The first residents of Guam were the Chamorro people beginning about 4,000 years ago. Its discovery by Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 began a long history of European claims to the island. The island was ceded by the Spanish to the United States during the Spanish-American War. It was captured by the Japanese in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States regained control in 1944. Today the island is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
The largest island in Micronesia, Guam serves as a tourist destination and United States military installation. In fact, almost a third of the island is controlled by the military. The local community and members of the military are often intertwined. Many in the local population are active or former military.
The tourist population is comprised mainly of people from Japan, although it is also a popular destination for visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Tumon is the center of tourist activity on Guam. Over 20 hotels offer accommodations to tourists in this area with ample shopping, dining, and entertainment options available.
Multicultural influences over the course of the island’s history have made preserving the Chamorro culture difficult. Early influences from Spain and Southeast Asia, among others, resulted in the loss of many aspects of the indigenous culture. More recently, preserving the language and social protocols has gained renewed interest among the local Chamorro population.
When to Travel
The temperature in Guam has little seasonal variation. Average daily temperature is 82°F with a tropical humidity that is fairly consistent. The coolest months are typically January and February. Average rainfall in a year is around 96 inches. The island sits in what is referred to as Typhoon Alley, an area that extends from Micronesia to Taiwan before curving back to the northeast. Typhoons are possible during the wet season, July through November, but the risk is highest in September and October.
July is a great time to visit Guam and experience the celebration that is Liberation Day. This festival begins on July 21 and marks the day the United States liberated the island from the Japanese in 1944. The party spills onto the streets in a rousing display of color, dancing, and excitement. This week-long event is a feast for the ears, eyes, and palate.
The Malojloj Fiesta is a three day even held in Inarajan. This May celebration is to honor San Isidro, the city’s patron saint. Traditional Chamorro events and games as well as food and drink mark this festive annual event. The most popular annual celebration in the southern villages in Guam, this is a party you don’t want to miss.
Prior to European influence, the Chamorro people followed a lunar calendar. For thousands of years, the Chamorro people were tied to the sea as a way of life, thus developing a reliance on the moon phases to guide them. Today, the Chamorro Lunar Calendar Festival is held to celebrate and educate the community about this tradition. Join the locals in celebrating their history and make some great memories at this festival.
Cuisine and Drinks
Modern day cuisine in Guam is a fusion of many different cultures. Chamorro traditions have intermixed with Spanish, Asian, Filipino, and Pacific Islander flavors to create a smorgasbord of culinary adventure.
Banana Lumpias are Guam’s take on the Filipino dish Turon. Ripe bananas are wrapped in pastry, generously sweetened with sugar, and fried. The simplicity of this delicious snack is remarkable compared to the big flavor it delivers. A staple at Chamorro gatherings, there are also savory versions of lumpia that contain a variety of vegetables and protein. The creativity can be as simple or complex as the preparer likes.
A favorite local dish is the Chorizo Breakfast Bowl. This breakfast bonanza of flavor will twist your taste buds into ecstasy. Spicy Chorizo sausage is mixed with onions and potatoes on a bed of rice and topped with a runny egg. This one packs quite a punch and is a great way to start your day.
Another much loved local dish is the Chamorro Bistek. The addition of annatto powder gives this Chamorro classic a unique flavor. Annatto powder is made from the seeds of the achiote tree and has a sweet, nutty, peppery flavor. Served over rice, it is one of those dishes that warm both your palate and your soul.
When you walk into a grocery store in Guam, be prepared to see not only a large quantity, but a wide variety of Spam offerings. Spam is beloved by the Chamorro locals, specifically the hot and spicy flavor. One popular recipe is Spam Kelaguen. The Spam is cut or mashed and tossed in bowl with lemon juice, grated coconut, sliced green onions, and seasoning. This mixture is lightly pan fried and served over rice or taco-style with titiyas which are sweet coconut tortillas. While Spam may be a punchline in other parts of the world, this dish is no joke.
If you sit at a Chamorro table, chances are you will be offered fina’denne’. It is the condiment of choice in Guam and is used much like ketchup is in the United States. The taste fluctuates as there are a myriad of variations. Most likely, this sauce will be hot. It will have a salt component such as soy, an acidic ingredient, such as a vinegar or citrus juice, and a variety of peppers, tomatoes, and onions. If you are looking for authentic flavor on Guam, look no further than the fina’denne’.
Boonie Stompers – This is not a single destination, but an opportunity to see much of the beauty Guam has to offer. Guam Boonie Stompers is a non-profit organization that meets each Saturday to lead all who would like to join on a memorable hike. The cost is only $2US for everyone over the age of 12 who would like to participate. Difficulty and destination may vary per hike. Be sure to bring lots of water and feel free to skip your morning workout before taking off on this tour.
Mount Santa Rosa – The views from the top of this extinct volcano are nothing short of amazing. In addition to Andersen Air Force Base, visitors will enjoy panoramic views of Guam’s landscape. On the clearest of days, the island of Rota can also be seen.
South Pacific Memorial Peace Park – This site was the last Japanese garrison in the final days of World War II. The struggle for command of Guam at this site was brutal and many Japanese, American, and Chamorro lives were lost before the American soldiers gained control. This memorial is a tribute to all the lives lost between 1941 and 1945 in the Pacific. The 15 meter high tower in the park represents hands praying for peace and is the pinnacle of this reminder to promote friendship over war.
Fish Eye Marine Park – The pier in Piti bay is a long 1000-foot wooden boardwalk that ends in the only undersea observatory in Micronesia. From the upper deck, you can enjoy the stunning turquoise waters and impressive mountains. On the lower deck, you can observed amazing underwater sea life and coral gardens. This glimpse at the variety of Guam’s underwater ecosystem will be something you never forget.
Two Lovers Point – The legend of this sight tells a tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers who made the ultimate sacrifice to be together. Visitors will be swept away by both the tragedy of this locations story as they are in awe with its remarkable beauty.
The official currency of Guam is the US Dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted at most hotels, the airport, and shopping areas. These areas also offer opportunities to visit an ATM. If you choose to bring traveller’s cheques, get them is US dollars to avoid additional exchange charges.
The two official languages on Guam are English and Chamorro. Other Asian languages are also spoken, specifically Japanese. The phrase for thank you in Chamorro is Si Yu'os Ma'åse' (C-zu-oohs-Muh-ah-sea). It is a great idea to learn a few basic Chamorro phrases before you travel to Guam.
Electricity on the island is 120 volts in the American style. During storms, it is not unusual to experience power outages. This is more common during the rainy season.
Guam’s mass transit bus system connects almost all of the villages on the island. Trolleys are also available at hotels and shopping centers. If mass transit can’t get you where you are going, taxis are also an option, but not as affordable as the bus system.
You can prearrange for wireless service on Guam with your carrier before you leave home. Alternatively, many wireless service outlets on the island sell SIM cards. Activation is simple and the store staff will be happy to help you make a selection appropriate for your stay.
There is a high density population of brown tree snakes on the islands, but are rarely seen due to their nocturnal nature and relatively harmless to humans despite being mildly venomous. Accidentally introduced to Guam’s ecosystem at the end of World War II, they have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem, specifically the bird population.