Guam Is Suddenly in the News. But What Is It Like to Travel There?

Tumon Bay in Tamuning, Guam. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On a nub-like point on the west coast of Guam stands a monument built as the Statue of Liberty’s Pacific counterpart. The Latte of Freedom, which opened in 2010, is an 80-foot-tall concrete structure, shaped like a mushroom with an upturned top. It’s a homage to the island’s famous lattes (pronounced LAH-tees), two-piece stone pillars that, for centuries, the indigenous Chamorros erected as the foundation of traditional buildings. In the observation deck inside the Latte of Freedom’s capstone, a plaque explains its cultural roots and announces its modern-day purpose: “to stand boldly as America’s Western gatepost from Asia and the Pacific Rim.”

Until last week, despite its status as a U.S. territory, Guam was an afterthought for most Americans, an obscurity out in the vast blue part of the globe. When news broke that North Korea was considering an attack on the island, stateside media outlets proffered maps and explainers on basic details. It is 30 miles long, with a population of about 160,000. It has been a U.S. territory since 1898, ceded by the Spanish after the Spanish-American War. And it is of strategic importance: 4,000 miles west of Honolulu, about half that distance from Pyongyang, and it is home to both Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam.

But it is also a gatepost with dual roles, a place of both watchful vigilance but also heartfelt hospitality, welcoming travelers and immigrants alike — just not many Americans. Last year, a record-setting 1.53 million tourists came here — mostly from Japan (746,000) and South Korea (550,000). Arrivals this year have been on a strong pace, with hotel occupancy at 85.7 percent, according to Josh Tyquiengco of the Guam Visitors Bureau — higher than average (if not quite the 95 percent that Eddie Calvo, the governor of Guam, recently claimed in a conversation with President Trump). Since the territory became headline news, there have been scattered cancellations, though not enough to affect the overall industry, Mr. Tyquiengco said.

Strikingly, though, Guam may be the U.S.’smost popular tourist destination that Americans themselves don’t see in substantial numbers. About 63,000 people from the mainland states visited last year, a smaller number than Kauai, Hawaii’s fourth-largest island, gets in a typical month. When I traveled to Guam in 2014, while researching a book about the U.S. territories, the woman selling tickets at the Latte Stone of Freedom assumed I was from the nearest military base, and was visibly surprised to learn that I was a sightseer from the States.

Since that trip, though, I’ve been telling everyone I know: Even if you can’t find Guam on a map, book a flight. Soak up the sun, explore the back roads, eat well and learn some new things about a probably unfamiliar slice of U.S. history.

Most tourists head straight to Tamuning, along the reef-calmed waterfront of Tumon Bay. It hits all the familiar island-vacation themes: white-sand beaches, high-rise hotels, duty-free shopping malls. There’s a Hard Rock Cafe and two separate Louis Vuitton stores. Here, the island’s very Americanness is part of the appeal, packaged for easy consumption: stacks of pancakes at Eggs ’n Things, fleets of rental muscle cars, shooting ranges with names like Western Frontier Village and Hollywood Shooting. I stopped by the latter range one afternoon, and the owner tried to talk me into the Rambo Course, which starts with an M16 and ends with a shotgun. I settled for a conversation with the Russian and Korean customers considering the menu of options and posing for pictures while wearing the lobby’s selection of leather-fringed jackets and cowboy hats.

For a deeper look at Guam’s history and cultural complexity, though, you’ll need to get out of Tamuning. My own road trip came courtesy of two Chamorro men, Carl Blas and Tony Duenas, both of them former police officers wearing Harley-Davidson T-shirts and eager to share stories about their island. With Mr. Blas at the wheel of his pickup truck, we headed northeast along Marine Corps Drive. The atmosphere and architecture shifted quickly, high-rise bustle giving way to a tropical suburbia of chain stores and subdivisions, and then to long stretches of low, snarled jungle interspersed with ranch-style houses and quiet strip malls. A campaign sign promoted a political candidate, his logo a stylized latte stone adorned with stars and stripes and a traditional proa boat.

In the village of Yigo, we stopped at the nondescript but friendly Michelle’s Coffee Shop for a hearty, satisfying breakfast of Chamorro sausage, rice and eggs. Before we got back in the truck, Mr. Blas pointed out a T-shaped concrete monument at the edge of the parking lot.

“Did you notice that when we came in?” he asked with a knowing smile.

I hadn’t. I walked to the street to read the words painted on the front: “Battle Of Yigo. 7 August 1944. US Army.”

