The local currency is the Samoan tālā (WST). Credit cards are widely accepted at the hotels and resorts however it is also good to have cash on hand. Exchange at the airport, as there are very few opportunities to exchange or withdraw money outside of the capital city, Apia..
The official languages of Samoa are Samoan and English. Samoan is the oldest and most widely spoken of the Polynesian languages. While most every Samoan you meet will speak English, knowing a few words such as talofa (hello) and faafetai (thank you) is helpful.
Best time to go
Samoa is a year round tropical destination. There is less rain and humidity from May to October, but don’t hesitate to go any time of the year. Samoa is still mostly off the tourist radar, and you will not find crowded beaches or an overly ‘busy’ season.
Samoa is a tropical destination with an average daytime temperature ranging from 24 to 30 degrees Celsius and a steady water temperature of around 29 degrees Celsius. The hot and wet season runs from November to April, while the cool and relatively dry season is from May to October.
Still very much an emerging destination, Samoa is a quiet hidden gem for couples, honeymooners, families, adventures seekers and destination weddings. Budget travellers seeking the ‘real’ South Pacific should also take note that the country offers excellent value. Even a small wedding ceremony can be organised for as little as $300USD. For the North American traveller, Samoa is a South Pacific island off the beaten path that offers nature and adventure while being uncrowded and affordable.
Getting There From North America
Major airports or ports of entry
All international flights land at the Faleolo International Airport 40KM west of Apia (the capital of Samoa) on the island of Upolu. There is a ferry service to reach the other inhabited islands of Samoa. North American travellers will cross the international date line, losing one day to travel and one day to the crossing of the date line.
Fun Fact: Prior to 2011 Samoa was East of the International Date Line and was the last place on Earth to see the sunset. To be more inline with its trading partners New Zealand and Australia Samoa moved the date line so now Samoa is the first place on Earth to see the sunrise.
Major air routes from the United States
To reach Samoa from the United States the most direct route is via Fiji. Depart Los Angeles on Fiji Airways with a layover in Nadi and then continue on to Apia. The flying time from Los Angeles to Nadi is approximately 10 hours and to Apia is another 3 hours. This makes Fiji and Samoa excellent combo destinations.
Alternatively, fly with Air New Zealand, Los Angeles to Auckland and then Auckland to Apia. Samoa is a 4 hour flight from Auckland.
Major air routes from Canada
To reach Samoa from Canada you can fly to Los Angeles and then take Fiji Airways through Nadi. Air New Zealand has a direct flight from Vancouver to Auckland, followed by a 4 hour flight from Auckland to Samoa.
Essential Sights of Samoa
All Samoa travel itineraries will start on the island of Upolu. This island is home to the International airport and the majority of the hotels and resorts in Samoa. If you are only staying for a short time or using Samoa as a stopover then Upolu is where you will be based. Most of the resorts are about an hour and a half drive from the airport on the southern coast, near local villages, from which they typically hire their friendly staff. The resorts are small and boutiquey with stunning white sand beaches and blue waters. Off resort, there is plenty to explore on Upolu with it’s mountains, rainforest, waterfalls, water holes, caves and gorgeous beaches. Upolu is very authentic, wild and rugged.
Known as the “real” Samoa, Savai’i is the larger island West of Upolu, reached by ferry. Historians call Savai’i the cradle of Polynesia and say that it is the birthplace of Polynesian culture. You can experience the most authentic form of Polynesian culture on the island of Savai’i. With fewer hotels, villages, and roads on Savai’i, there is one main ring road around the island which makes it easy to navigate. Savai’i has unique geological features formed from recent volcanic eruptions such as the Alofaaga Blowholes, Sale’aula Lava Fields, volcanic craters and caves. The center of the island consists of the largest continuous patch of rainforest in Polynesia as well as most of Samoas species of flora and fauna.
Leave modern life behind and take a day trip to Manono island. Manono is a small island that sits in the Apolima Strait between Upolu and Savai’i. Everything on Manono is indidgenious to the island. There are no cars, and even dogs are forbidden. What you will find are lovely beaches and great snorkeling, however this is also a place to take in the culture and experience life passed down through thousands of years of tradition. You can even sit with a local village chief and have a traditional ceremony where he will explain the local way of living.
Other Highlights of Samoa Off the Beaten Path
Private island picnic
Samoa in general is quite off the beaten path, but for even more seclusion, take a day trip to the uninhabited island of Nu'ulopa Island (Bat Island). Escape to your own private island, bring a picnic to have in a traditional fale (Samoan house), and snorkel right off shore.
Day trip to America
Travellers wanting to visit one of the USA’s farthest flung national parks can add a day trip to American Samoa. Just 25 minutes away by air, the island is an inhabited territory of the U.S. as well as a U.S. national park. The tourism infrastructure isn’t as well developed as Samoa’s, so a day trip is usually enough, but the beauty of the island and the history never fails to impress.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Kidnapped, and of course, Treasure Island (inspired by Samoa) spent his final years living on Samoa. You can discover his unique story by visiting Villa Vailima, the author’s home on the island, where he was well loved. It’s now a museum run by passionate, knowledgeable locals. Samoa also has some Hollywood history. The 1953 film Return to Paradise starring Gary Cooper was filmed on Samoa.
Top Activities and Experiences in Samoa
To Sua Ocean Trench
You may recognize this water hole as the most photographed attraction in Samoa. The To Sua Ocean Trench is a beautiful swimming hole formed by lava and connects to the ocean via lava tube caves. The top part of the trench feeds into the open ocean which makes the water levels of the trench rise and fall with the tide and gives sea life access to the pool. To Sua Trench is conveniently located close to resorts, only a 10min drive from Lalomanu Beach. The only way down into the swimming hole is via a long wooden ladder that descends onto a platform, so you do need a moderate degree of fitness to fully enjoy the trench. It is a lovely place to spend the day swimming, hiking, and enjoying a picnic among the lush vegetation of the rainforest.
