MARIANA ISLANDS – Must see places on a Rota island overnight trip; the unspoiled marianas

Rota is one of the lesser known islands of the Northern Mariana Islands that can be reached by plane. It’s full of unspoiled nature, WWII, and Chamorro cultural sites. I stayed two nights when I was island hopping in the Pacific, but an overnight stay will suffice too. In that case you just have less time on the unspoiled beaches which you’ll probably have for yourself. A day trip, as many travel guides recommend, is NOT advisable as it will be rushed. You might not even be able to see all must-see places which are in this Rota travel guide. I’ll show you why Rota island is worth at least a night or better even two or more.

Getting to Rota island

Getting to Rota island is quite easy and the flight is around 30 minutes from either Saipan or Guam. Star Marianas and United fly the route. It’s however much more hassle to get to Guam or Saipan in the first place if you don’t live in Asia. I recommend checking my Pacific island-hopping guide to Saipan, Rota, Guam, Yap, and Palau to get a better understanding. Visiting Rota makes sense if you’re also visiting some of the other Mariana Islands.

The only way to get around the island is by hiring a car which I recommend doing through Islander Rent-a-Car. They are affordable and reliable. Do make reservations in advance as otherwise you might end up with no car or an overpriced one. The Rota Resort & Country Club is the only hotel of some luxury and is in a nice location too. Driving around is straightforward as you can only go clockwise or counter clockwise and it’s impossible to get lost. You can get stuck; read on for that.

If you drive around people driving in opposite direction will waive at you. Don’t worry, nothing is wrong. It’s just a polite habit and everyone does it and so should you.

A bit of Rota history

Rota has been inhabited for centuries as rock paintings have been found in several caves near the l’Chenchon bird sanctuary. There are also ancient ruins of the Chamorro civilization including a quarry.

In 1521 Rota was discovered first by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer but he didn’t set foot on Rota. Just 3 years later Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano did set foot on Rota and annexed it, including the other Mariana Islands, to the Spanish Empire. The Spanish sold Rota to the Germans at the end of the 19th century.

During WWI Japan occupied Rota and after WWI it formally became part of Japan. The Japanese developed the island mainly for sugar production of which several historical buildings remain. Unlike Saipan and Tinian, the US troops never invaded Rota. They did bomb the island but because WWII never really took place on the island much remained intact. After WWII, Rota became part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Today, it’s an unspoiled island which doesn’t see a lot of tourism.

Half day trip Rota; southern part

Rota is just 20 kilometers long and 7 kilometers wide, so you can’t drive that much and certainly you can’t get lost. There are 2 main loops around the island. The first loop covers the southern part from the hotel I stayed (near the airport) towards Songsong along the coast on the south-eastern side to Sinapalu and back to the hotel.

The first stop is Teteto Beach which is THE beach on Rota to go to. It’s a beach with white sand, clear waters, and waiving palm trees. If you’re lucky, and that chance is very big, you will have the beach for yourself. I already visited the beach the evening I arrived for sunset, so I passed it and went to US Memorial Beach Park. I then continued to San Pedro Memorial Park and Tatachog Beach Park. Many beaches but they are all magnificent and worth stopping for a photo. Next up is Songsong lookout which you can reach by turning left up the hill just before you enter Songsong village. You’ll have a beautiful view over Songsong with Wedding Cake Mountain in the back as you can see in the photo below.

 

Once you finished taking in the view, drive back down the hill and go to Tonga Cave. It’s a huge cave with some interesting history. The Japanese used it as a hospital and locals have used it for shelter during typhoons. I would not recommend walking around Songsong as there is nothing to do but drive through it towards the Wedding Cake Mountain. On the right you will see the Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha Sugar Mill which was used by the Japanese a century ago. Make sure to drive a bit further down the road to Tweksberry Beach Park. You can spot some kingfishers there (see photo in gallery). Now drive back through Songsong and go right, eastwards, following the road that goes around Rota island.

Driving this road, which at some points is narrow, you’ll have beautiful coastal views. You’ll first pass a Japanese cannon and some dense forest with water streams. When the forest makes way for more open grassland you’ll see several war memorials along the road until you reach Sinapalu. Unless you go swimming, this should take about 4 hours or if you rush it maybe 3. I continued with the northern part and skipped lunch.

Half day trip Rota island; the north

The northern part of Rota island doesn’t have that many beaches but does have much more ancient culture. I recommend driving counterclockwise as I list the places of interest here so that you end at the beach for sunset. First drive to the l’Chenchon Park which is a bird sanctuary where you can spot some rare birds. When I visited the green jungle area below the cliff was swarming with birds. There is also a cave with ancient rock paintings in that area but, as far as I could see, you need a guide to get there. If you are doing the northern part as a half day trip I recommend spending up to 45 minutes at l’Chenchon Park and then continue to the Rota Latte Stone Quarry.

Chamorro culture on Rota

The Rota Latte Stone Quarry is the area where the Chamorro got their latte stones. Latte stones are a pillar with a disc on top and are believed to be the foundations of houses. I saw them the first on Tinian (read here) and would again see some on Guam later. It’s unknown what they exactly are and how they were transported as no written or oral history exists today. At the quarry you can see several stones which are not finished, like several Moai statues I saw in the quarries on Easter Island earlier. It’s a small site and a visit doesn’t take long. Now continue east around the airport towards Mochong Beach and the prehistoric Chamorro village there.

 

The Mochong Latte Site is the largest of all found in the Northern Marina Islands. It’s a place I didn’t find on most Rota itineraries unlike the latte quarry. You reach the site by taking a right just before you reach the beach and then take a left (towards the beach again). It’s a small and narrow road and might be even private terrain; I’m not sure. There are 3 separate places where the latte stones are freed from the dense jungle. The total area has much more latte stones covering over 12 hectares in total. It’s an amazing place! You need to turn your car here but do NOT turn on the beach. I got stuck with my 4×4 and it took me 30 minutes putting palm leaves under the tires to get free again.

In case you want to see sunset at Mochong Beach I recommend visiting the Swimming Hole and the old Japanese locomotive first. The locomotive is located just a kilometer east from the Rota Resort and Country Club and the Swimming Hole directly down the road towards the coast. You can take the road from Mochong Beach to the Swimming Hole to save time but keep in mind it’s not a paved road. You would miss the locomotive but as it’s near the airport you can visit it before you leave Rota.

I hope this Rota itinerary helps you plan your trip to Rota island and that you will make an overnight. Two nights is even better, so you can enjoy the empty beaches and not rush the sightseeing. I regret that I didn’t see the rock paintings but who knows on a next trip. Make sure to also visit the Mochong Latte Site which I didn’t even know about before visiting the island! There is simply not enough information out there. You can be sure that this guide includes all the places of interest on Rota. I’m sure you will enjoy the unspoiled Marianas as I did.

Make sure to read my Pacific island-hopping itinerary which also includes my day trip to Tinian, Saipan, and Guam. If you’re visiting the Marianas I highly suggest visiting them all.

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Did you visit Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Rota

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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