII site and the North, we departed at Smiling Cove Marina dock. This is a busier dock and has no fancy beach. The day we visited WWII site was horrible, raining cats and dogs. But the boat reservation can not be cancelled, so we were still on our way.

The first site was Ship Wreck, which is only 5-10 meters deep and it should be magnificent but we had the visibility about 3-8 meters due to the bad weather. Fortunately, we got a bit sunshine for a while and that allowed us to venture around. Some coral reefs found the wreck their new settlement.

The ship covers around 20 meters long area. We couldn’t make a complete round tour as the current was getting strong with high waves. Exploring the wreck is like wandering in an ancient maze, and we had fun though it was a brief visit.

Then we moved to B-29 Wreck, deep less than 10-12 meters. It was hard to say what sort of attitude to dive here is appropriate. I have visited many wrecks in Southeast Asia, and most of them are popular tourism spots. People focus on the fun side rather than their historical facts. I think it is pretty okay because having fun with underwater wrecks doesn’t mean we disrespect the deceased or make fun of it.

However, when I saw the war memorial underwater for my first time, it keenly reminded me of Battle of Saipan and those sacrificed in the war. It was written in Korean, indicating their citizens, forcedly or not, involved in the war. I found myself not able to enjoying fun dive that much as I did at other wrecks. Still, it is a good site to explore around.

North Diving Point: Wing Arch, Spotlight

The only place in Saipan I would say bad for Freediving is those in the North. No kidding, strong current took me and my buddy away, and we almost couldn’t come back. Today we didn’t make a charter, but joining a scuba diving boat instead (we still Freedived).

We went to Wing Arch (20-40 meters) first, our guide rope had been steep because of the current and we were gradually taken to the outer sea. We kicked so hard but with our buoy and end-weights, it was challenging. So I asked my fellow to stay with buoy and I kicked back alone to our boat, asking them to pick my buddy up. Yellow is a great color on the sea, easier for identifying.

Spotlight is the second highlight spot drawing me to Saipan. I thought we could drive car to the point and then dive from the shore, but it was all my conjecture. First, the road is hazardous to drive and we almost go stuck. Second, there is no beach shore but only cliff. Last, the only to go in the Spotlight hole is by scuba diving entering from side hole in the sea. There is strong current and big wave on the top of the hole, and no promise for Freediver to get air to breathe.

So, in fact, we dived outside Spotlight, didn’t have a chance to get in as we are Freedivers. This is my first time to take a serious consideration on whether I should get a scuba diving license. The sea in the North is quite monotonous, but it boasts some underwater landforms. It is not a plus for me though since I have dived in Orchid Island in Taiwan twice and the underwater landscape there is marvelous. In short, strongly recommend not Freedive in the North. If insist, a Freedivign lanyard is absolutely necessary.

Convenient and Modern Life in Saipan

Accommodation

Strongly recommend Freedivers to rent an apartment at the first floor. It will save you many troubles to clean and carry those Freediving equipment. Living in a hotel could be very troublesome. We could park our car right in front of our flat, it is one of the best things happened to us in Saipan. Our flat included a kitchen room, so sometimes we made us a lunchbox so that we could have our meal directly at the beach and then continue to dive.

Shopping

Saipan is a well-developed island and modern shops with all kinds of services could be easily find. Our most frequently visited shops are diving stores, tires shops (for making our buoy) and supermarkets (for making our own food). Still, we spent some time shopping for souvenirs as well, including Souvenir Saipan, ABC Store, and T-Galleria Saipan.

Souvenir Saipan provides various kinds of commodities and it is convenient to get things there, but the price is higher than that in ABC Store, where offers less choices. T-Galleria Saipan is not fancy compared to T-Galleria Guam, but is certainly better than T-Galleria Palau. Due to the renovation, we only shopped around the limited available area. For the luxury, I see no point to buy here.

Beach

There are many beaches located in different areas in Saipan. Our favorite one turned out to be the most touristy one, Micro Beach. But it is really gorgeous, and the west side of the beach even reminded me of a beautiful spot in Maldives and the German Channel in Palau. The water is only 0.5-0.8 deep with very fine sand; it really is a good spot to chill.

The east side of Micro Beach, has more green plants and it is a paradise for taking internet sensation photos.

Another beach worthy of mentioning is Tank Beach, where there is no tank. We wanted to see that tank underwater on our last day, but we were misled by the name of this beach. The sand here is as bad as those in Gili Islands.

Kilili Beach is the one where the underwater tank locates. But we arrived late and it was too dark to swim there. We just took sunset photos instead.

Sunset

Kilili Beach Park boasts the best side walk in the world. A mirror like static water just right by side and many local people bicycling or jugging here. The view made me think of the movie scenes in Life of Pi. I am not an exercising person (except for Freediving), but if I live here, I would go jugging every sunny day; I promise.

Forbidden Island

One of my regrets in Saipan is that I didn’t visit the Forbidden Island and its secret natural pool. The island is tricky to reach and hiring a guide is necessary. Though we doubted it is just another way for local to profit as they do at the Grotto, but we’d rather pay than risk our lives. Next time, perhaps.

American Memorial Park

It is a quite park created as a living memorial honoring the sacrifices made during the Marianas Campaign of World War II. Few visitors come to this place but we did enjoy its tranquility and green grass. It would be great if people have picnics here. Isn’t the best way to honor the sacrifices by presenting a harmony lifestyle we have today?

Saipan gave me so many good memories and I sincerely recommend this paradise those Freediving lovers in the hope they will fall in love with this precious Sapphire as I do.

發表者:fiercefifi

Fifi Tseng started her journey of freediving since 2017. During a vacation in Palawan, the Philipines, she was amazed by a local boatman who dived into 20+ meters deep water and brought back a stunning shell to show her the beauty of the island -- the man dived simply with a dive mask and a single fin-like shoe for kicking. She was deeply moved by this approach to get closer to the big blue that she loved and therefore became a passionate freediver. Her ultimate dream is to freedive in the Great Blue Hole in Belize, to the bottom.

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