Located in the South Pacific and an easy flight from Australia or New Zealand, Samoa should definitely be at the top of your list when you’re choosing your next tropical getaway. A laid back vibe, friendly people, breathtaking waterfalls, the incredible To Sua Ocean Trench and some top notch dive sites, Samoa truly is a treasure of the South Pacific.
With the international airport and most of the accomodation being located on Upolo this is the most convenient island to stay on. However this doesn’t mean you should confine yourself to Upolo. Easy day trips to the other islands are readily available and a ferry runs regularly between Upolo and Savaii. My best recommendation for exploring the islands is to hire a car, grab a map and set off ready for adventure.
Before I get into the fun stuff and let you know about all of the awesome places there are to see in Samoa, there’s a few things I want to mention that are important to keep in mind when you’re planning out what you want to see.
- If hiring a car a temporary license is required. Most rental companies can validate these for anyone who holds a full license from their country of origin. A fee is applicable.
- The speed limit Samoa wide is 40km/h in town and 56km/h between villages. There’s no hurry in Samoa so stick to the speed limit and keep your eyes peeled for domestic animals and children that may stray onto the road.
- Most of the attractions on Samoa are located on privately owned land. This means you should expect to be charged an entrance fee. It’s usually only a small price to pay for what you get to see and it helps to support the family that owns the property.
- Sundays in Samoa are a day for church services and rest. It’s actually beautiful witness the locals dressed in their Sunday best heading for church but what it does mean is that most places are closed on Sunday. There are a few major attractions open including the To Sea Ocean Trench but if you have a day to spare live like the locals and take the day to rest. Not every day has to be action packed, grab a coconut and relax by the pool or laze on the beach, you won’t regret your decision.
The Must Sees of Samoa
There’s a fair bit to see in Samoa and most of it you’re not going to want to miss. The good news is, the islands are small. You can easily drive the entire perimeter of Upolo, including stops, in a day. Just don’t forget you’re in Samoa and there’s no need to rush so spread it out over a few days to make sure you really enjoy the experience. The following are a list of what I consider to be “must sees” for any trip to Samoa!
To Sua Ocean Trench – Upolo Island
You might not know it’s name but I guarantee you’ve seen it’s picture. Easily the most famous landmark of Samoa this ocean trench was formed by the roof a lava tube collapsing in two sections to reveal crystal clear ocean waters below. The trench is connected to the ocean by an underwater cave. If you’re feeling brave and the tides are right you can actually swim from the trench straight out into the ocean. Just make sure you take a big breath!
Aganoa Black Sand Beach – Upolo Island
Head down a bumpy 4WD track to find this little slice of paradise. Not only is the beach absolutely beautiful but just a few steps off the shore lies a small coral reef with some pretty amazing swim throughs and lots of colourful fishies!
Papapapaitai Falls – Upolo Island
One of the tallest waterfalls of Samoa, Papapapaitai Falls is over 100m high! This viewpoint is located off the cross island road and as far as I could figure out this is the only place to view the falls from. I’d love to try and get down to the pools at the bottom though!
Take a ride on a local bus
An affordable transport option and a great way to get to know the locals. If the bus is full don’t be alarmed if someone takes a seat on your lap. This is all part of bus etiquette in Samoa and is to avoid having people standing in the aisles.
Afu Aau Waterfalls – Savaii Island
Ok I think this was my favourite waterfall in Samoa! It might not be as tall as Papapapaitai Falls but it is just as spectacular! And the best part is you can take a dip in the crystal clear waters of it’s freshwater pool. It’s a complete and utter paradise! Afu Aau isn’t just one waterfall either, below this one are three smaller falls that you can swim in too!
The Giant Clam Sanctuary – Upolo Island
The Giant Clam Sanctuary was closed when I tried to visit on a Sunday (rookie). This protected marine area is home to a huge population of Giant clams. For a small fee a local will point you in the right direction so you can go and snorkel with them. Make sure you look but don’t touch, I’ve heard that the clams can snap shut at quite an alarming rate!
Piula Cave Pool
I missed this one too and I’m still pinching myself for doing so! Located at the Piula Theological College there are two freshwater pools connected by a 3m underwater tunnel that the brave can swim through. Originating from an old lava tube the pools are crystal clear and full of fish. Just keep in mind that the opening hours for the pools are between 8am and 4pm. I was a few minutes too late arriving just after 4pm!
Sopoaga Falls – Upolo Island
There’s a small fee to lay your eyes on this beauty because the lookout is located in a local families backyard! CAN YOU IMAGINE HAVING THIS VIEW IN YOUR BACKYARD?! The gardens at the lookout are beautifully cared for and if you’re lucky you’ll get to meet the family. I met three children and their mother and I was treated to a musical performance from the kids and a demonstration on how to make coconut cream. Of course this demonstration is going to cost you extra but the coconut cream was so good I wasn’t even mad!
Samoa boasts some of the least dived, dive sites in the world! Which means you get to dive where only a handful of others have. Yes please! With over 900 fish species, beautiful coral reefs, turtles, sharks and rays, there’s no shortage of things to see. As always spotting a turtle was a highlight for me! The diving in Samoa is suitable for newbies to the seasoned pros. I even read that if you’re super advanced there are still dive sites which are undiscovered… if you find one they’ll name it after you!
… and see where you end up. There’s adventure and beauty waiting to be found around every corner!
Swimming with the Turtles – Savaii Island (NOT a must see!)
On the island of Savaii I was taken to an attraction called “swimming with the turtles”. I imagined that there was a cove or an inlet on the island where the turtles frequented and you could walk off the beach and swim with them. Instead I was taken to the wetland sanctuary of Satoalepai Village. I found myself at a small lagoon containing what had to be close to 30 endangered green sea turtles. From what I understand the turtles are protected here until they are fully grown and then released back into the wild. You can swim with the turtles, feed the turtles paw paw and tourists are even encouraged to pick up the turtles and take photos with them.
Sanctuary or not, I can’t support this sort of animal exploitation, if it truly is a sanctuary the human – wildlife interaction should be kept to a minimum and people certainly shouldn’t be encouraged to handle the turtles! I found the whole situation confronting and heartbreaking and I would hate for others to unknowingly find themselves in the situation that I did. I hope by mentioning this here that people will choose to avoid this attraction and stick to “swimming with the turtles” in the wild!
The best thing about Samoa?
There’s hardly any other travellers! I’m sure there’s a few more people in high season but I visited during the low/rainy season and encountered only a handful of other travellers. This is always a risky decision, you could end up with rain for your entire trip. But if you are willing to take the risk there’s some serious benefits of travelling during the low season. Cheap flights, cheap accomodation and hardly any other travellers contend with! I was lucky when I visited and really only encountered one day with a huge amount of rain.
In conclusion Samoa is amazing and you should visit ASAP so you get to witness it in all of its untouched glory!