The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) forms a chain of 14 volcanic islands: Agrihan, Alamagan, Anatahan, Asuncion, Farallon De Medinilla, Farallon De Pajaros (Uracas), Guguan, Maug (three islands), Pagan, Rota, Saipan, Sarigan and Tinian stretching over 375 miles north to south, with a land area of 181 square miles.

There are three major inhabited islands, but most live on Saipan.

For additional information see the following essays and publications.

The total land area of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, (CNMI), is 176.5 square miles. This is an area about equal in size to that of Barbados or the Seychelles. The CNMI 14 island chain extends about 400 nautical miles (460 statute miles)  from the island of Rota in the south to the most northern island of Farallon De Pajaros. There are no cities in the Northern Marianas as normally considered nor is the term "town" usually applied to the island's congested areas. Rather the urbanized areas are usually referred to as villages or communities and none are incorporated with fixed, surveyed boundaries. Each of the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota are separate municipalities.

     Saipan is about 12.5 miles long and 5.5 miles wide and has a total land area of 46.5 square miles  which is about the size of San Francisco. Saipan is slightly larger than Hong Kong but smaller than the District of Columbia.  Saipan is four and one half times smaller than Guam, 120 miles south, and in 1990 had about one third the population of that U.S.territory. Mt. Tapotchau  on Saipan at 1,554 feet is the highest point. The measurement from the floor of the Marianas Trench to the crest of Mount Tapotchau is  37,752 feet or 7.15 statute miles, (from sea level Mount Everest measures 29,028 feet ). Saipan's  54 mile coast line is irregular except on the western side where there is a fringing reef.  A large part of the island is public land.  Saipan has 14 miles of beach.  Of the 8 communities on Saipan, Garapan and Chalan Kanoa  may be considered the principal urbanized areas. 

Rota is approximately 10.5 miles long and 3 miles wide with a 38.3 mile coastline encompassing an area of 32.8 square miles.  The 
highest elevation is Mt. Manira at 1,625 feet.The principal community is Songsong. 

       Tinian is approximately 10.5 miles long by 5 miles at its widest point and has a total area of 39.2 square miles and a coastline 38 miles in length. The highest point, Puntan Carolinas, is 583 feet above sea level. The principal community is San Jose. A large portion  of Tinian 
has been leased to the U.S. military.

       The Northern Islands, consists of 10 islands with a combined  land area of  55.3  square miles.  With the exception of Pagan, site of an active volcano, the remaining smaller northern islands are either uninhabited or have extremely small populations. The island of Aguijan, south of Tinian, is uninhabited and has an area of 2.7 square miles. 

    The Mariana Archipelago, situated in the western Pacific, is the eastern boundary of the Philippine Sea.      The Commonwealth is about as far away from the U. S. west coast as, for example, Washington, D. C. is from Cairo, Egypt. Since the International Date Line is between Hawaii and the Mariana Islands, as a consequence of this geography, at no time do normal business hours on the United States east coast coincide with those of the Commonwealth. 

Indeed, telephone communication with the U.S. west coast and Hawaii, when conducted during normal business hours and work days, can only take place 4 days a week or between Tuesday and Friday (from the CNMI ), Monday to Thursday  (from the U. S.).      While the islands are a western oriented culture, they are situated in the Eastern Hemisphere and are about as far west of the United States as one can get and still remain under the flag. They are as distant as Tokyo or Melbourne and about the same distance north of the equator as 
Manila. The Mariana Islands are 9 time zones west of Washington D.C.; 6 zones west of San Francisco and 4 zones west of Honolulu. To provide some appreciation of the size of the Pacific, the flying time between Saipan and Honolulu is more than seven hours. This portion of the Pacific alone is greater in distance than that of the Atlantic Ocean between the United States east coast and Europe.


The Northern Mariana Islands are located  at 15 degrees 12 minutes North Latitude, 145 degrees – 45 minutes East Longitude.

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      The climate is tropical marine, hot and humid. The Marianas enjoy a tropical oceanic climate characterized by relative high and uniform 
temperatures. The annual mean temperature is 83 degrees Fahrenheit (F.). The seasonal variation in mean monthly temperature is less than 3.5 degrees F.  However, temperature is affected by elevation; hence, the islands of Saipan and Rota show considerably greater temperature variations between the coastal and mountainous areas.  Humidity is very high with monthly averages between 79 and 86 percent but fresh breezes provide a measure of comfortable relief. The Commonwealth is situated some 600 miles east of an area in the western Pacific which is the breeding area of cyclonic disturbances.  As a result the Commonwealth is in what is known as weather condition four at all times which means that 40 mile an hour winds are possible within 72 hours. These cyclonic disturbances can quickly and sometimes unexpectedly develop into typhoon force winds of 120 miles per hour or greater. 

       The months of greatest humidity are July to November. The mean annual rainfall is approximately 83.8 inches, but rainfall varies from 
year to year. Sometimes the islands experience droughts generally during the period from December through June.  Some rain does occur during the dry season.  The wet season is from July through October.


