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American Samoa is a modernized, somewhat dilapidated Pacific affair where anthropologists spend their days complaining about the loss of culture and the average tourist marvels at the people's traditional daily life. We recommend swallowing your intellect, ignoring the fact that the Samoan culture now presented to visitors is only marginally representative of Samoan culture half a century ago, instead choosing to enjoy the dancing and music, and the weird cultural quirks, like the painful tatooing of teenage boys.
Swimming is not possible in every square inch of the surrounding Pacific, so make sure the spot you pick is not going to see you battered by the shallow coral reef. Hiking is an activity less developed, but one which affords some rewarding adventures. Mt Alava, outside Pago Pago, has a nice hike to its summit, offering excellent vistas of the island and harbor.
The pre-Western history of Eastern Samoa (now American Samoa) is inextricably bound with the history of Western Samoa (now independent Samoa). The Manu'a Islands of American Samoa have one of the oldest histories of Polynesia, in connection with the Tui Manua title, connected with the histories of the archipelagos of Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Tokelau and elsewhere in the Pacific - all of which had once been under Manua's occupation.
Early Western contact included a battle in the eighteenth century between French explorers and islanders in Tutuila, for which the Samoans were blamed in the West, giving them a reputation for ferocity. Early nineteenth century Rarotongan missionaries to the Samoa islands were followed by a group of Western missionaries led by John Williams of the Congregationalist London Missionary Society in the 1830s, officially bringing Christianity to Samoa.
International rivalries in the latter half of the nineteenth century were settled by the 1899 Tripartite Convention in which Germany and the U.S. divided the Samoan archipelago. The following year, the U.S. formally occupied its portion: a smaller group of eastern islands, one of which surrounds the noted harbor of Pago Pago. Since 1962, the western islands have been an independent nation, adopting the name The Independent State of Samoa in 1997.
American Samoa, located within the geographical region of Oceania, is one of only two possessions of the United States in the Southern Hemisphere, the other being Jarvis Island. Its total land area is 76.1 square miles (197.1 km2) – slightly larger than Washington, D.C. - consisting of five rugged, volcanic islands and two coral atolls. The five volcanic islands are: Tutuila, Aunu'u, Ofu, Olosega, Tau. The coral atolls are: Swains, and Rose Atoll. Of the seven islands, Rose Atoll is an uninhabited Marine National Monument. Due to its positioning in the South Pacific Ocean, it is frequently hit by tropical cyclones between November and April. Rose Atoll is the easternmost point of the territory. American Samoa is the southernmost part of the United States. American Samoa is home to the National Park of American Samoa.
The American Samoa National Park has a lot to offer for those travellers keen on the very best of nature in the world. The shorelines, reefs and rainforest are of outstanding beauty. The park actually is actually divided into three parks on four separate islands! Lata Mountain on Ta’u has wild and remote forests, free-flowing streams, and rugged coastline. It occupies 2,160 hectares of land with highlights including a spectacular escarpment along the southern side and cliffs up to 900 metres high. The the impressive Judds Crater tops things of. To add, the lowlands and rainforests are home to fruit bats and many native birds. Islands like Ofu and Olosega have are a bit different in that they have the most accessible coral reefs and also more and longer white-sanded beaches against a dramatic background. The fourth island, Tutuila even has forests accesible by car and also great wildlife and o course a scenic coastline. Basically, all four islands are actually extinct volcanoes heavily eroded to rugged peaks when the Pacific Plate moved and eruptions from within the earth together made this gift of nature.
Ofu beach is one of the highlights of this island. It is located along the southern coast and is an impressive 4 kilometres long. It boasts fine white sand, palm fringed beaches and turquoise waters as its front garden. These offshore waters are good for viewinig beautiful corals and tropical fish. There are almost 300 species of fish and an estimated 150 species of coral. Excellent for diving and snorkelling. Or just laze around a bit of coursel.
Leone is a village on the island o Tutuila. It used to serve as the Polynesian capital of the island and also was the place where the first missionary, John Williams arrived in 1832. Leone has two fine churches and one of it is actually his work and was the first in American Samoa. This church has three towers and faces the sea, which only adds to its beauty. The well maintained church has stained-glass windows and nice detailed woodwork on the ceilings. Here you will also find a monument paying tribute to the efforts of John Williams.
Each April 17, the people of American Samoa celebrate the day the first United States flag was raised above their territory in 1900. Several homes and offices proudly fly both the Stars and Stripes and American Samoa’s own flag during this lively two-day celebration filled with feasts, parades, cricket matches, and traditional fautasi longboat races. Fagatogo hosts a fun traditional dance and music competition.
American Samoa now owes at least one-quarter of its gross domestic product to tourism, and during the first week in May, the territory celebrates this growing sector of its economy with this lower key equivalent to the Teuila Festival in neighboring Samoa. The festival’s highlight is undoubtedly the annual Miss American Samoa crowning on Utulei Beach, but locals and tourists also enjoy parades, canoe races, fireworks, and barbecues throughout the week.
