In this article we want to give you some tips on how to organise your trip to Samoa and what to expect when you get there. We went there in August 2023 and we visited both Upolu and Savai’i, the two main islands of Samoa.
Plan your trip:
- Introduction to Samoa
- How to get there
- How to get around
- Itineraries – 3 to 7 Days
- Hidden gems
- Discover the People of Samoa
Introduction to Samoa
Samoa, officially the Independent State of Samoa, and until 1997 known as Western Samoa, is a Polynesian country consisting of two main islands (Upolu and Savai’i), two smaller islands (Manono and Apolima) and several other smaller islands.
In its early history Samoa was an important Polynesian centre closely related to Fiji and Tonga. Samoa fought several wars with its neighbour countries for the control of the Polynesian islands, the ones against the Tongan empire are particularly legendary and the king Tui Manu’a is still today a mythological figure in the Samoan traditions. The first contacts with the European began in the early 18th century and soon after missionaries arrived to convert the population to Christianity. In the late 19th century the Samoan territory became the centre of disputes between three main world powers: Germany, the Unites States, and Britain, all of which showed great commercial interest in the Samoan islands. Two civil wars erupted at the end of which the territory was divided in two parts, Western Samoa, under the German control, and Eastern Samoa, under the American influence; this partition is still valid today. New Zealand took control of Western Samoa in the early months of WWI and maintained it until 1961, when Samoa became an independent country.
How to get there
The international airport is in Apia, the capital of Samoa, on the island of Upolu. There are direct flights both from New Zealand and Australia. However, the cheapest way is to fly there via Fiji with Fiji Airways.
In 2023 we flew from Auckland to Apia via Nadi and we spent 570 NZD each return.
Samoa is less tourist than other islands of the Pacific. Here, you will basically find two types of accommodation: homestays and resorts/hotels. Camping there but it’s not really an option, unless you know somebody who can host you in their property.
Homestays are the cheapest options. On Airbnb you will find plenty of homestays particularly around the area of Apia. Although it’s not the most beautiful part of the country, we suggest you considering the area of Apia just because it’s more or less located at the center of Upolu and there are more facilities. The rest of the country is not much populated and you may get stuck there unless you have your own vehicle.
There are several hotels and resorts both on Upolu and Savai’i that offer the possibility to spend a night in a fale. Sleeping in a beach fale is the cheapest option if you decide to go to a resort. Fales are traditional Samoan houses of circular or oval shape with thatched roof held up by wooden poles with no permanent walls. Roll down blinds, called pola, surround the structure.
Not all the fales are along the beach, each Samoan family has its own fale next to their house to be used as meeting house for the all aiga (extended family). If you want to know more about Samoan people and traditional way of living, click here.
If you decide to go to Savai’i there is no option other than staying in a resort. We stayed in an open fale (no door) at Va-I-Moana Seaside Lodge and we spent 104 WST per night. Apparently this is one of the cheapest resorts of the area. The fale was really nice and the people are very friendly; food was ok.
How to get around
Samoa is bigger than you may expect and getting around the islands is not as easy as you may think. There are five ways to get around the country: buses, taxis, hiring a vehicle, biking, and hitchhiking. Between the two main islands there is a ferry.
Don’t leave Samoa before taking a local bus at least once. They are very colorful, music is always on and it’s a great memorable and fun cultural experience!
There are no bus stops, just wave at the bus when it’s coming. Each bus has the destination written at the front, if you are unsure you can always ask the driver. Be aware that buses run on “island time” which basically means that they don’t have a timetable and they will pass that at some point, but you don’t know when.
Also, buses are very slow, it may take you half day to go from one side of the island to the other one. We took the bus at the ferry terminal of Savai’i to go to the Va-I-Moana seaside lodge and it took us over 3hrs.
However, we enjoyed the ride and we recommend the experience. Buses are the cheapest way of transport, don’t expect to pay more than 15WST per journey. Payment is cash only!
Taxis & Guides
There are plenty of taxis especially around Apia. If you are happy to pay, you can even get a personal driver for the all day, expect to pay from 250 to 300 WST for that. Taxis are a very popular way of transport among Samoans, since buses are not very reliable and are very slow. Taxi drivers do not have a taximeter so you can negotiate a bit the price. We occasionally took taxis on Upolu and hired a guide for two days on Savai’i, where you can’t get around unless you have your own vehicle (there are only two buses per day running on “island time”).
Fainuu is a very experienced an knowledgeable guide, we really enjoyed our time with him and we recommend him. He is based in Falealupo, on the west coast of Savai’i but he will be able to help you anywhere you are on Savai’i. His number is +6857596919, give him a call when you get there!
Hiring a vehicle
Many tourist end up hiring a vehicle. We were planning to get a scooter when we got there but, when we arrived, they were shooting the reality show “Survivor” and the crew literally booked all the vehicles in town. There are many places where you can hire cars in Apia but only one, motosamoa, where you can get a motorbike. We strongly recommend you to book your vehicle in advance.
Although hiring a vehicle may seem more expensive at first, if you want to go around the country you will probably spend the same (or more) by getting taxis all the time and you will be more flexible with your own vehicle. That’s why we suggest you to hire a vehicle in Samoa.
