In this Article by South Pacific travel expert Ian Osborn
Samoa Travel Guide — Five Things to Know about Samoa — Samoa Islands Travel Details
The Samoa Islands comprise of two separate and independent countries - Samoa and American Samoa. Traditionally and historically, the two countries share a common identity. However, they were separated in 1899 when the USA took over the administration of the eastern part of the islands and so renamed them American Samoa. Today, the countries offer a very different holiday environment.
Samoa is a bit of a back-water in terms of tourism compared to its South Pacific neighbours of Fiji and the Cook Islands yet this is one of its greatest appeals. There's are only a handful of beach resorts around the islands and only one of these has more than 50 rooms. Infrastructure is also quite basic with few tour companies, virtually no motorised sports and few shops or banks outside of the main town of Apia.
Samoa Travel Guide
Samoa has a very low GDP with employment scarce and salaries low and for travellers it has become one of the cheapest destinations to visit in the South Pacific with tourism being a major source of income. It's relative underdevelopment and a conservative and traditional observance of both its Polynesian culture and Christianity means this is great destination to meet people and learn the Samoan way of life. Strangely, it is also a place where petty theft is prevalent so be especially careful with your possessions.
Upolu is the main population centre in Samoa, a high volcanic island 1,100 sq-km in size with much of its interior covered in tropical forest and its coast dotted with traditional villages.
Mountainous Upolu Island is the main destination for a holiday in Samoa as well as having the largest population making it a great option for exploring the Samoan way of life. The country's capital, Apia , is located on the beach-less north coast and is probably the most picturesque of all the South Seas towns with a lovely harbour setting, great restaurants and a lively night scene. The sprawling town has plenty of historical charm including Robert Louis Stevenson’s old home in the hills, now a museum, and a beautiful waterfront making it a pleasant base for a sightseeing holiday. The south coast of Upolu is a lot more rural with plenty of traditional villages along the coast. There are waterfalls and rain forest hikes to enjoy and plenty of stunning secluded beaches – this is where the beach resorts can be found as well as good snorkelling lagoons and some excellent surfing breaks.
Adjacent Savaii Island is even less developed, with more traditional villages and a scattering of small beach resorts. Savaii is the largest of the Samoan islands with dormant volcanoes and a landscape dominated by its recent volcanic activity. There are some wonderful sites to enjoy including blow-holes, lava tubes and barren but fascinating lava fields. Most tourists stay along the north-west coast in and around Manase Beach which is a 40-minute drive from the wharf at Salelologa. The majority of tourists catch the regular passenger ferry between Upolu and Savaii which takes 1-hr 30mins.
By contrast, American Samoa has lost its traditional identity and adopted the American way of life. Despite this cultural loss, the rich tropical rainforests have been thoughtfully preserved under the guidance of the National Parks system although tourism remains almost non-existent with hotels aimed mostly at business travellers. Instead, the country earns a high income source from its US army bases and Asian dominated tuna factories.
Five Things to Know about the Samoa Islands
1) Samoa changed its road rules in 2009 (Samoa cars now drive on the left side of the road) and also changed its time zone in 2012 to coincide with Australia and New Zealand - it now lies 12 hours ahead of GMT
2) Over half of American Samoa is protected by National Parks to preserve the tropical rainforest - but there are few walking trails and even fewer tourists visiting the islands.
3) Each evening, around 6pm, all Samoan villages place a curfew on movement whilst prayer serviced take place - you can't walk about or even drive a car through a village, even if it is on the main road!
4) Talofa is the common greeting and will be offered in passing on the streets, fa is goodbye
5) If asking a local for directions, be careful: yes may mean no, left can mean right and south is probably north
Samoan Islands Travel Details
There are a couple of organised sightseeing tours originating from Apia as well as car hire companies. Travel between Upolu and Savaii islands is by local ferry with 2 or 3 daily departures and travelling times between one and two hours. There are five scheduled flight to Savaii (Moata Airstrip) departing Faleolo International Airport (north-west coast of Upolu) which takes 10-minutes and one daily flight from Fagali'i Airport in Apia which takes 20-minutes. Prices charged by weight - Samoa Air is the first airline in the world to adopt this pricing strategy. You pay by the combined weight of your body and your baggage with the rate charged at around ST$ 1.00 per kg. There's also a twice weekly ferry to American Samoa which takes five hours but seas are often rough. Most people travel to American Samoa by plane from Faleolo International Airport - the daily flight takes 55-minutes and costs about ST$ 2.20 per kg and is dependent on your body weight along with your baggage.
Getting around the islands is relatively easy as there are only two islands to visit and each has a good coastal road with only a few roads meandering inland. There are local buses stationed at each village and heading into Apia but timetables are erratic and seating space is cramped. It's a fun way to explore though if you're flexible and the buses are very cheap. Car hire is a good option and can be picked up from several outlets in Apia or arranged at one of the resorts. Taxis for travel in and around Apia are recommended and very cheap. There is a daily flight connecting Upolu and Savaii although most people travel on the inter island ferry which takes roughly two hours and departs four times a day. A passenger ferry departs from Apia for American Samoa once or twice a week but the easiest way to get there is on a scheduled flight from the International airport.
Click a region to visit in the Map of Samoa Islands below to view our interactive pictures of the islands along with hotel locations and reviews - it's a fun way to plan your holiday ...
English is spoken fluently at all resorts although in the villages many people are reluctant to converse in English, which is often broken. The weather is warm and balmy year round with temperatures seldom falling below 25 degrees Celsius. December to April are very humid being the wetter summer months. June to October are cooler and the most popular months to visit.