White sands, palm trees, blue waters – welcome to the paradise island of Samoa – but where exactly is it?
I was invited to visit Samoa by the Samoa tourism board, and of course, I was thrilled. I literally jumped at the chance, only slightly faltering when I looked up the flight time and realised it’d be 40 hours plus.
But to go somewhere no one I know has been is a rare opportunity I wouldn’t say no to. It’s the same reason I ended up in Papua New Guinea that time.
Both lands as yet undiscovered by the many, many bloggers and instagrammers I know. Not knowing everything there was to know about a place, from the tens who’d been before, made a trip to Samoa look like a real adventure to me.
Google searches revealed palm trees, beaches, and the famous To Sua Trench. Photos I didn’t quite believe actually – it couldn’t really be that beautiful right?
My holiday to Samoa
And it definitely wasn’t, when I arrived at 6am. I’d broken up the 40ish hour journey there with three wonderful days in Sydney. But with the excitement of the city, and the ever present need to tell people about how much I loved Australia on my social media, I hadn’t managed to catch up on the jet lag.
I arrived into Samoa knackered, hot and definitely bothered. I’d managed about 3 bouts of 5 minutes of sleep on the plane. We flew from 10pm to 6am with a two-hour time difference. The plane was cold and with all the noise of trying to serve everyone a drink, and food, in such a short space of time, coupled with my bladder jet lag thinking it was the middle of the day, there was no chance of nodding off.
I was so happy to be in Samoa, to go through customs, and collect my bag – but all the time my thoughts were on where my next bed was coming from.
We were welcomed to the island by a traditional ukelele band, doing their thing at the airport, bright eyed at 6am. It definitely softened the blow, and reminded me of why I’d travelled so far.
Hot, sticky and wearing the thick leggings that had saved me from Sydney’s winter, which were now restricting my blood flow, I was desperate to get out of the airport.
But first, a SIM card.
Where is Samoa on the map?
Samoa is six hours from Sydney. It’s right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s nearest neighbour is American Samoa, which is a 30-minute flight away. American Samoa is Samoa, but it follows the American curriculum at school.
Samoa is made up of six islands, but I only managed to visit the two biggest ones: Sava’ii and Upolu.
22 Fascinating Facts About Samoa
First day in Samoa
Two hours later and we arrived at the Aga Resort Hotel, having enjoyed the sunrise from the car on the way.
One thing that I came to learn quite quickly in Samoa was that we were often told what we wanted to hear, rather than what was actually happening. A strange phenomenon that also happens regularly in India.
“We’re just putting the air conditioning on,” the receptionist replied when we wanted to get in our rooms at 8am.
The good news for me was that I got in just an hour later, the comparatively not-so-good news was that it was into one of the seaview hotel rooms. The good news for everyone else was that they were in ocean villas, but the downside was, apparently not until closer to noon.
Cue a few hours of them wandering what was going on, while I slept off the long haul.
We refreshed, had some breakfast (hot, freshly cooked muffins) and got ready for a day of relaxation and settling into island life.
First stop: Lalomanu Beach.
Lalomanu has the accolade of being one of the ‘top 10 beaches in the world’ according to Lonely Planet. Making it the perfect spot to be introduced into the Samoa way of life.
Gawd it was absolutely stunning. The falas (huts) on the beach are hotel rooms, so you can fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the waves – just roll the sides down for privacy. The beach was everything you could want from a paradise – palm trees, warm white sands, tonal blue waters and a bath temperature ocean.
Despite having showered about an hour ago I dove right in. Feeling the Pacific Ocean wash over me, initiating me into island life, cleansed that long journey right off me.
Food in Samoa
For my first lunch in Samoa I ordered the traditional Oka – raw fish like Sashimi, but marinated in a coconut cream. This was the first glimpse I had of how huge portions are in Samoa. The same amount of fresh fish would cost a fortune in England, yet, here I was devouring a mound of the freshest of fish in a beach fala on one of the top 10 beaches in the world for just a few Samoan Talas.
Samoa food is my kinda sustenance.
Fresh fish in every way – grilled mahi mahi, fried fish of the day, grilled tuna, and an Oka starter for almost every meal. This is how I’d eat if money were no issue in England, and if I knew what I was doing with a raw salmon.
If you’re not partial to a fish or seafood dinner, there was chicken, burgers, pastas, sandwiches and salad on the menus, and always chips.
Breakfasts were included with the hotel, and featured the usual continental offerings. The bread was different to what I’m used to – never fails to amaze me how different it is around the world. And then the freshest of fruits and cereal on the side.
Apart for the local Oka, I also tried the local specialities of breakfast chocolate pudding, an Uma oven underground (more on that in this post here) and a lobster special.
As a tourist you won’t go hungry on Samoa. There’s so much to choose from, and all cooked to the highest quality, or in my Oka’s case, marinated.
I tried the traditional Ava drink, from a coconut shell. Bitter and gritty, it’s the ceremonial drink of Samoa and made from dried kava roots.
Service in Samoa
Before I had my first Polynesian island experience in Samoa my cultural reference points were from the odds scene in a film, and the (excellent) Disney film, Moana. Oh, and that week I spent in New Zealand.
