Everyone knows that the United States has 50 states, but it also has a number of territories around the world that are not part of the United States proper. It has a tropical island paradise in the South Pacific and another tropical island paradise in the Caribbean - American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands respectively. So which American tropical island paradise should one visit?
On both territories, one will be enjoying lounging on the tropical beaches and exploring the rainforests. One is likely just chill in a resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands but is more likely to mingle with the locals in American Samoa and see an authentic local way of life.
During the 1800s Samoa was caught up in an imperial political struggle between America, Germany, and Britain. The result was the partition of Samoa. America received the smaller part of Samoa and it remains an unincorporated territory of the United States today. All American Samoans are automatically American Nationals but not citizens.
- Size: 77 Square Miles
- Population: 46,000
- Capital And Largest City: Pago Pago
- Annexed: 1899
The largest and most populated island is Tutuila and it is home to the main settlement and the international airport. See here for why both the country of Samoa and America Samoa is worth visiting.
This is an authentic tropical US territory escape that is about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. It is a land of incredible volcanic peaks, thick rainforests, and pristine coral reefs. Around 90% of this land remains a virgin landscape.
The Polynesian Samoan heritage remains vibrant and is an authentic taste of Polynesian culture.
This is more of a destination for intrepid travelers and few people venture to such a remote location. Tourism remains largely undeveloped compared to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Tourism: Lowly Developed
- Tip: Come in September and October And See Humpback Whales At Their Best
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It is important to plan in advance for a trip to American Samoa. It is common for activities to book out (like guided dives, schedule fishing charters, accommodation, etc.). While not a lot, there are still a number of resorts to choose from - but consider a homestay while here! See here for accommodation options.
- National Park: National Park Of American Samoa
American Samoa is also home to one of America's national parks - the National Park of American Samoa.
It is important to know that everyone (American Citizens included) requires a passport to enter American Samoa - although no visas are needed. It is not considered a port of entry to the United States.
To fly into American Samoa one must transit through Hawaii or Fiji. For those interested in visiting this forgotten paradise see American Samoa Visitors Bureau.
The United States Virgin Islands
Unlike American Samoa, these islands are located close to the United States and have a well-developed tourism industry. They are an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States and are adjacent to the nearby British Virgin Islands.
The main islands are Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas and the capital is Charlotte Amelie on the island of St. Thomas. They boast some of the Caribbean's tropical beaches at their very best. See here for the best beaches in the Caribbean ranked.
- Size: 134 Square Miles
- Population: 106,000
- Purchased: 1917 From Denmark
- Purchase Price: $25 Million Dollars (Amount America Paid Denmark For The Islands)
This is one of the youngest parts of the United States having been purchased in 1917 from Denmark. Most of the population is of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Tourism is the main industry on these islands (accounting for around 60% of GDP). It is a very popular stop-off for cruise ships and (pre-Covid) receives around 2.5 million tourists a year.
- National Park: Virgin Island National Park
Like American Samoa, they also boast an American national park. The Virgin Island National Park preserves around 60% of the island of Saint Join and some of the adjacent Caribbean waters around it (plus all of Hassel Island).
The national park is a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkeling - it also boasts some miles of trails through its tropical rainforest.
American citizens can freely travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands with all the conveniences of domestic travel. They do not require American citizens who are traveling from any part of America to have a passport.
Which To Choose?
They are both laid-back tropical islands on slow "island time" but that's about where the comparison ends. Whereas the U.S. Virgin Islands are close, easy to visit, and have well-developed tourist infrastructure. American Samoa is remote, requires a long flight with a layover (probably in Honolulu), and has must less-developed tourist infrastructure.
American Samoa is likely to be more of a local experience. So be sure to travel around in the local buses - one can travel from one end of the island to another for just $2.50.