When you think of the South Pacific, Samoa likely isn’t the first nation that comes to mind. This small island nation right on the edge of the International Date Line lives in the shadow of its more glamourous and popular cousins like French Polynesia, Fiji, and the islands of Hawaii. This means that the average traveller probably doesn’t think of Samoa as much of an option for South Pacific vacations.
But you’re not an average traveller. You’re a globetrotter and you know that smaller destinations are often more charming than larger ones. Samoa is small, but it’s beautiful and a great place to escape from the worries of daily life. It has the white-sand beaches and warm waters of the South Pacific that you’d expect of a Polynesian nation, but it’s also largely off the tourist route, lending it a solitude and authenticity that is impossible to replicate.
If you’re looking for an ideal getaway to the South Pacific, consider a Samoa vacation. There are few places that match its vision of tranquility in paradise.
A brief overview
Samoa was created by volcanic explosions millions of years ago and only settled by humans around 3,500 years ago during the Lapita Expansion. Europeans came into contact with the country starting in the late 19th century and soon enough missionaries converted the nation to Christianity. However, Europe never colonized Samoa (although Eastern Samoa was eventually ceded to the United States in the early 20th century, becoming American Samoa).
Today, Samoa is an isolated yet accessible island nation set in the heart of Polynesia. Its humble society juxtaposes beautifully with its overwhelming natural beauty. The mainland is covered with jungle while the ocean boasts coral reefs and mighty waves that attract expert surfers. The island population sits at around 190,000, with many Samoans living and working abroad and sending their earnings back home to their families.
While tourism is not super common in Samoa, the two main islands, Upolu and Savai’i, do attract a small community of travellers on South Pacific vacations, drawn to its remote location and breathtaking environments. If you do join this small group of travellers, you’ll get to meet the Samoan people, who are wonderful. Samoan culture is defined by tradition and Christianity. Sunday church is an excuse to dress up in your best clothes and worship alongside your friends, family, and neighbours, while meals and festival nights let you engage with the elements of the past like fire juggling. Everything in Samoa is about tapping into “Fa’a Samoa” or “The Samoan Way,” which is the human spirit that defines these islands and moves people in their interactions with each other.
When to go to Samoa and how to get there
There are two peak periods for Samoa vacations. June through August brings the driest part of the year and attracts travellers from North America and Europe, as this is the time of their summer holidays. The other most popular time is December and February, as Samoa’s warm temperatures appeal to people wanting to escape winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As well, Christmas is a major holiday in Samoa as it marks the return of many Samoans working overseas who visit during the holidays to see their families. During these periods, accommodations will cost more and fill up quicker.
However, since temperature hardly varies in Samoa, you can head to it all year round and find it a comfortable tropical destination on South Pacific vacations. In general, there are two seasons in Samoa. The dry season runs from May to October, while the wet season runs from November to April. The wet season is more humid and warmer than the dry season, but the variance between the two is negligible compared to the seasonal change in most countries; the temperature hovers around 30°C during both seasons.
As for getting to Samoa, all international flights lead to the main airport, Faleolo International Airport, which is around 35km from the capital, Apia, on the island of Upolu. There are a few direct flights to Samoa from Los Angeles on Fiji Airways, while many other flights connect through Sydney, Melbourne, or Auckland. If you want to fly between locations within the country, you can also charter flights between Upolu and Savai’i.
Where to stay
Samoa is not a hopping tourist destination like an island in the Caribbean, so you won’t find resorts every which way you turn. That being said, it is a South Pacific nation and as such, it’s the perfect spot to indulge in a resort stay, where you can relax on the beach, splash around in the water, and enjoy the maximum comforts of the sunny island climate. At Goway, we have a few recommendations for where to stay.
Le Vasa is a secluded resort located conveniently close to the airport. If you have a taste for luxury, Le Vasa will satisfy your palette. Its 16 luxury accommodations sit along the water and offer spectacular views of Manono and Savai’i Islands. It’s also arguably the best spot on all of Upolu to watch the sunset. The resort’s private lagoon is a great spot to lounge for the day while the resort’s facilities and guides also accommodate game fishing, snorkelling, and island tours.
Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa is another relaxing safe haven on the island, located on the sacred grounds where the Malietoa (chief warrior clan) of the past would feast on sacred yams prior to battle. Today, the resort offers rooms amidst tropical gardens and alongside the sandy beaches leading to the Pacific. Coconuts Beach Club Resort & Spa similarly offers suites in gorgeous surroundings. Its fales and villas sit along the beach or overtop the lagoon, offering you incredible access to the Samoan environment. All in all, these resorts capture Fa’a Samoa and would be ideal bases for a Samoa vacation.
