Upolu Travel Journal
Living on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific–complete with bananas and coconuts galore–you’d think that I never want to leave. Oh but I do… To other tropical islands!! Not all islands are the same, and there’s always going to be something unique and incredible to differentiate one from the other. Because I traveled back last weekend for a Valentine retreat, I thought I would post up my recommendations for travel to Upolu, Samoa. I’ve traveled to and from Samoa 4 times within the last two years, and this weekend was no doubt a new experience. My sister and brother-in-law are visiting so we showed them our favorite spots, and explored new ones. If you’re traveling south of the Pacific and are trying to decide which speck on the map to visit, I highly recommend Samoa.
Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa) is an island group made up of 7 islands. Upolu, the second largest island after Savai’i, is where you can find the city capital of Apia. People in Samoa are always very friendly and accommodating, and just like the culture, everything is colorful and tropically flamboyant.
Currency: Samoan Tālā
Exchange rate: $1 USD = to $2.55 WST
Language: Samoan and English
Time: WST UTC +14
Packing stresses me out and I normally hate it, but packing for Samoa was simple and easy, and not unlikable. In fact, packing for Samoa might make you daydream of palm trees, pina coladas, and colorful fresh fruits you can certainly match your outfits to. I know I did.
Sunblock and mosquito repellent – these are absolute musts!
Hat and sunglasses – also recommended to supplement your SPF needs.
Bikinis, board shorts, and lavalavas – but be mindful of your surroundings. The cultural style is conservative.
Passport, drivers license, necessary entry permits – FYI: visitors need a temporary drivers license to drive in Samoa.
Snorkel and surf gear – bring your own for convenience.
Camera and music playlist – take photos and jam out.
Books and beach blankets – so you can while away into your zen place.
Headlamp and starry lights – in the case of staying at a beach fale and you want to read at night.
There are loads of options that range from budget to standard to luxury. We stayed at a different place every night.
Samoan Outrigger Hotel. A quaint and budget friendly hotel (which in my opinion was more of a lodge) located very conveniently in Moto’otua – a two minute drive from downtown Apia. Because we arrive and depart via Fagali’i Airport in Vaitele, we usually like to either start or end our trip in Apia. Depending on your budget, you can opt for a simple fale or an air conditioned ensuite room.
Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Resort. One of the more luxurious settings in Samoa, the Aggie Grey’s Resort has the tropical feel you would require just by visiting an island, but also has all the amenities you expect out of a top-of-the-line Sheraton hotel. You can find great deals on their website, if you sign up for their email list, and on their Facebook page. That’s where I got a sweet deal of 50% off, because let’s be honest, I cannot afford a $300 something hotel. My favorite part of the Aggie Grey’s Resort is the pool bar and the free WiFi (for Starwood Preferred Guests), and Ian’s favorite part is the free sailing/kayaking equipment. The all you can eat breakfast bar is also more than satiating. The resort is also nearby the Faleolo International Airport and the Mulifanua Wharf, if you want to take a ferry to the big island of Savaii.
Maninoa Beach Fales. This is a super basic setup for the easygoing independent traveler. The Maninoa beach fales are sandwiched between two fancy dancy resorts, Sinalei and Coconuts. It’s perfect because being on the fringe of luxury allows you to pay 95% less for pretty much the same view and access to the beach. We spent more money on food and pretty drinks at their restaurants than we spent on our beach fale – which by the way, was only $20 USD ($50 WST) per person per night! Staying at a beach fale begs you to spend as much time out on the beach: lounge in the hammocks, read and tan, surf and snorkel. BYOB (bring your own board) though if you want to surf, and snorkeling gear if you want to snorkel. I spent my afternoon reading on the beach and sleeping in the hammock under the coconut trees while Ian was able to go surfing with Manoa Tours. They have a boat that can take snorkelers and surfers out for a couple of hours – $30 USD ($80 WST) per person.
Travellers’ Point. Another basic budget option that has a decent bar and a very warm pool. We stayed here for our last night in town because of its proximity to the airport, but maybe it was because of our night roughing it at the beach fales, it felt like a dream to have hot water and air conditioning again. At the bar, I ordered a brilliantly concocted blue drink called the ‘Manu Samoa’ so named after Samoa’s national rugby team, and it is exactly what you expect the famous pre-game Haka to taste like.
A South Pacific wonder, To Sua Ocean Trench
I arrived in Samoa on Friday evening and felt like I hadn’t eaten since the day before (remember, they are 1 day and 1 hour ahead of Pago Pago), so I was pretty hangry even though our flight was really only 30 minutes. We checked in to our hotel, and headed over to the Apia Marina for drinks and dinner. The sunset came down all glorious over the harbour (only spelling it that way because we were in Samoa), and though the bar/club scene was just coming alive, we turned in early after a short stroll and instead played cards in our room, then went night swimming in the hotel pool.
The next morning, a tropical breakfast was served. We feasted on fresh fruits, toast, banana pancakes, koko rice, and coffee. We packed up our rental car, and started our adventure south of the island towards Lotofaga Village to the incredible To Sua Ocean Trench.
