Wondering where can you go without a passport? Are you looking for that perfect island getaway but don’t have a passport or don’t want to go through the hassle of getting one? Lucky for you, U.S. citizens don't need passports to kick back in a hammock at these five islands destinations:
Northern Mariana Islands
Even if travel as far as the northwestern reaches of the Pacific Ocean near Japan, there's no need for U.S. citizens to worry about a passport if the destination is the Northern Mariana Islands.
Officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, it is one of five inhabited American insular areas. It also is one of two territories with "Commonwealth" status; the other being Puerto Rico. Located southeast of Japan in the North Pacific, the islands have been governed by many in their long history: first by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, then Japanese forces during World War II, and finally, the United States since the Battle of Saipan in 1944.
The islands now rely heavily on tourism from Japan and Korea in addition to the United States. World War II history buffs will find much to see in Saipan, the largest of the islands and considered the capital of the Marianas, which is home to several war memorials and museums. Adrenaline junkies can dive the Grotto, a limestone cavern with 70-foot-deep waters that are home to sea turtles and reef sharks. Or take a boat to the nearby lagoon surrounding Managaha Island. For an even better Scuba dive or snorkel excursion, try the Saipan lagoon; wrecks and remnants of the Pacific War line portions of its bottom.
Much like the Northern Marianas, Guam to the south was colonized by the Spanish, changed hands during WWII, and is now a tourist destination for Japanese and U.S. nationals. In fact, its second-largest source of income is the U.S. military—Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force bases make up about one-third of Guam's total land area.
Military aside, there is a lot to do: Tumon's beaches on Guam's northwest coast are known for great snorkeling. Guam's teeming seas are famous among divers for visibilities up to 150 feet. Two Lovers Point, a cliff-side lookout, offers some pristine panoramas from 400 feet above the Philippine Sea.
Flights to Guam don't come cheap, but accommodations do; resorts in Tumon and nearby Tamuning average around $200 per night. Some amenities at the huge, sprawling resorts include indoor and outdoor pools, spas, fitness centers, restaurants, nighclubs and much more. VisitGuam.com has a good guide to the resorts.
For things to do on Guam, you can check off the usual—cruises, nightclubs, hiking trails, tropical tours and sailboat tours—or for the unusual day, take a submarine tour with Atlantis Guam. Best of all: No passport required!
Say "talofa" (hello) to the Samoan Islands.
The Samoan Islands (American Samoa and Independent Samoa) may have been discovered by European explorers in the 18th century but these remote islands have been inhabited for more than 3,000 years. American Samoa is a collection of five volcanic islands and two atolls; it's basically a mountainous tropical rainforest dropped in the sea between Fiji and the Cook Islands.
There are only a handful of hotels on Tutuila and the neighboring islands. Tutuila, for example only has 15 places from which to choose, but they run the gamut from larger properties of the Tradewinds Hotel or Sadie's by the Sea with all the amenities to small bed-and-breakfast places such as Alaimanu B&B, Le Falepule or Moana O Sina. On the Manu'a Islands, there is the choice of two family run establishments. And forget about the chain resorts or hotels; all of the lodging accomodations on American Samoa are 100 percent locally owned and operated.
The best thing to do on any island is to do nothing, but if you can't while away your days in total repose, popular excursions include bus tours; shopping at boutique and general stores offering traditional Samoa handicrafts; dining out at establishments that offer a "Fiafia" night once a week, with traditional Samoan buffet and a floor show.
Beaches are everywhere, but here's the catch: Beaches are located on customary land, meaning they are owned by nearby villagers, so it is advised to ask permission to use the beach at a nearby home. In some cases a small donation or fee of a couple of dollars is charged. For a more public option, visit the National Park of American Samoa, one of the most remote national parks in the United States. The 10,500-acre park is spread over three sectors on three islands—Tutuila, Ta’ū and Ofu. Or appreciate The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa; this tropical reef is one of only 14 federally designated underwater areas protected by the U.S. Government's NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Visitors are welcome to explore the sanctuary but are required to visit the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa website or come to the Ocean Center for a tour and to receive a map of the trail leading to Fagatele Bay.
The island of Puerto Rico, off the east coast of the Dominican Republic in the northwestern Caribbean, is officially an unincorporated territory of the United States. Puerto Rico is only 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, making it the smallest island of the Greater Antilles. But in that 3,500 square miles are beautiful beaches, perfect for family outings and everything from snorkling to lazy days with toes in the sand, a variety of resorts and plenty of nightlife, especially in San Juan.
The Puerto Rican beaches offer several experiences. Ocean Park Beach in Isla Verde has superb stretches of white sand and is popular with locals and visitors. The waves can really kick up, creating prime surf conditions
It takes a little extra effort to get to Flamenco Beach, which is on the small island of Culebra, about 17 miles off the east coast of the mainland. Once visitors get there, though, they'll find a horseshoe-shaped bay and a mile-long sugar-white beach.
Mar Chiquita is secluded and popular at the same time. Mar Chiquita is about a 45-minute drive west of San Juan and looks out on an oval-shaped cove backed by palm trees and dramatic limestone walls.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands are just a few minutes away from Puerto Rico by plane. And, like Puerto Rico, Americans do not need a passport to visit. Made up of three main islands—St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John—plus several smaller ones, the Virgin Islands get about 2.6 million visitors each year. In fact, tourism and rum make up the majority of the islands' economy.
St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is perhaps best known for its rum; the Captain Morgan and Cruzan rum distilleries can be toured here. Golfers also have a choice of places to play, some of which offer breath-taking views of the Caribbean. Divers often head to nearby Buck Island—one of only three underwater national monuments in the U.S.
St. John, as smallest U.S. Virgin Island (just less than 20 square miles), tends to skew toward nature lovers—almost two-thirds is national parkland. Hotels here specialize in blending into the existing landscape, though St. John does have its fair share of large resorts, too. Check in at Trunk Bay, regularly considered one of the top beaches in the islands.
St. Thomas, only 32 square miles in size, offers hotels with luxurious accommodations to complement a Caribbean shopping spree. Known for their sophistication, superb dining and entertaining nightlife, hotels in St. Thomas offer a variety of lodging alternatives, whether that's a grand resort, a villa or a small inn. Like the other two islands, St. Thomas is stacked with beaches, and the island is also big on family fun with attractions like Butterfly Garden, Coral World Ocean Park, St. Thomas Adventure Tours and the Paradise Point Skyride.