‘Why isn’t Samoa as popular as Fiji ?’. That was my thought during my entire trip in Samoa. It’s a stunning place with beautiful beaches, lovely people, really authentic accommodation and huge waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery.
Samoa is made up of four small islands with only two of them inhabited. Both inhabited islands are about 200km in circumference and have good, paved roads the entire way around the island. This makes renting a scooter or car the perfect way to get around. If you’re on a tight budget then jump on the big colourful busses circling the islands.
- Lalomano Beach
- Beach fales located around the island
- Huge waterfalls surrounded by lush forest
- The locals and their amazing hospitality
- Amazing singing at the church services
Samoans are very friendly and welcoming people. Before I even landed in Samoa I’d met Tia on the plane who was travelling home to surprise his family. After chatting about life in Samoa compared to Australia, Tia gave me his phone number and told me to get in contact if I needed anything while in Samoa.
Samoa uses the Samoan Tala (WST) and there is an exchange place at the airport with a good rate. You can also easily get a sim card from either Digicel or Vodafone. I went with Vodafone and paid $15 Tala for 13GB and some calls and texts lasting 7 days.
Driving Around Samoa
Driving around the island is a fantastic experience as you pass through the villages with kids yelling out hello and goodbye to you. The ring road is paved as are the main roads crossing the island. One thing you’ll notice is Samoans really look after their property and you’ll regularly see them using a wiper sniper to mow their lawns while the ladies look after the flowers. It seems like everything grows so well in Samoa and the locals take advantage of this by planting flowers and plants around their home.
Being a small island, everything is a short drive away and most of the best places to visit are located close to one of the main roads. It’s also easy to navigate because you’re either going clockwise or anticlockwise around the island or crossing it from north the south (away from Apia) or south to north (towards Apia). Taking the bus would be a bit of a hassle because they’re quite infrequent and many of the sights aren’t within walking distance of the main accommodation spots. Having your own car, scooter or bike is highly preferable but will add significant $ to your budget compared to taking the bus. The cross island roads in Upolo are good but most roads become gravel, dirt or sand.
Busses look like a fun option, and I really wanted to experience getting the bus with the locals, but it was hard to justify taking the bus when I had the scooter with me for my entire trip. The busses in Samoa are like the people; big and colourful. Just like their colourful shirts the busses are brightly painted in vibrant colours.
The Scooter Breaks down
I was making my way back to Apia on my last day the scooter started hitting the ground until it was eventually scraping the ground driving along a flat road. I stopped on the side of the road in a small village when suddenly a lady yelled out to me to put the scooter in her front yard while I inspect it.
A teenage boy came out to help me wheel the scooter into the yard. Leatia and her family live in the home and quickly welcomed me inside their house while I sorted out what to do with the scooter. They were just getting ready to go to church so after I called the scooter company I asked if I could go with them. They were extremely pleased and excited that I would go to church with them. Leata disappeared for a minute and returned with some of her eldest sons’ clothes for me to wear to church.
While everyone got ready for church they gave me some homemade hot chocolate and chatted to me in their living room. They asked if they could take some photos with me and I was just as happy to get some photos with this lovely family.
Attending a Church in Samoa
We left their home to walk across the street to their church which is EKLS, one of the four main churches Samoa. Wow, every single pair of eyes was on me as I walked into the church. Curiosity, surprise but above all excitement that I was there in their church attending their service. The pastor made special mention of me throughout the service and apologised for it being in Samoan which he knew I couldn’t understand.
The church service lasted about an hour, but I could’ve listened to them singing all day. Pacific Islanders have amazing voices and the passion with which they sing at church is incredible. After church I was invited back to their home for lunch which was a feast. Taro, fish, chicken chop sui but the best of all was palusami which is coconut cream in taro leaf.
After lunch the reverends wife told me about her kindergarten that she ran from her home. She currently has 35 children attending, and the church provides her with learning materials and transportation for the kids that need it. She invited me to attend classes to meet the kids the following day but unfortunately I had to decline as I had an early morning flight so had to get back to Apia that evening.
Liata told me there were no buses in Samoa on Sunday (which I’d heard before) but that one of her sons would drive me back. Her son Tua, Mathew and Mathew’s son Lance drove me back to Apia and stopped off at Papapapaitai Falls along the way.
Overall, it was an amazing experience, and these unexpected meetings are what travel is about. I wish I had more days to spend with them in their village, but it was my last day before flying out early the next morning. None of them asked me for any money even though they drove me almost an hour back to town. In the end I gave them some money as a thank you for their help.
