Why you should care
Finding a quiet escape this beautiful isn’t easy.
Sometimes a nothing vacation can be the perfect antidote. Living, as we did, in Tokyo, that phantasmagoria of everything, that’s what Rota — a spit of land in the far western Pacific between Guam and Saipan, part of the Northern Marianas — was. Nothing fancy. A minimalist, calm oasis.
The biggest appeal about Rota? The pace. Slow and quiet, with just a few residents, hardly any cars, no traffic lights and beautiful deserted beaches with clear, warm water. The second biggest appeal? Spectacular diving. Mark Michael, who has been in Rota since 1986, operates a diving business, Dive Rota. Michael takes out divers year-round, though May through August usually offer the calmest waters. There are coral gardens, World War II wrecks to explore, grottoes, walls that extend to the ocean depths. Since Rota is small, with little rainwater runoff, and not far from deep ocean trenches, the surrounding waters are exceptionally clear. Although wading in and snorkeling from the shore couldn’t be easier, bring one of those plastic cards with pictures of the fish so you can identify them.
“This is so beautiful; there’s nothing here.”
But be warned when taking little ones diving before dinner. As the main course came out during a nice, informal meal at As Paris, a Filipino restaurant, it took my daughter just a few seconds to realize the awful truth: That steamed delicacy on our plate had come from the coral reefs where just hours earlier we’d been snorkeling among hundreds of similar fish. She was not going to eat her friend from the sea. For the adults at least, As Paris is perfect, relatively cheap, fresh Asian food. (You can also get a hamburger there.)
Though not too far away from Japan, Rota is a U.S. territory. Most visitors come from the islands in the area, with some Chinese or Koreans also finding their way there. Tourism has been hurt recently by unreliable air service — it’s possible to get stranded on the island for a day or days — though efforts are underway to improve it. It can cost a few hundred dollars to fly in round-trip from Guam or Saipan. Michael reckons it’s worth a stopover for divers from afar doing a tour of the western Pacific. There are several options for accommodation with middle- to down-market hotels, starting at $50 per night, and the upscale Rota Resort & Country Club, starting at $145 per night.
Many visitors who come to Rota say, “This is so beautiful; there’s nothing here.” But “nothing” doesn’t appeal to everyone like it did to me. Some visitors think Rota is awful because it’s so dead, Michael tells me over the phone recently. Has the island changed much since my visit a few years ago? I ask. “Rota is like the movie Groundhog Day,” he says, “and things are mostly still the same … SLOW.”
In other words, the perfect place to unplug and unwind.