The Ultimate guide to visiting Samoa
Western Samoa is simply stunning. This tiny South Pacific island is where tropical paradise meets a strong Polynesian culture and it feels so untouched, authentic and very naturally beautiful. It’s one of those places where you go back in time to the bliss of no phone signal and very limited internet. Made of 2 islands floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a trip here is something you will never forget.
I spent 2 weeks exploring both islands and it is the epitome of laid back. If you want to spend your time laying on a beach, sipping cocktails then this is the place for you. But if you’re inclined to get out and about there are some truly natural and unique gems you absolutely can’t miss. 2 weeks was plenty of time to see what each of the islands has to offer, so it’s a great place for a short break if you’re in that part of the world.
I don’t know many people who have visited Samoa- it seems to be looked over for the more popular Fiji and Vanuatu, but honestly, it’s an amazing place and you should get over there before everyone else catches on!
So now I’ve introduced you to this little gem, let me guide you through what Samoa has to offer.
Getting there and around
The main airport is Apia Faleolo on Upolu. I flew in from New Zealand but direct flight also go here from Australia, Fiji, Hawaii and American Samoa. If you land in the day time you can catch the local buses to your accommodation or get a taxi – just make sure you set the taxi price at the start of the journey.
Bus – The brightly coloured local buses are a great and cheap way to get around. However, they can be pretty tricky given that there seems to be no set times and no set bus stops. If you see one coming you really have to stick your arm out to make sure they pull over.
Hire a car – Cars can be hired from Apia for around T100-120 per day, and this is something I would definitely recommend for at least some of your stay. It’s the easiest way to see the islands, with a road going all around the coast and just a couple of roads cutting across. It’s also right-hand drive which was good for a Brit like me!
Getting between the islands – There is a ferry that travels between Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu and Salelologa Wharf on Savai’i. I don’t know about the times too much, as nothing runs on time here really, so be prepared to wait around but once you get going it only takes about an hour to go between the islands.
The local currency is Western Samoan Tala (WST) and the exchange rate at the time of writing this is about £1= 3.4 Tala. There aren’t many ATM machines and the country mostly works on cash, so it’s best to make sure you have plenty on you. I’ve heard that Samoa is relatively inexpensive compared to other south pacific islands, but don’t think it’s going to be on par with Asia. However, there aren’t tonnes of expensive attractions to spend your money on so it’s fairly easy to keep tabs of your outgoings.
There are some higher end resorts and some hotels dotted around the islands, but the cheapest and best place to stay is in a beach Fale. A stay in one of these beautiful huts on the beach is a complete must on this paradisiacal island. They are simple but perfect in their own way with just a mattress and a mosquito net but the view of the water is priceless. The small, more informal ones you will see are usually family owned and 3 meals a day are usually included. It’s such a great way to learn about the family values Samoan’s have and it’s a seriously beautiful place to call home for a few days.
I would very highly recommend Joelan Beach Fales on Lano beach for an amazing experience for a great price. The family are amazing and it’s beautiful in all its simplicity.
Things to do – Savai’i
The Salelologa Market
This market is a great place to explore the local produce, taste some of the food and pick up some small gift from the local handicrafts. My favourite things are the Lavalavas (local sarong) – they’re so colourful and a great memento to take with you.
These are pretty awesome to visit. Located in Taga in the South West of the island, these have developed thanks to underwater caves being carved into the lava field by the water causing tunnels to be formed. Now you get to enjoy this natural wonder! As the blowholes are located on land owned by indigenous people, you will have to pay a small fee to visit. There’s also a coconut stall there and visitors are encouraged to throw them into the blow holes and watch them shoot up in the air.
Salaula Lava fields
Samoa is a volcanic island and there is a fantastic lava field you can visit while you’re there. By some miracle (maybe literally) there is an old church still standing there, despite having had the lava tear through it, so it’s a pretty unique to see something still standing amongst something so destructive! Make sure you take decent shoes and I would consider wearing longer shorts/trousers because if you slip over you’re gonna slice your leg on the lava rock.
The water in Samoa is unbelievably crystal clear, blue and beautifully warm. It’s the perfect place to get your hands on a mask and snorkel and dive in. There is a dive school on the island, and the opportunity to swim with amazing Green turtles. Both are fairly pricey though but if you want to do either, here is the place!
Afu Aua Waterfall
This beautiful waterfall sits in the rainforest on the south-eastern area of the island. There’s an entrance fee just off the main road then a short walk down to the water where you will see the waterfall and can take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters.
Lano– East coast – the epitome of a paradise island beach full of white sand and palm trees and lots of beach fales.
Tanu – North coast – a quieter lesser known beach, perfect for relaxing.
Things to do – Upolu
Papase’ea sliding rocks
Located just 15 minutes from Apia, this is another example of Samoa’s natural beauty. Here you will find water sliding over rocks into a blissful plunge pool to swim in. The slides are a range of heights (the tallest being 5m) so it’s great for all ages.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
A short drive away from Apia also, you will find the final stunning home of Robert Louis Stevenson and his family and its botanical gardens. The house has now been turned into a museum with it set up as it was when the Stevenson family lived there. Walk through the botanical gardens and up Mt Vaea for panoramic views of Apia.
On the south coast of the island, you will find the amazing To Sua Sea trench. It’s made up of 2 giant holes joined together by an ancient lava tube allowing sea water to enter and us humans to have a seriously unique swim. Climbing 30m down the near vertical steps is an experience in itself but getting to swim in such a place is simply amazing.
Open every weekday, this ‘village’ is behind the tourism centre in Apia. You will be shown a number of aspects of Samoan culture and traditions such as weaving, tattoos, cloth making, dance and music.
Piula Cave Pool
Another beautiful swimming spot, this time along the east coast of Upolu. Also formed by Samoa’s geology creating lava tubes, this is a freshwater pool and you can explore the underwater cave in the crystal clear waters.
Baha’i’ House of Worship
As one of only 8 temples open to people from all religions and backgrounds in the world, a visit to here is a must. Its distinctive dome shape makes it equally as unique and the 20 acres of gardens makes it a lovely place to take a walk. It’s also open every day and an interfaith prayer service is held every Sunday.
Lalumano – East coast – a stunning long stretch of beach with hotels and bars at the eastern end and a more natural and non-developed western end.
Salamumu – Southwest coast – not great for swimming but perfect for snorkelling- hire a snorkel, mask and shoes from a stall on the beach if you don’t have your own.