Sadly American Samoa has a bad rap in the cruising community due to the issues with holding and the junk that is found in the harbor. So, for most cruisers it’s a utility stop rather than a destination. Why do they stop at all? Well, it is due to the great prices on alcohol, availability of American products and the cheap shipping of parts into the country from the United States.
And, while it really was a utility stop for us too we’re very glad we came. What we thought would be a three or four day detour turned into seventeen days due to a hurricane in Hawaii that delayed a shipment of water maker parts we desperately need. But, things must truly happen for a reason because we found this to be a great stop and would recommend it for cruisers who are coming this way.
Harbor & Port Check In
Of course flying your quarantine flag when entering the country is required and while not required, flying the American Samoa courtesy flag is certainly recommended. It’s a sign of respect to the people of the country you are visiting.
The check in process is pretty straightforward but not exceedingly quick. Notify the harbor master on VHF 16 prior to your arrival. We tried this before entering the harbor however their antenna isn’t the greatest so we couldn’t hear them. Not seeing any large ships moving about we entered the harbor and were finally able to reach them after rounding the corner. They will give you instructions as to where you can and cannot anchor in the bay. (See map below for anchorage restrictions).
Once you are anchored you can dinghy to shore. There is a dock in front of the McDonalds were you can tie up. We found it to be pretty safe there but we did always chain and lock our dinghy and motor. From the dock you make a left and head down to the main port dock to find the Harbormaster’s office. It’s an 8-10 minute easy walk.
The entrance is easy to spot as it has a guard shack where you’ll need to supply your passport to the guard before entering. Once though the gate you go to the left and you’ll see a door that will take you into the Customs, Public Health & Harbor Offices. You will need to visit all three before you go around the building and up three flights of stairs to the Harbormaster’s office. Note that the Harbormaster isn’t always easy to reach. He is responsible for checking the large ships into the port as well so you may have to come back more than once to catch him. Don’t worry though, if he’s not there you can head to Immigration and come back. They are pretty lax as to the order in which you complete the check in process.
Now that you have all of your Customs paperwork completed you’ll need to walk another kilometer to the Immigration office. It’s located in a large, triangular shaped Executive Offices building. The office you’re looking for is in the back corner of the building. You do not need to wait in line. Just tell them you are on a yacht and want to check in. They will move you to the front of the line. It literally took us longer to find the right office than it did to get them to stamp our passport!
You do not pay any fees until you check out of the country.
With all the paperwork done you might want to stop at The Goat Café at Sadie’s By The Sea (See Map Above) on your way back to enjoy some great views and a cold beer, maybe even some lunch! It’s a nice way to celebrate your arrival in this super friendly nation.
When you are ready to check out of country you will follow all of the same steps you did when checking in. If you let the Harbormaster know your date of departure when checking in you won’t have to go back to his office, just the other four. Our departure date kept changing because we were waiting on parts so we had to see him when we were checking out too.
In total we paid less than $100 USD when checking out of country. You pay these at the Harbor Office at the Port. Immigration does not charge anything.
There’s a lot of information out there about the anchorage here. Most will tell you that it does not provide good holding and there is a lot of trash in the water. Well, it’s not all wrong. When the tsunami hit American Samoa in 2009 a lot of debris ended up in the bay. Cruisers have reported bringing up many interesting things on their anchors including plastic children’s pools, bicycles etc… The point here is to make absolutely certain your anchor is set solid. We were here for 17 days and we did drag one time but it was just after a storm that had some pretty strong winds. Fortunately we were on the boat when it happened.
It’s can get pretty windy here as the winds come down from the mountains. On several occasions we experienced 25-35 knot winds and lots of rain. Be prepared….it does rain here quite a bit. Always take a rain jacket with you even if it’s sunny and bright because it can turn in a second.
Fuel & Marinas
There is a very small marina located on the southern shore of the bay but it’s not for cruisers, unless you are having work done. It’s mainly for the local fishing boats.
There is a fuel dock here but to be able to bring your boat alongside and get fuel you must make an appointment. You do this with the Fred in the Tool Shop (the red building just west of the gas station). If you want to jerrycan your fuel you don’t need to make an appointment. You can just bring your jerrycans to the fuel station here and fill them up.
