American Samoa is an ideal destination for travelers looking for fewer crowds. // © 2014 American Samoa Tourism
Feature image (above): Hiking and snorkeling are among possible excursions in American Samoa, home to the only U.S. National Park south of the equator. // © 2014 American Samoa Tourism
In late October, Hawaiian Airlines celebrated the 30-year anniversary of its nonstop service between Honolulu and Pago Pago in American Samoa, a destination the carrier flies to twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays.
Last month, the airline hosted two California-based travel agents on a four-day fam trip across the Samoa Archipelago. TravelAge West caught up with Joann Fazio, global solutions manager for Balboa Travel Management in San Bruno, Calif., and Nirbhay Nandan, a manager at Raj Travel Inc. in Hayward, Calif., to learn more about what type of travelers might enjoy a vacation to Samoa.
“A client who may be a good fit to visit American Samoa and Samoa is someone looking for a unique cultural experience in a pristine natural environment,” Fazio says. “These two locations are special and rare in the world today, with natural beauty, undeveloped landscapes, a living culture, warm and friendly people and no real safety or health concerns. They are definitely places to slow down, relax, enjoy and disconnect.”
Nandan says the Samoan archipelago is a good fit for both younger and older travelers. But he would encourage any visitors interested in Samoa not to wait too long to make a trip to the island destinations.
“At the moment, it’s not crowded, and there aren’t too many people,” he says. “Right now is really a good time to go and explore while everything is nice and quiet. But I think in the future, that may not be the case. It just hasn’t been spoiled, and now is definitely the time to be there.”
American Samoa, home to about 65,000 residents, is the only U.S. territory south of the equator. It consists of the large island of Tutuila, where capital Pago Pago is situated, and four smaller islands that include the visitor-friendly destinations of Ofu and Tau. Independent Samoa is a collection of 10 islands immediately west of the U.S. territory and home to nearly 200,000 people.
Samoa’s capital of Apia, on the island of Upolu, is only a 30-minute flight from Pago Pago, but it requires a trip across the international dateline into a new time zone, boosting travelers 25 hours into the future upon their arrival.
Fazio says both destinations are equally beautiful, with unspoiled beaches, tropical flowers, clean public areas and the same culture and Samoan language. But she did point out a few differences.
“American Samoa, while less developed for tourism than Samoa, offers the fact that it is a U.S. territory,” Fazio says, adding that U.S. travelers will still need to bring their passports. “The currency is U.S. dollars, people are fluent in English, laws are similar to those at home for U.S. visitors, roads are well maintained and many American products are available to purchase, if needed.”
Accommodations in the Islands
Fazio adds that American Samoa has only a few modern hotels but does feature some short-term rental units and bed-and-breakfast options. Fazio finds that independent Samoa seems more closely aligned with New Zealand, featuring its own currency, the Tala, and different traffic laws.
“Samoa appears more developed for tourism versus American Samoa with several unique, non-chain, beachfront resorts to choose from,” Fazio says, adding that fluent English is spoken in both countries. “Roads seem well kept in both places, safety is not a concern in either and there are very few health-related worries.”
Nandan also notes that independent Samoa offers a broader range of options for travelers.
“Coconuts Beach Club Resort and Spa is one of Samoa’s few up-market resorts, with stylish rooms and bungalows, good service, a spa, a restaurant and an activities center,” he says. “It’s directly in front of a good swimming, snorkeling and surfing lagoon and would be a good choice for couples.”
In American Samoa, Nandan likes Tradewinds Hotel, thanks to its friendly staff, clean rooms and great food.
“I’ll definitely recommend Tradewinds Hotel to clients,” he says. “The Sadie’s by the Sea hotel is also good, with excellent amenities for both business and pleasure visits and wedding receptions. Goat Island Cafe is certainly a place to stop by to try island-style food.”
Nature and Culture
American Samoa also has the only U.S. National Park south of the equator, which provides a range exploration options for visiting travelers, according to Fazio.
“Several trails are available, as is a wealth of knowledge from the park rangers at the visitor’s center,” she says. “Bring hiking shoes or boots because the trails can be rough. Snorkeling, boating and swimming are also available from many beaches. A quick boat ride across from Tutuila [the location of the national park] to Aunuu Island in American Samoa will take to you a wondrous beach and the most vibrant blue water anywhere.”
Not surprisingly, the Samoan archipelago offers wonderful cultural experiences that Fazio and Nandan found memorable, including the traditional kava ceremony commonly offered to visitors and the “fiafia” (which literally means happy) dance and music performances.
“Pago Pago Tradewinds Tours [in American Samoa] can take you anywhere on the island and has access to a special village visit, where you can experience village life, food, and its people,” says Fazio. “Alofa Tours also offers cultural and scenic trips around the island and can customize anything that might interest travelers.”