American Samoa

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Introduction to American Samoa

Despite the palm-trees-wafting-in-the-trade-winds image, American Samoa is something of an oddity in the South Pacific. Hastily Americanised in the 1960s, the islands have all the ugly results of commercial and cultural imperialism sticking out from behind the fronds.

Yet despite all of this, American Samoa still somehow manages to be attractive to travellers. Cultural practice hasn't entirely disappeared, only a small area of the islands is disgustingly polluted and the locals' friendliness has barely been dented.

Add to this the trademark Pacific islands weather and an astonishingly picturesque landscape, and you've got a recipe for an intoxicating cocktail of rough liquor and smooth coconut milk.

The history of American Samoa over the last hundred years is a history of the desperate attempts by spent colonial forces to exert authority over a traditional people. Everyone from the British, to the Germans, to the Americans have pushed and pulled at the group of islands, and the shared god of all these Western nations has almost totally replaced the traditional belief system.

Full country name: Territory of American Samoa

Area: 77 sq km

Population: 68,688

Capital City: Pago Pago

People: Polynesian (89%), Tongan (4%), Caucasian (2%), other (5%)

Language: Samoan, English

Religion: Christian (98%)

Government: Unincorporated and unorganized territory of the US

Head of State: President George W Bush

Head of Government: Governor Togiola Tulafono

GDP: US$500 million

GDP per capita: US$8,000

Inflation: 2.7%

Major Industries: Canned tuna (99% of exports), handicrafts

Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, Australia

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Traveler Facts

Visas: No visas are required for travel to American Samoa; however, US citizens must have proof of their status and everyone else must have a valid passport. You will also need an onward ticket. Citizens of independent Samoa require a permit to enter American Samoa.

Health risks: dengue fever (There are occasional outbreaks), Filariasis (There are occasional outbreaks)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -11

Dialling Code: 684

Electricity: 120V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial



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Events

All of the US public holidays are observed in American Samoa, as are the major Christian festivals. The territorial holiday, Flag Day, falls on 17 April, and is commemorated by an arts festival, fautasi (longboat) races, singing, dancing, traditional sports and skills competitions, and extraordinary, long-winded speeches by political figures. White Sunday is like a national kids day. On the second Sunday in October, children dress in white and lead church services. Afterwards, they're the guests of honour at feasts served to them by adults. The subtly named Tourism Week takes place in early May, and features celebrations and traditional sports. In August the high point is the crowning of Miss American Samoa. Designed to draw more tourists to the country, the week's events aren't as big or as popular as independent Samoa's similar Teuila Festival.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to enjoy American Samoa - and especially the island's capital - is between June and September, when the chances of fine weather are a bit better. The risk of tropical cyclones (hurricanes) is reduced at this time, too.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: United States Dollar

Meals

Budget: US$3-6

Mid-range: US$6-15

High: US$15-20

Deluxe: US$20+

Lodging

Budget: US$10-45

Mid-range: US$45-90

High: US$90-150

Deluxe: US$150+

In Pago Pago, there are only a few accommodation options, and even fewer of them are really cheap. For a basic air-conditioned room and a hot shower you can expect to pay about US$60 per night, however if you can do without these luxuries - and are prepared to share cold shower facilities - you can bed down for as little as US$20. For the self-sufficient, head out of town where for about US$10 you can get a roof over your head in a plantation, and not much else.

Travel around the island is cheap but unpredictable. The colourful buses on Tutuila do regular but unscheduled runs to all major destinations. If you're only on the island for a day or two, car hire is a good idea (US$50 a day). If you're based in Pago Pago and are on a tight budget, you could get by with basic food and shelter for US$50 a day, but that's really living frugally. For a few extra creature comforts and a wider selection of better food, count on spending about US$100. Those moving around will need to allow substantially more.

There is no currency exchange at the airport, so arrive with US$ cash or travellers' cheques. There are two banks in central Pago Pago, the Bank of Hawaii and the Amerika Samoa Bank. The latter charges a US$5 commission on travellers' cheques. There is also a branch of the Bank of Hawaii in Pava'ia'i on the western end of the island. US dollars travellers' cheques are accepted at most shops and hotels.

Although a distant relative of the United States, American Samoa has retained some sanity regarding tipping. Unless you've received fantastic service at a top-notch hotel, tips can stay in your pocket. And anyway, the small change might come in handy when adding on the 2% sales tax to all items purchased. Bargaining isn't practised either. The listed price is generally the one you pay.

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Attractions

Pago Pago

Much written about and much maligned, Pago Pago is an alluring mix of the seedy and the dramatically beautiful. On a bad day, the tuna canneries are the only local feature you will be aware of, unless you get hit by an empty Coke can hurled from a passing pick-up truck.

Look around and you're likely to see a polluted harbour and lots of litter. Usually though, the area offers visitors a reasonably pleasant, light-industrial, small-town experience. The picturesque harbour is surrounded by high, almost wicked-looking mountains that plunge straight into the sea.

Aunu'u Island

Fifteen minutes by ferry from Tutuila is the tiny, quiet island of Aunu'u. Easily explored in a day (but don't go on Sunday; you won't be welcome), the island is an accessible respite from the traffic chaos of Pago Pago. Pala Lake is a beautiful expanse of fiery red quicksand - extraordinary from the edge, deadly in the middle. On the far side of the island from the ferry harbour is Ma'ama'a Cove, a cauldron of surf, spray and rocks. It's a wild, entertaining natural display.

National Park of American Samoa

Created in 1988 in one of Ronald Reagan's last presidential actions, this national park spreads across three islands. The section on Tutuila is the easiest to get to and provides protection for areas of coral reef as well as mixed species old-world rainforests.

The secluded Amalau Valley is home to many forest bird species and the Samoas' two rare species of fruit bat. The charming and friendly village of Vatia, on the edge of one of the park's coral-fringed bays, has basic accomodation and boat and fishing tours. Just offshore from the village is The Pola, a tiny uninhabited island with magnificent sheer cliffs and a huge seabird population.

Ofu

Ofu is the most dramatic and beautiful of the Manu'a Islands. It's the easiest to visit and the one most often seen by outsiders. Ofu's crown jewel is its south-coast beach - the 4km (2.5mi) stretch of white sand is one of the most beautiful in the South Pacific. Bring your snorkelling equipment: the waters here are part of the national park, and there's some excellent viewing of some 300 species of fish and 150 types of coral.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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