I Visited Guam During the Nuclear Standoff and Loved Every Minute of It
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A week ago, many Americans had never heard of Guam — and many more were likely clueless to the fact that most of the island’s residents are US citizens. After Puerto Rico, Guam is the largest US territory in the world (by population), with more than 160,000 people living on this small island in the middle of the Pacific, some 4,000 miles west of Hawaii.
Many aviation enthusiasts have been familiar with Guam (and its airport, GUM) for years, thanks in no small part to United’s “Island Hopper” flight, which we reviewed last year. Three times a week, the flight, operated by a United 737, begins its journey in Honolulu (HNL). After a five-hour flight to Majuro (MAJ), it goes on to Kwajalein Atoll (KWA), Pohnpei (PNI), Chuuk (TKK) and finally GUM, flying an hour or so between each of the other islands. (There’s an extra stop in Kosrae once a week, and United operates a similar route in the opposite direction.)
This “milk run” flight is a bucket-list item for some — I haven’t had a chance to fly it yet, though I came very close earlier this year:
But Guam itself has been on my must-visit list for a couple years, ever since a Hong Kong-based friend of mine went there for his honeymoon. With shopping malls, chain restaurants and the world’s largest Kmart juxtaposed with strategic military bases, incredible beaches and loads of local culture, Guam was clearly an important part of America that I — and nearly everyone I know — had always overlooked.
I had this trip planned for more than a year, and then just a couple days before my scheduled arrival, the island was launched into the global spotlight as a geopolitical pawn and the target of direct nuclear threats from North Korea. I was sitting by the pool at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (an incredible property, by the way) when my mom caught wind of the news, her reaction something along the lines of “No no no no no. You are not going to Guam.”
In the end, United opted not to issue a travel waiver, and changing my half-used (and soon-to-expire) ticket to bring me to, say, China, instead, would have cost a whopping $3,300 — in coach. Uhh, yeah, no thanks. To Guam I would go.
And boy am I glad I did! This place is incredible. From the awesome Guam-based United flight attendants (mine were over-the-top friendly) to the never-ending photo ops, this trip was a dream come true. Here are the 7 sights (and sites) that stood out most — and have me eager to return.
1. The Hyatt Regency is a heck of a deal on points.
Who am I kidding… if you’re a frequent visitor to TPG, there’s a very good chance that you (like me) plan your travel based on redemption opportunities. Fortunately, one of the island’s top resorts is a steal when it comes to awards. As a Category 4 hotel, you can consistently book the Hyatt Regency for just 15,000 points or 7,500 points + $100 per night. A suite, meanwhile, will run you just 24,000 points per night. I’ve seen paid rates for base rooms climb above $500, in which case you’d be getting a heck of a deal by redeeming just $270 worth of points (based on TPG’s valuations) per night. Rates vary wildly depending on demand, though, so be sure to check the cash price before you pull the trigger on an award.
2. There’s a huge variety of perfect beaches.
Think Hawaii without the crowds.
Guam is much less built up than Oahu, so a chance to escape the hordes of tourists is never more than a short drive away.
3. Outrageous sunsets.
If you’re a sucker for sunset photography, Guam is the place to be. I especially loved shooting on cloudy days, when the sun lit up the sky with deep yellows and reds. My favorite place to shoot was from the balcony of my 14th-floor Regency Suite at the Hyatt (which I scored for free thanks to a Globalist upgrade at booking).
4. Snorkeling, boating, fishing galore.
When it comes to water sports, the possibilities are endless. There’s exceptional diving, but you can also catch quite a bit with a snorkel — and with shallow waters hundreds of feet off the beach, you only need to swim (or walk) a bit to avoid tourists, boats and other marine activity.
5. Whoa — the food.
While there was a solid selection of Asian and Western items, there wasn’t much “local” cuisine to speak of at the breakfast buffet (unless you’re willing to count the delicious grilled mahi mahi). The Hyatt did have a local chicken salad dish called kelaguen available in the Regency Club each night — and there are plenty of other options around town. My favorite was the local kalbi BBQ at Oriental Restaurant, a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Yum!
6. The local culture.
The native people of Guam, the Chamorros, have lived on the island for thousands of years, and still represent roughly half of the current population. You’ll interact with them at the beach, at the mall and everywhere in between. From the Thrifty Car Rental agent and the cashier at Kmart to restaurant waiters and the Regency Club staff, I found all of the locals I met to be incredibly friendly.
7. The plane spotting.
Yeah, you can easily catch a greater variety much closer to home, but there’s still plenty of plane spotting to be done in Guam. Flights headed to Asia fly low over the main tourist area of Tumon, and you can see (and hear) a variety of wide-bodies landing at GUM just by looking out your hotel room balcony.
Guam is also home to Andersen Air Force Base, where you’ll often spot B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers flying low and slow in the island’s north.
There’s no getting around it: Guam is far from the mainland US (it’s so far that many visitors end up routing through Tokyo). But considering it’s a short flight from Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul and a handful of nonstop United destinations in Japan, it’s easy enough to pair a side trip to Guam with your next Asia adventure. And you absolutely should.
Are you considering planning a trip to Guam?
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