First of all, you’ll really miss part of the American Samoa experience if you don’t take a ride on one of their buses. These things are fantastic! Each one is painted completely different and the insides are decorated differently as well. All have the same hard wooden bench seats but the experience on each bus is a completely unique event. Some have big TVs playing Samoan music videos and other have fur lined dashboards with crosses hanging from the ceiling. For $1 USD you can ride just about anywhere so even if you don’t have someplace you need to go, just go joyriding. It’s a great way to see the island and get to know some of her people. If you aren’t sure which bus you need, just ask the locals they are more than happy to help direct you. Even the teenagers were fantastic sources of information.
Car Rentals. Since we were going to be here a while we decided to do some big provisioning so we rented a car for several days. We rented from Avis at the airport. We had a late model Toyota Carolla and it ran about $100 including insurance. We booked online then took the bus to the airport to pick it up.
Taxis. Yes, you can find taxis here but most of them tend to hang out at the airport and larger grocery stores. If you want one to pick you up at the anchorage area you’ll need to call one. The only taxi we used was one to get us from the airport back to the Laufou Shopping Center.
You can find a little bit of everything here from fine dining at resorts to fast food and everything in between. Here are a few of our favorites.
Sadie’s Steakhouse. This place is also known as the Sadie Thompson Inn and it’s located across the street and just west of the McDonalds. We can’t say enough about this place. The dining room looked quaint and cozy but we opted to eat in the bar the night we dined here. Sonny, the bartender, was awesome as he talked to us about local culture, the tsunami and so much more. The food? Oh my! It was out of this world! I had the Beef Oscar which was a thick filet covered with Alaskan King Crab and Bernaise Sauce. Oh yes….drooling as I write about it. Dan had the Beef Wellington which was equally as good. In fact, our meals were so good we insisted on meeting the Chef.
Goat Island Café. Owned the same people who own Sadie’s Steakhouse, you really can’t go wrong here either. We had several lunches and a dinner here and never had a bad meal. The service is great and the views exceptional. And, because of its location we found it to be a nice watering hole when we were on our way from one side of town to the other.
Paradise Bar & Grille. This little place doesn’t offer great views or a fabulous atmosphere but we absolutely fell in love with it. It had more of a pub style atmosphere with banquet tables for large families and a bar that seated 8-10 people. The food was really good…especially the steak sandwich. What really makes this place special, however, is the wonderful people who work here and who treated us like we were family!
Shopping & Provisioning
Cost U Less. This large box store is similar to a small scale Sam’s Club or Costco. They carry a lot of the Kirkland products which we were pretty excited about finding. We also found them to have quality meats and cheeses too.
KS Mart. This is another box store just down the road to the west from Cost U Less. We also found a great selection of things here that we needed to provision. Their fruit/vegetable selection was outstanding.
Cost U Less and KS Mart are located in the Tafuna area so if you are getting more than a few things you’ll either want to rent a car or maybe take the bus there and get a taxi back to the bay. We have heard that if you buy enough supplies or go in with some other boats that you can negotiate at the store to have them drive you back for free. We rented a car so we never had to try this.
Laufou Shopping Center. This little shopping center is located about halfway between the harbor and the airport. You get off the bus at the Carls Jr Restaurant. Behind the restaurant is the shopping center. There’s a store in the back of the center that has everything from grocery items to clothing. We located a few choice finds in here like Cheese It Crackers and other snack food we’d been missing.
Fagatogo Market. This little marked is located right beside the bus station near the anchorage. Here you will find fresh fruits and veggies as well as some interesting crafts and touristy items.
There are other markets all around the area and there is even a pretty decent, but small, market right near the anchorage. It’s called the Super M and it’s located at the southwest end of the bay. They had a pretty decent frozen meat section but not much in the way of fresh food.
If you’re looking for the traditional touristy stuff you will find it on nearly every corner and the vast majority of it will be made in China! Rather than opt for the traditional junk we decided to have a shirt made for Dan and a dress for Jilly. In keeping with the island tradition we had them both made from the same fabric. After talking with several of the local ladies we ended up going to Island Image Creations. They have tons of fabric to choose from and did a fabulous job! They were quick too….just a couple of days. When we went back to pick up our items Jilly’s dress didn’t fit quite perfectly but they fixed it on the spot so we didn’t have to come back another day. We highly recommend them for a truly unique keepsake of your time on the island.
