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The Ultimate Samoa Backpacking Travel Guide

Updated: Jun 27

In this ultimate Samoa backpacking travel guide, we will tell you everything you need to know to plan your visit to this unspoiled paradise in the South Pacific.


Samoa does not have the resort chains and mega-prices of other Oceanic nations, instead, you'll be greeted by warm, humble people with a unique culture, and a taste of the real island life.



CONTENTS




samoa view with flowers ocean and blue sky
Samoa from the mountain top!

 


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About Samoa


Samoa is a set of 9 Pacific islands around 4 hours by flight north of New Zealand, and the two main islands are called Upolu and Savai’i.


Samoa was the first Pacific island to gain its independence (from NZ in 1962) and they are very proud of this fact! Samoans have a great love for their country and are really open to sharing their culture with visitors.


The official languages are Samoan and English and the currency is Samoan Tala. At the time of writing ST$10 = £3



 


Reasons to Add Samoa to Your Travel Bucket List!


  • Almost all land in Samoa is privately owned (including the beaches) - handed down through generations. This means everything is Samoan-owned and run - and your money is going straight into the hands of local people, rather than international hotel chains.


  • Another perk of this is that you can travel to Samoa on a backpacker's budget - as prices have not been driven up by luxury brands moving in - which is not the case with other Polynesian islands.


  • There is no shortage of beautiful tropical forests and stunning beaches in Samoa, and it only takes about 4 hours to circumnavigate each Upolu and Savai’i - so you'll have time to explore all of the dreamy hidden waterfalls, lava fields, and cave pools.


  • Samoan culture has been carefully preserved, and it won’t take long for you to fall in love with Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way). You would be very welcome by the locals to learn their arts of traditional weaving, woodwork and Siapo cloth painting.



Girl in Samoa turquoise sea
Me at the Giant Clam sanctuary

 

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for Samoa I suggest browsing on Travel Supermarket and choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


Sundays in Samoa


This is quite an important section in this backpacking travel guide for Samoa, so do not skip this part!


Samoans value family and church above work, and so nothing happens on a Sunday!


When planning your travels around Samoa, be prepared for Sundays to be a beach or pool day. It isn't easy to get a taxi, and shops and fuel stations will all be closed.


Resorts and some restaurants do remain open on Sundays, so you will still be able to eat, but if you are going to explore the island, it is best to be respectful, and move around slower and quieter in villages.



 


The Ultimate Backpacking Travel Guide for Samoa



Getting to Samoa


Samoa’s main airport is Falelo International on the island of Upolu. It receives flights directly from New Zealand (Auckland), Australia (Sydney and Brisbane) Fiji (Nadi), United States (Hawaii, American Samoa).


There is also a lot of sailing around the Pacific - so as with any Oceanic island, if you have a boat or want to sign yourself up to Find A Crew - go for it!


UK citizens do not need a visa for Samoa for 60 days - but you may need to show your onward ticket.


The airport is a 45-minute drive from the capital of Apia, you can rent a car, grab a taxi outside, or arrange a transfer via your accommodation.


Alternatively, if your flight arrives during the day before 5pm, you can catch a local bus into Apia from the main entrance of Faleolo International Airport. There are no set timetables and the fare from the airport to Apia costs about ST$5.


There is a currency exchange on both sides of border control, but they are CASH ONLY for USD, NZD and AUD. (There is also an ATM as you exit the airport.) Most resorts will take cards, but shops, restaurants, beaches and activities tend to be all cash.


At the airport, there is also a Vodafone and a Digicel shop where you can get both physical sims and e-sims. At the time of writing, Vodafone was ST$49 (£14) for a 20 GB 2-week tourist sim.



 


When to Go to Samoa


Wet season - November to April

Dry season - May to October


The diverse terrain means that the weather can be remarkably different in different parts of the island at any one time. The mountains have more rainfall than the coasts, and it is not unusual to drive over the cross-island road from pure sunshine into a downpour.


The tropical climate means it is warm and humid basically all year round.



Samoan men cooking on an Umu at the cultural village
Samoan men cooking on an Umu at the cultural village

 


Where to Stay in Samoa


So back to that great news I shared earlier in this backpacking travel guide for Samoa: Being a local's island, there is accommodation in Samoa for every budget.


Previously, Samoa Travel was the best site to find accommodation, if a little tedious, as you must email each option individually. While I still recommend looking there, more and more resorts are using sites like booking.com and Airbnb as well.


I strongly suggest choosing a traditional beach Fale for at least a portion of your stay. Fale literally means 'house' in Samoan, but what you can expect is a rustic, open-sided hut by the ocean, and it's a great experience!


