In October of last year (2015) my lovely girlfriend and I were lucky enough to spend ten days in Samoa – a place I’d always dreamed of visiting. I had hoped that the Pacific nation would offer an authentic, stripped back, island adventure engulfed in natural beauty…and that’s exactly what we got!
It’s rare in this day & age to genuinely experience a local culture as a fleeting visitor, especially in picture perfect surroundings, but that’s exactly what we managed. If you’re after a similar escape, check out 10 things you must do in Samoa.
10 things you have to do in Samoa
1 | Visit both islands
Samoa is comprised of two main islands; Savai’i & Upolu, the latter of which accounts for 76% of the 200,00 strong Samoan population, despite being the smaller of the two. Apia is the capital of Samoa and is situated in the North of Upolu. Maybe unfairly (as it is a fun, lively city), for me, Apia is just a portal to the true wonders of the islands.
Savai’i is sparsely populated and small enough to drive around in a day, with some breath-taking stops along the way. The culture and speed of life is so wonderfully laid back that it’s an awesome place to start if, like me, you’re keen to feel as far away from the ‘real world’ as possible.
The main airport is just West of Apia and only a few minutes drive/ bus from the ferry terminal that connects the two islands. The ferry runs fairly regularly and is dominated by the locals – another adventure within your adventure.
2 | Stay in beach fales (every night!)
There is a variety of accomodation in Samoa, but for us, there was only one winner; the beach fale. A fale is a simple thatch roofed hut with no walls, usually situated on the beach. As the temperature is fairly consistent year-round, there is no need for anything more substantial. The feeling of waking up just feet from the lapping Pacific Ocean, without barrier, is incredible and what better way to start your day than with an early morning dip.
There are fales available around the coast of both islands, here are a couple that we most enjoyed (all of which were within 10 feet of the water):
Taufua Beach Fales | Lalomanu – Situated on the iconic beach of Lolomanu and with beautiful views of the uninhabited Nu’utele Island, I really struggle to think of a better place to rest your head.
Namu’a Island Beach Fales | Namu’a Island – As far away from civilisation as we got, Namu’a Island’s Fales allow a slice of absolute paradise in the most serene of settings.
Lusia’s Lagoon Chalets | Salelologa – A slight departure from the fales, but similar in experience, was our stay in a stilt supported hut, suspended over turquoise waters on the East coast of Savai’i, simply enchanting.
3 | Swim in To Sua Ocean Trench
Arguably the most magical destination of our trip, was the lava formed To Sua Ocean trench on Upolu. Amongst the luscious gardens and dramatic coastline on the South East coast you’ll find a breathtaking, one of a kind swimming hole accessed by a rickety wooden ladder.
Being the most renowned spot in Samoa, you’d expect to find it to be pretty busy, but as another welcome surprise it was almost deserted for our visit. The pool is 40 or 50ft down a wooden ladder and directly connected to the sea via a treacherous looking underwater cave; but is itself a safe haven to dive into and snorkel around in as leisurely a manner as you please.
There is a minimal entrance fee (20ST) but you can spend hours crawling over the rocks with the crabs, tucking into Samoan barbecue food and swimming in the trench – this is genuinely one of the most special places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
4 | Visit the coconut man at the Alofaaga Blowholes
The south coast of Savai’i is one of the most exposed coastlines of Samoa, which is generally protected by a reef. These swells along with the architecture of the rocky shore result in a phenomenon exploited by ‘the Coconut Man’. As the sea pounds the coastline, the water makes its way up a series of channels in the rock and fires up into the air via a number of blowholes.
At Alofaaga, having navigated the rugged coastal track by 4×4, you will be greeted by an elderly Samoan man, who will take you down to the blowholes ladened with a bag of coconut husks. He’ll then proceed to hurl the husks into the path of the spouting water, propelling them 30ft plus into the skies! You’ll pay for the privilege, but the whole experience is spectacular.
If you’re driving from Saleloga way, its well worth stopping off at the cliff-top viewpoint on the way back (about 20 minutes back along the main road) – it isn’t sign posted as much as a gap in the trees, but the view is breathtaking, especially on a stormy day!
