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Located at 1515'N 14545'E, about 200 km (120 mi) north of Guam, Saipan is about 20 km (12.5 mi) long and 9 km (5.5 mi) wide. The western side of the island has beaches and a coral reef, while the eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs. Its highest point is the extinct volcano Mount Tapochau at 474 m (1,554 ft). Despite an annual rainfall of 80-100", Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, the local government-run water utility company on Saipan, is unable to deliver 24-hour-a-day potable water to its customers. As a result, several of the large hotels use desalination plants to produce fresh water for their customers. Most homes and small businesses have cisterns to store rainwater, unlike Guam which has limestone aquifers.

Spain originally claimed Saipan as part of its claim to the Marianas. Around 1815, many Carolineans from atolls near Chuuk (formerly Truk) settled in Saipan. Saipan was under German rule from 1899 to 1914, when the Japanese took over the island. The Japanese developed both fishing and sugar industries, and in the 1930s garrisoned Saipan heavily, with nearly 30,000 troops on the island by 1941.

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