  • A luxury Fale in a resort: ST$300 (£90) per night

  • Mid-range Fale: ST$150 (£45) per night

  • Budget homestay Fale: ST$70 (£20) per night


When it comes to food, there are not many restaurants in Samoa, especially in Savai'i. Therefore, the owners or employees of the beach fales will also prepare dinner and breakfast for you (and that is often already included in the price of your stay).



Budget beach Fales in Samoa
Budget beach Fales

 


Getting Around Samoa


Taxis


Taxis are everywhere in Samoa, but due to the distance between top sites, it isn’t the most economical way to get around for budget travellers. You can expect to pay about £40 for an hour-long taxi journey.



Buses


Buses are much more affordable (and colourful!) - however, they are an unreliable form of transport. Subject to island time, they don’t necessarily follow a schedule and are often suited to local needs, so will wait outside a job site for people to finish work for an hour instead of taking you on.



Hitch-Hiking


Although we didn't try it ourselves, hitch-hiking is not uncommon in Samoa, and normal hitch-hiking rules apply (main road, thumb up, offer a small payment). The people we met who were hitch-hiking around Samoa said they often walked for 30 minutes or more before getting the ride.


Tour


Almost all accommodations were advertising tours, and though we didn’t go on one, people we met recommended them, especially Henry’s Tours (Enes Samoan Tours). After meeting Henry, who was one of the happiest people I have ever met - we were very disappointed that we had run out of time to do a tour with him.



Driving


If it is within your budget I strongly recommend hiring a car - as it gives you complete flexibility, and Samoa is quite straightforward to drive around.


The price of a car rental is around ST$100-170 (£30-50) per day - depending on agency and car type.


Don’t expect much variety in car choice, as only now and then the cars are imported from Japan, and when they arrive at the port they are in high demand.


I would recommend booking your car rental in advance - we didn't, and we had real trouble finding anything available. Thankfully Samoana Rentals eventually worked something out for us. To be fair, we were travelling to Samoa at an unusually busy time, our trip coincided with the filming of Australian Survivor!


Scooters are another option, they cost around ST$60 (£20) per day to rent, but they are not as common. They would be fine on the main roads but a bit tricky on some of the dirt tracks to the waterfalls etc.


You require a Temporary Driver’s License to drive in Samoa - this is ST$21 (£7) for one month, from the Land Transport Authority offices. Most rental agencies also obtain one for you for a small fee which makes the process a lot easier.


Police do regular driving licence checks (we went through around 10 checkpoints per week).



 


Extra Advice for Driving in Samoa


UPOLU


  • On Upolu, there is a main road (very well paved!) on each coast and two main ‘cross-island’ roads through the mountains.


  • Because of this lack of road connections, it takes longer than you may expect to reach attractions as there's never a direct route.


  • There are almost no fuel stations on the South side of the island (there are Zero in the South-East) so keep a regular eye on your fuel and plan accordingly.


  • Outside of Apia, there is no pavement and plenty of stray dogs, chickens, pigs, horses, and children (especially after 2pm when school finishes) constantly crossing the road - so take caution.


  • In the late afternoon/evening, it is not unusual to see people playing baseball, rugby and other games on the road, so take care not to exceed the speed limit of 35mph.



SAVAI'I


  • The same rules apply - there's only one main road around the island, so without cross-island roads, it takes even longer to get places. (This is the main reason I would recommend multiple days on Savai’i as there is so much to do and see but it's difficult to get around.)


  • It's around 4 hours to drive and circumnavigate Savai'i, and there are fuel stations intermittently around the island, but not so many on the South coast.


The view from Dave Parker eco-lodge Samoa
The view from Dave Parker eco-lodge

 


Taking the Ferry in Samoa


When we were visiting in October 2023, the main ferry was under maintenance, so we were told to book the small ferry crossing at least 3 days in advance for cars. Passengers can get tickets on arrival.


This cannot be booked online - instead, you must go in person to the Samoan Shipping Corporation shop in Apia (on Google Maps). The process was simple, it cost ST$190 (£55) for a return ticket. Check out all of the ferry prices here.


Be aware this ticket only includes the driver - and any other passengers need to buy tickets at the ferry terminal. A one-way passenger ticket is ST$10 (£3).


The ferry departs from Mulifanua Wharf just west of the Airport, about a 55-minute' drive from Apia. You must arrive at least an hour before for vehicles.


On Savai’i, ferries arrive and depart from Salelologa terminal with the same procedures as Malifanua Wharf.


The crossing takes 60-90 minutes depending on the weather, and the vehicles are jam-packed so tight you may not be able to open your car door to stretch your legs!


Be warned that if you are taking a rental vehicle on the ferry, check with your rental agency as some only allow you to take the larger ferry - Lady Samoa III.



Beautiful Samoa
Beautiful Samoa

 


Top Things to Do in Samoa


These are some of the best things we did in Samoa, which you can find more detail on in my article: Top 20 super fun things to do in Samoa.