5 | Take the local transport
The best way to start to appreciate a place is by getting intimate with the people; in Samoa, this is best achieved by travelling by bus. Decked out with flamboyant paint-jobs and with R&B remixes resonating through the ever-open windows and doors, the buses are hard to miss.
We travelled around both islands by bus but our most notable trip was from the ferry terminal in Upolu to Lalomanu, which took about 3 hours. A few tourists that we met opted to make the trip by taxi, in-turn not only spending more than 10 times the bus fare but missing out on an unforgettable experience and a gesture that ultimately personified Samoans for us.
First and foremost, the landscape was absolutely stunning through the centre of Upolu as we ventured by brilliant blue coastlines and over dense rainforests. But it was the people and their attitude that made the bus journey so special, as we witnessed,(countless times) smiling Samoan men offering their laps to the women as the bus reached ‘capacity’ – regardless of size or age, it was simply the gentlemanly thing to do. I can’t imagine many cultures embracing such a custom without it becoming creepy or, more so, awkward – these people didn’t know each other but are just extraordinarily kind natured and open.
6 | Visit Namu’a Island
Samoa, as you’re probably getting a feel for, is a very laid back, stripped back place where the simple life is the good life. Nothing encapsulates this like Namu’a Island, a tiny, electricity free island sitting just off the east coast of Upolu.
You can pay the island a day visit or, as we did, stay overnight – I’d absolutely recommend the latter if time allows. The island is tiny; with a dozen or so fales dotted around an idyllic white beach & shallow turquoise seas making up the West and sheer cliffs on the sea-facing East of the island.
Your day will consist of snorkelling from the beach, climbing the island to capture the breath-taking views or simply reclining with a book under a coconut tree as your hosts prepare a wholesome, fresh evening meal. Once you’re done with dinner and the sun sets, it’s just you, the starlit skies and the lapping water as you get comfortable in your beach fale. You can book the trip in advance, via email (email@example.com) or arrange it when you’re there – if you can get transport, a boat goes out when needed from a convenience store just North of Malaela, the locals are always happy to help!
7 | Jump into the Togotogiga waterfall
Yet more uninhabited, unspoilt paradise comes in the shape of the Togitogiga waterfalls on Upolu. Three tiers of tumbling water, crashing into tropical pool make for an awesome sight and an even better swim.
We hired a local taxi for half a day to take us to a few sights around the south coast of the island, this was our first stop and again it was stunning. We had the place to ourselves for the hour we were there and I spent the time jumping into the icy water & swimming up into the fall, an amazing location and seriously fun.
8 | Snorkel at Palolo Deep
Due to a devastating Tsunami that hit the South Coast in 2009, a lot of the coral is very much in recovery mode, with lots of it completely lost. Just outside Apia, however, Palolo Deep offers an absolutely gorgeous array of coral and sea life.
Only 20 minutes or so out of the city you’ll pull up to a modest beach, dotted with a few beach fales to get yourself together to paddle out into the shallows. The shallows very quickly become coral and you’ll need to start swimming pretty early on to avoid stepping on it. Finding a channel through to the shelf is your next challenge!
The coral seems impenetrable as it gets closer and closer to the surface (despite the fact that you’re further out) and the key is to keep an eye out for the steaks that indicate a channel (the locals will help!). Once you’ve weaved your way through, you can work your way along a beautifully colourful shelf and wile away your day amongst the vibrant local sea life.
9 | Swim in Afu A’au waterfall
It’s the simple pleasures that do it for me and there’s nothing more invigorating than swimming in a waterfall. Somoa has numerous on offer, but Afu A’au is seriously special. At the top of a track that is only visible when driving East, the waterfall was deserted when we visited and plunges into a beautiful swimming hole, from which you can swim right up to the powerful fall, clamber behind it and climb up (slightly precariously) the rocky surrounds to jump into it.
10 | Get up for sunrise! You have no excuse
The sunrises we witnessed in Samoa rivalled any others that we’ve seen around the world. Arriving at 4am, the first (and most spectacular) thing we witnessed was a fiery morning sky that acted as the perfect welcome; and turned out to be a sign of the magical things to come during our stay in Samoa. What’s more, provided you’ve taken my advice and stayed in a charming fale, all you need to do is open your eyes!