One of the prime reasons to visit American Samoa is to see Tutuila, one of the South Pacific's most dramatically beautiful islands, and you'll get an eyeful of gorgeous scenery on the 11km (6 3/4-mile) ride from the airport at Tafuna into the legendary port of Pago Pago. But first you will see the effects of American dollars, for the area around the airport is a bustling suburb with shopping centers and a modern multiscreen cinema. The road is crowded with cars and buses and patrolled by policemen in big American-style cruisers. It's little wonder, therefore, that many visitors view American Samoa as crowded, littered, run-down, and ruined by commercialism.

Yet the physical beauty of this island competes favorably with the splendor of Moorea and Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Once the road clears the shopping area at Nu'uuli, it twists and turns along the rocky coastline. At places it rounds the cliffs of headlands dropping into the sea; at others it curves along beaches in small bays backed by valleys. All the way, the surf pounds on the reef. When you make the last turn at Blount's Point, you'll behold green walls dropping precipitously into Pago Pago Harbor.

Try to ignore the mountain of rusting shipping containers and the two smelly tuna canneries on the shore of the harbor.

Despite the obvious inroads of Western ways and American loot, the local residents still cling to fa'a Samoa, the ancient Samoan way of life. While many young American Samoans wear Western clothes and speak only English, often with a pronounced Hawaiian or Californian accent, in the villages the older folk still converse in Samoan and abide by the old ways.

This also is the scene of the first American national park below the equator. Although it has yet to be developed, you can hike its trails and explore some of American Samoa's phenomenal beauty close up.