Talofa! Or Greetings in Samoan, to this stunning island nation in the South Pacific. Samoa holidays have something for every type of traveler, all while enjoying an extremely welcoming, traditional Polynesian lifestyle. Explore from reef to mountain, and visit a culture that has maintained much of its original structure despite modern influences.
Samoa consists of two main islands (Upolu and Savai’i) and four smaller islands, and are part of the same archipelago as the US territory, American Samoa. Despite early Colonial rule, Samoa has been a proud, independent nation since 1962.
A Samoa Vacation
Our family spent one week on Upolu, which was just enough time to see all the major attractions. The island is quite large, so allow plenty of time to drive between destinations. Samoa’s other main island, Savai;i, is even larger, but a bit more remote. We’re looking forward to traveling to Samoa again in the near future, and this time will head to Savai’i instead.
The capital city Apia is located on the northern shore of Upolu, Samoa. The city is filled with delicious restaurants and cultural experiences, and the international airport is a jumping point for trips to New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and other Pacific island nations.
If you find yourself wanting or needing to spend more time in Apia, take a look at our Guide to Apia Samoa Travel for additional listings of things to do in Samoa, best restaurants, Apia accommodation, and helpful tips!
While Upolu does have a bus system, if you are planning to travel outside of Apia or to more than one or two destinations, then a car rental makes the most sense. Book your car rental in Apia.
**A word of caution about gas stations. Check on gas station locations ahead of time. At the time of our visit, there were only stations in Apia. It’s a 1.5-2 hour drive from the south coast of Upolu back to Apia, which will make your life difficult if you don’t plan ahead!**
Samoan Cultural Village
An absolute must see and first stop in your Samoa vacation should be the Samoan Cultural Village. The two hour free tour each weekday at 10:30 AM is impressively in depth, and offers insight into the culture that will surround you during your stay in Samoa.
From the preparation of an umu (Samoan earth oven), to traditional wood working and bark cloth preparation (tapa), you will find your time at the Samoan Cultural Village well spent.
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve is located just a few minutes outside the center of Apia, and is an extraordinary display of beautiful corals and reef fish alongside a blue hole drop off. The coral colors and density were the best we’ve seen yet in the Samoan archipelago.
It is important to time your visit with high tide, otherwise the water depth over the reef heading to and from the drop off will be too shallow to swim over. The swim out to the drop off is about 100 yards and can have a stronger current, so this is not a beginner swim. Our competent 11 yr old swimmer Ty had no problem doing the swim twice in a row, but swim fins (flippers) are a must. Snorkel gear is available for rent if you are not packing yours, but there are many online reviews suggesting the rental gear is not the best quality.
Palolo Deep is a popular swimming spot in addition to snorkeling, so there are facilities and small fales for lounging. When snorkeling out to the drop off, don’t be discouraged by the reef close to shore; it has been heavily impacted by human use, but just keep swimming to the marker post next to the drop off and you will be rewarded. If you are traveling with young children who are not yet strong swimmers, the periphery of the reef (about 25 yard swim) does have a nice selection of corals and fish to view.
Fugalei Market is located in the center of Apia, and filled with local produce such as bananas, papaya, starfruit, breadfruit, and citrus. The market is open every day of the week, and convenient for purchasing snacks before heading out to the rest of the island for adventures. When we visited the market our main goal was to purchase mangoes (sadly not very many available in American Samoa), but we were pleasantly surprised by the huge variety of fruits and vegetables available.
The highlight of the market for our kids was the chilled Nui (young coconut) opened on the spot for drinking on hot days. They also have a wide variety of souvenirs if you want to remember your Samoa vacation, as well as prepared traditional Samoan foods.
Lalomanu Beach is a picture perfect, long white sandy beach on the south-east side of Upolu. The coral reef in this area was severely damaged by the 2009 tsunami, but thankfully there is enough reef to break the waves and to allow for a family friendly swimming experience.
There are a handful of fale style resorts along the Lalomanu Beach, and we chose to stay at Taufua Beach Fales for the week. Fales are traditional Samoan buildings, and you will see them throughout Samoa as gathering places or for shaded picnic areas at beaches and attractions. Taufua offers a few different styles of fale. We opted for the full beach experience and stayed in the open fales.
One of the greatest hidden treasures of Taufua Beach Fales were the group meals. Breakfast and dinner are included in your stay, and meals are served family style at long banquet tables. We had so many wonderful conversations with travelers from around the world, exposing our kids to many different accents and travel stories. We met countless couples on epic, inspirational world tours, and many others on Samoa holidays who made travel each year a priority.
If you are hoping to see as many sights on Upolu, Samoa as possible, we recommend moving hotels every few nights. It was great to keep our personal items in one spot, but we ended up spending more time in the car than we expected.
With the size of the island and the slow speed limit, we needed to drive for huge chunks of time en route to attractions further from the hotel. Of course if you are hoping to vacation in Samoa and spend all day/everyday relaxing on the beach, then Lalomanu is perfect for the week! There are plenty of Samoa accommodation options to choose from around the island.
