Guam is a stunning island in the Western Pacific that ticks all the boxes for a great vacation: beautiful beaches, pleasant weather, fascinating history, and friendly people. But this erstwhile Spanish colony often falls below the radar in favor of more famous beach spots such as Hawaii and Florida. With the recent launch of their Air V&V - vacation and vaccination - program, this island is quickly topping the list as a must-visit destination. If you’re thinking of traveling to Guam for the first time, we have all the information you need right here. From visa requirements to fun activities, keep reading to find out about the things to know about Guam for first-time visitors.
1. All about Guam
Location and geography
Guam only covers about 549 square kilometers (212 square miles) of land. To give you a better idea of its size, Rhode Island is almost five times bigger than Guam, and RI is the smallest US state by landmass.
This island is situated in the Western North Pacific Ocean, over 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) east of Manila and some 6,350 kilometers (3,945 miles) from Hawaii, which is almost an 8-hour flight. Location-wise, Japan and the Philippines are closest to Guam, and both are only four hours away by plane.
Small as the island might be, it has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to 2000 BC. Before it became an unincorporated US territory, Guam was inhabited by Austronesians - now called the Chamorro people - who migrated from Southeast Asia.
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan came to the island in 1521 to stop for provisions, and although history records this visit as Guam’s first contact with Europe, the island wasn’t officially colonized by Spain until 1668, with the arrival of the Spanish Jesuits. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the United States took over Guam. Years later, during World War II, Japan briefly occupied the island, but they were defeated by the Americans in 1944.
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Language and culture
The people of Guam speak Chamorro and English, but some of the older generation - those who were alive during World War II and the Japanese occupation - also speak Japanese. Chamorro language, similar to other languages spoken in Southeast Asia, is an Austronesian language that has been influenced by Spanish, English, and even Japanese.
Phrases such as “good morning” in Spanish and Chamorro are nearly the same, with Chamorro being “buenas dias”. Other phrases you might hear on the island that sound Spanish include “pot fabot” (please), “ki ora?” (what time is it), and “kuånto este?” (how much is this?).
The Chamorro people
The Chamorro people in the Mariana Islands, including Guam, can trace their ancestry back thousands of years - they came from Southeast Asia and were known to be seafarers. Early Chamorro society was divided into castes: there was a lower caste and a higher caste. The latter, however, was also divided into an upper-middle class and a ruling class.
Besides having a caste system, the Chamorro people were matriarchal, with women serving as clan and spiritual leaders. Today, most Chamorro families still continue their matrilineal practices, with the mother being the head of the household.
2. Visa and travel requirements
Countries that don't require a visa
US citizens must possess a US passport to travel to Guam. However, some cases allow US citizens to visit Guam as long as they have proof of citizenship and a valid ID. Visa and return tickets are not required.
Nationals of 39 countries under the Visa Waiver Program are eligible to travel to the USA visa-free for up to 90 days.
There is also a Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program that allows nationals from 12 countries to visit and stay in Guam or the Mariana Islands for up to 45 days without a visa, but they must possess a return ticket.
Countries that require a visa and other documents
Countries not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program or the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, among others, must possess or apply for a US visa, fill out the I-94 form, and the quarantine declaration.
Countries that have direct flights
There are several cities that offer direct flights to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (GUM). Philippine Airlines services passengers departing from Manila, and United Airlines services passengers departing from Honolulu, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Northern Mariana Islands. If you’re departing from any of the cities below, you can opt for a direct flight to Guam to avoid rushing from gate to gate!
- The Philippines (via Manila/MNL)
- The United States (via Honolulu/HNL)
- Taiwan (via Taipei/TPE)
- Japan (via Tokyo/NRT, Nagoya/NGO, Osaka/KIX, and Fukuoka/FUK)
- South Korea (via Seoul/ICN, and Busan/PUS)
- Palau (via Koror/KOR)
- Federated States of Micronesia (via Yap/YAP and Chuuk, Weno/TKK)
- Northern Mariana Islands (via Saipan Island/SPN)
Countries that have non-direct flights
If you’re flying to Guam from across the globe, you’ll have to deal with multiple transfers. Plan accordingly if you want to shorten your travel time. Non-direct flights will stop at Narita International Airport (NRT), Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, or Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) as the last leg before Guam.
The United States
- From New York City (JFK - ORD - HNL - GUM)
- From Los Angeles (LAX - HNL - GUM)
- From Chicago (ORD - HNL - GUM)
- From Berlin (BER - VIE - NRT - GUM)
- From Paris (CDG - VIE - NRT - GUM)
- From Sydney (SYD - TPE - NRT - GUM)
4. Covid-19 guidelines in Guam
Travel guidelines for COVID-19
As of July 4, 2021, all incoming travelers entering Guam must quarantine for 10 days at a government facility, with a few exceptions:
- If you're fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO-authorized COVID-19 vaccine, you may simply present a photo ID, your COVID-19 vaccination record card, and a secondary COVID-19 vaccination verification (this can be the receipt of the vaccine administered to you.)