If Guamanians were generally unconcerned by North Korea’s bluster — Mr. Blas and others I’ve spoken to recently have offered a mix of stoicism and wry fatalism — it’s because they have been on the front lines before, for some in living memory. Japanese forces attacked Guam on Dec. 8, 1941, and took over the island two days later, occupying the territory until the summer of 1944. The war stills scars the collective memory and the landscape. In some areas, signs warn that lingering unexploded ordnance “can still be found anywhere on the island.”

As we drove around the island, we frequently stopped at sites that filled in the story. At the Pacific War Museum, Mr. Duenas pointed out a photo of his uncle, Father Jesus Baza Duenas, a Catholic priest who was part of the Chamorro resistance, and Mr. Blas searched for his grandfather’s name on a list of prisoners of war. On the south end of the island, we lingered silently for a few minutes at Asan Bay, where American troops came storming back, on July 21, 1944. Liberation Day is a big deal here, with a carnival and a parade featuring any American liberators still able to make the trip; this year, there have been two.

Mr. Blas and Mr. Duenas also pointed to signs of Guam’s long postwar rebirth, not just the gleaming buildings of Tamuning or the new subdivisions going up, but also a cultural revival. Mr. Blas told me that when he was in high school, students were suspended for three days if they spoke Chamorro; now, the language is a required part of the public-school curriculum. In Hagåtña, a long-planned Guam Museum was in the works; it opened in November 2016.

About a block from where the museum now stands is the Chamorro Village, which opened in 1994 as a place for local vendors to sell crafts, art and food. Take a stroll through market on a Wednesday night, when it’s crowded with families, and it’s clear that the main attraction is eating.

If you want to see a Guamanian beam with pride, ask about the food. You’ll hear their family recipes for favorite foods like kelaguen, a flavorful dish of chopped chicken or other meat marinated with lemon and other seasonings; dinanche, a hot-pepper paste; and lumpia, a type of egg roll thought to have been introduced by Guam’s Filipino community. You’ll hear boasts about restaurants like Proa and Meskla Chamoru Fusion Bistro, which put their own spin on local classics.

Mostly, though, you’ll hear about barbecue, a topic as unavoidable as the heady smoked-meat haze at the Chamorro Village. (A local company called Tunu even makes a line of barbecue lifestyle shirts and hats.) It’s traditionally made with a vinegar- and soy sauce-based marinade that gives the meat a subtle but distinct flavor. This is what I ended up chattering about to friends back in the States with you-you’ve-gotta-go-there fervor: the chicken at Meskla, the jerk adobo ribs at Jamaican Grill, and, most of all, the dry-rubbed, irresistibly tender brisket at Asu Smokehouse, in the Chamorro Village.

Guamanian barbecue is typically served with Spanish rice and coleslaw, the whole package showcasing the island’s cultural traditions — Chamorro, Spanish, Japanese and American. It’s an edible history lesson, a Micronesian version of the American polyglot ideal.

New to Guam Real Estate?

Guam (Chamorro: Guåhån), officially the U.S. Territory of Guam, is an island in the Western Pacific Ocean and is an organized unincorporated territory of the United States. The Chamorros, Guam’s indigenous inhabitants, first populated the island approximately 4,000 years ago. It is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands. The island’s capital is Hagåtña, formerly Agana. Guam’s economy is mainly supported by tourism (particularly from Japan, Korea and the People’s Republic of China) and United States armed forces bases. The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes Guam on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

For more information on Guam, please visit:
Guam Online
CIA Factbook on Guam
The Ultimate Guide to Guam

Guam @ a Glance. Information from Guam Visitor’s Bureau Website

Political Status:
Unincorporated Territory of the United States

13.48 degrees North, 144.45 degrees East

Native Inhabitants: Chamorro

Country code: 1

Area Code: 671

Telex code: 721

Electricity: 120 volt/60 cycle

Capital: Hagåtña

Land Area: 212 square miles ( 549 square kilometers )

Official Languages:
English and Chamorro

Greenwich Mean Time +10

154,805 (2000 census)

Currency: US Dollar

Between 75-86 degrees Fahrenheit (26-30 degrees Celsius) Averaging 81 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius)

Dry season between Jan. & May; rainy season between October & December.

