Stretched out across the Pacific Ocean forming a gorgeous necklace, is a world-famous tropical paradise of the Marshall Islands. Officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), this Micronesian located north of the equator between Hawaii and Australia, is a nation of emerald-green atolls and islands which form two vast parallel chains scattered over 750,000 square miles of the Central Pacific. The two chains the Ratak (sunrise chain) and Ralik (sunset chain) encompass 29 atolls and 5 individual islands totaling about 1,225 islands and 870 reef systems.
Contrary to the high volcanic islands which are common in Micronesia, there is no island with a particularly high altitude (the highest point is only 32 ft above the sea level). The most interesting thing about this archipelago is its underwater world, with 180 species of coral, 27 sea mammal species (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and all existing sea turtle’s species. Divers also will be able to explore WWII shipwrecks like the USS Saratoga—the world’s only dive-able aircraft carrier and the biggest dive-able wreck in the world. In addition to the colorful reefs, endless golden beaches, crystal clear seas and secluded lagoons, non-divers can enjoy scenic boat rides and even bird-watching trips between the atolls, as well as learn all about the history and people of the Marshall Islands; the Marshallese, at the Alele Museum.
The long-isolated Marshallese is known throughout the Pacific and the world for their friendly and peaceful nature. They boast a proud culture called Manit, which revolves around family, co-operation, and warm hospitality. Marshallese have known for a long time how to adapt to the environment on their island, and their culture is mostly based on activities linked to the sea. Apart from being a skilled seafaring people who know fishing and navigating, they are a thoroughly multicultural. Some Marshallese has American, German, or Japanese ancestry in addition to their Indigenous culture. Many residents understand and/or speak English, which has become a lingua franca in the west-central Pacific. All residents speak Marshallese, an Austronesian language that shares numerous affinities with other Pacific languages, particularly those of eastern Micronesia. One important word in Marshallese is “yokwe,” pronounced “yawk-way.” —used for hello, goodbye, and love. Literally translated, it means, “you are a rainbow,” which may be the most beautiful greeting in any language, ever.
History in the Marshall Islands leans toward the dark and sobering time. During World War II, when the country served as a Japanese base, Allied forces bombed the outer islands for 75 straight days. When the war ended and the islands were conceded to U.S. control, the nuclear testing began. From 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 atomic bombs on the islands—the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima’s a day for 12 years. In 1977, as a temporary measure to contain some of the radioactive material left behind from the bomb explosions, the U.S. Army bulldozed more than 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris into an atomic blast crater on the atoll’s Runit Island at the northwestern end of the Ralik chain and capped it with hundreds of 18-inch-thick concrete slabs. From a Google Earth perspective, the massive dome, sometimes called the “Cactus dome” or “the Tomb,” looks like something out of science fiction, and completely out of place against the expanse of paradise around it. While many of the other islands are inhabited and pleasant places to visit, Runit Island and several other islands will be uninhabited for an exceptionally long time and are off-limits to tourism (and even to locals) due to US military presence or the residue of nuclear testing, but Runit Island itself is considered too remote to be guarded, so anyone can visit by boat.
Majuro, the capital, and the largest city of the Marshall Islands is the most developed atoll with a thriving commercial and administrative center. Though still pretty laid-back the atoll is spread over 64 tiny islands and contains half of the Marshall Islands’ population (about 35,000 residents), as well as most of the country’s tourism infrastructure. Majuro atoll consists of extremely narrow land masses. The wide blue ocean is visible from all points on this island, and the huge lagoon located at the center of a ring of small islands features amazing coral formations. It is fascinating to be able to walk from the lagoon side to the ocean side within minutes. In some areas, such as the road to the major population centre of Delap – where the government buildings and several large shops are located – the capital only consists of a single two-lane paved road with houses on either side. Majuro offers travelers diving and fishing, a cultural museum, a variety of cuisine, entertaining nightlife and is the perfect “home base” while visiting the outer islands where the real tropical wonders are to be found. For the most part, the outer islands are flawless freckles of paradise, though some have witnessed the horrors of nuclear testing.
The Marshall Islands are undoubtedly a diving hotspot, with numerous traveler enthusiasts skipping the capital altogether and heading for a spot of nature diving among wrecks from World War II at Rongelap, an atoll of the so-called four nuclear-affected atolls; the other three are Bikini, Enewetak, and Utrok. Rongelap is historically notable for its close proximity to US hydrogen bomb tests in 1954, and was particularly devastated by fallout from the conducted nuclear test with code named Bravo on Bikini atoll in the northern Marshall Islands. Despite the gloomy history, Rongelap atoll currently boasts a host of modern-day facilities to accommodate tourists and other visitors to the island.
Diving is also immensely popular activity at Bikini atoll. Around the atoll, some 23 nuclear devices were detonated in tests by the US in the reef, inside the atoll, by air and even underwater. Divers can go on guided tours to explore the history of nuclear testing, while UNESCO has declared Bikini a World Heritage Site for the fact the remaining, direct tangible evidence of nuclear testing. This unique dive location also features the most important collection of WW2 shipwrecks anywhere on earth.
The tropical Marshall Islands have two main seasons: the dry season and the wet season. Visitors wanting to skip the excessive rain and humidity should avoid the Marshall Islands rainy season, which starts in May and extends into November. October and November are the islands’ wettest months, while July and August are the hottest. Scuba divers, however, will experience calmer water conditions during the rainy season. The Marshall Islands dry season, from December to April, brings both the driest and coolest climate. Northeast trade winds are at their chilliest during the dry months.