I presumed the service would be American-style – OTT and eager to please. It wasn’t. I mean, apart from the Seabreeze Resort (which excelled in every way), the service was normal. English style, but with a little less speed.
On Island Time.
I actually prefer this. There was no sucking up, there weren’t Polynesian bands at every meal, and no one was wearing a grass skirt with a coconut in their hand (although coconuts were very much on the menu).
It was real.
If I was asked about myself and my day it felt genuine, not a forced question filtering down from a management meeting.
I did find it hard to hear and understand some of the service staff sometimes. I’ve since read that Samoans are known for being softly spoken. It’s all part of the respect and humility they offer each other, thanks to years of being socially conditioned to follow the village’s rules and teachings of the elders passed down through generations.
Explains a lot.
Samoans are fiercely proud of their homeland, and of course, if you’re asked if you’re enjoying Samoa you reply along the lines of ‘yes, it’s beautiful’ and you won’t be lying. But you will usually see them close their eyes and take the compliment to heart.
I feel you’d get a different reaction if you were to do that to any Brit.
Accommodation in Samoa
I was in Samoa on a press trip, and too often tourist boards cram so much in you barely have time for the toilet, let alone to enjoy yourself. But the Samoa tourist board wanted us to enjoy the island for what it does best – relaxation.
And so that first night, after a delicious duck pancake and a fish salad in the Aga Resort restaurant, I went to bed. And fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I stayed in four hotels in Samoa.
– 2 nights at the Aga Reef Resort
– 2 nights at Taumeasina Resort
– 2 nights at Stevenson’s Resort
– 1 night at Sheraton Resort
I also had some of the best sleeps I’ve had in months. It obviously helped that I was shattered, but also, the beds, the sheets, the two nights at Stevensons where I slept right by the ocean, enjoying the sounds of the waves lapping at the beach – I was in my happy place.
Stevensons was my favourite hotel, and exactly the kind of experience I love when I’m travelling. It was still a lovely hotel with everything I could need, but it was more relaxed than the others. Allowing me to feel close to my surroundings without the fancy veil of pretence between me and what’s on the outside.
The Sheraton was the first and only chain on the island. The village chiefs own the land in Samoa, and it was the first and only time they let foreign investors in. They prefer to trust their own people with the land, and not let the coast line spoil thanks to rich foreign investors.
We obviously stayed in quite a high class of accommodation in Samoa, but there are cool budget options available – including those falas on the beach.
Wildlife in Samoa
Samoa is rich in flora and fauna, and pigs. Pigs roam free, in front of our van at least three times in the week. They belong to the village and will be eaten when the time is right.
“Nothing will kill you” was the answer to the cautious Australians in our group’s question about the wildlife here.
Later that day I just happened to see something moving on the side of the road from the corner of my eye as we raced on by.
‘Ssstopppp… what is THAT?!”
It turned out to be a coconut crab.
A genuinely terrifying creature I’d never heard of before. From research these are thought to have been responsible for Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. A group of them can devour you fast.
Remembering its crawl across the road makes me shudder, as does the thought of it rearing up to it’s back claws to fight the locals who suddenly appeared… to stab it with a stick and serve it up to a passing car who took it home to eat.
My group were shrieking with the speed and viciousness of its demise, but that’s living off the land. ‘Farm to table’ – all those buzzwords in our western world that essentially mean what just happened.
He was an interesting guy, while he lasted.
Activities in Samoa
That first day in Samoa was dreamy, and the rest of the week followed suit. We did 2-3 activities a day, and then just ate and sunbathed the day away.
READ MORE: Coolest Things to Do in Samoa
To Sua Trench
No matter how beautiful and relaxing the beaches are, you absolutely cannot leave Samoa without going to the So Tua Trench though. It’s the icon of Samoa, and as beautiful as most of the pictures make out.
This huge sinkhole gave way to produce this stunning work of natural art for us to enjoy. Surrounded by lush vegetation the circular swimming hole is right in the middle of a lava field. Which of course, as humans we stick a ladder in and charge to enjoy.
Worth every Samoan Tala it cost to enter.
The To Sua Trench is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. What you can’t see on the pictures is that you can swim through a cave to another opening on the other side.
As I surfaced in the next cave I looked up into the light, and there were four palm trees silhouetted at the opening. They were perched above the vines, entwined under the sun and the years of growth. It was a beautiful sight, and one I want to keep in my mind for as many years as possible to come.
I could’ve spent hours there, especially as I found out after that there were all kinds of rock pools to enjoy too. But a swim and a few pics and it was time to leave.
The Samoan dancing
Another of my highlights of Samoa was watching the traditional dancing.
It wasn’t just shaking with the hips and holding with the eyes, although I did thoroughly enjoy the hips sashaying with feathers on their bum. It was the movement of the hands, a dance I’d only seen before on Moana – sorry to link back again, but so much reminded me of that one strong point of reference I have, when the Grandma dances in the ocean.
It’s such a beautiful way of dancing, and with the three opportunities I had to watch it, I enjoyed it more and more.
