The Grotto, Saipan
There are no facilities here, other than a solar-powered emergency phone and a well-paved road. However, this is Saipan's BEST dive, and most unique, by far. Access to the dive site is by going down 100 steps into a natural, well-lit cave. (I've got your attention already, haven't I !) From the bottom of the staircase, step over a narrow but fast stream onto a large, teetering rock. Do a giant stride entry, and you will be in 15' deep water facing a 60' deep cavern with 3 separate, brilliantly lit underwater exits. SCUBA out, and you'll always see barracuda & a white tip shark, with frequent visits by napoleon wrasses, rays, and a host of other animals. If you're exceptionally good on air conservation, SCUBA left at 45', and you'll discover "the Bat Cave", a cave entirely underwater & as large as The Grotto. 2 sharks, bubble corals, glowing-eyed cave fishes and pink lace cave corals lie within. Safe for snorkelers within the Grotto, but only a very foolish person would snorkel outside, as re-entry is nearly impossible if you're stuck at the surface.
Extremely good roads and well-marked paths make this Saipan's easiest-to-find shore dive. Drive North, past the "last command post" and "Banzai Cliff" memorial parks, but not as far as Bird Island lookout. If you leave paved road, you've gone past Bird Island, turn back. Watch for a turnoff on this well-paved road, leading LEFT (shoreward), and clearly labeled "The Grotto". Follow this wide, twisty road to a well-paved parking lot with plenty of divers' vehicles. There will be a staircase leading downward, and a banner like sign over the staircase telling you you've arrived at the Grotto.
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04/29/2009 Robert H Hunter (Avg: 3.85 Review) - Dove it last Sunday. One of the best dives I've been on. The light is incredible, the clarity is incredible. Beautiful fan corals, a giant clam, and myriads of sea life set against amazing limestone structures. Did I mention that light? The incredible aqua-blue light that enters through the openings in this large underwater cavern is incredible. The 100 steps back to the top will blow untrained calves for a day, but it is well worth it. Take the return slow. Loved it!
03/25/2008 Tammy (Avg: 4.23 Review) - This site is a must do! Large fish and lots of structure.
02/27/2008 Mark James (Avg: 3.29 Review) - The Grotto is a spectacular dive. Thousands of years ago it was an underwater cave but then part of the roof caved in and made it accessible from shore. It sits on the northern end of Saipan along a very rugged coastline with high cliffs. Stairs have been installed to go down and access the water. The Grotto itself goes down to about 70ft at the bottom, and when you jump in you will see a large area with 3 blue holes that go to the outside wall. You will also see a rope that is anchored on another boulder at about 20ft for people to do a safety stop. As long as you have a flashlight, you could spend an entire dive inside the Grotto looking at various fish and Nudies as well as checking out the resident sharks that call the Grotto home. There are also some swim-throughs to explore as well. To exit the Grotto you just need to go out one of the 3 openings to the wall outside. This can be done at anywhere between 20 to 70 feet depending on which hole you choose. To venture outside you must know your way around or have a guide. As soon as you exit, if you turn around you will have a hard time finding the entrance again as boulders hide it.
The Left Hole: The left hole is called Big Blue and is the largest of the 3. When you go out you will be on a wall that goes straight up to the waves pounding the cliff line, and if you look down you will see the wall goes down and then starts to taper off somewhere between 130-150ft. If you keep going with the wall to your left you will come to the Bat Cave after awhile. The Bat Cave has a very large opening and is a great place to explore with large sea fans and many fish as well as some Eels.
The Middle Hole: The middle hole is the deepest and takes you out to an area with lots of fish and a steep, sloping drop-off. If you go straight out and down to about 90ft you will find a nice swim-through that takes you through a lot of sea fans where you come out at about 110ft. This is the most common area to see Turtles at the Grotto as well as Napoleon Wrasses and other large fish.
The Right Hole: This hole is not used as often because there is more current on this side of the Grotto. When you go out you will find a mooring line on a large boulder, and if you look to the right you will see another large boulder. If you swim to this boulder you will see yet another couple of large boulders at about 100ft. In this area you will almost always see Barracuda as well as other large fish. The deeper you go the more Sea Fans and life you will see on the wall, but care is needed to insure you get back in with plenty of air.
The Exit: The exit can be a bit tricky, as you will be getting out on a flat boulder (Penguin Rock) that is right about water level. Once out you can cross back over to shore and then take your time going back up the 100+ steps to the parking lot.
I know it sounds tough but believe me it is worth it and you will definitely put it down as one of the best dives you've ever done!
11/28/2007 Steve Porter (Avg: 3.46 Review) -
08/22/2004 Seth Bareiss (Avg: 3.30 Review) - A classic must-do dive. The long 100+ step staircase and short hop to the jumping platform are tough on anyone with weak legs. DO NOT allow snorkelers outside the entrance cavern. Reason: if you're without SCUBA gear, it's easy to go out to the open ocean, but near impossible to come back in. Have at least 800psi/70 ATM in your tank when you come back into the main cavern, so you won't short-change the safety stop or get stuck on the surface outside the cavern with no way back in. This site is often divable when the rest of the island is battered by typhoon conditions. Visibility is the best in Saipan-- typically 100' and more. Watch your depth gauge carefully when outside on the deep sea cliff-- it's easy to go too deep without noticing, because of the deceptive water clarity. Expect a school of barracudas outside the right-hand ext, a small whitetip shark ("Otto") in a small cave at 70' between the two main exits, and frequent turtles & napoleons outside the left-hand exit. Lighting is spectacular, particularly in the left-hand exit. Convenient rope & buoy for safety stops. Exit is accomplished by holding a rope and waiting for a wave to sweep you up onto a small level rock shelf-- a bit tough. If you're extremely good on air, investigate the "batcave" about 100 meters to the left of the left-hand exit, out along the seawall. The Grotto, like all Micronesian dives, is best done in the very early morning in order to see the most big animals. This dive is almost, not quite, a religious experience. Of course, it can't compare to anything Palau offers, but is definitely THE dive to do in the Northern Marianas Islands (Guam/Saipan/Tinian/Rota). The place will be mobbed by throngs of Japanese tourist-divers and local dive enthusiasts, between 8am and 5pm. Get there at dawn for the best experience, but even if morning's not your thing... DO the Grotto, if you're ever in the Northern Marianas with a pair of healthy legs. Warning: There's no bathroom & the emergency phone often doesn't work. There have been thefts there, though not many. Most dive vans there will have a cell-phone, if you need it. Saipan DOES NOT HAVE A RECOMPRESSION CHAMBER. The nearest is in Guam, far to the South, so take extra precautions against decompression sickness.
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Submitted by R Storman
Sign at the Grotto dive site.
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Stairs heading to the Grotto.
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Number of reviews for this site: 5