I was born in Las Vegas but grew up in Maryland until I moved to American Samoa when I was 17. I used to visit occasionally during the summers to see my family but I wasn’t raised here nor did I know too much about our islands or culture. My love and appreciation for American Samoa, my people, and my culture has grown so much in the last seven years and I’m so proud to call this place home!
Why American Samoa Should be on your Bucket List
American Samoa is rare and, honestly, unlike anywhere else in the world in my opinion. We have some of the most beautiful and untouched islands. Our tradition and culture is so rich and still practiced daily yet we are legally a territory of the United States which is a really interesting contrast.
So on paper, we are a part of the United States and have benefitted in certain ways from that. However, when you come here you will realize that we are also still very much our own and haven’t lost who we are culturally, which is something I’m extremely grateful for.
There are five islands that make up American Samoa: Tutuila, Aunu’u, Ofu, Olosega and Ta’u. I have been to all five of the islands but haven’t been to either Swains or Rose atoll yet which I would love to see one day!
Favorite Places in American Samoa
The places that are most special to me on the islands are the blowholes near my grandparents house in Fogagogo (Tutuila) and the beach in Poloa (Tutuila). The blowholes remind me of visits when I was younger. This is a spot that I spent a lot of time at when I first moved to American Samoa. When I go back now, I reflect on how much I have grown and changed.
The beach in Poloa is another one of my favorite places for sure. My parents live in this village and are a short walk away from the beach. We spend a lot of time there beaching, camping, partying or making bonfires. Poloa is on the west side of the island and has the best sunsets in the world.
10 Things To Do in American Samoa
1. Discover the Waterfalls of American Samoa
The waterfalls of American Samoa can be found by walking through streams and jungles. They are so beautiful! The falls at Faga’alu and Nu’uuli are more open to visitors but the waterfall in Leone may require finding one of the village kids or adults to guide you.
2. Hike the Beautiful Mount ‘Alava Trail
Mount ‘Alava Trail near Pago Pago is a long hike (eight miles in total) but the view at the top is worth it! If you can, try hiking up a couple of hours before sunrise so you can greet the new day with majestic colors.
3. Check out the Awesome Tide Pools in Vatia
The tide pools located just before the village of Vatia require a 15-minute walk and offer wonderful views of the beautiful Pola Island. The hike down is pretty steep and towards the end you are basically just climbing down over the rocks. Then you arrive and can take a dip in the pools!
4. Take a Boat over to Aunu’u for the Day
You can take a short boat ride over to Aunu’u for less than $5 round trip per person. The best part about this trip is when the dolphins come up to swim by the boat! Once you arrive, you can either go swimming at the wharf or take a hike around the island and stop off at one of the beaches for a swim.
5. Take a Boat Cruise around the Island
I just went with some friends this past weekend and had the best time! We went with Peter from Cruxmarine Deep Calling on their fishing boat and they took us to O’a/Afono near Vatia to see the hidden beaches and do some snorkelling and fishing. More info at cruxmarine.com.
6. Go Swimming at the Hidden Fagatele Bay
Fagatele Bay is similar to Fogama’a but smaller in comparison. With all of the places you visit in American Samoa you will want to ask permission as most places are located on private family land. Sometimes they have a small fee for entering or parking but this is always up to the family.
7. Learn about the Turtle and Shark Legend
Turtle and Shark is one of the more well-known legends in American Samoa. You can visit this spot where the legend originated and coordinate it with the villagers to come and tell the stories as well as singing the song (Laumei Faiaga) that is believed to bring the turtle and shark to the surface.
8. See Fatu-ma-futi and Visit the Market in Fagatogo
Fatu-ma-futi is another popular legend of how rocks came to be. This is located off the main road and is an easy spot to get to. You should also check out the market in town which has a lot of handicrafts as well as food! Best day to visit the market is on Fridays and especially on “First Fridays”.
9. Jump into the Waters of the Cave Pool at Fagasa
This cave pool isn’t that popular but many of the villagers from Fagasa will know about it. Enjoy a natural cave pool that you can go swimming in and even climb up and jump in the waters from the top. It’s always a fun time!
10. Visit a Local Church in American Samoa
This experience is less to do with adventure but it’s a typical activity for locals on Sundays. You will notice that Sundays are a lot different from the rest of the week. This day is typically for church, eating and resting. But you will still be able to find a few spots to go swimming if you want to. Samoans are naturally talented and hearing the aufaipese (choir) sing is beautiful.
