Planning a Trip
The American Samoa Office of Tourism, P.O. Box 1147, Pago Pago, AS 96799 (tel. 699-9411; fax 699-9414; www.amsamoatourism.com), has offices inconveniently located in Tafuna, near the airport. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm. The brochure of the National Park of American Samoa contains the best map of the territory .
The Delegate from American Samoa to the U.S. Congress (Eni Faleomavaega) also dispenses some tourist information. His address is: U.S. House of Representatives, 2422 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515 (tel. 202/225-8577; www.house.gov/faleomavaega/index.shtml).
Except for Samoans, New Zealanders, and a few others, entry permits are not required for stays of up to 30 days. American citizens and nationals need valid passports or certified birth certificates (forget the birth certificate, you will need your passport to go home). Everyone else needs a valid passport and a ticket for onward passage. Women more than 6 months pregnant are not allowed entry.
Immunizations are not required.
When to Go
Climate -- "It did not pour, it flowed," wrote W. Somerset Maugham in his 1921 short story "Rain," the famous tale of prostitute Sadie Thompson, who seduces a puritanical missionary while stranded in American Samoa. This description, however, applies mainly to Pago Pago, which, because of its location behind appropriately named Rainmaker Mountain, gets an average of over 500cm (197 in.) of rain a year. The rest of American Samoa enjoys a typically tropical climate, with lots of very intense sunshine even during the wet season from December to April. Average daily high temperatures range from 83°F (28°C) in the drier, somewhat cooler months of June through September to 86°F (30°C) from December to April, when midday can be hot and sticky. Evenings are usually in the 70s (20s Celsius) all year round.
Holidays & Events -- The biggest celebration is on April 17, when American Samoa Flag Day commemorates the raising of the Stars and Stripes over Tutuila in 1900. The second Sunday in October is observed as White Sunday; children attend church dressed in white and are later honored at family feasts.
Public holidays are New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Mon in Jan), President's Day (third Mon in Feb), Good Friday, American Samoa Flag Day (Apr 17), Memorial Day (last Mon in May), the Fourth of July, Labor Day (first Mon in Sept), Columbus Day (second Mon in Oct), Veteran's Day (Nov 11), Thanksgiving (fourth Thurs of Nov), and Christmas Day.
United States currency is used in American Samoa. Samoan tala are not accepted, nor can they be exchanged here.
How to Get Local Currency -- The Bank of Hawaii and the ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank, both in Fagatogo, are open Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm. Both have ATMs at their main offices, and ANZ has one in Pago Plaza, the shopping center at the head of the harbor.
Credit Cards -- American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club are accepted by the hotels, car-rental firms, and airlines. Otherwise, it's best to carry cash to cover your anticipated expenses. No one here accepts Discover.
From Samoa -- Polynesian Airlines (tel. 800/644-7659 in the U.S., 22-737 in Apia, or 633-4331 in Pago Pago; www.polynesianairlines.com), Inter Island Airways (tel. 42-580 in Samoa, 699-7100 in American Samoa), and South Pacific Express (tel. 28-901 in Apia, 699-9900 in American Samoa) fly between Faleolo Airport in Samoa and Pago Pago several times a day. I always fly on Polynesian because it is a licensed scheduled carrier while the others are charter airlines. Round-trip fares are about S$310 (US$124/£62) if purchased in Apia, US$155 to US$165 (£78-£83 plus taxes if bought in American Samoa.
For the adventurous, a relatively modern ferry, the Lady Naomi, makes the 8-hour voyage between Pago Pago and Apia at least once a week, usually leaving the main wharf in Apia at 11pm on Wednesday and departing Pago Pago's marine terminal at 4pm on Thursday for the return voyage. Tickets should be bought at least a day ahead. One-way fares from Pago Pago to Apia are US$60 (£30) for a seat, US$75 (£38) for a cabin. The Lady Naomi is operated by the Samoa Shipping Corporation, whose ticket office is on Beach Road, opposite the main wharf in Apia (tel. 20-935; www.samoashipping.com). The American Samoa agent is Polynesia Shipping Services (tel. 633-1211). Because the trade winds prevail from the southeast, the trip going west with the wind toward Apia is usually smoother.
From Other Countries -- The only international carrier serving American Samoa is Hawaiian Airlines, which flies from several U.S. West Coast cities to Pago Pago, with a change of planes at Honolulu. Otherwise, you can fly to Faleolo Airport in Samoa on Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, or Polynesian Blue, and then connect to Pago Pago.
Arriving & Departing -- Pago Pago International Airport (PPG) is near the village of Tafuna, about 11km (6 3/4 miles) west of Pago Pago. Taxi fare is about US$15 (£7.50) from the airport to Pago Pago harbor. The "Tafuna" local buses stop at the airport terminal on their way into Pago Pago. Bus fare is US75¢ (38p).
Departure taxes are included in the ticket price.
Seeing American Samoa as a Day Trip from Apia -- You can see American Samoa as a 1-day side trip from independent Samoa. The easiest way is to buy a package from Oceania Travel & Tours, at the Kitano Tusitala Hotel in Apia (tel. 24-443; fax 22-255). The US$350 (£175) per-person fee includes round-trip airfare, a guided tour of Tutuila island, and lunch. Oceania's American Samoa office is above the main post office in Pago Pago (tel. 633-1172).
To do it yourself, reserve a rental car in Pago Pago at least a day in advance (there is too much to see to rely on the bus system or even a taxi). Then fly early in the morning from Faleolo airport to Pago Pago. Go to the airline's office and reconfirm your afternoon return flight, then pick up your car. Drive into Pago Pago and take a stroll. Drive to the eastern end of the island, then backtrack to Pago Pago and have lunch. If you have time, drive out to the western end. Catch the last flight back to Apia.
Inter Island Airways (tel. 42-580 in Samoa, 699-7100 in American Samoa; www.interislandair.com), the local carrier, flies to the Manu'a Islands, but don't count on it. The territory always has trouble keeping a domestic airline flying.
By Rental Car -- The only international car-rental firm in American Samoa is Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 or 699-2746; www.avis.com), which rents air-conditioned models for US$70 to US$110 (£35-£55) per day, including unlimited mileage, plus an optional US$13 (£6.50) for insurance. Less reliable local firms include Sir Amos (tel. 699-4554), Friendly (tel. 699-7186), and Dollar Rental Car (tel. 633-7716; firstname.lastname@example.org). The latter is not affiliated with the international rental company of the same name.
Driving Rules -- Your valid home driver's license will be honored in American Samoa. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, and traffic signs are the same as those used in the United States. The speed limit is 15 mph in the built-up areas and 25 mph on the open road.
By Bus -- Gaily-painted aiga buses prowl the roads from early morning until sunset every day except Sunday. Basically they run from the villages to the market in Pago Pago and back, picking up anyone who waves along the way. Some buses leave the market and run to Fagasa on the north coast or to the east end of the island; others go from the market to the west. None goes from one end of the island to the other, so you'll have to change at the market in order to do a stem-to-stern tour of Tutuila. Most drivers are helpful, so just ask how far they go in each direction. Fares are between US75¢ and US$2 (£38p/£1) per ride.
By Taxi -- There are taxi stands at the airport (tel. 699-1179) and at the Pago Pago market (no phone). None of the taxis have meters, so be sure to negotiate the fare before driving off. The fares should be about US$1 (50p) per mile.