On July 16, the three tiny Manu’a islands celebrate their 1904 addition to the United States territory of American Samoa with this festival filled with flag raising, church choirs, and traditional Samoan entertainment. Although Olosega, Ofu, and Ta’u can only be reached by boat or air and there is only one major hotel on all three Manu’a islands, those able to make the trip can celebrate among some of American Samoa’s most beautiful coral reefs.
American Samoa has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures hoover around 30 °C degrees Celcius throughout the year and never drop much lower than 23 °C or 24 °C at night. Temperatures are slightly higher during the wetter November to March period and slightly lower between April and October. This last period is the best season to visit as it rains less (but still significantly) and there is almost no chance of hurricanes, which can strik from December to March. Pago Pago is one of the wettest inhabitant places anywhere in the world, so be prepared to get soked sometimes.
Pago Pago International Airport (PPG) is located on Tutuila island and receives all international air traffic.
Polynesian Airlines, Inter-Island Airways and Hawaiian Airlines all serve American Samoa. The first two serve Samoa (Faleolo Airport and Fagalii Airport near Apia), the latter serves Honolulu.
The only option to get to American Samoa by boat is taking the MV Lady Naomi. It operates between the capital of Samoa, Apia, and Pago Pago once a week departing Apia every Wednesday at midnight returning from Pago Pago every Thursday at 3:30pm, taking around 7 hours to complete the journey. Expect rough rides now and then. Although it costs about half compared to a plane ticket, it is rather basic and takes much much longer of course. The return deck/cabin fare from American Samoa is US$75/100 and tickets have to be purchased at least one day in advance from Polynesia Shipping Services.
Inter-Island Airways flies between Pago Pago and the Manu'a island Tau, taking about 30 to 40 minutes.
Car hire is only of use on the island of Tutuila and most international agencies have offices at the airport or Pago Pago. Although it is not the cheapest way of getting around it sure is one of the best. Allow a few days to see the main island.
The island of Tutuila has a good public transportation system with frequent although somewhat unreliable “aiga” or “family” buses. They take you anywhere for a dollar or less. Buses originate and terminate at the market in Fagatogo, near the capital Pago Pago. You can flag one down anywhere and get of the bus anywhere as well.
The American Samoa Inter-Island Shipping Company operates the Manu'a Tele cargo ship. It departs Pago Pago for the Manu'a Islands on Wednesday at 10:00pm and it takes eight hours. The fare is US$35 one way, plus US$5 per piece of luggage. Tickets are only sold from 8:00am on the day of departure. The MV Sili also travels between Pago Pago and the Manu'a group. It departs Tutuila every second Friday at 10:00pm and a one-way ticket is US$20, plus US$1 per piece of luggage. Tickets are sold between 8:00am and 4:00pm on the day of departure.
As there are no direct flights anymore to Ofu from Pago Pago, you have to fly to Ta'u and arrange onward boats to Ofu from there. You have to arrange this when arriving on Ta'u with local fishermen and the price can be as high as US$100 per boat load, so try to look for fellow travellers to cut costs.
American Samoa lies outside federal U.S. immigration and customs jurisdiction. All visitors (except U.S. citizens and green card holders) to American Samoa require a passport valid for six months or more, a return ticket or onward ticket and enough funds to support their stay. US citizens and green card holders traveling from the US may enter without ID, though it is still recommended.
Entry is allowed for 30 days for tourism with a valid passport and proof of onward travel or local employment. Citizens of countries under the federal Visa Waiver Program plus Canada, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and F.S. Micronesia are allowed visa-free entry. To obtain a business or residence visa or to extend your stay to 60 days, you must visit the Attorney General's office after arrival.
All other international passport holders intending to visit American Samoa for business or holiday are required to apply for an entry visa.
To apply for a visa please contact the Attorney General’s Office, phone +1 684 633-4163, fax +1 684 633-1838 or American Samoa Immigration +1 684 633-4203 or +1 684 633-4204. At this time there is no email address or on-line application submission, so one must contact the Attorney General's or Immigration office by telephone or fax.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of American Samoa. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
The tuna industry is very prominent, but about 30% of the population is unemployed.
The native language is Samoan, a Polynesian language related to Hawaiian and other Pacific island languages. English is widely spoken, and most people can at least understand it. Most people are bilingual to some degree.
Tutuila has a wide variety of places to eat, from familiar fast food stops to fine restaurants. The outer islands have far less variety. Restaurants offer a variety of cuisines, including American, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Polynesian. Signature/national dishes include Palusami, Lu'au and Supoesi.
There is hotel-style lodging on the main islands, but not Olosega, Swains, or Rose.
Kava is often considered to be the national drink. The beverage is made from the roots of the pepper plant (Piper methysticum). Kava is known for its mellow and relaxing effects. Many people drink kava because it is a natural alternative to alcohol and anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medication.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to American Samoa. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering American Samoa) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to American Samoa. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
American Samoa has low crime rates, though it's best to stay where the crowds are while on the beach. While swimming, don't go too far out, as rip tides are common.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to American Samoa is: 1-684
To make an international call from American Samoa, the code is: 011
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