You always hear the local tourism industry touting Tumon as a tropical getaway with all the trimmings, but it's not the only one on island.
As you've seen through Spots on The Rock over the years, we've got lavish landscapes that some international photographers call heaven on Earth. Not to mention our beautiful, unblemished beaches, screensaver-worthy sunsets and blue-beyond-belief waters.
If those aren't enough adjectives to arouse your senses, go outside and soak in the day's vibrancy. Feel the warm breeze that beckons us all to widen our smiles and relax.
Better yet, experience that natural euphoria by visiting one of Guam's true gems. I'll call it the island's best-kept secret, because, although it's traveled to by tourists and home to archaeologists, scientists and park rangers – Ritidian has a spirit of her own.
The island's northernmost tip, Ritidian, also known in CHamoru as "Litekyan," would definitely be the textbook definition of "tropical getaway with all the trimmings," unless you care for all those First World amenities.
You might hear about the area's abundant beauty, especially its white, sandy beaches, but Litekyan's charm lies in its history and environment.
The rocky road to Ritidian
No matter where you live on Guam, the drive to Ritidian is an adventure in itself.
Even if you live in Dededo, where Ritidian lies on the coastal outskirts, the trip in from the main road might take about 10 to 15 minutes, and maybe more depending on your pothole-avoiding skills. The road to Ritidian is definitely not on par with the pristine beauty of the place.
Nevertheless, the trip has always been a treasured time filled with conversation, music, snacks and memories in the making. So, pack your car and pretend it's a road trip. This is as good as it gets!
To reach Ritidian, if coming from southern and central Guam, drive north on Route 1 toward Dededo. After passing Micronesia Mall, turn left at the next traffic light onto Route 3A, near Guam Regional Medical City.
Continue driving north on this long, straight road for the next 15 minutes, or about five miles – passing the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Guam (NCTS) – until you reach a Y-shaped intersection, across from the Starts Guam Golf Resort. Turn left.
If coming from northern Guam, follow Route 3A, the NCS road in Dededo, toward the same Y-shaped intersection, where you'll turn left. If coming from Latte Heights, Mangilao or Yigo, drive west on Route 9 before shortly merging onto Route 3A at the same Y-shaped intersection.
From the Y, Ritidian lies another six miles ahead. Drive in slowly to avoid deep potholes and especially when crossing a long stretch of gravel road. It might feel like you're trashing your tires, but rest assured, the upcoming utopia is worth the rocky ride.
After the challenging creep and crawl into the refuge, you'll come to the top of a winding hill. A viewpoint nearby opens to sweeping sights of the breathtaking landscape ahead.
Drive down the steep road with sharp turns, passing a left turn onto a dirt road, and continue straight to the refuge's Nature Center. Park here.
First stop: The Nature Center
I highly recommend checking out the Nature Center for more information on the wildlife refuge, its native plant and animal species, and other historical information. It's a very educational setting with interactive exhibits, friendly park rangers and air-conditioning.
Afterward, explore the nearby beach and jungle, but also consider taking a trek back in time through the Ritidian cave tour.
Note: This is not a Spots on The Rock hike or accessible public trail. The nature tour is coordinated by the National Wildlife Refuge park rangers and scheduled based on the weather and potential hazards.
The hourlong tour takes you along a quarter-mile of Ritidian's cliff line, where two caves shed light on ancient CHamoru civilization.
The flat nature walk is closed off to unaccompanied visitors, so be sure to catch one of the scheduled tours offered from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. Private tours can be coordinated by contacting the National Wildlife Refuge in advance.
During the tour, a friendly park ranger will guide visitors along a jungle path directly beneath Ritidian's castle-like cliffs. He or she will inform the group about the history of the caves and natural environment, including the CHamoru people's use of the caves.
Ancient artifacts and cavernous space
Entering the jungle is an enchanting experience. Without the words to describe it, the first steps in feel as if you're traveling back in time. The tour ahead isn't so far-fetched from the idea, either.
It's preserved habitats like the nature trail ahead that truly unveil Guam's unspoiled beauty, and where an ancient håfa adai spirit is palpable.
Just a few feet in, visitors will spot ancient CHamoru pottery shards and even a few small latte stones.
The first stop along the tour is the Ritidian Beach Cave, a shallow dwelling with some stalagmites and ancient pictographs. The prehistoric drawings are of great interest to archaeologists and give a glimpse into ancient CHamoru lifestyle.
Past the Beach Cave, the trail continues through dense jungle, where a variety of cool creatures are crawling about. From shy hermit crabs and fluttering butterflies to speedy geckos and slow-moving monitor lizards, there's a good chance you'll catch 'em all!
The easy, breezy nature hike also includes interesting tidbits of information on the vast variety of plant species found growing along the cliff walls and around the vibrant jungle.
The cliff's limestone walls also are a sight to see, with at least two rock arches and other formidable formations seen along the tour. There are tons of trees and vines rooted in the cliff's walls, as well.
At the end of the tour is the greatest sight of all – the Ritidian Pictograph Cave, also known as the Star Cave. This site for sore eyes will have your spirit soaring.
A trek back in time
Sitting beneath an indent in the cliff are limestone walls draped with cascading vines and moss-covered tree trunks. The towering jungle above casts fractured rays of light on this site in Ritidian coined "The Cathedral."
The atmosphere surrounding the Star Cave is a sacred one, for sure. Little is known about this particular area, but it definitely feels important. The site's spiritual energy is enough to bring you to your knees.
Inside the Star Cave are several ancient CHamoru pictographs, unique to this part of the island. The only other known ancient CHamoru pictographs on Guam are found in Inarajan's Gadao Cave.
According to the refuge's park rangers, the prehistoric drawings depict what life hundreds to thousands of years ago might have looked like for the ancient CHamoru.
The pictographs, which have weathered over the years, are more or less a collection of shapes scattered across the cave's walls.
Archaeologists have, however, related some of the ancient drawings to fishing and farming symbols, indicative of an ancient Ritidian settlement.
In a closed-off section of the cave, dotted pictographs are thought to represent stars, and might have been used by the ancient CHamoru. While only speculation, the Star Cave gets its name for the out-of-this-world drawings.
After exploring the shallow cave system, the park ranger will guide the group back to the Nature Center, ending an exciting trek back in time.