What to do in Samoa
Samoa’s tropical environment makes it a hugely appealing spot on South Pacific vacations to engage in all manner of water and jungle-based activities. While the infrastructure for diving is less robust than in other parts of Polynesia, this also means that the sites are less developed and you have a good chance of seeing huge numbers of tropical fish if you head on a scuba dive adventure. Fishing also remains popular throughout the islands, although you have to get permission as all fishing zones are owned locally. As is the case in all of the South Pacific, snorkelling is the most popular activity. Even if you’ve never been snorkelling before, Samoa is a great spot to try it out for the first time. Lalomanu, Namu’a, and Palolo Deep Marine Reserve are particularly great spots to explore the colourful underwater world.
As for activities on-land, you’ll find plenty of gorgeous landscapes to traverse on foot. However, as the jungle can get very thick during the wet season and many areas are quite remote, you’ll want to hire a guide. This is not the place to rely on Google Maps to shepherd you through the wilderness. Of course, there are various natural landmarks that you should highlight on your app or star on a map and aim towards when exploring Samoa. The Alofaaga Blowholes or Taga Blowholes on the island of Savai’i are incredible natural blowholes formed in the rock of the coastline. The water spurts up at regular intervals as the tide comes in; locals sometimes even throw coconuts into the holes, which shoot up as projectiles when the blowholes erupt. The To Sua Ocean Trench on Upolu is also a great spot to head to when exploring the islands. This giant hole runs a deep turquoise-blue and is the perfect spot to swim on the island. If you want to experience a natural waterslide, head to the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks outside Apia. Vegetation grows on the rocks of this short waterfall, transforming it into a natural waterslide that you can ride into the pool below.
Aside from its natural bounty, Samoa is also home to several landmarks that should attract your attention on South Pacific vacations. In the capital, Apia, you’ll find Maketi Fou, the main market on the island that operates 24 hours a day. It might be the only spot that makes you rethink the notion of “island time,” as its bustle doesn’t operate to languid island rhythms.
Also on Upolu is the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, dedicated to the beloved author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who lived out his final years on the island. You can learn about his life and works in the museum and take the hour-long hike to the top of the mountain in the Mt. Vaea National Reserve to see where he’s buried. Also, be sure to visit the Pulemelei Mound. This rustic stone pyramid is the largest ancient structure in Polynesia. If you climb the mound, you’ll enjoying stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
How to get around
It’s relatively easy to get around while on a Samoa vacation. You can take taxis, which are easy to find in any of the towns and cities. Samoa recently shifted to driving on the left side of the road, which led to a large influx of cheap used cars from Japan. Now on the main islands, there are more drivers and more taxis than ever before. Costs are cheap and you’ll generally find good service on Upolu, although service is less guaranteed on Savai’i.
You can rent a car and drive around the island, although you won’t be saving much money, as hiring a taxi for a day will cost you around the same. If you do opt to drive, you’ll have to get a temporary local license as Samoa doesn’t recognize foreign drivers’ licenses. Also, don’t expect gas stations to dot the roads like in North America; they’re spread out across the island.
Aside from taxis, buses are the other affordable and convenient means of getting around the island. Bus rides are cheap and take you along the major routes of the main islands. However, bus drivers in Samoa typically work for themselves, meaning they determine their hours and routes occasionally. If they want to take the afternoon off, no one is stopping them from doing so. Thus, don’t expect regular service after 2pm and don’t expect service on Sundays aside from rides to and from church.
Other tips on travel
There are a few other general things to know about Samoa for your South Pacific vacations. First of all, Samoa is extremely religious. Samoans define themselves through their Christianity, which means that Sundays are for church and most stores and businesses are closed that day. In smaller villages, you’ll also find a prayer curfew around sundown, so don’t stroll through the village at sundown trying to get the attention of the locals unless you want to risk offending people. As well, dress modestly everywhere you go. Swimwear is appropriate on beaches and in the water, but don’t show up to a restaurant sporting it. It’s not a good look here.
The Samoan currency is the Tala (WST) and it’s easy to change money at the airport or major hotels and resorts. American dollars are not accepted as local currency, unlike in some other tropical destinations. Also regarding money, tipping isn’t expected at restaurants and haggling is a faux pas in markets. You’ll find prices affordable, so no point in souring the day by trying to argue with the seller.
Samoa is one of the best-kept secrets on South Pacific vacations. You won’t find many fellow tourists jockeying for space and accommodations like you would in some other tropical destinations, but you’ll still enjoy the gorgeous climate and laidback lifestyle that makes Polynesia so famous.