- If you present a negative PCR test that was taken 3 days or 72 hours prior to your arrival.
- If you present a negative antigen test that was taken 3 days or 72 hours prior to your arrival, you may still have to quarantine or be monitored at your accommodation.
- If you've previously tested positive for COVID-19 sometime in 3 months before your scheduled trip to Guam, and you currently have no symptoms, you may present a valid positive PCR test taken 10 to 90 days before your arrival, along with the negative PCR test taken 10 days before your arrival. You must also be cleared to travel by a physician or a clinic.
Air V&V program - Vaccination + Vacation
Want to vacation worry-free in the new normal? Guam might just be the destination for you, thanks to the launch of the new Air V&V program. Presented by the Guam Visitors Bureau, this program allows travelers who are visiting Guam to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and enjoy the benefits of medical services, too! For a smoother process, you can choose to book your accommodation at a participating hotel such as Dusit Thani Guam Resort, Hyatt Regency Guam, Lotte Hotel, and more. In any of these places, a Guam quarantine is sure to be a breeze!
Any traveler in Guam who’s 12 years old and over is eligible for Air V&V.
What do I need to know before I go?
72 hours prior to your departure, you must have a negative COVID-19 test. A 10-day quarantine is required unless you meet the exceptions listed in their updated travel guidelines for COVID-19.
What's the vaccination process like?
You can easily schedule your vaccination appointment here, and choose your preferred vaccine, so long as it’s available during your appointment date. It can be administered as soon as the day of your arrival if you so choose. A local health care provider will meet you in your hotel to admister the first dose.
What are the vaccines offered?
Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen.
What about the second dose?
If you choose Pfizer-BioNTech, it’s recommended that you get your second dose 21 days after your first, and with Moderna, 28 days after.
What if I test positive while I'm in Guam?
If you test positive, you’ll have to quarantine for 10 days in a government isolation facility where you’ll be monitored.
Do I need health insurance or any documents?
Health insurance is not needed, and as for documents, any valid photo identification is all you’ll need. This can be a driver’s license or your passport.
Air V&V Guam
Click below for more information about Guam’s Air V&V (vaccination and vacation) program.
General climate and seasons
As a tropical island, Guam enjoys warm weather year-round. Much like other tropical destinations, there are only two seasons: dry from January to May, and rainy from July to November. The average temperature is typically around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius), and while it’s quite humid for most of the year, it tends to cool down from November to March.
Storms and typhoons
Due to its location in the Pacific Ocean, Guam is no stranger to typhoons and tropical depressions. The island usually experiences three typhoons per year, but their typhoon season is known to last year-round, with most of them developing sometime between May and November.
Locals are well-prepared for such weather, and they stay tuned to forecasts on the radio or use social media to track any oncoming typhoons. Communities are also familiar with the term “COR” or Conditions of Readiness, which tells them what to look out for. As a safety precaution, Guam is always on COR 4, which stands for “always ready”.
The best time and season to visit Guam
Mid-January is the best month for a Guam travel, as the weather is still warm but not as humid, and you’re more likely to avoid the rain. Keep in mind, however, that peak tourist season in Guam is often around February, with January and June following close behind. Beaches will be a bit more crowded and hotel rates will likely be more expensive. However, the pleasant weather and opportunities to snorkel, swim, and lounge on the beach can’t be beaten!
6. Best places to stay
Best cities to visit and stay in
Tumon is the beating heart of Guam’s tourism industry, so you can’t skip this district on your visit. Besides, you’ll likely want to book your hotel or vacation rental in this area. Head to Tumon Beach, Ypao Beach, or Gun Beach, and plan a day filled with exciting water activities. Local restaurants serving delicious Guamanian food can also be found here, as well as shops and historic relics from World War II. If you’ve decided to stay in this hotspot, consider booking an oceanfront villa at Dusit Thani Guam Resort for a luxurious stay.
The village of Tamuning also encompasses the tourist hub of Tumon, so you’ll be able to enjoy all of the district’s entertainment options and more besides. Visit family-friendly attractions such as UnderWater World and Tarza Water Park, go shopping at Guam Premier Outlets, or simply spend the day at one of the beaches on Tumon Bay. If you’d rather stay on dry land, you can head up to Puntan Dos Amantes, or Two Lovers Point, to catch the sunset. Book an air-conditioned queen room at Days Inn by Wyndham Guam-Tamuning for a perfectly comfortable stay near Ypao Beach.
7. Best things to do in Guam
Attractions to visit
Besides stunning beaches, there are many attractions in Guam that are worth a visit. For nature excursions and scenic hikes, check out Puntan Dos Amantes in Tamuning, Talofofo Falls in Injaran, or Mount Lamlam peak near Agat village.
