Samoa, South Pacific
So you decided you want to visit Samoa and/or American Samoa and are trying to do all the research you can and you found yourself on this page. Welcome! We are so glad you found yourself here and we hope you find some useful information in planning your trip. When we set out to plan our trip it took a lot of messaging back and forth as well as phone calls to get the right information. In sharing what we learned we hope to save you some time and stress before you set off on your island adventure.
Let's start with the basics:
You and anyone else you want to bring with you, preferably someone you don't mind getting stuck on an island with ;)
So many reasons from the beautiful blue water to the really nice people. You want to go somewhere different and are kind of done with those usual resort-y island vacations.
While the temperature will not change from summer to winter, the amount of rainfall will. The wet season runs from November to April which is also hurricane season. We visited December 28, 2015 - January 8, 2016 and experienced a couple days of heavy rain as well as some beautiful sunny days. Going during the dry season does not guarantee you will have only sunny days. On of our motivations in going in the winter was being able to experience New Years Day twice (the international date line runs between Samoa and American Samoa) but instead opted to enjoy our time in Samoa without the back and forth flying. The duration of your stay depends on what you want to do. There are several islands, but two main islands to explore which can both be done in a matter of 2-3 days. You travelled so far to be surrounded by the ocean, why would you want to leave so quickly? The two weeks spent both in Samoa and American Samoa were well worth it and just the right amount of time.
You have picked the dates you will be visiting and now you have to figure out where you will be going. As mentioned, there is a huge time jump going to from the States to Samoa so it is VERY important to write down your itinerary with dates and times. Here is our flight schedule for your reference. Take note that on January 7th we travelled back in time to January 6th. While technically we gained the day we lost on December 29th, it was pretty rad that we experienced a whole extra day and 25 minutes in 2016! Keeping track of dates and time is very important if you chose to fly through American Samoa. The other option is to fly from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji or now there are direct flights from Honolulu.
Flight Number Departure City Departure Date Departure Time Arrival City Arrival Date Arrival Time
Alaska 827 Oakland 12/27/2015 9:05 AM Honolulu 12/27/2015 12:43 PM
HA 465 Honolulu 12/28/2015 4:45 PM Pago Pago 12/28/2015 9:25 PM
OL-247 Pago Pago 12/29/2015 12:30 PM Figalii 12/30/2015 1:05 PM
OL-236 Figalii 1/7/2016 10:30 AM Pago Pago 1/6/2016 10:05 AM
HA 466 Pago Pago 1/8/2015 11:20 PM Honolulu 1/9/2016 5:40 AM
Alaska 838 Honolulu 1/9/2016 3:10 PM Oakland 1/9/2015 10:28 PM
We did not want to spend 10+ hours on a plane so we flew to Honolulu, stayed a night and then flew the next day to Pago Pago, American Samoa. We used our half day in Honolulu to hike up the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail as well as enjoy lunch at Waʻahila Ridge State Recreation Area. Since our flight was at 4:45 PM, we assumed we could just pick up dinner at the airport (the Hawaiian Airlines flight does serve dinner but there wasn't a vegetarian option and since I have a food allergy I tend not to eat airplane food). If you are planning to pick up food, do so prior to boarding the bus/walking all the way down to the terminal which I recall to be very far from any restaurant or food stands.
Prior to boarding there is a check of your paperwork/passport to make sure you are ok to arrive in American Samoa. This is probably a good time to talk about the legal documents needed to visit both these islands. First the easy one, Samoa. For the most part it doesn't matter where your passport is from, you will get a tourist visa upon arrival or you may not even require a visa for a short stay. American Samoa on the other hand is pretty tricky and hard to find info on and from the number of calls and runarounds I was getting it didn't seem like there were too many visitors who did not hold an American passport visiting. If you have an American passport then great you can go straight pass Go and collect 200!!! Woohoo!! No seriously you just land, the officer looks at your passport, looks at you and you go on your way (with a couple of stamps) to collect your bags. If you don't have an American passport nor a passport from a visa waiver country don't worry, you can still visit but you will have to do some more work.
Since the flight arrives in Pago Pago late at night, you will inevitably have to stay at least a night and that will require you leaving the airport which means you will need to clear the immigration station. So how do you get a visa to visit American Samoa? If you are visiting someone, they can sponsor you and do the paperwork and you are done. If you are reading this, you most likely don't have a friend or employer in American Samoa so you'll have to do the legwork of calling the Immigration Office to get the info for your situation. Our favorite person throughout this process was Ipi who got us the paperwork and did not give us the runaround and the best part was we were able to express our gratitude in person when we arrived! I'm not sure if anything has changed (try calling the number on the immigration office first) but using this email address gave us the quickest response: email@example.com. You will not be able to get the entry permit until you have your tickets booked but it is always good to get information well in advance as it takes a while to get paperwork done.
Purchasing your Polynesian Airline (Flight Number starting with OL) tickets will also require a phone call to their office in Apia ,(+685) 21261, in order to process your ticket since their online booking isn't able to authenticate credit cards. Give them a ring and tell them the flights/times you want to book and they will send you the authorization form to send back (no it's not a scam) and now you have the tickets to send over to the American Samoan Immigration office to get your entry permit!
