US Territories Escapade
US Territories are more than just 50 states. Five permanently inhabited territories—American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands—are home to rich cultures and breathtaking natural beauty.
1. American Samoa One of the Best US Territories
As the name suggests, American Samoa is indeed a hidden gem. It’s the most remote and tropical of the American territories, a far-flung corner of Polynesia over 2,500 miles south of Hawaii.
Pineapples, coconut palms, and fragrant frangipani flowers thrive in the warm, inviting climate. You can spend hours gliding through the crystal-clear waters on an outrigger canoe or learn about Samoan culture by joining a weaving workshop or dancing class.
The indigenous Samoan people maintain a strong sense of aiga (extended family), with elders and village chiefs being held in high regard. They speak the Samoan language, follow a traditional diet of fish and vegetables, cook in an umu (earth oven), and worship every evening and Sunday.
Guam is one of America’s least-known territories. Most Americans, if they think of it at all, probably only know that it’s where the sun rises on the other side of the International Date Line and was used as a base for several World War II battles. The island’s rich local history stretches back centuries and its personality is a unique mix of pan-Pacific and all-American.
Guam’s first inhabitants are believed to have arrived from the Philippines between 1500-1400 B.C. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence that the islands were home to the earliest humans in the Western Hemisphere.
In the 1970s, Guam began moving toward representative self-government. Its citizens now elect a governor, and they send one nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. The government also operates a local university, and the Defense Department manages military bases that cover 29% of the island.
3. Northern Mariana Islands Part of US Territories
The newest territory, the Northern Mariana Islands is easy to reach via direct flights from Guam and Japan. The CNMI’s archipelago is a tropical dream, with beautiful beaches and stunning dive sites. Its pristine coral reefs and WWII history make it an unforgettable destination.
The people of the CNMI first settled the islands more than 3,500 years ago. They remained distinct from the mainland Micronesians but eventually merged with them culturally. The CNMI’s indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian cultures live on in ancient stone structures and lively dance and music.
The territory’s federal courts, however, have the same jurisdiction as the United States district courts. This includes diversity and bankruptcy jurisdiction. The CNMI also has its own supreme court, the highest judicial body in the territory. Its justices are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Appeals are heard by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
4. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a unique status. It has some form of self-government and sends delegates to Congress, but it can’t vote in presidential elections. Its residents, known as puertorriquenos, have a hybrid culture of Spanish, American and Afro-Caribbean roots.
Its economic conditions are generally advanced by Latin America standards, and the island has its own unique cuisine influenced by its diverse heritage.
Puerto Ricans have voted in six plebiscites on statehood and most favor a permanent union with the United States. Others advocate for what’s known as enhanced commonwealth status (with greater autonomy than a state), while a small minority favors independence.
Whether Puerto Rico becomes a state, the territory’s hidden gems are worth exploring. From the multicolored Fly Geyser to the world-class bioluminescent bay at the Laguna Grande, you’ll be dazzled by its beauty and diversity.
Then, when you’re hungry, you can head to one of the more than 4,000 restaurants to enjoy local favorites like beef-stuffed fried pastries known as pastelillos and mashed green plantains called mofongo. Quench your thirst with a glass of Medalla beer or one of the island’s rum-based cocktails.
Palau is home to quiet beaches, secret coves, and waterfalls that astound visitors with their beauty. It also offers exhilarating options for hiking, rock climbing, and world-class scuba diving among WWII wrecks for adrenaline junkies. And its flora and fauna—including crocodiles, bladderworts, and a unique frog that gives birth to live young—will delight nature lovers.
The country’s other notable attractions include Jellyfish Lake on Eil Malk Island, where millions of golden jellyfish—that have evolved to be stingless—move gracefully with the current, and the Milky Way Lagoon in Koror, where visitors can smear the white mud that is believed to have beautifying properties on their faces. Drone exploration allows visitors to see many of these hidden gems from a different perspective, providing an unforgettable experience.