Waterfalls and hiking
Mother nature provides the playground in Samoa. Who needs a park full of plastic tubes when you have the Papaseea Sliding Rock? These natural waterslides are formed by thousands of years of running water. There are so many waterfalls on the islands of Samoa you can take yourself on a waterfall crawl and hop from one to the other. It is quite easy to organize a customized locally led guided walk/hike in Samoa, where your guide will tell stories of the flora and fauna, and about age old traditions. Savai’i offers a canopy walk in the rainforest reserve where you can test your fear of heights crossing the hanging bridge.
Lalomanu, located on the Eastern tip of Upolu is the most popular beach in Samoa and with good reason. The beach is picture perfect with pristine white sand, turquoise waters fringed by palm trees and beach fales. A crowded day on this famous beach would be 5 or 6 other people at most. Samoa is a place where you can have a piece of beach to yourself and never have anyone walk in front of you.
Located on the island of Savai’i, The Alofaaga Blowholes were created from volcanic activity. These impressive blowholes launch a roaring jet of water hundreds of feet in the air. If you are lucky, there may be a local nearby who’ll throw a coconut onto the hole to show you how to make a coconut fly.
Sale’aula Lava Fields
The South Pacific’s modern day Pompeii, the Sale’aula Lava fields were created by the 1905 - 1911Mt Matavanu volcanic eruption which buried five villages. You can see half buried churches and imprints of trees from a different time. One of the main sites is a virgin grave, it is said the virgin buried beneath was so pure that the lava went around her grave. The lava fields are an eerie and interesting geological site to explore.
Samoa, like other island destinations, offers water sports such as diving, snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, and surfing. The reef surrounding the islands offers calm swimming conditions, with no fear of strong currents or undertows. The waves break on the coral reef and these waves offer a paradise for experienced surfers. The snorkeling by contrast is calm and peaceful. The reef in many places is close to shore, giving snorkelers and divers easy access. Although Samoa is not a dive destination, there are two dive operators, one on Savai’i and the other on Upolu. There are plenty of colourful fish species to discover on a dive, but Samoa lacks larger marine life such as sharks, stingrays, dolphins and humpbacks that can be spotted in other Polyensian islands. An avid diver may want to pair Samoa with Fiji.
History and Culture
Samoa is said to be the birthplace of Polynesia. You can discover the unique history and traditions of this culture by taking a plantation tour, visiting local villages, museums. and churches. You can take home local handicrafts or souvenirs by visiting the markets of Upolu and Savai’i or see what the locals are cooking up at the fish and produce markets.
Essential Samoan Foods to Try
Traditionally made by men, Palusami is a vegetarian dish of coconut milk baked inside taro leaves with chopped onion. The folded taro leaves are placed in banana leaves to be cooked in an uma (earth oven). Corned beef or seafood can be added to the coconut milk.
This delicious and refreshing dish can be found all over Polynesia under different names. The ingredients and method of making it do not vary much. Fresh raw fish is marinated in lime juice and then mixed with coconut cream, chopped onions and bell peppers.
The South Pacific’s version of Chop Suey, Supasui is an island favourite. This tasty dish is easy to make and a delight to eat. Diced beef is added to saute chopped onions and garlic. The sauce used is mushroom soy sauce with fresh ginger. Vermicelli noodles that have been soaked in water are added to the pan and simmered for about 10mins before it is ready to enjoy. It is best accompanied with taro leaves and green bananas.
More commonly known as Kava drink in other parts of Polynesia, the ‘Ava drink is made from the dried roots of the piper methysticum plant. The root is mixed with water and then strained before drinking. The ‘Ava drink plays an important role in cultural ceremonies such welcoming visitors, formal occasions, and events. It is said to have anti stress/anxiety properties and can be a sleep aid.
The word fiafia means gathering or celebration; a fiafia in Samoa is a cultural activity not to be missed. Experience a feast of traditional Samoan dishes cooked in a uma, while being entertained by dance performances, fire knife dancing, and music. The performances during a fiafia differ from other Polynesian cultures. The women dance with their wrists and ankles rather than their hips and dress more modestly. The men perform ancient knife fire dances which have been passed down through generations for thousands of years. A Fiafia night is usually held once a week at resorts so it is best to book your stay around this celebration to ensure you don’t miss out.
Most Popular Itineraries for Samoa
For a relaxed vacation the Romantic Samoa Vacation is an ideal option. This itinerary gives you a base on Upolu to explore or unwind as much as you choose.
The Upolu and Savai’i Escape combines the two main islands giving you a more rounded out and adventurous experience of Samoa.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Global warming and rising ocean levels threaten many island nations. While Samoa currently sees relatively few tourists, those who do visit can do their part to keep its beaches and rainforest pristine by avoiding plastic as much as possible. Bring your own reusable water bottle, straws, and market bags. Bring reef safe sunscreen to protect against coral bleaching. Take only photos and leave only footprints while on hikes.
Where to Go Next
Samoa makes a perfectly fine standalone destination. But due to its distance from North America, it’s a good one to pair with a nearby destination such as Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, or Hawaii. If you’ve fallen in love with Samoa and would like another Pacific island with similar charm, try the Cook Islands, where no building is taller than a coconut tree.
10 Jun 2020, 7:17 p.m.