We struggled to find a lot of information on visiting American Samoa, so in an effort to help other people who also plan to make the journey to this remote place, we are happy to share some travel logistics here.
Flights — Flights to American Samoa are limited, departing the U.S. only a couple of times each week. We flew American/Hawaiian Air from Los Angeles [LAX] to Honolulu [HNL] to Pago Pago [PPG]. We chose to spend a full week here but would have happily stayed longer if our schedule had permitted. Given our limited time, we got to the island of ‘Aunu’u — more about this below — but we didn’t have the time to venture to the islands further away. It should be noted that visits to these really remote islands are dependent on the local plane at PPG being operational, which was not the case when we were there, so in the end I’m rather glad we hadn’t booked lodging on Ta’ū or Ofu!
Lodging — There are only a couple of hotels on the island. We chose Sadie’s by the Sea because of its beautiful location next to the harbor and the additional amenities we saw on the website, and we were very happy with our decision. Hosts Tee & Tom were incredibly kind, gracious and accommodating, making suggestions for us and helping us get to places we otherwise wouldn’t have known to visit. The little lagoon was a wonderful place to swim and relax, and the swimming pool was nice, as well. From here it was an easy walk into town [2k; about 20 minutes] which we made pretty much daily.
Tom & Tee also own and operate the Sadie Thompson Inn which offers lower priced rooms but doesn’t have the amenities of Sadie’s by the Sea. This hotel is a few minutes closer to the town area, but it’s not on the water which is what we wanted. The Tradewinds Hotel appeared newer and fancier and convenient to the airport, but this area is a 25-minute drive from what we wanted to do and see and I’m glad we didn’t choose that one.
Meals — We ate most of our meals at the restaurant at Sadie’s — the Goat Island Cafe — where we enjoyed delicious food (fresh tuna & fruit to die for!) and drinks and wonderful island service. Another popular place is the DDW Beach Cafe which an easy 5-minute walk from the hotel and we had a nice lunch there one day. The Sadie Thompson Inn does house Sadie’s Restaurant, arguably the best restaurant in the whole of the region, and dinner here one evening was a delicious treat. There are a few other restaurants on the island [including two McDonalds which we did not frequent] but we were quite happy with Goat Island Cafe for the views, flavors, variety, hospitality and convenience, so didn’t feel the need to go find something else.
Tisa’s Barefoot Bar — This place deserves a special shout out because it’s such a wonderfully cool place. If we had a car we would likely have frequented it every day, but because it’s 12k east of Pago Pago and the harbor — it’s in the little village of Alega — it took a fair amount of effort to get to. Still, as the photos show, this place is dreamy and relaxing; Gilligan’s Island has nothing on Tisa’s!
Tisa’s Umu – An umu is an earth oven, and this is the traditional island way to cook. Tisa’s Barefoot Bar features a Samoan feast cooked in an umu once a week and it is not to be missed! Once you get to the island, find out what night Tisa’s Umu is and make your reservation to be treated to delicious food in an idyllic setting on an evening you won’t soon forget.
‘Aunu’u [ow-NOO-oo] — About a mile southeast of Tutuila’s eastern tip is the volcanic island of ‘Aunu’u, the smallest inhabited island of American Samoa. A chance meeting of Pica “Peter” Taliva’a in the barber shop lead to an invitation for us to join him and his family at his home on ‘Aunu’u where we had the honor of sharing the morning with him, his son Sam, and a few other members of his family. Peter is the chief of his village so the experience we had with him showing us his island and preparing us local foods in an umu (our second umu experience of the week) was uniquely special; one we still think about and cherish.
Navigating the Island — As there is really only one primary road [Route 1] that winds east-west and sticks mostly to the southern edge of the island, navigating the island of Tutuila isn’t too difficult. The airport is about one third of the way in from the western end of the island; the city center of Pago Pago and the National Park are about two thirds in; you access ‘Aunu’u from the eastern end — check out a Google Map. There are a few other inward roads [Route 5, Route 6] that lead up into more remote little villages up from the coastal road, but these felt almost private and there was really no good reason to go up into them other than to see what life in those little villages is like — i.e. no cafes, shops, restaurants anywhere other than along Route 1. We are walkers so found the ~2k|20-minute walk into Pago Pago very easy from our hotel. Sadie’s has a shuttle van that took us to/from the airport, and when available (which it mostly was), to other destinations like the park’s trail head and some coastline destinations.
Aigas are the little buses that help islanders get around the island. They are not really buses as we know them; they’re actually locally-converted trucks with a cab & some seats atop the truck bed area, but they’re great fun and island visitors need to experience at least one ride in them. Some aigas are fancier and nicer than others, but all will take you “somewhere” on the island. There’s no printed schedule or map of where each goes — just the village name on the front windshield [but that didn’t really help us as we had no idea of where these small villages were!] — and it didn’t appear that they were on a set time schedule. We’d simply go stand by the sign that indicated a stop, and when a bus pulled over that was heading in the general direction of where we were going (basically east-ish on Route 1 or west-ish on Route 1), we’d pay the nominal fee and hop on. We felt very safe on the few we took, if not all that entirely comfortable as some of them were pretty old and didn’t have much padding! But they were, indeed, fun, and everyone was very nice to us and helped us get to our destination, for we clearly stood out as tourists! Aigas were a really fun way to observe the locals riding with us.
Overall — We really enjoyed our time in American Samoa! We researched in advance as best as we could, but unlike many of our other JollyOutThere adventures, we didn’t have very many of our logistics nailed down when we arrived at this far-away place. But from the moment we were greeted by our driver following a very long flight and late-night arrival at the airport to the time we were dropped off to fly back a week later, we had a most wonderful experience. We enjoyed the laid-back island atmosphere. We always felt safe. We enjoyed meeting and interacting with all those who were helping us enjoy their island. We appreciated the kind hospitality of everyone, particularly Tee and Tom of Sadie’s, the NPS rangers, and Pica/ Peter a village chief on ‘Aunu’u. We loved the food and the weather and the views and the hiking and the island tales and everything else. We approached our stay with a sense of adventure and with an “explorer’s spirit” as instructed, and because of this we were most genuinely rewarded with an awesome experience!