  1. Fiafia night - This is a Samoan tradition passed down 3000 years, and the meaning is 'happy get-together'. Fiafia nights always involve dancing, music, and food.

  2. Alofa'aga Blowholes - These impressive blowholes in the village of Taga put on a spectacular show!

  3. Giant Clam Sanctuary - Here you can experience the magic of snorkelling with giant clams, and learn about the Giant Clam Program.

  4. To Sua Ocean Trench - This may be the most photographed place in Samoa and for good reason! The Sua Ocean Trench is a giant swimming hole formed by an ancient lava eruption, nowadays it can be reached by long wooden ladders and is surrounded by lush tropical forest.

  5. Scuba Dive with Dive Savai’i - Located in the village of Fagamalo, this is the only diving company in Samoa. While it is not famous for scuba, Samoa offers calm waters and shallow coral gardens, home to a variety of pelagic life.

  6. Coastal Walk at O Le Pupu Pu’e National Park - This is Samoa's oldest NP, and there are some superb (if a little rough-going) hikes to be found here. You may be walking through thick jungles and hidden caves, so bring good footwear and a torch.


For all of these water-based activities I always wear these water shoes - they are not fancy or anything but super grippy and protect my feet from the rocks, I love them!



Jumping off the rocks at Afu Au Waterfall
Jumping off the rocks at Afu Au Waterfall

 


Our Backpacking Itinerary for Samoa


I hope this ultimate backpacking travel guide for Samoa gives you enough information to put together your own itinerary, but here is a little bit more info about how me and my friend Erin split our time during our trip to Samoa in October 2023.


We initially planned to stay at a basic Fale accommodation for the whole 2 weeks, but we changed our mind once we got the lay of the land, and split our time between Upolu and Savai'i.


We started with a few days at Vaiula Beach Fales on the South coast of Upolu, which was ST$90 (£30) per person, per night, including dinner and breakfast. It was great for a couple of days of peace and relaxation, with very few other guests and lovely beach dogs.


We then decided to move to the Apia Inn - ST$45 (£14) per person, per night - to be in the city. Apia has a really nice market to explore, as well as a visitor centre and an authentic cultural village. This is also where you will find the biggest variety of restaurants in Samoa.


After our time on Upolu, we headed to Savai’i for a few days, and this is where we decided to treat ourselves! We stayed at Stevenson’s at Manase - ST$120 (£35) per person, per night. This was a lovely resort with a pool, a private beach, and kayaks you can borrow for free!


Finally, on our return to Upolu, we chose to stay at Dave Parker Eco Lodge - ST$60 (£18) per person, per night in the mountains, and this was our favourite place we stayed in Samoa. It is a unique mountaintop lodge, nestled on the tropical hillside of Tapatapa'o, surrounded by bird life, vegetation and waterfalls.



The glee after spending an hour opening a coconut wth a butter knife!
The glee after spending an hour opening a coconut wth a butter knife!


 


Advice for Female Travellers in Samoa


We all know that the male and female travel experience is VERY different. I am always a bit envious when I see a travel blog where a guy has done something wild like cycle from Mumbai to Istanbul - because as a female traveller, I would never be able to do that safely.


So in this ultimate backpacking travel guide for Samoa, this part is yours, girls...


Overall (speaking as a woman) Samoa felt like a very safe country. I was initially nervous arriving on my own for the first couple of days, but everyone was very kind and helpful.


That being said, I was asked my marital status by almost every man I met, and when they learned I was single often a date proposal or the offer to be set up with a single male relative of theirs would follow.


This did not make me feel uncomfortable, and the matter was always dropped after the initial exchange.


Overall, I completely agree with that age-old advice - do as the locals do. This means when outside the resorts you should dress conservatively (covering knees and cleavage) - especially in villages. I strongly recommend getting a Lavalava (sarong) worn by all, they are super easy to wrap around and a great souvenir!



 


My Overall Impressions of Samoa


Thank you for reading my ultimate backpacking travel guide for Samoa. Overall, we found the people of Samoa to be so welcoming, and we were immediately enchanted by the charm of the island. Samoa is a place where you can take things slow and soak up the rich culture and amazing landscapes.


For 2 weeks in Samoa, I spent about £800. This includes accommodation, car rental, fuel, ferries, food, and activities.



Me and Erin snorkelling at the Deep Marine reserve
Me and Erin snorkelling at the Deep Marine reserve

 


For more details on how to fill your time in Samoa, check out my article: Top Things to Do in Samoa.


This ultimate backpacking travel guide for Samoa is the first travel article I have ever written, and I am excited to bring you more content on New Zealand and The Pacific!


In the meantime, if you're looking for inspiration for your next tropical paradise destination, check out the IDreamofMangoes articles:


&



Britani Bryce

GUEST WRITER

NZ & Pacific Expert


smiling girl in red hat and grey jumper



Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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