Tourists interested in the island’s history should check out Guam Museum and Latte Stone Memorial Park in Hagåtña, Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad in Umatac, and War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Asan.
For family-friendly attractions, Fish Eye Marine Park in Piti, Tarza Water Park, and Tagada Amusement Park in Tamuning are some of the best places that kids and adults alike will enjoy visiting.
Top activities and experiences
The island is home to some of the best beaches, so you can’t plan a trip to Guam without spending a few days enjoying exciting water activities. Parasailing, snorkeling, jet skiing, kayaking, diving, and more can all be enjoyed in the tourist epicenter of Tamuning. Sign up for a sea walking excursion with Guam SEAWALKER Tours, invite your friends for a banana boat ride, or try snuba - shallow water diving with an air line - for the first time!
Once you’ve exhausted all the fun in the water and you want to escape the beach crowd, head out to see historical sites such as the latte stones in Latte Stone Memorial Park, the remains of Plaza de Espana, and the authentic cannons at Fort Santa Agueda. Nature lovers can also explore various hiking trails that lead to waterfalls such as Tarzan Falls and Sigua Falls.
Of course, you can’t leave any destination without shopping! If you’ve come to Guam with extra space in your luggage, spend a day exploring the shops at Tumon Sands Plaza, Guam Premier Outlets, or Micronesia Mall.
8. Food in Guam
When it came to food, the early Chamorro people relied on their fishing skills and also harvested from the island. Their diet consisted of food made with ingredients such as coconuts, yams, bananas, fowl, fresh fish, and rice. Today, Guam’s cuisine is a mix of early Chamorro cooking practices and influences from other countries, including the Pacific Islands. Some of their best dishes include rice and coconut, so you can expect a delicious and filling meal every time!
Best dishes in Guam
Being an unincorporated US territory, you’ll definitely find familiar fast-food chains in Guam. But you’ll want to skip these places in favor of restaurants serving delicious local cuisine.
Kelaguen is a traditional Chamorro dish that might remind you of ceviche, as it’s a raw protein - such as shrimp or fish - marinated in lemon juice, green onions, pepper, and coconut. Chicken kelaguen is also popular, but the chicken version is usually grilled beforehand. This dish is best eaten over rice or with a soft tortilla.
Rice is a staple in Guam, and you can’t leave the island without enjoying a meal served with red rice. The rice is cooked with achiote seeds or paste, which gives it the bright orange color and flavor.
Many tourists have come home from a trip to Guam singing praises about the local food - especially the barbeque. They marinate their meat a day before it hits the grill, so the meat has hours to soak in all the flavors from the soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Chicken and spare ribs are popular, and it’s grilled using a local wood called tangan-tangan. Eat this with red rice and some finadene sauce (a local soy sauce mix) and you have the perfect meal!
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, wrap up your meal with dessert and order some latiya. This is a cinnamon custard with a cake base, either sponge or yellow cake - but some recipes use angel cake or pound cake, too. A thick custard made with butter, evaporated milk, and cornstarch is poured over the cake base and topped with cinnamon.
9. How to get around
You’ll find taxis in most shopping hubs and near hotels in Guam. While the taxis have regulated meters, they’re still quite expensive. The first mile is around USD 4, adding on 0.8 USD for every ¼ mile.
Guam Mass Transit Authority (GMTA)
There are currently nine bus routes on the island with a standard fare of 3 USD. If you’re planning to use public transportation to explore the villages, you can download the Guam Regional Transit Authority (GRTA) app or visit their website so you have the bus schedules handy.
Those planning a shopping spree around Guam can take advantage of the signature red trolleys that circulate around shopping areas and hotels. The fare costs 3 USD, and there are also bus schedule signs so you can plan ahead.
International and local car companies are readily available for those who want to drive around the island. Be sure to bring a US or international driver’s license if you’re planning to rent, and inquire with your hotel about the best or nearest rental service.
Tips and precautions
Guam is a great island for family vacations, solo trips, or holidays with friends because it has a reputation for being a safe destination. The people are very friendly and very little crime occurs, however it’s always best to err on the side of caution and take care of your belongings when you travel.
If you’re traveling with family, be sure not to leave your kids unattended, as this is not permitted under Guam law. If you’re staying in a hotel, keep their contact information handy and don’t hesitate to approach the front desk if you need help with directions.
Being a tropical island, you’ll likely spend plenty of time on the beach or exploring outdoors, so be sure to pack extra sunscreen for some much-needed SPF!
Plan your Guam trip in the new normal
Whether Guam has always been on your travel bucket list or you’re just now discovering the many charms of this Western Pacific island, Air V&V presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy a vacation on this side of the world, with the added bonus of being vaccinated after your trip. Plan your itinerary, follow the protocols, and soon you’ll be lounging on the beach and feasting on savory barbeques. Enjoy Guam!
Air V&V Guam
Click below for more information about Guam’s Air V&V (vaccination and vacation) program.