Bonus Experience: Visit the Islands of Manu’a
If you have time, take a trip to the Manu’a Islands. These islands are pristine and have some of the worlds largest corals! Despite being smaller, to me they are some of the most beautiful places in American Samoa. It’s hard to even describe how gorgeous they are. Ofu and Olosega are connected by a bridge and you can walk/bike around the islands and jump off the bridge.
Visiting these islands is beyond worth it and is basically the same thing as booking a trip to a private island considering you will always have the beaches to yourself. Have I convinced you to visit American Samoa yet?!
Warm Culture of American Samoa
The culture of American Samoa is very much based on aiga (family), fa’aaloalo (respect) and also giving mea’alofa’s (gifts). When it comes to Fa’a Samoa or “the Samoan way” it’s typical for people to have a selfless attitude and work toward the betterment of one’s family or community rather than just thinking of themselves.
“O le ala i le pule o le tautua” means the path to leadership is through service. This is one of those Samoan proverbs that is clearly reflected in our community, as serving others is very important here.
In the Samoan culture, aiga-family is always a major priority and aiga doesn’t just stop at your immediate family but also covers extended relatives, community members, church members, etc. The saying “it takes a village” is taken pretty literally here as everyone operates as a family unit and lives more communally.
Fa’aaloalo or respect is also a huge pillar of the Samoan culture and is ingrained in everything we do. Fa’aaloalo starts in families and can especially be seen in children towards their parents/grandparents but respect also goes beyond just family and is extended towards our peers, elders, community, land and God.
Many of our traditions are based around giving gifts (or mea’alofa) of money, woven fine mats, food, etc. A lot of times you will see this during fa’alavelaves which is a ceremonial gift exchange that takes place at things like weddings, funerals, matai/cheif ceremonies, a ‘samaga’ which is the blessing/celebration of a person who received traditional tatau, birthdays, building dedications, etc.
American Samoa is full of genuine and warm-hearted people, many of whom deeply value God, family, community, culture and respect. Structure and certain customs may evolve as time moves on but the underlying principles of Fa’a Samoa that began with our ancestors will always remain with our people.
Talented Locals of American Samoa
Samoans are such talented and gifted individuals athletically, musically, comedically, with dance, in education and so much more. Many are natural entertainers – so you will meet people who will make jokes about literally everything or will just be doing whatever they can to get you to smile and enjoy yourself. People here are hardworking but also very humble and I have noticed that many enjoy the simplicity of island life.
Island Life Centered around Food
Everything and every event in American Samoa is centered around food. It’s crucial to our island! My favorite local foods are palusami, fresh oka (raw fish), fa’apapa and fa’alifu taro. These can be found at the market in Fagatogo but the best oka is at Sadie’s by the Sea. Other good restaurants to check out are DDW, Koko Bean, and Cecelias. The population is also very diverse so you can find other restaurants that serve Chinese, Filipino, Fijian and Korean food.
Where to Stay in American Samoa
There are only a handful of hotels in American Samoa but the two main ones are Sadie’s By the Sea and Tradewinds. Sadies has a beachy vibe, its own private beach and one of the best restaurants. Tradewinds, on the other hand, is located by the airport and has a spa and and a more stateside vibe.
Another place to stay is Tisa’s Barefoot Bar which is away from the main spots of the island but is right on the beach of Alega. They focus a lot on ecotourism and hold a tattoo fest there near October/November. Some friends and I also stayed at an Airbnb called “A Walk in the Clouds” and it was so cute and homey! It’s located in the mountains of Aoloau. You can take in gorgeous views here and enjoy a nice breeze.
Need to Know Before you Go
Respect is key in American Samoa. That goes with how you address others, how you dress, how you occupy space, asking for permission before entering places, etc. Ie lavalavas (sarongs) are encouraged on beaches, when swimming or while walking through villages.
Even if it’s completely sunny you can still expect rain at any given moment. Naturally, American Samoa is a tropical rainforest meaning it rains a lot here and randomly.
You might see dogs roaming around the islands. The strays are normally friendly and don’t bother people but dogs that are residential can be more territorial so just note that and be cautious if you’re walking around villages.
In summary, every adventure I take where I spend time with the people I love and get outside in nature leaves me feeling grateful for the place I am blessed to call home! Whether it’s the simple days hanging out at the park with friends or going on 8 mile hikes at 3am – all the memories I have here mean a lot to me. Hopefully you can come experience this untouched paradise one day too!