Bikes can be hired from “Outdoor Samoa” in Upolu as well as at some resorts both in Upolu and Savai’i. We didn’t see many people cycling but we believe it’s a great option if you like it. However, the islands are quite big, Upolu is very hilly and it can be very hot…it may not be the best option if you only have a few days.
Hitchhiking is not a very popular way of transport in Samoa but, according to our experience, it was really easy to get a ride. As soon as you wave at a car they will stop and offer you a lift. Remember that on Upolu it’s much easier to hitchhike on the way back to Apia rather than on the way out and in Savai’i there are not many cars. Be prepared to pay a taxi, worst case scenario.
There is a ferry travelling between Upolu and Savai’i. For passengers with no vehicle, you can simply show up there 30 min before – earlier may be even better because when we took the ferry it departed earlier than scheduled, so lets’ say you go there 45 min before departure time – while for passengers with a car you need to book it in advance. For cost and timetable, check the ferry website.
Our ferry on the way to Savai’i got stuck on the rock in front of the entry of the port. After a few failed attempts to move the ferry, the captain decided to evacuate the boat and we were rescued by a local fisherman who enjoyed so much the scene that he decided to take a video. Real hero..
Itineraries – 3 to 7 Days
We spent a total of 7 days in Samoa, 4 on the island of Upolu and 3 on Savai’i. Even if you don’t have that many days, you will quickly fall in love with the beauty of this country. However, to properly enjoy and explore the country we suggest you considering from 7 to 10 days. More, if you want to go to the outer islands. Here some ideas of itineraries:
If you are based in Apia, you can spend your first day there and, if you are fit enough, you can even walk up to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum. If you haven’t sort out your car, it’s a good idea trying to find one the very first day. Right on the shore there is an tourist office where you can get a map, they can have more information about the ferries as well. Not far from the tourist office you will find the bus station. You can go there to check what buses are departing but remember there is no official timetable, buses run on “island time”.
On the second day you can start exploring the fantastic natural beauties of this country. The most famous attractions are located on the east of Upolu.
The first stop is at the Piula Cave Pool (A), a fantastic natural pool in front of the ocean. To get there you need to walk into the garden of the Piula Theological College and pay a small entry fee. You will find a little bar and some open bungalows to leave your belongings. We tried to get there by bus but it was challenging, there were no buses going that far. We ended up taking a taxi for 30 WST.
Then we suggest you to go straight to the To-Sua Ocean Trench (B), probably the most famous Samoan attraction. It’s a 30m deep hole connected underground to the ocean and filled with sea water, accessible only with a long ladder with a platform at the bottom. This giant hole in the middle of a garden is just spectacular and the ladder is much steeper than what you may think. It can be a bit scary but you will love it, To-Sua is really a special place. There is only a mini market with some food and water there, no entry fee, it closes at 4pm and it’s closed on Sunday.
After To-Sua you can drive east to Lalomanu (D), famous for its beaches and the fales on the beach. Here you will find more resorts and bars.
On the way back you can stop in one of the waterfalls in the central part of the country. Particularly famous are the Fuipisia falls.
On day 3 you can go west stopping by the Papase’ea sliding rocks, quite beautiful naturally formed rock slides located in a tropical forest.
You can carry on driving south west, you will visit the north west part of the way so Savai’i or to the airport. When you are in the south of island, stop at the Aganoa Black Sand Beach.
From there, it is not much drive for the legendary Ma Tree.
If you have a week, you can split the trip between Upolu and Savai’i. Day 4 is a good day for the ferry journey. On Savai’i there will be buses waiting for passengers disembarking from the ferry, we took the bus to cross the island (A-B) and it took us over 3h. It takes one full day from Apia to the west part of Savai’i if you travel with public transport.
Day 5 – 6
There is only one road on Savai’i, consider two days to explore the island. Don’t miss the Salealua Lava Fields, an entire are of the island covered in rock solid lava that erupted from the Mt Matavanu for five consecutive years, from 1905 until 1911.
The fantastic Afu Aau waterfall is also worth a stop, the blowholes are quite impressive.
According to the departure time of your flight you will go back to Upolu on day 6 or day 7. Remember that the last ferry is at 4pm!
In Upolu we suggest you to go Aganoa Black Sand Beach. Be aware that you may find two beaches with the same name on google maps, the one we recommend is the one you access from the road departing from Sa’agafou village. As for most attractions in Samoa, you need to pay a small entry fee and you need to drive along a very bumpy unsealed road for a while. At the end you will be rewarded by a spectacular isolated beach (we were literally alone for a while and then some local people arrived). Bring your snorkel along, there are many corals on the right hand side of the beach!
Savai’i is where we saw most of the corals and, honestly, it was really spectacular. Right in front of the Vaisala Hotel there is a little beach with hundred of thousand of corals underwater. To access the beach just walk to the left of the Vaisala Hotel, most of the corals are located on the right hand side of the beach. Here we also saw a turtle and we swam with it….simply magical!
Discover the People of Samoa
Hope you will enjoy your trip in Samoa, we loved it and maybe one day we will go back. Do you want to know more about Samoa and its people? Check this out!