By Krizette Chu
If shopping is a sport, then Guam is its battlefield.
Here, in this microscopic Micronesian island fringed with towering coconut trees and bordered on all sides by the deep blue waters of the Pacific, luxury boutiques, sprawling duty-free malls, and outlet stores jostle for space in an area that spans only 200 square miles. (To give you an idea, it’s a territory smaller than New York City and just around the size of San Francisco).
In Tumon, the DFS Guam Galleria, The Plaza along the Pleasure Island strip, and the Tumon Sands tower like glittering jewelry boxes, and only a short ride away, the Pale San Vitores road’s independent stores beckon.
Beyond downtown Tumon are three large malls you can spend an entire day in: There’s the Agana Shopping Center in Hagatna, the Guam Premier Outlets in Tamuning, and the Micronesia Mall in Dededo. Somewhere in the vicinity is a giant Forever 21 shop where you can buy trendy clothes for less than $10, half the price in Manila. Unimpressed? I bought a Tommy Hilfiger shirt for $10, an armful of clothes for $50, and Nine West bags (yes, plural) for just under $15 to $20 each. I scored a legit Michael Kors for about $60 (that’s one third of mall prices), and bought Calvin Klein shirts for less than $15 each.
Over at the 24-hour K-Mart, I stocked up on “Stateside” goodies that aren’t available at home, as well as home items that I didn’t need but couldn’t pass up because why-are-they-giving-these-away-at-these-prices, and over at Micronesia Mall (which Filipino-Chinese magnate Lucio Tan owns), there’s a Macy’s that offers racks and racks of apparel ridiculously discounted at more than 70 percent off.
But shopping’s not the only reason to fly to this island (although, to be honest, the reason I’m going back soon is to pull an all-nighter at the outlet stores and K-Mart), this US territory, whose history parallels the Philippines quite so shockingly (discovered by Magellan, colonized by Spain, Japan, and the US—yes, in that order, too) also has so many other things going for it, so that you can bring the entire family on a Guamventure.
Here, other reasons we’re betting on Guam:
With interiors and location so unpretentious—it is located at a second floor in a strip occupied with small establishments—you wouldn’t expect very much from the Jamaican Grill at Tumon Lane. It’s casual, colorful, laidback, maybe a little bit muggy depending on what time you arrive, and the wooden tables and benches are as fuss-free as can be.
And then the food arrives.
Nothing really prepares you for the Jamaican grill platter. The reason Guam’s barbeque is considered the world’s best is it is prepared an entire day before eating. Just like any BBQ, the marinade is a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, salt, black pepper, onions, and garlic. What sets Guam’s BBQ apart, however, is that they grill using tangan-tangan wood, found in abundance in Guam, which lends the meat a unique, smokey flavor.
And here, at Tumon Lane, at the second floor of a non-airconditioned restaurant, you will probably partake of the best barbeque of your life.
At Meskla, in Hagatna, you can taste the history of Guam through the flavors of the dishes. Yes, Guam is America, but it has also been Spain, and it is also Filipino, as Pinoys make up about 27 percent of its population.
Chamorro cuisine reflects the interesting, intersecting Guam culture, which is a mishmash of more than 200 years of Spanish colonialism, American influence, and its Pacific Island geographical location.
Dishes are Latin American, but always translated with a touch of the Pacific—a cup of coconut curry here, a teaspoon of soy sauce there. One of Guam’s most iconic dishes is the Kadon Pika, which will remind you of our adobo. Like the adobo, it is steeped in sauce, vinegar, salt and black pepper, onions, and garlic, but unlike the adobo, it has hot peppers and coconut milk. When ladled upon a nice bed of red rice (also very trademark Chamorro), the Kadon Pika is the kind of dish you’ll be craving badly for. Meskla’s must-tries include the Ahi Poke salad, a generous serving of the freshest, plumpest, yellow fin tuna cubes in soy-sesame dressing tossed in greens and avocado mousse. Then there’s a stuffed Portobello with garlic aioli, and my personal favorite, kelaguen, or ceviche (Kinilaw, in Tagalog). Chicken is the most common meat used, and the spicy kick of the lemon combined with peppers make this one of the best things you’ll ever taste in Guam.
On Wednesday nights, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m, head on to the Chamorro Village Market. It’s open every day, but on Wednesdays, farmers and local bakers and chefs converge at this four-acre open area to mingle, play music, entertain with traditional island dances, and serve up some of the best Chamorro cuisine served out of restaurants.
As evidence of the huge influence of its Pinoy population, there are Filipino stalls, too, where you can buy pansit, lumpia, and yes, our Filipino version of barbecue, which I’m glad to note does hold its own against the Chamorro ones. Proof are the snaking lines in any of the Filipino-owned stalls that also sell banana que and Filipino specialties like adobo and turon. Here, you can stop at stalls to taste the Chamorro red rice, shrimp kelaguen, tortillas, barbeque ribs, shrimp patties, and coconut candy. The price point for a takeout “plate” of food runs around $9 to $15 per plate (good for sharing!)
The island has over 50 hotels and over 9,000 guest rooms, and with most big hotels situated along the beach, the best free activity is to find a spot and enjoy the magnificent ocean view from your room or any lounge chair. The sunset hour is magical, so carve time in your busy day to enjoy this spectacular view. The bayside barbeque and show at Sheraton Laguna, one of the island’s most romantic hotels, is easily one of the highlights of a Guam trip. At about $60 per person, you can enjoy a sunset feast of barbecued ribs while entertained by Guam’s best cultural performers. Arrive early for a front seat to bask in the view of the pounding waves of Rick’s Reef, which is also a favorite spot of local surfers. By 7 p.m., the show begins. Witness Guam’s ancient Chamorro warriors and beautiful dancers interpret their culture—and 4,000 years of history—through a spellbinding dance set against one of the most stunning beach backgrounds in the world. A trip around the island should include stops to Fort Santa Agueda with its panoramic view of Northern Guam, Latte Stone Park, the Two Lovers’ Point, and the Fish Eye Marine Park—and not to miss—a magical show to cap a magical day.
Two Lovers’ Point
What’s more romantic than the story of two starcrossed lovers who jumped to their deaths from a 400-foot cliff when meddling parents could not accept that people fall in love out of their own volition? Despite the gruesome end, Two Lovers’ Point, which offers a panoramic lookout over the Philippine Sea, and views of Tumon Bay and Central Guam, remains to be one of the most favored wedding venues in the island. This scenic spot features two-tiered lookout points where visitors can walk the face of the cliff on walkways chiseled over the jutting rocks. Breathtaking.
Fisheye Marine Park
An underwater marine observatory at the Piti Bay that features 360-degree views, the park also has a 1,000-foot-long wooden boardwalk where kids can stop and watch fishes (and divers) while enjoying the view. This park is Micronesia’s only undersea observatory, and its upper deck allows you to see coral reefs and Guam’s mountain ranges. You can view the underwater world through 24 windows, and watch a colorful array of fishes (over 200 species are available here) swim by.
Fort Santa Agueda
Fort Santa Agueda dates from about 1800. It was an uncovered fort rising about 10 feet above a sloping hillside. It is the only remaining fortification from the Spanish era.
But the best thing about Fort Santa Agueda? It’s a great vantage point to study the topography of Guam’s scenic Western coast.