Strolling down south feels like an endless summer, a peaceful slip into a paradise you'd never want to leave.
For our second southern stroll, we'll travel through Merizo, Umatac, Agat, Santa Rita and Sumay.
Merizo is a quiet and quaint locale known for its relationship to the water, and fishing in particular. The small seaside village is the southernmost on the island. The village's traditional name of Malesso' comes from the CHamoru word "lesso," the juvenile stage of mañåhak, or rabbitfish, which is a common food source in Merizo.
There are several spots to check out in Merizo: the Santa Marian Kamalen Park; Merizo bell tower; kombento; Priests Pools and Merizo Pier.
The Santa Marian Kamalen Park is a small, spiritual space that pays homage to the island's patroness. Travel down Route 4 through Merizo and the park will be on your left, across the San Dimas Catholic Church, and about a minute after passing the Shell gas station and Bank of Guam branch. Park under the shade of the flowering flame tree and find the park to your left. Situated by the seashore, the manicured landscape is lavish with tropical plants and a marble statue of Santa Marian Kamalen, who, according to CHamoru legend, was guided to the shores of Merizo by two golden crabs holding lit candles. On the other side of the park is the Merizo bell tower, or "Kampanayun Malesso." The towering 25-foot-tall structure was originally built in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. After calling villagers to Mass for decades, the building went into disrepair and suffered the brunt of time and weather. It was restored to its former glory by the Guam Preservation Trust in 2016, and is again a working bell tower. Across from the parking lot is the Merizo Kombento, where the village's parish priest traditionally resides. Built in the 19th century, the house is a historic landmark in the village and kept its Spanish style after being restored in 2000 by the preservation trust.
Across the street and before the church is Chalan Joseph A. Cruz, which winds uphill and leads to Priests Pools, a series of small, freshwater pools along the village's Pigua River. Travel uphill for a few minutes and turn into the second street on your left, just before reaching Merizo Martyrs Memorial Elementary School. Drive to the dead-end of the street and park there. Follow the short nature trail ahead for the next 10 minutes. Follow any of the trails at forks, as each will lead to the destination. You should end up at the top of the pools, which flows impressively during the rainy season. In the heart of the village, and in the southern mountain foothills, this hidden gem is a hot spot for locals looking to cool off. Feel free to explore the river downstream and plunge into the series of refreshing pools to escape the heat. Retrace your footsteps to get back to your car when you've had your fill of outdoor fun.
For the last set of Merizo marvels, drive back down to the main road on Route 4 and turn right. In less than a minute, you'll find Merizo Pier on your left. This is the center of village life, where families spend their weekends and fishermen fill their nets. Take a thrilling leap off the pier into the crystal-clear, cool waters below, and soak in the natural splendor of the Cocos Lagoon. You can see Cocos Island about two miles off the coast of Merizo, a mile-long resort area that features fun water activities for a price.
A ferry service just before the pier rounds up to about $25 for island residents and includes a basic lunch buffet. The tickets for tourists and other visitors are $40 per adult and $20 per child. While the facility of the resort appears run-down and definitely dated, the resort's activities showcase some fun in the sun. You can kayak, Jet Ski, parasail, snorkel and explore the jungles of the offshore island – all at a pretty expensive price, of course. An interesting item to check out while there is the local population of ko'ko' birds, or the Guam rail, which were released on the island in 2011. This is the only place on Guam you can find these native birds living in the wild. All in all, if you can afford the activities to round out the experience, visiting the resort is something different to do down south.
For local fare, stop by any one of the many stands along the main village road for pickled cucumber, papaya, mango, radish (daigo) and other specialties! There is also the Fish & Bull restaurant near Merizo Pier, where you can enjoy American and seafood delights for a decent price (considering we're down south).
Next on our southern stroll is the island's smallest village of Umatac, a center of CHamoru history where remnants of Spanish colonization still stand today. The village gets its name from the CHamoru word "uma," which means "to carry" or "bear on one's shoulders."
The spots to visit in Umatac include Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, the Umatac Bridge towers, Umatac Bay and three breathtaking overlooks.
Follow Route 4 from Merizo southbound to Umatac, which is reached after passing Toguan Bay, before a steep uphill climb. Let's first stop by Fort Soledad. After climbing the hill, pass Jesus A. Quidachay Street on your right, and then prepare to turn left onto Soledad Drive on your left, as you slope downhill. Drive to the roundabout and park. This Spanish-era fort was constructed in the early 1800s, and is one of the more well-known and intact Spanish fortifications that remain. With sweeping views of the coastal village below, the fort was used to protect the Spanish's main entry point from about 200 feet above Umatac Bay. There are three reproduced Spanish canons at the fort, painting a scene of what the fort might have looked like back in the day. A small Spanish watchtower, in addition to a crumbling fortification near the entrance, is what remains of the once-formidable fort. Two other Spanish forts are located at the mouth of Umatac Bay and on hilltops to the north of the village, but little remains of them.
