It’s warm, friendly, tasty, tropical AND beautiful… The highlights of Samoa pretty much outline the PERFECT Pacific Island for adventure, relaxation, or just to find out more about life of a real-life tropical paradise! [I also have to tell you about my newfound love for Koko-Samoa as one of the key highlights of Samoa…].
It’s easy to get to Samoa, with flights from Auckland, Australia and Fiji, and connections through Hawaii – there isn’t really a reason NOT to go!
We spent five days in Samoa which actually felt great for a short break (and only four hours from Auckland) to relax and enough time to explore some of the most iconic sights and tastes I had been yearning for. However, I would love to go back again and would say if you aren’t short on time then definitely visit for a week or more. Samoa is made up of 12 islands; four of which are inhabited – Upolu and Savai’i are the two main islands, and are surrounded by several smaller islands, including Manono and Apolima – the next largest two. There is plenty to do on Upolu, and it is easy to get around, explore and find everything you need – but I am also going to tell you how to get to Savai’i, and why it is worth making the trip there too!
But overall, the five key highlights of Samoa for me were:
- Roadtripping around Upolu
- Swimming in To’Sua Ocean Trench
- Taking the ferry to Savai’i
- Making [and drinking] Koko Samoa
- Trying [much more!] Samoan food and kava
Have you even BEEN to Samoa if you didn’t cruise around Upolu with reggae tunes cranking and the tropical breeze blowing?! Thats what we did. It’s easy to hire a car and pick it up from the airport and the island roads that wrap around Upolu are just begging to be explored in the sunshine and at the pace of island life.
The islands are blessed with natural beauty; from beaches, to waterfalls and the lush vegetation that edges the villages and embraces ancient volcanoes. We basically hopped in the car and headed for the other side of the island taking the Cross Island Road (which literally does as it says and takes you right across the island) and making our way back around the coastal route. If you wanted to you could drive around the entire island in 4-5 hours, but you might not see much. I would definitely recommend giving yourself sufficient time to hop out and stop whenever you wish.
There are beautiful churches dotted everywhere around the island; you can spot them in the villages as you drive through and often can see the schools next door or attached to the church grounds themselves. Some of the churches are historic for the island and somewhat ethereal in appearance. By the time we had driven around I was getting good at recognising the different colours of denominations from afar, and looked forward to seeing each village centre as we approached.
Getting around Upolu
Definitely keep an eye out for the island buses that also use the roads. If you’ve driven in the Pacific you will already know what I mean, and if not – well, you have that excitement to look forward to!
[It might also pay me to mention to look out for any other hazards you might come across; well, more so just the usual island ones – the free roaming chickens, dogs, pigs, and horses…].
Fugalei Markets in Apia
And back in Apia, do NOT miss the Fugalei Markets for the biggest selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, niu coconuts and enormous sweet juicy pawpaws that will only set you back $1! We pretty much began at the fruit section and found a niu coconut to sip on whilst wandering around… 😀. If you are there for a whole week and can visit on a Sunday then you are in extra luck. Sunday is umu day, and there is all kinds of extra steamed and ground-cooked delights!
To Sua ocean trench
I know I’ll say the same thing about the Koko-Samoa, niu coconuts (and probably a kava ceremony) – but I don’t think a visit to Samoa would be complete without a swim in To-Sua Trench. It’s one of the most iconic highlights of Samoa. Do you think this could literally be one of the most beautiful swimming holes in the world?!
To Sua translates to mean ‘giant swimming hole’ and that is certainly apt. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the trench is just as it sounds – a deep swimming hole formed by an ancient lava eruption. There is a steep ladder down into the trench to a standing platform that makes for easy access into the water. The climb down is steep but worth it for a swim in this beautiful Samoan treasure.
Adults: ST$20 ($7 USD) Children 6-11 years: ST$10 ($3.5 USD) Children under 6: Free
Taking the ferry to Savai’i
We loved the adventure of getting TO Savai’i!
The ferry is easy to use and operates daily. Tickets can be bought at both ends, at Mulifanua Wharf (Upolu) and Salelologa Wharf (Savaii). Travelling time between these islands is an hour and 15 minutes.
On arrival in Savai’i the Salelologa Market is really close to the main wharf and bus terminal. This is the best place to find all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, crafts, gifts – everything you need to stock up for Savai’i and beyond. Grab some niu coconuts and enjoy the market experience!
The experience of exploring Savai’i is like heading back in time in the Pacific. There aren’t the seven-days-a-week shops and fast food options of Apia. There are natural attractions and locals going about their lives on this tropical island paradise as they have done for generations. If it works with your itinerary, then definitely squeeze this in as it will be a highlight in your travels to Samoa.
I was lucky enough to stay with friends in the village of Sagone on Savai’i and feel blessed to have had such a unique and homely experience. This was also the time I became officially the islands biggest temporary-staying fan of Koko Samoa. Koko Samoa is served as a hot cocoa made from cocao beans, which come from the tree called cacao. Basically, its chocolate in its purest form!
The smell of the Koko-Samoa simmering away on the outdoor kitchen is honestly almost as good as savouring each mouthful in taste. Do NOT leave Savai’i or Samoa without trying a home-brewed or market made Koko Samoa… You will thank me later!
This was the view from our fale in Sagone Village… You can see the main road of the island, but the photo can’t quite describe the welcoming smell of kitchen fires burning and that sound of pigs wandering and grunting, and roosters crowing…!
Samoan food and kava
Eating some of my favourite island foods in Samoa was right up there on my Samoan-bucket-list. (“Sarah’s Highlights of Samoa…”!). Like other Polynesian countries, Samoa has unique and different ways of cooking, presenting and eating dishes of the Pacific. I know I have more to try (and that’s excellent), but on this trip my favourites were:
- – Masi Samoa – coconut cookies
- – Panikeke – rounded pancakes/banana fritters (or ‘balls of golden goodness’!)
- – Panipopo – buns baked in a sweet and sticky coconut cream sauce
- – Sapasui – Samoan Chop Suey; vermicelli noodles, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and meat
- – Oka i’a – a raw fish salad marinated in coconut cream
- – Fa’alifu taro – taro boiled in coconut sauce
- – Palusami – young taro leaves baked in coconut cream
I could go on! A lot of these you can find at the markets, or in the small roadside stalls or local restaurants. It’s making me hungry even thinking of all these while writing; I need to go back!
The ‘Ava ceremony is one of the most important customs of the Samoan islands. It is a ritual in which a ceremonial beverage is shared to mark important occasions in Samoan society, and most often includes speeches and oratory before the formal drinking of ‘ava. If you are invited to be part of a kava ceremony in Samoa then definitely grab that opportunity. It is a special experience to be part of.
Part of my visit to Savai’i was to visit a preschool in one of the small villages. I felt honoured to have the village chief and several of the elders attend our visit and welcome us with an ‘ava ceremony. These are the kind of experiences in travel that cannot be bought. Sitting on the floor to share in this ceremony is something I will treasure forever.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Apia Central Hotel on Savalalo Rd, Apia. This was a handy location to explore Upolu from, and reasonably priced with double, triple and family rooms and a small courtyard swimming pool.