Samoa Independence Day
I was in Samoa for Independence Day, to celebrate their independence from New Zealand. It was an early morning – no one wants to parade through Samoa in the mid morning heat, never mind midday. So at 7am we watched as thousands of schools, colleges and businesses paraded around Apia’s main sports ground.
It was a brilliant moment, to be able to share in the excitement of the crowd. As a festival blogger it was also super interesting to be able to share in their way of celebrating. Basically lots of music, laughter and hilarity as they paraded past.
The rest of my holiday in Samoa passed in beaches, early mornings admiring the sunset, swimming, lava fields, ferry rides, eating and sunbathing.
If you’d like to know more about what to do in Samoa, keep an eye out for my guide to Samoa coming next week. Otherwise this blog post will get VERY long.
Getting around in Samoa
I was lucky enough to be driven around in a van in Samoa, by the tourist board. If I went again though I’d totally hire a car and feel completely confident in doing so. The roads were pretty straight forward, you can’t really go wrong, and apart from in the centre of Apia, there was never any traffic.
The buses looked fun, but there’s no direct route going round the island for tourists. They’re more of a practical feature for locals. I didn’t actually get to ride one properly, except for messing around for this photo, but if you get the chance to ride one into town it’ll definitely make for a fun and local experience.
I wouldn’t rely on them for your whole trip though.
Journey to Samoa
After talking to friends since I’ve returned it seems the long journey there is what puts people off. Obviously, I travel quite a lot, but it really didn’t bother me. I did have a very annoying woman next to me on the way home who decided to elbow me every few minutes, but apart from that, it was fine.
When else do you have the opportunity to sit, relax, have drinks bought to your seat and watch films?
13 hours London to Singapore
8 hours Singapore to Sydney
6 hours Sydney to Apia
And back again.
I’d recommend breaking up the journey with a few days in Sydney on the way there, and then a few in Singapore on the way back. You might as well make a two-week trip of it, right?
Samoa for a holiday
During my week in Samoa, I managed to visit two islands: Upopu and Sava’ii. The two largest and so most touristed of the six islands of Samoa. Although, having said that, I’d say Samoa is one of the least touristy countries I’ve ever been to. I didn’t hear a British accent all week, and it was rare to hear English or European among my fellow guests.
The main tourists to Samoa are New Zealand, American Samoa, and Australian – makes sense given the proximity.
If I had to sum up Samoa in one word, it’d be ‘lush’. It’s a word I’ve come to use quite often actually, but it’s never been more apt than here. Samoa is known for year-round sunshine, but also for rain and the occasional storm, even a rare typhoon.
This blend of the perfect weather conditions for growth mean the island is rich in greenery. The abundant flora is best viewed from the high points on the island, where you can see it flourishing under the sun.
Vacation in Samoa
Samoa has a slow and relaxed pace of life. Having looked up the social problems since, of course Samoa isn’t a paradise to live – it has it’s problems like everywhere else in the world – but in my week of experience, it’s absolutely a paradise to visit on holiday.
Samoa will long reign as one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and I genuinely can’t imagine the place to topple it off that top spot.
I loved Samoa, I didn’t mind the journey, and I’d love to hear if I’ve inspired you to go.
If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments below.
How to Book a Trip to Samoa
All prices are for a trip 6 months from now (October 2019).
I was a guest of the Samoan Tourist board, so these are approximate estimations from my week in Samoa.
Flights: Skyscanner is my favourite search engine for booking flights. You can expect to pay around £1200 for a flight from London to Samoa.
TRAVELLING TO SAMOA WITH VIRGIN AUSTRALIA
Flying to Samoa with Virgin Australia is a great option as every fare includes food and 23kg checked baggage. With direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane, you’ll be able to find yourself a great-priced fare.
If you want to plan the perfect Samoan holiday, you can call Virgin Australia on 13 15 16, or visit virginaustralia.com.
2 nights at the Aga Reef Resort – £283 for 2 people in a double room with sea view, so £140.
2 nights at Taumeasina Resort – £347 for 2 people in a king room with a sea view, so £170.
2 nights at Stevenson’s Resort – £156 for 2 people in a beach front fale, so £75.
1 night at Sheraton Resort – £214 for 2 people in a deluxe room with ocean view, so £105.
Food and drink
7 dinners – our meals were around £20 each, for two courses, so you could halve this for lunch, so £70.
7 lunches – see above, so £140 for one.
Breakfast was always included in the room rate.
£295 for the week
And then you need to include any extra snacks, souvenirs and petrol.
I’d say at a minimum my trip to Samoa costs £2,250, per week.
I’d recommend splitting up the flight with a few days in Sydney too.
I loved my three days in Sydney, and actually found it good value.
That way you can easily pick up your Virgin Australia flight.
My time in Samoa
I was in Samoa thanks to the Samoan Tourist Board who invited me to explore the island in return for coverage on my blog. All thoughts and feelings are my own. I loved Samoa, it’s absolutely one of my most favourite places I’ve ever been. If you’ve got the time and money I’d totally recommend it!
More on Samoa