There are places that we never even dream of visiting. Samoa is probably one of them: maybe because of its remote location, small territory, and unknown culture. Before googling Samoa for the first time, all I knew about the country was the rugby team. Happily, I discovered much more than that. Although I can think of plenty of reasons to visit Samoa, here are the main 7 ones.
As we all know mass tourism is damaging the authenticity of some destinations. Places that in the past where amazingly special, are now one more picture of the whole touristic package. Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing places to go, but their essence is a bit lost. Samoa is far from that reality and hopefully stays that way forever. They have a pretty special family and village organization which is completely visible for the tourist that stays with them in a beach fale. This would take me a whole post to explain but let’s say that the sense of community is very strong, the whole family lives together and everyone works for the village. Only the taxi drivers at the airport or the wharf will harass you a bit. Apart from them, not many people see tourist as big walking wallets. They don’t care much about tourists, and we love it. Even the official cultural show is very genuine. Apia Tourist Office organizes it every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It´s free, lasts three hours and there you will learn about Samoa’s history, traditions, food, tattoos, dances, and handicrafts while visiting the different working stations. In the end, everyone gathers in the main fale to eat a traditional dish meanwhile typical dances are shown.
Easy to travel around
Samoa basically comprises four islands. Upolu is the main one, where the capital Apia is located, and also the main attractions such as Lalomanu beach, To-Sua Ocean Trench, Papaseea Sliding Rocks, Piula Cave Pool or the Fuipisia waterfalls. You’d drive 2 hours maximum between any of them while enjoying beautiful landscapes. If renting a car is not an option, auto-stop is a great alternative, or even public transport if you check the schedules beforehand; frequency and punctuality are not their main characteristics. Savai´i is actually the largest island in Samoa, but only a quarter of the populations lives there. A single circular route makes getting around pretty easy. There’s a ferry that runs a couple of times a day between Upolu and Savaii. Booking in advance is only necessary if you’re planning to take a car on the ferry.
View of Upolu from Manono Island
Manono and Apolima are two small islands halfway between Upolu and Savai´i. Visiting Apolima can be a bit difficult as you need an invitation from one of the families that live there. On the other hand, Manono has a few budget accommodations where you can spend the night. Cars and dogs are not allowed in Manono, making the walk around the island an extremely peaceful activity. It can easily be done in less than two hours.
Contrary to what our instinct would tell us, Samoa can be discovered on a very tight budget. The cheapest accommodation in Apia is Olivia´s, from WTS 35 (USD 13) per person, breakfast included. Outside the capital, the most typical and cheapest options are the beach fales: wooden and wall-less structures very close to the shore. In general, they have an awning for privacy and shelter. Depending on the beach, time of the year and your bargaining skills you can pay from WTS 50 (USD 20) per person, breakfast and dinner included.
Wake up with the smooth noise of the ocean, Upolu
Auto-stop is really easy to do in Samoa. There are plenty of pick-up cars happy to take you and not many roads to get lost. Also, hitch-hiking is quite usual among Samoans, so it wouldn’t be a strange situation like in other countries.
Wait. Are we talking about a place in Polynesia, right? It goes without saying that Samoa has some magnificent beaches. Lalomanu is by far the best one: turquoise water, tall palm trees and a coral reef very close to the shore that makes snorkeling equipment essential in your backpack. The fales here are not the cheapest, but 5 km away you’ll find some much more budget-friendly options and still spend your day at Lalomanu.
Lalomanu beach, Upolu
Tattoos are really special in the history and culture of Samoa. Not everyone can be a traditional tattoo artist as is inherited by the family. Deciding whether to tattoo yourself is not an easy decision and it signifies courage, maturity, and prestige within society. The traditional men’s tattoo, that covers everything from the waist to the knees, takes 12 extremely painful sessions to be made and repentance, once the decision is made, would shame his whole family. I’m not a huge fan of tattoos, but everything related to them in Polynesia is fascinating.
This means that there are no seasons as we know them, only two periods: humid (November to April), and dry (May to October). I was there in the middle of the dry season and it rained almost every day: substantial but brief showers. But contrary to my beliefs, apparently, there’s not much difference between seasons. Yes, it rains more, but it shouldn’t affect your plans much. It’ll be all year between 25 and 30 degrees, which is fantastic!
Activities and special attractions.
As you know by now, Samoa is not known for the tourist industry. Nonetheless, it has some very interesting attractions. If you google “Samoa photos” probably the first one that appears is To-Sua Ocean Trench. It’s an incredible natural pool that is fed from the ocean by a small tunnel. The ladder can be a bit scary, especially if you suffer from vertigo, but swimming in the hole is quite magical. The entrance fee is WST 20 (USD 8) and is totally worth it.
To-Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu
Another very special place but much less famous is the Giant Clams. We found out about this place while waiting in a restaurant, thanks to one of the girls that worked there. About 300 meters from the coast of Savaia you’ll see a large oval of rope that delimits the area where these giant clams are. Take the snorkel gear and get ready to swim! Some ladies at the shore will ask you for a WTS 10 (USD 4) entrance fee. Bear in mind that every location in Samoa is private property (family or village) and they have the right to ask for a contribution. You´ll also find many waterfalls to spend the day and beaches where is possible to swim with turtles. In Manase, on the island of Savaii, it is likely to see turtles very close to the shore. Here I’ll be 100% honest: we stayed 5 nights on that beach and I couldn’t see any turtle. But everyone else could, so don’t worry.