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  • Writer's pictureBy Pacific Island Times News Staff

CNMI all set for Tinian pepper festival; signature event draws local tourists

Saipan--Foreign tourists may not be around to partake in the CNMI's first biggest event this year, but local residents-- emerging from last year's Covid lockdown -- are eager to fly and set sail to Tinian for the annual pepper festival this weekend.

Star Marianas Air has announced it will extend its normal hours of operation during the 17th Annual Tinian Hot Pepper Festival on Feb. 13-14. In addition, limited ferry service will also be available.

The festival is a signature event organized by jointly by the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) and Tinian Mayor’s Office.

On Feb. 12-14, Star Marianas scheduled flights will be extended by four hours, with the last flights leaving Tinian at 9:30 p.m. Flights will leave Saipan hourly at the top of the hour (starting at 8 a.m.) and leave Tinian at the bottom of the hour (starting at 8:30 a.m.).

The ferry is available on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, departing Saipan at 10 a.m. and departing Tinian at 8 p.m. on both days. The Super Emerald ferry will depart from the Commonwealth Ports Authority dock in Lower Base, Saipan. Passengers must check in one hour before departure. Departure time is prompt but may change based on ocean conditions.

Ferry round trip cost is $40 for ages 3 and older. For one way, the cost is $20 for ages 3 and older. The ferry is free for children ages 0-2. Advance ticket purchase is required and will be accommodated on a first come, first served basis. Ticket purchases may be made at the MVA Office in Saipan. Cash payments only will be accepted.

Due to capacity restrictions, Pika 50K Bike Race participants only with proof of registration will have a reserved ferry to Tinian on Feb. 12. A series of health safety measures recommended by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and Covid-19 Task Force will be implemented at the festival.


The Department of Public Safety will manage the entry of and take the temperature of all attendees at the festival site who will be issued a wristband once cleared each day handwashing stations will be installed around the event area, and attendees are required to wear face masks. Clear shields will be installed at all booths to prevent direct contact between vendors and customers. Tent seating will be six feet apart by family or group.

The festival will be held from 4-11 p.m. on Feb. 13 and from 4-11 p.m. on Feb. 14. The Pika 50K Bike Race at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 13, funded by the Tinian Mayor’s Office, with cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in several categories. Bikers may contact Dawn Sarmiento at or 1.670.287.3667 to register.

“We’re pleased to announce the extension of festival hours up until 11 p.m. on both nights, and we thank both Star Marianas and the Commonwealth Ports Authority for making the extended flight hours possible,” said MVA Managing Director Priscilla M. Iakopo. “We hope visitors to Tinian will choose to stay overnight and perhaps enjoy some camping while they’re there.”

The festival, affectionately knowns as “Pika Fest” among locals (“pika” means spicy), pays homage to Tinian’s small but famous “donne sali” hot pepper.

Activities will include food sales, live entertainment, competitions, arts and crafts sales, and more. The 18th Tinian Municipal Council will co-sponsor prizes for the male and female categories of the crowd- favorite hot pepper eating contest. Other competitions will include “estafao pika” (spicy stew) cooking, cha-cha, tug-of-war, “umang” (hermit crab) race, sack race, and a home-made canoe race.

The Tinian Hot Pepper Festival will be held at the Fiesta Grounds in San Jose, Tinian, adjacent to Kammer Beach. Limited hotel accommodations are available at Tinian Ocean View, Lorilynn’s Hotel, Tinian Street Motel, Fleming Hotel, Green Lion House Hotel, and the Marpo Valley Inn.

Free camping is available at Kammer Beach, Taga Beach (toilets, barbecue pits, and outdoor showers available) and at the adjacent Tachogna Beach (toilets, barbecue pits, and indoor showers available).

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