Few people come to a Pacific paradise to hang around in a small city with not much in the way of beaches. But it’s worth taking some time to explore the (relative) sprawl of Apia: with an excellent cultural centre, three buzzy markets and an eclectic collection of local eateries and nightspots, the capital offers an immersive introduction to island life.
Central North Coast
Sporting surreal lava fields, captivating caves and arguably the best beaches on the Big Island, it’s no surprise that this is the most popular stretch on Savai’i. The coast has an abundance of accommodation options ranging from traditional fale to sumptuous suites; lovely little Manase offers the most choice.
Salelologa & the East Coast
Ragtag Salelologa stretches up from the ferry terminal, offering little of interest except for a fairly languid market; if your needs run more to groceries than geegaws, the big Frankies supermarket across the road has loads of fresh produce and groceries. There's nowhere better for supplies on the entire island.
The fact that Samoa’s swankiest resorts are clumped on this stretch of coastline says much about its beauty. It’s a delight to drive through the villages, with their brightly painted houses echoing the vibrant colours of the native flora. While the lowlands are impeccably manicured, those seeking untamed nature can explore the rugged the O Le Pupu-Pu'e National Park.
Jutting out from the western end of Savai’i is the beautiful Falealupo Peninsula, rich with sites associated with significant Samoan legends. The peninsula’s remoteness and protected tracts of rainforest lend it an almost unnerving calm. In past years, burglars have targeted tourists in this area, so lock your car and don’t leave anything of value in it or in your fale.
With less reef to protect it, Savai’i’s south coast bears witness to dramatic confrontations between land and sea, resulting in blustering blowholes and some great surfing spots. Away from Mother Nature’s theatrics, this delightfully drowsy, sparsely populated stretch is a wonderful place to do very little at all.
The main reason for staying here is to be near the airport, the ferries to Savai’i and the boats to the Apolima Strait islands. The coastline is quite built-up (for Samoa, that is), particularly between Apia and the airport, and the brilliantly coloured lagoon is too shallow for a truly satisfying swim.
Few travellers make the trip out to the minuscule but marvellous Apolima. From a distance, its steep walls look completely inaccessible; when you get closer you can spy the narrow gap in the northern cliffs, through which small boats can enter the crater and land on a sandy beach.
If you thought Upolu was mellow, try the tiny, tranquil island of Manono on for size. Canines and cars have been banished here, and the only things that might snap you out of a tropical reverie are occasional blasts from stereos and the tour groups that periodically clog the island’s main trail.