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As with its neighbour Puerto Rico, the Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the U.S.A and can be found in the Pacific between Hawaii and the Philippines. Made up of 15 islands, the Marianas are a popular tourist destination thanks to the beautiful white sandy beaches and stunning coral reefs. Saipan, Rota and Tinian are the three most populated and popular islands where holiday makers come to relax on the beaches and experience a laid back way of life.
Despite being small, the islands have over 220 miles (350km) of roads, all of which are reasonably new and in good condition. However, it pays to take extra care when driving in the rain as some roads can become very slippery when wet.
Driving licences: due to its links with America, a U.S. driving licence is preferred here, although UK drivers are able to use their UK licence for up to a month.
Which side does Northern Mariana Islands drive on: the right.
Rural areas: 45mph;
Built-up areas: 25mph (particularly by schools or important buildings)
Alcohol limits: there are similar limits on alcohol in the blood as the UK, with 0.08% being the maximum. The drink-driving laws are very strict and random checks are made up to twice a month. There are severe penalties for anyone stopped and convicted and you could lose your licence.
Driving age: locals are legal to drive at age 16, but if you are hoping to secure car hire you may find your vendor has their own age limits for drivers. These can range from 18 years old up to over 21s, so check before you book.
Seatbelts: similar to the U.S requirements, so ensure all adults wear seatbelts where available and that children use the appropriate car seats for their age or height.
Mobile phones and GPS: the use of mobile phones while driving in the Northern Mariana Islands is very much frowned upon. They are currently looking to bring in a ban on using handheld phones and texting while driving.
Cost of fuel in Northern Mariana Islands: fuel costs are lower than in the UK, so if you are using car hire you will be pleasantly surprised. Many hire companies include fuel in their overall costs.
Car hire and fuel payment: car hire can be arranged easily, with plenty of vendors both at the airport and in the larger towns on Saipan. Alternatively, your hotel may have links to providers. In most cases, car hire and fuel costs can be paid for by credit card.
Traffic and parking: there isn't very much traffic on the roads, even during the busy tourist season. However, parking can be scarce, especially in busy areas such as the airport or larger towns. Also, many car hire companies prefer their vehicles not to leave Saipan, so check the small print before taking your car to another island.
The islands are quite small and compact so many people walk or cycle to get around.
There are a number of taxis available, particularly at the airports and around the popular visitor attractions, but they can be extremely expensive often twice as much as in the UK.
There isn't a public bus service on any of the islands, although you may find that your chosen resort runs shuttle services to places of importance such as the airport or beaches.
Ferries are often linked to some of the larger resorts, who happily transport guests for a small charge or even for free. However, there is a regular ferry service that runs between Saipan's Charlie Dock and Tinian Island every day, taking about 55 minutes.
International airports can be found on each of the populated islands, Saipan, Tinian and Rota. It is also possible to fly internally between all these airports, with several flights running each day. Visit the Common Ports Authority website for more information.
Although the Mariana Islands are made up of 15 separate islands, it is Saipan, Tinian and Rota that are most visited. Each has something to offer, including stunning beaches and coastlines, amazing landscapes and scenery and some delicious local food and drink. Saipan can't be beaten for white sandy beaches, with a stunning coral reef creating a large lagoon and offering a number of snorkelling and scuba-diving opportunities. Rota is very green with plenty of farmland, rolling hills and amazing sunsets over the cliffs. However, if peace and quiet is what you want then head to Tinian. A small island, it has a rich Chamorro history seen in the ruins of the House of Taga, as well as many World War II sights.
The Northern Mariana Islands have a tropical marine climate, with temperatures that stay at a stable 27°C all year round. The main changes to the weather follow the seasons, with December to June being the dry season and July to November being the rainy season. The rainy season can also bring a number of typhoons to the area.
The main language is English so it is very easy to communicate with the locals. However, it is worth remembering that the islands are 10 hours ahead of the UK and to bring protection against mosquitoes.
Northern Mariana Islands Contact Numbers
- International dialling /country code: 1;
- local area code is 670.
- Emergency services: 911
- British Embassy: The nearest embassy can be found in Washington and contacted on 1-202-588-6500
The currency is the US Dollar. There are plenty of banks and foreign exchange offices found on Saipan, many with ATMs available. Alternatively, you should be able to change money at many of the larger hotels and credit cards are also widely used.
Health & Safety
No particular vaccinations are required, although make sure all routine vaccinations have been covered, especially for young children. There are good health-care facilities available, including the large Health Center on Saipan and numerous smaller, private clinics.
For your own personal health it is a good idea to drink only bottled water, but general food-preparation standards and hygiene are good. Violent crime is extremely rare but as with most destinations it is best to keep your valuables with you at all times. Natural hazards can include flooding and typhoons in the rainy season and volcanic activity. However, public warnings will be issued if needed.
The locals are extremely welcoming and love to include tourists into their daily lives and culture. The population mainly speaks English as a first language although a few people still speak Chamorro or Carolinian.
Visas for Northern Mariana Islands
Thanks to the CNMI Visa Waiver program, UK visitors can enter without a visa and stay for a maximum of 45 days. You will, however, need to have a machine-readable passport and you won't be able to visit any other US regions without getting the right visa first.
The plug type here is similar to the U.S. and Canada and the typical voltage is 110-120 volts.
Shops, banks and government buildings typically open between 7.30am and 4.30pm on weekdays and remain closed on weekends and holidays. Restaurants, hotel bars and some tourist shops will stay open in the evening to make the most of the passing tourist trade.
As the main language spoken is English, communicating isn't a problem. If you do want to converse with the Chamorro the following phrases my help.
- Hello Hafa Adai
- Good evening Buenas noches
- Thank you Si Yu'us ma'ase
- Good bye - Adios