If you haven’t heard of To Sua, you’ve probably seen it. Justin Bieber instagrammed it. It is absolutely beautiful, and if you aren’t scared of heights, it is a lot of fun to swim in. The entrance fee is ~$7.50 USD ($20 WST) and you can spend the entire day lounging in the fales and swimming in the trench. If you’re an advanced swimmer, you might even want to check out one of the caves that lead out to the open ocean. If you’re not, you can venture towards the other cave on the far side and stack zen stones in To Le Sua (the trench without water). I am terrified of jumping from anything above 1 foot, but I put my brave face on and jumped a couple of times. You can jump as far up as the top of the ladder, but that’s not really recommended. And if you’re daredevil enough to try it, go at high tide.
We had so much fun. Until… we were getting ready to leave and realized that we had lost the key to our rental car. What. It took us about half an hour of searching in and around the area before Ian came up from diving and yelled out that he found it! We were so stoked. We took a few photos at the top before heading to the car park, but womp womp. The car wouldn’t start. The smart chip and battery were soaked in seawater, and we had just about given up and were going to wait for the car rental folks to lend us a hand, when ta-da! It magically started working after I gave it one more go.
Another bout of hanger came over us so we sped to swanky Sinalei Reef Resort for lunch. After a satiable meal (and an almost flat tire we ignored after an annoying amount of detours in search of a compressor to no avail), we drove to our next hotel, the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Greys Resort. Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we ordered drinks and swam in the pool. I took photos of Lyn and Chris for their 2 year wedding anniversary and we all watched the sun set on the jetty.
Dinner was the lowest part of our trip. We felt like we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, even though we had very well showered ourselves in aerosol Off spray. Our food was super late, so we made mention of it to the manager who had come to ask how the service was. And then were offered a round of free drinks, but found out it wasn’t free. So we felt compelled to bring it up to the manager and he ensured us it was a miscommunication. We were like okay, whatever. And were just about to head to our room when the front desk manager stops us in our tracks and makes an issue of the fact that there were 4 of us in one room. I tried to explain but it was late–11pm!–and we were already upset, so Ian made it very clear to them that we were upset, and we kind of stormed off just wanting to go to our room. We felt bad about the whole situation but it ruined our night, and it was Valentines. We slept the bad juju off.
The next morning–refueled with coffee and a breakfast buffet–we attempted to go sailing, but there wasn’t enough wind and we were on a time crunch anyways. So we kayaked some then went back to enjoy the swim up pool bar one last time before we checked out for the day. Our drive back to Apia took about 45 minutes. We dropped Lyn and Chris off at the Fagali’i Airport; they were doing double Valentines Day (time travel is so fun) so they could spend it with their son, and catch a fire knife show back in Pago.
Ian and I hadn’t made any plans for the rest of the trip, so we played it by ear. It was Sunday so there wasn’t too much we could do, but we were able to grab brunch at one of our favorite spots in town, Bean HQ. We thought about car-camping, but our tiny rental car from Blue Pacific Car Hire did not make the cut. We drove south again to Maninoa, to the cheapest beach fales we could find, and settled there.
I read and napped in the hammock under coconut trees while Ian surfed and feasted at the fancy Sinalei and Coconuts restaurants when we got hungry. It was off-season for the tourism industry so we had the beach to ourselves. We also snuck into the Sinalei pool for a night swim–I’m practicing my swim strokes–then went skinny dipping in the ocean. This was my most relaxing trip ever. I honestly didn’t do anything except read, eat, drink, swim, and reapply a lot of sunblock.
Our last day in Samoa, we drove through Cross Island Road to get back to Apia. It’s way shorter than going the long way round the usual scenic route, but it certainly had a pretty view going down Vailima Road. On the way, we stopped by the Mailelani Samoa soap and oil making factory. I use their all-natural coconut and papaya oils literally every day. It was a real treat to have just shown up out of the blue and meet Sylvie Salanoa–co-owner of Mailelani–who was very welcoming and gave us a sneak peek behind their newest developments. They have an inspiring space and story, and it made me so excited to be able to see where these local products were sourced and created. I’ll probably write more about that later!
Again, we didn’t have any idea where we would stay for the night then remembered that our friends were also visiting Samoa and staying at the Travellers’ Point. The friendly receptionist told us our friends had gone to Savai’i for several days. We checked in and got dinner at the nearby Rendezvous Restaurant. They had a fantastic cocktail menu (let me help you out, #12. Screaming Orgasm) which I couldn’t resist. We toasted to our last night and ate a yummy dinner under the twinkly garden lights. Went back for another night swim and watched some TV and read till we dozed off.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and filled up on gas for the car. I was surprised that after driving for five days around the island without a pit stop, a full tank only cost us ~$22 USD ($58 WST)! The little car might have prevented us from car-camping, but it sure was an efficient mode of transportation. Our short trip ended on a great note. I was well relaxed and full of good food, and I got a nice tan in the process. It’s always my favorite thing when I feel like I got what I came for. And Samoa, you keep me coming back for more.
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