From the World Heritage inscription for Nan Madol:
Nan Madol is a series of more than 100 islets off the southeast coast of Pohnpei that were constructed with walls of basalt and coral boulders. These islets harbor the remains of stone palaces, temples, tombs and residential domains built between 1200 and 1500 CE. These ruins represent the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty, a vibrant period in Pacific Island culture. The huge scale of the edifices, their technical sophistication and the concentration of megalithic structures bear testimony to complex social and religious practices of the island societies of the period. The site was also inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to threats, notably the siltation of waterways that is contributing to the unchecked growth of mangroves and undermining existing edifices.
Overview of Nan Madol
Nan Madol is one of the most fascinating and significant places in the Pacific. I first visited Nan Modal in 2007 as I began my around the world trip. However, it took until 2016 to be placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site is extremely deserving of world heritage status and years it was number one on my list of places which should have been world heritage sites.
The site has been called “the Venice of the Pacific” because it is a network of small islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. In fact, the name Nan Modal means “spaces between” which references the canals. Most of the islands have a structure which can best be described as a log cabin built with basalt rocks. Geologic testing shows that many of the rocks were brought from other islands to Pohnpei, and it hasn’t been positively determined how they were transported.
The structures were used both as dwellings and as burials sites.
How to Get There
The hard part about visiting Nan Madol is getting to the island of Pohnpei. Micronesia gets very few visitors as it is far away from any major population center, and there is only really one way to get to the island. The only way to get to the island is via the “island hopper” flight which is run by United Airlines. It starts in Honolulu and stops at islands in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia on the way to Guam three days a week. It alternates going Guam to Honolulu the other days of the week.
There are no major hotels or resorts on Pohnpei, so you will likely be staying in lodging which would be the equivalent of a 2-star hotel or a motel.
I arrived at the site by boat on a day long boat tour of the Pohnpei lagoon. You can also arrive by car, but there is a hike involved to get from the road to the location. It is approximately a 90-minute drive from the capital city of Palikir.
Expect to pay a few dollars as an entry fee.
What to See
Give yourself at least an hour, if not more, to explore the site. The location isn’t very visitor friendly. There is no visitor center and little to nothing in the way of interpretative material. If possible, hire a guide who can share some of the oral history of the site.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.