The Samoan archipelago is a stunning tropical island paradise. They are filled with picturesque beaches and friendly people. But from the quirks of history, today Samoa remains divided between the independent state of Samoa and the American unincorporated territory of American Samoa. So which should you visit?

History And Background

The Samoan people are Polynesian and are related to the native peoples of New Zealand, Hawaii, and Tahiti. In 1899 Samoa became the center of a colonial power struggle between three colonial powers, The United Kingdom, Germany, and America (America was a colonial power at this time). These powers decided to divide Samoa with the UK getting the Solomon Islands close to Papua New Guinea, Germany getting most of the main Samoan Islands, and America getting the western islands. During World War One New Zealand took over the Samoan Islands from Germany on the behalf of the UK.

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Samoa

Today Samoa is an independent country and has two main islands - much larger than the other islands in American Samoa. These islands are volcanic (including active volcanoes) - so don't expect just the tropical atolls that litter the Pacific. They lie close to the equator and so have a tropical climate and the rainy season is between November and March. Mt Silisili is the highest point rising to 1,858 meters or 6,096 feet.

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Visa Policy: Visa-Free - 60 Days

Samoa has a very simple visa policy. European Union citizens can visit visa-free for 90 days while almost the rest of the world can visit for 60 days. Additionally, one must have an onward ticket.

Samoa: The Facts

  • Official Language: English And Samoan
  • Population: 200,000
  • Capital And Largest City: Apia
  • Currency: Tālā
  • Independence: 1962 (From New Zealand)
  • Area: 1,097 sq miles (approx. 14x Larger Than American Samoa)
  • Formerly: Known As Western Samoa

Like New Zealand, Samoa drives on the left while American Samoa drives on the right.

Being the larger islands, there are more things to see and do. While the main attraction for Westerners in the Pacific is always going to be beaches and coconuts, there are many other things to do here. One must-see is the impressive lava fields as Samoa is volcanic and still home to active volcanos.

Another adventure is to enjoy the island's natural waterslides at Papaseea Sliding Rocks. The rocks are smooth and a very refreshing inland activity on a hot tropical island day. Other waterfalls and swimming spots include Papapapaitai Waterfalls, Sopo’aga Falls, and Togitogiga.

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Visit the To Sua Ocean Trench. This is a massive sinkhole and its name literally translated as "giant swimming hole". You can access this pristine piece of paradise by its long ladder as you descend the 30 meters (100 feet) down. You can also access a stunning cave from here.

The islands are also home to impressive ocean blowholes at Alofaaga. Chill here and watch as the waves in the blowholes are propelled hundreds of feet into the air.

There is also a ferry service connecting the two Samoas. This ferry only operates weekly between the Apia in Samoa and Pago Pago in American Samoa and it takes around 10 hours.

The most popular way to get between the Samoas is by airplane and there are multiple flights daily (Samoa and Talofa Airways only operate small aircraft).

  • Hawaiian Airlines: Twice A Week
  • Samoa Airways: 9-12 Flights Daily
  • Talofa Airways: 6 Flights Daily

American Samoa

American Samoa is an unincorporated US territory. It is visa-free for Americans, British, New Zealanders, Canadians, Australians, and many Europeans. However, all travelers - including Americans - need to carry their passports and have an onward ticket. American Samoa is not considered a port of entry into the United States. One is permitted to stay for 30 days though this can be extended.

Visa Policy: Visa-Free 30 Days

American Samoa is a tropical paradise just to the east of the main Samoan Islands and mostly consists of 7 tiny islands - although the island of Tutuila dominates. Like the main Samoan islands, they are full of volcanic backdrops and tropical forests. They have a reputation for their deep blue sea and immaculate beaches.

By far the main island is Tutuila which has around 95% of the population. It is around 25 miles long and 2-5 miles wide.

American Samoa: The Facts

  • Population: 46,000
  • Capital: Pago Pago
  • Largest Village: Tāfuna
  • Currency: American Dollar
  • Area: 77.6 sq miles
  • Independence: N/A Remains An Unincorporated American Territory

These islands are much smaller and so don't have the same sort of inland attractions, but be sure to visit the National Park of American Samoa on Tutuila and the Manu’a Islands. Here addition to the stunning unwater world and tropical landscapes you can find excluded traditional Samoan villages.

As with Samoa, on American Samoa be sure to go snorkeling and have a cruise on a local boat around the islands. You can explore lots of coral reefs and World War 2 relics.

In short, these are both stunning tropical islands and another example of a country partitioned by the world powers. Here you decide if you would prefer to visit an external American territory or a completely independent country in the Pacific. One way or the other - don't forget your passport!

Next: 10 Places To Explore In The South Pacific