Beer, Wine & Liquor
You can buy beer and liquor in the grocery stores. You cannot purchase package liquor on Sundays so keep that in mind. In fact, most of the island shuts down on Sundays so be prepared for that. The good news is that for this first time since Mexico, the beer and liquor come at a reasonable price so stock up.
We found a beer distribution warehouse on the main road in Tafuna between the airport and the Cost U Less and they actually sold cases of beer to us directly. (See map above) We got an amazing deal! Don’t remember the name and can’t seem to find it on the net but it’s not hard to find. It will be on the south side of the main road about a half a mile east of the Cost U Less. The building is a large metal warehouse looking structure. If you have a car or taxi and they are open we highly recommend getting your beer here. It was the best deal in town.
Marine Parts & Hardware
The Tool Shop located at the wharf (see map above) has quite a few tools and even some marine hardware and fishing equipment. They can also arrange to get your dive tanks filled.
There is an Ace Hardware outside of town on the Leona bus route. Also along this route in the MeWon. It has a variety of marine supplies but don’t expect it to have everything you are used to in the land of plenty.
There’s also a NAPA and a Tool Shop & Building Supply store closer to the airport. We checked them all out just so we knew what was available if we needed it.
Because Pago Pago is a main shipping port you can find a lot of things you won’t find in more remote areas. The key is to ask. Fred at the Tool Shop at the anchorage is a wealth of information and if he didn’t have it, he pointed us in the right direction.
Post Office & Mailing To American Samoa
One of the greatest things about coming here is the ability to have parts and other items shipped from the USA at a very reasonable cost. We had a generator shipped to Nuka Hiva in French Polynesia and the shipping was $1000 USD….almost as much as the generator itself!
Here, because it’s an American territory, you get the benefit of having things come at American postal rates. The cost to ship a medium size box from California to Pago Pago is just $21 USD. It costs the same thing to ship it from California to Florida. BONUS!
We ordered our water maker parts online while in French Polynesia so they would be here when we arrived. Of course we weren’t planning for a hurricane to hit Hawaii. That delayed our delivery but also gave us more time to explore this beautiful country.
When having items shipped here you should always have them shipped “Priority Mail”. It’s trackable and it’s not that expensive. If you have a physical address you can use then fine but we just had our items shipped to the post office which worked equally as well.
Have the sender address the items as follows:
Your name, Yacht Name if desired, General Delivery, Pago Pago, AS 96799
Packages sent via USPS Express services come in several times a week. While all others arrive on Fridays and are available for pickup on Saturday morning.
All General Delivery Mail is handed out at the back of the post office. It’s an interesting setup. You bring your tracking ticket and passport and they will let you in the back room where they will take that information and find your package. There are Customs Agents waiting there who will open your package and inspect it. The whole process is actually very efficient. We had several items shipped and other than the hurricane delay we had absolutely not issue.
Banking & ATMs
There is an ANZ Bank located down near the Post Office just a short walk from the dinghy dock area. (See Above Map). We were there for 17 days and visited it more than once. The ATM was always full and ready to hand out cash.
Cell Service & Internet
Typically we use our IridiumGo to communicate with family and friends back home via email. Or, we find a good WiFi hotspot in a restaurant. It gives us a chance to explore the great pubs and restaurants and use the net for banking, working on our website etc…
Since we were going to be in American Samoa for an extended period we decided to purchase a sim card and some local service so we could have real internet on the boat.
Bluesky is the service provider here and you will find them right in front of the Fagatogo Market and bus depot near the dinghy dock. They are located in a small portable building on the southeast corner of the market parking lot. They’re open Monday-Friday from 0900-1600 and on Saturday from 0900-1400. Closed on Sunday. They also have an office in the Laufou Shopping center. This location is open from 0800-1700 Monday-Friday with the same Saturday hours as Fagotogo. It’s also closed on Sunday.
We paid $35 USD for 12 GB of data that was valid for 15 days. Seemed a bit pricey but it was a luxury we decided was worth the price. After all, we really hadn’t had good internet since we left Mexico five months prior.
We found American Samoa to be very safe although we did note there is some criminal element. From what we learned from the locals, crimes against tourists tend to be limited to petty theft. Moral of the story: Keep an eye on your belongings and keep things locked up.