If you are trying to visit all of the national parks (whether that means all 424 or just the small subset of 63 that most people go for) The National Park of American Samoa is on your list.
Getting there can be a real challenge due to limited flights and tourism infrastructure, high costs, and things happening on “island time.” I got advice from many folks who had visited before me, folks living on the islands, and one former resident whose help was invaluable (thanks Tori!). I’ve put together a few tips that might help you plan your trip to this really beautiful park.
Where is the National Park of American Samoa?
The park is located on three islands that sit just to the east of the International Date Line, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. The largest island is Tutuila, and is where all flights into the territory arrive, so it is the island that most park visitors see. If you decide to go to the islands of Ofu and Ta’u, transportation is from the island of Tutuila. When searching for info, make sure you specify AMERICAN Samoa. Samoa (formerly called Western Samoa) is an independent nation on the opposite side of the International Date Line. It is well worth visiting as well, but be careful of confusing your research between the two places.
What cool stuff does the park protect?
Lush green rainforests cover steep volcanic mountains plunging to the sea, coral reefs are just a matter of yards from the shore, and relics from World War II abound here, but the park also exists to interpret the culture of the Samoan people.
How long should I plan to spend there?
This is a tough one. We stayed for 4 1/2 days, and I do not think it was enough. There were lots of things we missed seeing. But I know others who spent three days and were bored out of their minds. Since it is unlikely you will ever come back here, allow time to see things other than the park. If you are relying on buses for transit, expect to wait for a long time if you want to see and visit remote parts of the island. If you want to go to the islands of Ofu and Ta’u, you will need considerably more time as flights to these places pose their own challenges (more on this in a bit). Rough seas and tides can impact your ability to see the coral reefs, so having extra days to allow for this will help. The park’s proximity to the equator at about 13 degrees south means that the days are about the same length all year round…you’ll get 11-13 hours of daylight to explore, and if you decide to not rent a car, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the evenings. Another very surprising thing to me was how congested the road is at “rush hour.” You might think I’m kidding, but the one east-west road is pretty much all there is, and everybody needs it.
When should I go?
American Samoa is in the southern hemisphere at about 13 degrees south latitude. As an idea of where this is, the northern tip of South America is at about 13 degrees north latitude. While technically it might be a bit cooler June-August, the reality is you probably won’t notice much. June-August is also technically drier, but it is a rainforest, so expect rain at any time of year. The weather will be warm and humid. We chose May because it was after their typhoon season and before our hurricane season in the eastern US. I was happy with our choice and though the Mt Alava trail was muddy and slick in a few places, it was not anything like what I expected it to be after talking to folks who visited in December/January.
What else do you want to know?
This is just part 1 of my tips for visiting. I'm guessing folks are wondering about transportation, lodging, and all kinds of other things. Let me know in the comments what you'd like to see next!