Our group of five divers clung to a reef, peering above the protective rocks and boulders for a glimpse of a sea creature, one whose shadow would cover us all as it swept by flapping huge wings. A strong tidal current was trying to rip us from our attachments out to sea just a few hundred yards away. We shuffled around the coral ridges seeking more protection from the current.
Finally, a shadow appeared 20 feet (6 m) above us in the murky Mi’l Channel waters, and the giant Manta Ray swam by without even noticing us. Rulers of the underwater empire in this area of the South Pacific, the Manta sightings on the islands of Yap, southwest of Guam, are famed.
At times, the heavyweight Mantas will pass close enough to touch and stare curiously at the divers. At other times, the gentile giants are difficult to see in roily waters from a storm on an outgoing tide. The legendary Mantas and the miles upon miles of unspoiled reefs are only some of the island’s attractions. The unique gigantic stone money and the friendly people are other features that make this isolated spot in the Micronesian Islands worth long distance travel.
Diving is perhaps the main tourist attraction here. Yap Divers, Yap’s first full service professional dive operation, was founded in 1989 and has since attracted scuba divers from all over the world. Overall, you can choose from about 30 dive sites, the best being Yap Caverns, Gilman Wall, Lionfish Wall, Valley of the Rays and Sharks Canyons.
There are many reefs still waiting to be discovered in the 134 islands that make up Yap. There are also great snorkeling spots around Yap that are accessible from land or by small boat, if the waters are clear and undisturbed by rainy weather. Since waters inside the reef are privately owned, it is necessary to obtain permission before getting wet on some of the beautiful reefs.
Fishing for mahi mahi, tuna and wahoo is popular with some visitors. Two sportfishing charter operations exist, offering expeditions on a regular basis.
Kayaking the fringing reef is becoming ever more popular in Yap. But you should also try mountain biking, hiking on ancient, centuries-old stone paths, or visiting the Stone Money Banks on the islands.
The Stone Money for which Yap is famous consists of huge round disks of solid stone rock than can weigh hundreds of pounds. Since most of the rock found on Yap is shale, the Yapese would canoe the 360 miles (579 km) southwest to Palau to quarry the volcanically uplifted limestone created from ancient coral reefs. The tougher the voyage, the higher the stone value.
These massive “wheels” are usually displayed side by side in a sort of outdoor “money bank” at one of the islands’ thatched-roof villages to denote wealth or status. Men’s Houses—stately structures found in many villages that are much like a private clubhouse—stand beside the banks alongside the stone money that seems un-moveable.
Today, Yap’s currency is the U.S. dollar, but the stone money can still be used amongst the natives for traditional exchange for purchase of land or inside village ceremonies.
Since Yap basically opened for tourists only in 1989, the secluded culture has not changed a lot. Many natives still wear traditional garb. Some men wear bright loin cloths and women wear grass skirts and leis and dance topless at their ceremonies and events (and in some cases, in everyday life). Village tours, dancing presentations and the handicraft of Yap highlight a good visit.
Geographically, Yap belongs to the Western Caroline Islands, while politically, it is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. Consisting of several isles and 22 sparsely populated atolls covering over 100,000 square miles (25,000 km²) of water, Yap is made up of a total land mass of only 46 square miles (119 km²), a little more than 38 miles (61 km) of which makes up Yap proper.
Four volcanic islands form the majority of Yap, including Rumung, Maap, Gagil-Tomil and Yap Island itself. Yap and Gagil-Tomil are separated by a canal finished during the German administration around the early 1900s.
At that time, Germany had just purchased Yap from Spain in 1899, only to lose the colony after WWI when it was administered by the League of Nations, a United Nation precursor. In 1920, Yap came under Japanese mandate before the U.S. was granted Trusteeship by the United Nations in 1947.
It wouldn’t be until November 3, 1986, that Yap gained independence.
Yap has several cross-island waterways, inlets and channels and an extensive shoreline, and the 600-foot (182 m) Tabywol Mountain. On Maap, although much of the land is rugged and hilly, lush pockets of vegetation are visible in every direction. Red clay valleys and ridges are distinctive to Gagil-Tomil.
The average temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27º Celsius) on Yap varies little throughout the year. Rainfall averages 120 inches (3 m) a year and is seasonal; heavy rains occur during summer months. The transitional months of May, June and November are peak typhoon season.
Since the temperatures in Yap are moderate and fairly constant, lightweight clothing and very casual attire is always acceptable. For women, lightweight cotton dresses, blouses and skirts are acceptable attire. However, it is considered highly offensive for women to bare their thighs in public, such as wearing short shorts, bikinis or mini-skirts (unless diving or sunbathing).
Nearly all the land in Yap is privately owned. This includes stone paths, yards, coconut groves and beaches. Picture taking of Yapese generally requires their permission.
Although Yapese, Ulithian, Woleian and Satawalese are the four indigenous languages in Yap, English is the official language. Electricity is identical to the U.S.
You may not see the style and luxury that can be found on other larger islands, but the intriguing attractions of Yap will make your jaunt to Micronesia unforgettable.
If You Go
For general information on Yap, contact Yap Visitors Bureau, Bldg. #1, YVB Main Dr., Colonia, Yap FM 96943, Western Caroline Islands or call 691-350-2298. Where to StayFor more information on the island’s best accommodations, contact Traders Ridge Resort, phone toll free 877-657-4695 or 691-350-6000, Fax 691-350-4279 or write P.O. Box B, Colonia, Yap FSM 96943; email to Tradersridge@mail.fm or visit the website at www.tradersridgeresort.com.
For information on the diving, contact Yap Divers at 691-350-2300, visit their website at www.mantaray.com or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.