Beach Fales in Samoa
Driving around Samoa you’ll pass many Fales along the way. I planned to check out a few and in the end I stayed in three different fales. The nicest ones I stayed at were Taufua Beach Fales and Faofao Beach Fales. Both are great but I slightly preferred Faofao because it was a bit more rustic than the Fales at Taufua, slightly cheaper and not as busy. But if you prefer to stay with a larger group of guests to meet more people than Taufua is a great option. A few guests were repeat visitors at Taufua who come every year because they love the place.
Located a short boat ride away from Upolo on the eastern side of the island is the paradise-like Namua Island. There are a few Beach Fales on the island and you can have lunch there and snorkel around the beach looking for the turtles which are seen frequently.
To Sua Ocean Trench
The biggest draw card to Samoa and one you’ve probably already seen in pictures of Samoa. Water from the ocean comes through the rocks within the trench according to the tides. The views from the top of the trench are impressive but heading down the ladder for a swim is the best part.
Entrance to the trench is $20 Tala and you can hang around for a picnic in one of the fales enjoying great views over the ocean.
The highest waterfall in Samoa is located on the Cross Island road. The car park is on the side of the road and the viewing point is a few metres away. The impressive falls are over 100 metres high and there’s a second waterfall at the pool of the upper waterfalls. Entrance is free.
Fuipisia Falls are located on Le Mafa Pass Road on the eastern side of Upolo. The falls are just past the property of a local Samoan who charges $20 tala to walk through his large proporty to eventually reach the falls. You can walk to the top of the falls or there’s a viewing area with great views.
Just to the south of Fuipisia Falle is Sopo’aga Falls which are bigger than Fuipisia but you can only admire from a distance. The viewing area is within the gardens of a friendly lady who charges $10 Tala to view the falls and enjoy here beautifully maintained garden.
I have to admit I didn’t know anything about the Baha’i religion before going to Samoa but thankfully I was lucky enough to meet some Baha’is who were guests at the Faofao Beach Fales. They told me about the history of the religion and how they were born in Australia to families who had fled Iran due to the atrocities committed by the Islamic regime against the Bahai. The temple is extremely peaceful and well maintained and just a short drive from Apia. The religion is welcoming to all other religions and has been the fastest growing religion over the past 100 years. It was tough hearing about how much Bahai’s have suffered in Iran just because of their religion. You can read about the strict Islamic regime in my article about Iran’s capital Tehran.
The capital of Samoa and most certainly the place you’ll arrive when visiting Samoa. Apia has a few sights around town but like most Pacific Islands the best parts of the country are outside of the capitals. This was true to my time in the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
Most guesthouses across Samoa can arrange transport service for you from the airport to their hotel or to Apia. I arranged a shuttle bus with Autobots Transport for $26WST and they dropped me off at Olivia’s Guesthouse on my first night and then picked me up from the Samoan Outrigger on my last night. They operate 24/7 so don’t worry if you need an early pickup or drop-off.
The drive from the airport to Apia passes through a few villages where I saw many children playing touch footy (rugby). The driver told me about how each family will ring a bell to let everyone know it’s time to pray, they’ll then eat together and then go back to doing as they please. Villages live in houses but you’ll notice open air buildings which are used as meeting places to discuss village decisions.
Budget Accommodation in Apia
On my first night I stayed in Olivia’s Guesthouse on the outskirts of Apia. The hosts are friendly, rooms are clean, big and the water in the shower is hot. Breakfast is included in the price. I also stayed at the Samoan Outrigger which is slightly cheaper if you go for the Garden Fale. Both are good accommodation options but about 20 minutes’ walk out of town, once again the scooter made the trip much easier for me.
Where to eat in Apia
I experienced both the cheaper places and more expensive places in Apia. The first night I ate at Paddles and Giovani whose father is Italian and mother Samoan. I also ate at Giovanis pizzeria (possibly the same owner) which is one of very few places open on a Sunday and one of the closest to the Samoan Outrigger.
For a cheaper meal head into the markets or grab something from the street vendors. I had a couple of skewers while I was there and thankfully.
Go To Samoa!
If you like a bit of adventure and are looking to explore the Pacific Islands then I highly recommend Samoa. Renting a scooter, staying at some beach fales and visiting the villages scattered across the islands is the best way to experience Samoan. While it’s not a super cheap backpacker destination compared to parts of South East Asia it certainly will give you an authentic look into Pacific Island life. If you prefer some luxury then there are resorts catering to comfort and you can organise day trips with tour operators.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the Piula Cave Pool, or the Clam Sanctuary and the most unfortunate was to miss out on the island of Savi’i. There’s also great surfing around the islands, kayaking and the cultural village too. But that gives me even stronger reasons to return, plus I’d love to go see Leata and her lovely family again.
Travel Resources for Visiting Samoa
MotoSamoa – One of few scooter rental places in Samoa
Beautiful Samoa – Samoas official tourism site with some useful information
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.