The last booking you need to do is ferry between the two main islands in Samoa but that can be done upon arrival as there are usually a couple of boats a day. Make sure to check if the ferry is running if you are visiting during the holiday season. We travelled on New Years day to Savai'i and there was only one ferry that day. You can buy a ticket at the terminal the morning of your departure or call in to book ahead. You can fine the timetable and fares listed on the Samoan Shipping Corporation website.
Here is the fun stuff. What do you want to DO while on vacation? If you are like me, the first thing you want to do is jump right into the ocean! It's pretty hot and humid to be doing much else outdoors. There are the usual markets, historical sights and museums but you came to find something different. For many, a new place is an opportunity to try local cuisine (which you can find several bbq stands along the main road) but the highlight of your trip will not be what or where you ate but rather who you met. The islands are so small that you inevitably bump into the same people and become close friends with staff of the places you stay. Perhaps the best way to describe what you can do on the Islands is to go through our days spent on the islands. There were many things I'm sure we missed but we hit up all the spots we really wanted to check out and then some that were on our way. So let's begin with our arrival into Pago Pago.
Day 0: This is day zero since it was spent mostly traveling. We arrived the night before on December 28th, 2015 with a huge welcome at the airport. Well I suppose, technically, we did have a shuttle drive from the hotel waiting for us but most of the crowd outside the airport was there to welcome their friends and family home from Hawaii and the main land. The moment I stepped off the plane, it was very clear the closeness of the community on the island. All of the airport staff knew the people on the plane. The flight from Hawaii arrives twice a week so it is almost a commuter flight shuffling people back and forth between family and work. Since most of the staff are only there twice a week they either work at the main office or have other jobs as well. When we had stopped by the immigration office, our officer from the airport recognized us from the night before! It was quite beautiful to see the crowd waiting for their loved ones outside the airport with the flowers, posters and gifts. We arrived at the Tradewinds Hotel and woke up the next morning to this:
We had breakfast which included Koko Araisa (cocoa mixed with rice) which was delicious as well as traditional breakfast fare. We had an afternoon flight so we stopped by the immigration office in the morning where we saw Ipi as well as the officer from the night before. Both of them instantly recognized us. For a moment I felt like a celeb until I realized Ipi had our passport pictures. We then headed back to the hotel and got dropped off at the airport. On our way to the airport, the driver commented how we are going to the "fun" island where everyone is out playing volleyball in the evenings (this was a true fact, we did indeed see families outside playing volleyball).
The airport was the same one we arrived in from Hawaii but we could actually see it now in the light. The Boeing 767 which brought us from Hawaii looks pretty ridiculous at the small airport. There are several flights throughout the day that go to various small islands but we were headed to Samoa and the first stop is to get our tickets. Well we had a reservation but unlike most flights we take, these tickets we received were hand written and our reward for coming super early was getting to sit right behind the pilots!!
We also got introduced to Big Ass Fans. Now I recognize them everywhere I go!
Prior to giving us seat assignments, they had to weigh us. Since the plane is small they had to make sure the weight is distributed evenly. I would be lieing if I told you I wasn't scared about this flight. I'm a rational person and I don't usually have a fear of flying but when you are on a small plane and can smell that fuel burning as you watch the pilots press levers and push buttons to take off and land you fully comprehend how you are literally putting your life in the hands of these pilots and you just hope their years of experience will get you there safely.
Once we landed in Samoa, the first thing we did was exchange our dollars for Talas. Then we hoped in a cab which stopped in the city for us to get a SIM card and then off we went to the Sheraton Resort on the other side of the island. A note about the SIM card. Super easy to get and you just load it with the amount of data you want. The service we used was Blue Sky which allows you to add money online which is great. Once you leave the main city of Apia, all you really see is the ocean and greenery and then you pass by villages. The Sheraton was on the western end of Upolu island right by the international airport. The Sheraton is exactly what you would envision a resort to be with the pool (not sure why you need one with the ocean steps away from your room) and restaurant catering to the western crowd. Don't get me wrong, I like nice hotels but it kind of seemed a bit out of place. The staff was incredibly nice but we weren't there to hang out at the hotel. We didn't do much that first day except walk along the beach.
Day 1: We were all set to explore the island and decided to take a half day tour since we weren't planning to rent a car for that one day. Our tour guide/cab driver picked us up and then asked us if it was ok to bring along his friend since he had trouble the day before getting his car through some flooded roads. We said "of course" and he stopped by his village to pick up his friend and then we stopped by a food stand to buy bread. We went to a pond and fed some turtles with the bread that he bought. I wasn't sure if that was really something to stop for but yup that is something you can do and leave a review about it on Trip Advisor.
As the rain started we went to the market in Apia and while I'm not a huge fan of shopping, there are some great handicrafts and fabric you can find there. We even found a gentleman at a stand who used to live pretty close to where we live now which was pretty cool. We bought some items and headed to lunch at Tifaimoana Indian Restaurant. Both times we visited, we were the only guests and the same host served us so she remembered us! If you are looking for vegetarian food it always helps to find an indian restaurant! We then stopped by a waterfall which looked like some excess water running off the side of a hill but I suppose that counts as a waterfall. At some point our driver got word that some parts of the main road were flooded and that he would be unable to get to the other side so we had to cut short our day. I was questioning what we had done that morning which wasn't much except we got to learn more about Samoan culture from our driver. He even invited us to his church's midnight service for New Years Eve. We did not have a car to get around so we were unable to join him. I also didn't quite stay up to ring in the New Year.