See the latest National Weather Service satellite image (JPG)

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The CNMI flag is blue with a white five-pointed star superimposed on the gray silhouette of a latte stone in the center, surrounded by a wreath.



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The population of the CNMI is about the size of many communities in rural America.  With a large percentage under the age of 15 years and with a lesser number over 65 years of age, there are not enough people to fill available jobs. 

      The 1995 census recorded a total population in the CNMI  of 58,846 for an increase of 37.8 percent over the 1990 population of 43,345. 
Saipan registered 89.5 percent of those recorded while Tinian and Rota represented 4.5 and 6.0 percent respectively. Over the five year period between 1990 and 1995 the average annual growth was equal to 7.1 percent per year. Over the 15 year period since the 1980 census which enumerated 16,780 persons, the population has increased 250.7 percent or by an average of 16.7 percent annually. Unprecedented economic growth and the concomitant necessity for nonresident workers accounts for the large increase in population. 

      People of Chamorro or Carolinian ethnicity represent 34.3 percent of the 1995 total.  The Chamorro and Carolinian population combined
increased by 22.4 percent  from 17,181 in 1990 to 20,161 in 1995. The breakdown of the population in descending order is as follows: Filipino 
– 19,868, (33.75%); Chamorro – 17,120 (29.1%); Chinese – 6,837, (11.6%);  Micronesian – 4,818, (8.2%); Carolinian – 3,041, (5.2%); Korean – 2,325 (3.95%); White – 2,013, (3.4%);   Japanese – 1,047, (1.8%) and all others – 1,777, (3.0%). The only group that registered a decline over the past five years was the Korean segment which dropped 9.57 percent from that recorded in 1990. 

     United States citizens totaled 27,489 – (46.7%); non U. S. citizen permanent  residents,   – 3,405 – (5.8 %); temporary residents, (non U. S. citizens) – 27,952 – (47.5 %). 

     The average daily visitor population is not included in the above.     The islands now sustain the largest population since the war years 
of 1944 when, for a brief period the temporary population reached a total of 108,065 but declined daily as a result of hostilities.


Christianity: Roman Catholic is the main religion.Christianity was first brought here by the spanish who ruled the islands for almost 4 centuries (1521-1899).Churches can be found throughout Saipan Tinian & Rota.


The U.S. Dollar is the official currency. All major Credit Cards, Japanese Yen and  Korean Won are also accepted in most tourist oriented businesses. Both American and Asian banks can be found in the CNMI.


The official languages are: English, Chamorro, Carolinian, but Japanese and Korean are also spoken at most tourist oriented businesses. 
86% of the population speaks a language other than English at home.


In 1997 the Commonwealth's economy registered 4,257 licensed businesses which functioned between two economic forces.  As  a political entity affiliated with the United States, a  thriving U. S. economy and a strong dollar is desired when Americans travel abroad, but, the reverse is true with respect to the Commonwealth’s tourism based economy since a strong dollar erodes the competitiveness of the area's Japanese based tourist industry there-by making the islands more expensive for the visitor when an increasing amount of yen is required 
to purchase the dollar. Until 1998 sixty one percent (61%) of the visitors to the Northern Marianas where Japanese;22 percent Korean; 12 
percent U. S. citizens with the remaining 5 percent consisting of all others. As a result of the financial crisis in Asia visitors entries have been in decline. 

     Business gross revenue for other sectors of the economy was as follows: 1995 – construction: $117.5 million for an increase of 39 percent over the $84.4 million reported in ‘94; retail:  increased 45 percent over 1994 to $502.8 million; hotels up 57 percent in 1995 to 
$171 million; wholesale: increased 33 percent over 1994 to $167.5 million in 1995 with all other activities climbing 90 percent over ‘94
to over $1.0 billion for a grand total of reported business gross revenue in 1995 of $2.26 billion. 

     The current minimum wage in the Commonwealth is $3.05 per hour ( as of July 1, 1997) for all sectors of the economy. Per capita income increased 198 percent between 1980 and 1990 from $2,418 to $7,199 and declined by 3 percent between 1990 and 1995 to $6,984. This decline is attributed to an increase in the number of minimum wage, non resident workers primarily in the garment industry.This industry reported business gross revenue of $286.9 million in 1995 for an increase of 14.6 percent over 1994’s total of $250.3 million. Wages paid by this industry in 1995 totaled $73 million. 

     The work force increased 33.7 percent from 25,965 in 1990 to 34,723 in ‘95 while nonresident work permits (new, renewal and transfers) 
increased 22 percent to 28,829 in 1995. Wages and salaries in 1995 totaled $464.8 million for an increase of 12 percent over 1990. Within 
the banking and finance sector  year end deposits of $425 million registered a modest gain of 3.3 percent at the conclusion of 1995 while 
loans of $200 million were up 8 percent over those at the end of 1994.

The CNMI Guide would like to thank Mr. William H. Stewart for providing the information and the maps used in these pages.