Is this part of the United States?
How Americanized are these islands?
Why should I come here?
Isn't there a ferry between the two Samoas?
How do prices compare with the other Samoa?
What's special to do in American Samoa?
Where can I find out more about American Samoa?
American Samoa is an 'unincorporated' territory of the United States, meaning the US Constitution and certain other laws don't apply. It's the only US territory south of the equator, a relic of colonial confrontations between Germany, Britain, and the US around the end of the 19th century. American Samoans are US 'nationals' and have all the rights of other Americans except that they can't vote in presidential elections. The Government of American Samoa controls most local affairs, including immigration, and US citizens don't enjoy any automatic right to move here or purchase land, which has prevented Samoa from going the way of Hawaii.
American Samoa is a fascinating blend of Polynesian customs and American values. The economy is propped up by US subsidies, either in the form of direct grants to the local government or tax concessions which have resulted in transnational tuna companies establishing canneries here. American consumerism is rife with big American SUVs and pickup trucks cruising slowly down the roads, stateside-style stores selling US and Chinese goods, and bulky residents munching salty or sweet fast food. Yet the Samoan way or fa'a Samoa remains strong with family life paramount, and the traditional chiefs wield considerable influence. Most land is family owned and cannot be sold, only leased. It's a strange, intriguing combination.
The main island Tutuila is mountainous and spectacularly beautiful with good hiking possibilities in National Park of American Samoa. Buses travel from Fagatogo market to each end of the island for about a dollar, and there's the usual list of waterfalls, churches, villages, beaches, and archaeological sites to see. A day spent strolling around the adjacent villages of Utulei, Fagatogo, and Pago Pago is both entertaining and informative. The US-style restaurants, bars, and stores will be a nice change for anyone who has been traveling the Pacific for long. It's also an easy way of extending your Samoan visa.
Yes, the Samoa Shipping Corporation has a weekly ferry between Apia and Pago Pago (twice weekly during holiday periods). Fares are less than half those on Polynesian Airlines for the same trip. That said, the ferry is extremely basic and the voyage rough, so the vast majority of visitors arrive by air. The flights operate between four and six times daily between the Samoas, costing around US$182 return from Pago Pago or a bit less if you buy your ticket in Apia.
The crunch here is accommodations and you won't find any motels or bed and breakfasts for under US$60 double, or over twice what you'd pay for a budget room in independent Samoa. Beer is also more expensive, but many other things including food and transportation are similar in price. Due to low taxation, consumer goods are actually cheaper here than in Apia, which accounts for the pushy local hordes on the ferry. Most sightseeing attractions are free, so once you've adjusted to the price of your hotel you'll have few worries. Two or three nights is enough if you're only making a sidetrip from Apia.
Try to go to the Manu'a Group, especially to Ofu and Olosega, where steep verdant slopes fall to sparkling white beaches. The fringing reef along Ofu's south coast is now part of National Park of American Samoa and there's some great snorkeling just offshore. Only around 600 people live in the half dozen small villages on Ofu and Olosega islands, which are connected by a bridge. You won't find a large hotel here, but two small guest houses provide inexpensive accommodations, and family-style meals are provided at fair rates. It's a lovely quiet place to go for long walks, swim in the ocean, relax, etc. A local airline flies between Pago Pago and Ofu twice a day, charging around US$155 roundtrip.
The updated American Samoa chapter from Moon Handbooks South Pacific is now available online. It's 45 pages include maps of the Samoan Islands, Tutuila, Pago Pago, Aunu'u, Ofu and Olosega, and Ta'u, plus dozens of original photos and drawings. It's the best source of information on American Samoa currently available on the internet.