Yap, Federated States of Micronesia – Snorkeling with Giant Manta Rays

GUEST ARTICLE: When my husband Rob asked me if I would like to go to the island of Yap my first thought was “Where the heck is it?” and then “What for?”. I soon found out that it is but a wee little island in the Caroline Islands located way out in the western Pacific Ocean in Micronesia. And little is no exaggeration – the island it is only 39 square miles with a small population consisting mainly of native Yapese. Most importantly it boasts some great snorkeling and diving with Giant Manta Rays. Okay! Sold!

We had a hell of a time getting to Yap. We flew in from Honolulu via Guam. Once in Guam we had a 4-hour layover before flying out just after midnight. We touched down in Yap about an hour and forty minutes later. By the time we got our bags, hopped in our hotel shuttle and checked into our room at the ESA Bayview Hotel it was just after 2am (which was 5am according to our Hawaiian clocks – Doh!).

We had a short but good sleep in our big comfy room. The hotel wasn’t fancy but we thought it was great for our 3-night stint. That morning we awoke to a perfect sunny day. We lazily sauntered down for breakfast and were welcomed by a most beautiful sight. Our hotel overlooked a tranquil bay called Chamorro Bay that was surrounded by quaint colorful homes and lush green foliage. The staff were super friendly and the cook whipped up a great breakfast – it was delish!

The day was a scorcher and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend it but in the ocean snorkeling (hopefully) with Mantas. So our hotel set up a tour for us no probs. Just after lunch a small boat from ‘Beyond the Reef’ pulled up to our jetty with our guides Terence and Keoni. They turned out to be pretty awesome guides and were both eager to show us the sights without time constraints. And, even better yet, we were the only guests on the boat!

Mangroves

We cruised past Colonia, which is Yap’s capital and the little town we were staying in. Our destination was to a well-known Manta spot called Mi’l Channel. We had to pass through a beautiful thick mangrove forest and sprawling green countryside. The water was deep blue and once we got through the mangroves and into the reef area it turned into a brilliant mixture of blues and greens.

About an hour later we arrived at Mi’l Channel. Luckily there were no other boats so we had the spot all to ourselves ~ perfect!! We quickly got on our wet suits, not so much for warmth but for protection from the intense sun. The water was just right being a little on the cool side so I was glad we had the suits in the end.

It was a bit windy and the water a little choppy so the water clarity wasn’t the best but our guide Terence said that this made for great conditions for the plankton-eating Mantas. We didn’t have to swim too far before we were told to remain in this one particular spot and wait. Terence said it was a cleaning station for the Mantas and a favorite mating area. We must have only waited a few minutes before we saw our first one.

Snorkeling with Manta Rays

What an incredible majestic creature. With large triangular pectoral fins gently flapping in the water it moved its massive body gracefully over the reef. Its body was like dark velvet with a creamy white underside and had to be at least 14 feet across. It wasn’t too long before we saw our second, then third totaling 9 in all by the end of the day.

We stayed out there for a few hours looking at the Mantas and then explored the giant reef around the area. The corals were amazing! We saw such rich vivid colors and delicate formations. I could have easily stayed out there even longer just soaking up the scenery. Unfortunately it was getting late so we headed back in. The boat ride was actually a bonus because we got to see the gorgeous Yap countryside, which I thought looked even more beautiful blanketed by the warm afternoon sun.

For dinner that night we ate at our little hotel restaurant overlooking the water and had some delicious fresh grilled fish. The atmosphere was so lovely and calm we were really falling in love with Yap. Before bed we booked ourselves in with the same dive / snorkel company for the following morning.

The next day we pretty much had a repeat of our wonderful trip the first time around. But this time we also stopped off a spot called Vertigo where there was a massive drop off. As soon as we pulled up about a half dozen reef sharks stood out like beacons against the stark blue water. They were obviously used to visitors. The visibility there was absolutely amazing, I could see for at least 100 feet easy, great for spotting the sharks! They were a treat to watch, such stealth and beautiful smooth bodies.

Beautiful reef sharks

We got back to our hotel just before lunch and had yet another great meal by our lovely chef at ESA. That afternoon we rented a car from our hotel and cruised around the island. The speed limit there was set at a snails pace but that didn’t matter since there weren’t many roads to drive. It was worth the rental though. We saw some lovely homes with immaculately kept gardens and the town of Colonia was nice and had a good shopping center. Just don’t be surprised if you see topless native women walking about, it’s traditional!

Yap is also known for its ‘stone money,’ also known as Rai. They’re made out of calcite and carved into large smooth engraved discs that can range anywhere from 3.5cm to a massive 4m. Today they are used for traditional or ceremonial exchanges. They are said to have come from as far as New Guinea but mainly from Palau way back in the day. Today though the US dollar is the currency used.

Yap Money (Rai)

We had an excellent time in Yap and we were really glad we put in the effort to get there. Such a beautiful place and culture, we could have easily tacked on a few more days. And we would also recommend our hotel and snorkel/dive company they were all great! We love Yap!

Machalle Gower’s Yap, Federated States of Micronesia Photo Gallery

This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!


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