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American Samoa, a US territory in the South Pacific, consists of 7 islands. Tutuila is the largest. This is where most people live and visit. To make your visit to this beautiful tropical paradise the best it can be, here are 10 genius tips for visiting American Samoa. And because these tips are from a local, they are guaranteed to be accurate and super helpful.
10. Carry Cash
You should always carry some cash while in American Samoa. While credit cards can be used many places on the island, a good number of stores and restaurants still accept cash only. Most convenience stores will accept a card (usually with a $10 minimum purchase).
And, even though there are several ATM’s on the island, they run out of money pretty regularly. Additionally, the 2 on-island banks, ANZ and the Territorial Bank of American Samoa, both charge hefty fees for non-account holders to use their ATM’s. ANZ charges a $6 service fee, and the Territorial Bank charges $3.50.
Another problem is that sometimes the credit card machines and ATM’s go down island-wide without warning.
Carrying cash will prevent you from getting stuck without some spending money.
9. These Aren’t Your Beaches
One of the most important tips for visiting American Samoa is to remember that these aren’t your beaches. Just because you can get to a beach doesn’t mean that you are allowed to swim there.
Many of the beaches around the island belong to the villages in which they are located. You need to ask permission from the residents of the village to park and use the beach.
Now, you will find the Samoan people to be some of the most welcoming and hospitable people on the planet. So, if you ask permission, they will usually grant you access. Always be as gracious as your hosts and respect this system.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to a random house to ask permission, there are plenty of public places to swim, particularly close to the harbor. Fatumafuti is one of these.
But, some of these places have curfews and most never permit swimming and beach-going on Sundays.
Also, there are many areas with dangerous rocky coasts and rip currents that make swimming hazardous. Just because someone who has grown up in these waters is swimming in a particular area doesn’t mean that you should.
8. Beware of Dogs
Feisty and boisterous street dogs run rampant on Tutuila. Some are household pets while others just roam the streets looking for their next meal. They can appear from the smallest hiding places, jump over rock walls, or sense you coming from a hundred yards away and make a beeline towards you at any time.
Usually in the more populated areas, the dogs are more tolerant of people, and you won’t have a problem. Generally speaking though, when on foot the best strategy is to carry a stick or rock in case you need to defend yourself.
Usually, you can deter an attack by pretending to throw a rock in their direction. You can also yell “halu” (haw-loo), which means go away, or make a hissing sound towards them, to scare them off.
While it can be intimidating when a pack of dogs comes charging at you, most of them have more bark than bite.
7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Shopping on the island is easier and more convenient than I imagined. But it all comes down to shipping. Vendors can’t restock their shelves if the shipments don’t arrive. For many different reasons, shipments can be delayed, canceled, or held up at customs.
Don’t expect to get what you want at the store whenever you want it.
For example, Diet Coke sells out fast in the supermarkets. Once they’re gone, you have to wait until the next shipment arrives, which might be a week or two.
This also effects restaurants. They may not have everything listed on the menu at all times. So, it’s smart when deciding what to order to ask what they have run out of.
6. 25 MPH Speed Limit
Next on our list of tips for visiting American Samoa is to expect a slower pace. Because this is a small island, life tends to move slower here. This starts with transportation. The island wide speed limit is 25 mph. It even drops to 20 mph in a few places.
This isn’t a bad thing when you’re driving the gorgeous beach front drive from Nu’uuli to Pago Pago. Just don’t expect to get anywhere quickly. It can easily take 30-40 minutes to drive 8 or 9 miles.
In addition to slow speeds, bad road conditions, including flooding and potholes, can add to your travel time.
5. No Physical Addresses
Very few streets on the island have names. And there are no physical addresses. This can make it challenging to get directions.
You’ll often find that directions are given by referring to landmarks. For instance, turn left at the red-roofed house, go past the banana plantation, and then turn right at the blue store.
4. Don’t Expect to Do Much on a Sunday
As mentioned above, the island moves slow on any day. But, it’s even worse on Sundays. Religion remains paramount for many Samoans. This means Sunday is a day of worship and rest. Most people spend time with their families after church.
A handful of restaurants and the bigger stores are open, but you won’t see many others out. Only a very few beaches, such as Airport Beach, are accessible. Additionally, stores do not sell any alcohol on Sunday by law.
3. It’s Usually Hot
The heat and humidity you will experience here is different from anything you’ve seen before. While the heat usually doesn’t get above the low 90’s, the tropical humidity is tough. Being just below the equator also puts you closer to the sun. And you can definitely feel it.
The weather forecast is the same everyday: hot with a chance of scattered showers. The thick air also makes evaporation impossible. Most of the time, this leaves you sweaty on even the shortest trips outside.
Be prepared to go through multiple shirts in a day unless you can live with being sweaty.
2. Island Time
I’ve mentioned that things move a little slower here. Oftentimes, a starting time for an event is merely a suggestion. Island time usually means: we’ll start when everybody gets here. For those of us who are anal about sticking to a schedule, this can be frustrating.
I have seen island time operate in the opposite direction too. Sometimes, someone in charge will show up and start early because they feel like it.
We’ve showed up 30 minutes early to events which started 2 hours late. And we’ve arrived 15 minutes early for things only to find that they started 45 minutes early.
The tip here is to keep an open mind and remain flexible. Just roll with it.
1. This Isn’t Hawaii, Cozumel, or Cancun.
From the bright blue waves crashing on the rocky coastline to the lush green line of mountain tops cutting into the cloud-filled sky, American Samoa is the definition of a tropical paradise. I’ve seen sunrises here that will take your breath away and double rainbows that belong on screensavers.
This beautiful and unique gem in the south Pacific is an island like many popular tourist spots but that’s where the similarities end.
Many people make the mistake of expecting this island to be like some other place they visited. Because of the cultural nuances, this place is different from any other place you have visited.
The tourism industry here is virtually nonexistent and you’re left to figure out where to go and what to see on your own. So, you have to work a little harder here for recreation and sight seeing, but the rewards are so much sweeter. Many times, those rewards include having a beach all to yourself.
American Samoa is a beautiful small island territory in the South Pacific with plenty to see and do. Regardless of how long you visit, you will enjoy your time here if you can be patient and don’t expect Margaritaville. I hope these tips for visiting American Samoa make your trip a little smoother.
For more to do in American Samoa, see our list of the most scenic spots, amazing things to see, best restaurants, best hikes, and things to do with kids. If you want a local guide to take you to the best trails and beaches, contact Paula or Michael at South Pacific Watersports.
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