Annual average is approximately 80 inches (2,509 millimeters)


We here at Pioneer Realty have been long-time residents of Guam!
1) Property Taxes are very low here on Guam. 1% of assessed value for buildings and .5% of assessed value for land.
2) You hook up power at GPA (Guam Power Authority), water at GWA (Guam Waterworks Authority), and cable/internet services can be shopped for at: MCV, GTA (Guam Telephone Authority), IT+E, and Docomo Pacific.
3) We have 4 major car dealers here: Toyota/Lexus, Prestige Automobiles, Cars Plus, and Triple J Motors.
4) Cellphone service providers on Guam are Docomo Pacific, IT+E, GTA, MCV, and I-Connect.

Minimizing Risk in Real Estate Investment

Real estate investment has provided many investors with positive cash flow, tax benefits and satisfaction of making an impact in others lives. Like any investment however, real estate has intricate nuances and market trends that when ignored can cause an investor tremendous heart ache. Unbelievably, many first time investors are willing to part with their hard earned cash without taking the time to study their investment. They rely on traditional trends and that “gut feeling”. Before you risk your investment, take the time to learn all you can about your target market. By aligning yourself with the right professional you can avoid these 12 common mistakes and you’ll ensure an excellent return on your investment.

1. Failure to Determine Your Time Need – Cash flow, capital appreciation, tax benefits, loss of management, equity pay down and pride of ownership are just some of the things that need to be addressed before you make that investment. A service minded real estate professional can be a tremendous asset by taking the time to evaluate your needs and making sure you’ve got all your bases covered.

2. Not Checking out the Seller or Sellers Agents’ Numbers – Claims of extremely high rates of return run rampant in real estate investment. Don’t get caught up in the excitement – check everything: rents, payment history, taxes, expenses, deposits, future modifications… everything. Make sure you have the right agent; it’s like having a good insurance policy against overlooking all the seemingly insignificant but very important details.

3. Forgetting You Are Buying a Business – Owning investment property carries with it a great potential for creating wealth and… some potentially difficult decisions. Evictions, re-investment into the property and time management all need careful consideration. Remember, this is not a ‘hands off’ business.

4. Avoid Negative Cash Flow – Property that eats cash every month can drain your working capital. This can create stress, frustration and become quite painful. Predicting constant appreciation is extremely difficult, if not impossible for the unseasoned investor. A strain on your cash flow may cause you to sell the investment before the benefits of ownership are ever realized.

5. Failure to do a Thorough Inspection – Look under every rock! Hire a professional inspector. Ask the tenants about pest problems, structural damage or reoccurring problems. Don’t overlook anything! A value driven real estate professional will help you find the right inspector and can help you avoid costly mistakes. When investing your hard earned money be sure and use sound business judgment!

6. Failing to Have Adequate Insurance – Investment property brings liability. Tenants, cars, parking lots, cleaning facilities, property liability – the list is quite extensive. Adequate insurance coverage is an absolute must! Be sure to consult with an insurance professional and protect your hard earned assets.

7. Inspect, Approve, and Confirm All Documents – The list of documents that need to be proofed can be overwhelming to the first time investor. Building permits, zoning laws, rental and lease applications, health licenses, laundry leases, underlying loan documents, CC&R’s, by-laws, title policies, mineral leases, inspection reports, purchase contracts, insurance.. don’t attempt to do it alone. The right professional can remove most of the stress and bring the transaction to a conclusion smoothly.

8. Get a Bill of Sale For All Property Involved – Many types of personal property (appliances, furniture, fixtures, etc.) can be involved in an investment sale. Be very detailed -know who owns what!

9. Charge Fair Rents – Vacancies, turnovers and lease terminators are your biggest expense. Charge fair rents, treat your tenants with respect and respond as quickly as possible to their needs. It’s a lot less costly in the long run to take care of the little problems before they become big problems. Vacant property is your Achilles heel.

10. Select Qualified, Good Tenants From the Start – Take the time to check references. Previous landlords, employers, financial references, credit and judgments are all vitally important. If there are any questions do a thorough investigation. Drive by their previous residence. A little work up front can save tremendous problems later.

11. Make Sure You Get Estoppel Letters – Get letters from tenants confirming the status of tenancy. Make sure their version of the rental or lease agreement corresponds with the sellers interpretation.

12. Don’t Spend Positive Cash Flow – Most of successful investors have free and clear properties. Be sure to re-invest your cash flow back into the property payment and speed up the amortization schedule. This decreases your debt load and increases your equity which builds your net worth. Investment property can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your financial portfolio. Be certain to have all your ducks in a row before you invest. Do your homework! Consult with a professional real estate agent and protect yourself from the hidden troubles that can plague first time investors.