The Umatac Bridge towers located in the heart of the village are down the street from the fort and can't be missed since motorists will pass directly under them. These Spanish-style towers are not from the Spanish era, but were built in the 1980s under Gov. Ricardo Bordallo's administration as part of construction made to replace the original metal bridge structure. The Guam Preservation Trust and Department of Public Works restored the towers in 2017. Visitors can climb a spiral staircase to reach a walkway at the top that lends superior views of the immediate village area and highway.
On your way out of the village, you'll pass the San Dionisio Catholic Church and a village mom and pop store. As you make the sharp curve leaving the main village area, you'll begin to ascend a steep hill. Turn right a little after making it to the top and you'll find the Guam Veterans Memorial, which pays tribute to the island's Vietnam War causalities with a bird's-eye view of Umatac and the southern mountains.
As you head northbound on Route 2, you'll pass another overlook on your right with another perspective of the monumental mountain rang, along with its rolling green foothills and palm tree groves. On a rainy day, mile-long waterfalls will run down the nooks and crannies of the mountains amid mist and clouds, rendering a truly tropical paradise. You'll notice the peak of Mount Jumullong Manglo, the island's second-highest peak, to your right coming up. This mountaintop is adorned with wooden crosses carried up by the island's Catholic community as part of an annual Good Friday trek during Holy Week. Directly across the base of Mount Jumullong Manglo is the Cetti Bay Overlook, where you can see much of the island's remote southwest coast, and one of the most pristine bay areas protected as part of the Territorial Seashore Park preserve. About a mile up the sloping streets is the Sella Bay Overlook – another viewpoint showcasing the vibrant scenes of an isolated island landscape.
For local fare, there's usually a few pickle stands set up throughout the village: one at Fort Soledad; another just before the Umatac Bridge towers; and the last one off the shoulder of the sharp turn heading out of the village, toward Agat.
Entering the village of Agat, we leave behind much of the rural south and enjoy one of the more developed southern villages. The village name may have derived from different CHamoru words, including "aga," which refers to the caw of the Marianas Crow – a bird native to the island – or even "håga," meaning blood.
There are three spots to check out in Agat, including the Taleyfac Spanish Bridge, Ga'an Point/Nimitz Beach and Apaca Point.
The Taleyfac Spanish Bridge is located along the main highway on the left side of the road and just after the Old Spanish Bridge Market. The bridge was built during the latter part of the Spanish era in the late 1800s and has a historic stone arch that crosses the Taleyfac River. Worn and weathered over time, the bridge was restored in 2012 by the Guam Preservation Trust and the Department of Public Works.
Less than a minute past the bridge is Ga'an Point, also known as Nimitz Beach. This area was part of the initial landing site for U.S. forces reclaiming Guam during World War II. Today it's a popular beach park with multiple pavilions perfect for picnics. There are occasionally paddlers practicing in the nearby waters.
A few minutes north on our southern stroll, buildings will begin to line the highway as traffic flows in and out of the main village area.
Apaca Point is at the other end of the village, a gorgeous getaway where you can see much of the Agat coastline and shimmering Philippine Sea. After crossing a bridge and leaving the immediate village area, prepare to turn left onto Shoreline Drive, abruptly before continuing on the main highway. Apaca Point will be located on your left, hidden by jungle brush. The area is part of the Pacific National Historical Park. There are still Japanese WWII fortifications at the site, including pillboxes built into the shelf of the rocky coastline. A hidden gem in Agat, the area also boasts natural beauty as a spot to catch the sunset.
For local fare, visit the Marina Grill, located at the marina a few minutes past Ga'an Point/Nimitz Beach. For great prices, they offer a full bar and serve fresh seafood and other island delights inspired by the region. Also check out Pop's Bakery, a popular pastry business in the southern village located in the heart of the village. Traveling northbound on Route 2, turn right at the traffic light and you'll find the bakery on your left.
The last stop on our trip down south is Santa Rita. The village name is one of two on island that doesn't have roots in the CHamoru language, referring to the Spanish name of Saint Rita, its patron saint.
The village is also one that doesn't have ancient roots as one of Guam's original settlements. The people of Santa Rita are originally from Sumay, in nearby Orote Peninsula. However, members of the Sumay community were evicted from their homes by the U.S. Navy after World War II, and moved to the newly designated village area of Santa Rita, which was formerly farmland.
A great spot in Santa Rita to check out is Namo Falls Tropical Garden, a series of two medium-sized waterfalls flowing along the Namo River. The falls are jointly offered as part of a tour that also features a large botanical garden, where you can see hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, bamboo and coconut trees, among other unique flora and fauna. The privately owned trail is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and cost $5 for adult entry.
For local fare, checkout the Sumay Pub & Grill for burgers, fries, beer and other American treats. The joint is open 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.