Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is American Samoa.
I have finally set foot on "the beach at the end of the world," said Christopher Reynolds at the Los Angeles Times. Its creamy sands stretch for two lonely miles along the southeast coast of tiny Ofu, lapped by warm turquoise waters that blanket vibrant coral gardens just offshore. I'd fly 5,000 miles to spend another day there, which is what would be required. Ofu is part of American Samoa, the small island cluster that sits 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii and thus ranks as the most remote corner of the United States. An ancient culture thrives among Ofu's 200 full-time residents, as it does on Tutuila, the territory's largest and most populous island. But my day at Ofu Beach is what I'll remember most. When my snorkeling was interrupted by prehistoric-looking frigate birds soaring overhead, "I figured the next arrival might be a stegosaurus."
Downtown Pago Pago, on Tutuila, makes less of an impression. The chief harbor on American Samoa's main island, Pago Pago sustains a less than robust economy even though it welcomes regular flights from Honolulu. But roughly 9,000 acres of Samoan rain forest and 4,000 acres of underwater coral reef are protected by the U.S. National Park Service, and — if you aren't worried by mosquito-born viruses — the day seems to brighten each time you venture beyond city limits. The rainforest is loaded with mangoes, papayas, and the screams of fruit bats. The large bug-like creatures you might see climbing the trees are coconut crabs, which are considered a delicacy by the locals.
Coconut crab was served alongside red snapper and parrot fish at a Sunday feast pulled together by my homestay hostess on the sleepy island of Ta'u. It was an expression of "the Samoan way," which is how folks refer to Polynesia's oldest culture — manifested in hospitality, annual longboat races, and a celebration of physical toughness that partly explains why such a disproportionate share of the territory's 55,000 or so residents wind up in pro football or the U.S. Armed Services. When lunch was finished, all eyes turned to an NFL game playing on a big screen. Nowadays, "this, too, is the Samoan way."