While we didn’t go there ourselves, we heard from countless other visitors about their wonderful trips out to the island. Namu’a Island is located on the far south-east corner of Upolu, just 15 minutes up the road from Lalomanu Beach, and only accessible by boat. You can head out for a day trip, or stay overnight at the Namu’a Island Beach Fales. They are off the grid, open fale style accommodations with incredibly welcoming hosts. Sea turtles are very commonly seen on the boat ride to the island, as well as when snorkeling around the island.
Piula Cave Pool
Set below the grounds of Piula Theological College, Piula Cave Pool is a beautiful, fresh water pool and cave, right at the ocean’s edge. The crystal clear water is cool and refreshing, and was quite invigorating to swim in! Bring your snorkel to check out the curious fresh water fish, or to explore into the cave.
The grounds around the cave are well maintained and include small day use fales, as well as picnic tables and umbrellas overlooking the ocean.
The “Garden Toilet” restroom was absolutely stunning, and a beautiful display of creative landscaping and meticulous care.
If you don’t want to spend the day at the Cave Pool, opt to get there early in the day to beat the crowds.
Coordinate Your Lunch Stops Ahead of Time
If you opt to stay on the south coast of Upolu during your stay, your only lunch options are at the resorts spread along the coastline. There are plenty of small convenience store type shops along these roads, but they don’t provide much for lunch. Check with the resorts if you are traveling with children, as some are adult only. Our bar at Taufua Beach Fales offered lunch service, but we found we really needed to plan ahead to coordinate lunch availability with our daily excursions when we were not staying at the fale.
Seabreeze Resort Samoa was our splurge for lunch one day, and an absolute treat for both the eyes and the taste buds. The dining room and view was stunning, and they didn’t mind that our family of four came in half wet and sandy! While the prices are not for the budget family travel, the food was worth every penny. Seabreeze is located close to To Sua Ocean Trench, on the eastern end of the south coast.
For a more budget option, we were thrilled to find lunch at Faimafili Village Resort. Just up the road from Return to Paradise Resort, Faimafili was reasonably priced without compromising flavor. The large dining area was down to Earth and clean, with a great lunch time view. Faimafili is located close to the Giant Clam Sanctuary, on the western end of the south coast.
For a great combination of tasty food and activity value, our favorite lunch stop was at Sa’Moana Beach Bungalows. Lunch was filled with delicious, fresh vegetables that Sa’Moana sources locally. Every detail of the restaurant seemed well thought out and genuine to their mission of quality, local ingredients. With a lunch purchase, outside guests are allowed to use the swimming pool, SUPs, and kayaks for the day.
Make a visit to Sa’Moana a full day trip with a stop before or after at gorgeous Salamumu Beach, right up the road., on the western end of the south coast.
To Sua Ocean Trench
One of the highlights often featured in Samoan tourism guides is the To Sua Ocean Trench, and this natural wonder did not disappoint us. To Sua was formed from the roof collapse of an ancient lava tube, and is now one of the most unique swimming holes in the world.
Steep cliffs covered in tropical vegetation lead down to the tidal waters. Aim for higher tides when visiting, and be careful with bringing kids into the water. Depending on the day, the currents back and forth inside the trench can be extremely powerful.
A steep set of steps descends down to a wooden ladder, with a platform at the bottom for lounging or jumping.
There are ropes that extend across the surface of the water in three different directions. They’re fun to hold on to, letting the current take you back and forth. Follow one of the ropes into a short cave that opens up at To Le Sua, which you see when you first enter the park.
We were all surprised to discover perfectly manicured grounds for picnicking around the top of To Sua. Bring a lunch and take time to explore the full experience. Trails lead from the back side of the Trench out to a cliff overlook where you can watch the waves break over much of the southern coast.
While there are many waterfalls in Upolu, we often found the vantage points far away and somewhat of a let down. When we found Togitigiga Waterfall, we were thrilled for an interactive experience.
While this double waterfall complex is far from the tallest on the island, it was a quiet spot that allowed for a few hours of enjoyable cliff jumping and fresh water swimming. When you’ve been living in a beach fale for a week, that fresh water feels spectacular!
The entrance to Togitigiga is at O Le Pupa-Pu’e National Park which offers a small, but informative visitors center. Take time to read about the conservation efforts the Park is involved with protecting and restoring native forests. From the visitors center, follow the signs and short trail down to the falls.
Giant Clam Sanctuary
While it’s a bit difficult to find the Giant Clam Sanctuary in the village of Savaia, it was well worth the effort. Villagers tend and protect three species of giant clam in the Savaia Marine Protected Area. Giant clam meat is highly sought after, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever see such large specimens outside of protected areas. The colors were surprisingly vibrant shades of green and purple, and HUGE!
Navigate to Savaia, and the entrance to the Sanctuary is just south-east of the village. Park at this sign, and a village resident will be out to greet you shortly.
Village members take great pride in their sanctuary, and are happy to answer questions about the clams. Head down the stairs and swim out to the area partitioned off with ropes and buoys. It’s a large area with fun snorkeling throughout, but the majority of the clams are straight ahead, soon after you duck under the rope.
Future Samoa Vacation
After one week in Samoa, the main thing we would have done differently is booked more time! Samoa is truly a unique destination in the heart of the South Pacific. Whether you are traveling as a family, a couple, or an individual, everyone will find their perfect travel rhythm in Samoa.
Have you traveled to Samoa and visited any of these locations? Do you have any to add to our list? Share with us in the comments below!