Yap’s Outer Islands

If I had to vote on which place I’ve visited is closest to paradise it would be a close call between Vanuatu and Yap State‘s Outer Islands in Micronesia. Yap Island itself is a tiny speck of land amid the blue of the Pacific Ocean, 2000km east of the Philippines. A further 250km east takes the rare traveler to the unimaginably remote outer island of Fais, area 2.6 sq km and populaton 200. A further 500km would take you to the even remoter Ifalik and a further 500km… well, you get the picture. The Outer Islands are spread out over a vaste swathe of the Pacific and are home to some of the most isolated people on the planet. Islanders, who dress only in a piece of cloth wrapped around their waists, bathe every day in see-through turqoise waters off white-sand, palm-lined beaches. They drink more coconut juice than water and go fishing in traditional dugout canoes. Their diet consists of a delicious, multi-coloured array of tropical fish along with regular meals of lobster, octopus, shark and turtle.

The classroom on Fais, the Outer Islands, Yap State, Micronesia

The classroom on Fais, the Outer Islands, Yap State, Micronesia

For those lucky enough to make it to the Outer Islands there is little to see and do other than get to know the islanders, swim and wander around.

Getting from Yap to the Outer Islands is complicated. In theory a passenger boat does a 3-week round trip once a month, stopping at every island, so you could get off on one island and wait for the boat on its return leg. Be warned, no islands have shops, tourist facilities or accommodation (other then westernmost Ulithi) so bring a tent and food supplies, although locals are very friendly and will likely help you out as much as possible. Perhaps the most interesting island to visit is Ifalik, which is extremely isolated and where islanders have retained a lot of their original animistic religion. The ship is, however, often under repair and sometimes does not sail for months on end. Call 691-350-2403 to find out the latest schedule.

The Outer Islands of Ulithi, Fais and Woleai have small airstrips where a 9-man missionary plane can land. Pacific Missionary Aviation (PMA) on Yap Island services Ulithi most often, Fais next most and Woleai more rarely. Circumstances, however, can easily cause them to cancel at the last minute. If you are going to try then you should probably have a few weeks spare in Yap to allow for this, or else book all 9 seats on the plane. You must also get in touch with the Yap Visitor’s Bureau and inform them of any plans to visit the Outer Islands before you go.

If flying to Woleai there is also the opportunity to travel to other nearby Outer Islands such as Ifalik by boat, either by paying someone to take you or, if you are very lucky, by hitching a lift!

Getting to Ulithi is much easier these days than getting to any of the other Outer Islands as there is now a very expensive diving resort on one of the Ulithi islands. It has the advantage over other Outer Islands that you will definitely be able to get there, but the disadvantages that it is expensive and that locals are reportedly somewhat less friendly and traditional than on other Outer Islands such as Fais.

If traveling to any of the Outer Islands make sure to bring with you plenty of food including a large bag of rice, plenty of betel nut and plenty of newspapers, which the islanders use to roll cigarettes from some local herbs. No one will charge you for staying on the islands (other than Ulithi) so it’s a great idea to bring these few realtively cheap, extremely useful and very hard to get gifts for them.

Click here for my blog about Yap and its Outer Islands. It’s 9248 words and 26 photos.

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