Samoa's two biggest islands, Savai'i and Upolu, are different not only in size but in culture and attractions for visitors.
The largest, Savai’i, is also the least populated. It is wilder, more rugged, and boasts some pretty unique volcanic landscapes.
So which island would suit your Pacific Island holiday plans the best?
We compare the top five reasons to visit Samoa’s biggest islands to help you decide whether to make the most of Upolu, or board the ferry for Savai’i.
Because Upolu has more people, its markets are bigger, more colourful and offer more variety. The best markets to visit are in central Apia. The fish market, in particular, is a deeply local affair that is worth coming to just to people watch, and see the sometimes fascinating bounty that the sea provides.
If it’s a gourmet foodie experience you’re after, then Upolu is the place to be simply for the variety, and for the 7-day-a-week availability. Mix up your experience between deeply traditional fare (the pinnacle of which would be an invitation to a village and family fale for an umu feast), and the delicious modern cuisine offerings of Apia’s many restaurants and cafes.
3. To-Sua Trench
Yes, it might be all over Instagram, but there’s more to the To-Sua Trench than the view of the amazing turquoise water from the top. Descend the ladder (an adventure in itself) to the platform in the hole, and you’ll find the trench is, in fact, two holes, connected by an ancient lava tube cave. Do you we have your attention? This is an absolute must-see on Upolu.
4. Mountain Highlands
When most people think “tropical island”, they don’t necessarily think “mountains and jungles” but that’s exactly what Upolu's interior consists of. It’s absolutely worth leaving the beach for a day to explore the highlands and in particular the stunning waterfalls. It’s as easy as renting a car or scooter or joining a tour for the drive through the Le Mafa Pass Scenic Drive and Lookout. If you have more time, staying at one of the highland resorts to enjoy the cooler mountain climate and see the magnificent birdlife is also an experience not to be missed.
Upolu has, arguably, some of Samoa’s best beaches which are also quite accessible for visitors. Our picks are the white sands of Lalomanu Beach, which has been voted one of the best in the world. We also love the unique black sand of Aganoa Beach, and the long stretch of sand fringed by coconut trees and tiny wee island that is Vavau Beach.
1. Taga Alofaaga Blow Holes
Some of the most spectacular blowholes in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world, this is a show of natural force is bound to impress. Throw a coconut in (or wait for a local to do it) for extra dramatics.
2. Caves, craters and freshwater springs
If wandering through dark caves, lava tubes and exploring the jungle-clad craters of extinct volcanoes is your thing, then Savai’i is the best place for you. Suggestions for cave exploration include the Dwarfs Cave in Paia and the Peapea Cave in A’opo (which is a lava tube). Given its volcanic landscape, Savai’i has many interesting craters to explore. Mt Matavanu in the village of Safotu was an active volcano from 1905-1911 and slow moving lava from the eruption destroyed everything in its path as evident in the village of Saleaula today. This is accessible by 4WD or on foot, with the track beginning from the western end of Safotu village. Savai’i’s volcanic activity has produced a number of great things, including underground spring systems, many of which pop up back to the earth’s surface at the coastline. This makes for some spectacular freshwater pool swimming, such as at Matavai’s Mataolealelo Pool (the Sina and Tuna Pool), and nearby Safune pools.
3. Walking in the treetops
The opposite of exploring caves would probably be wandering along the top of the jungle. In Falealupo Tai is the Falealupo Canopy Walk, where a series of bridges strung between platforms at a great height will reward you with views across the Falealupo district.
4. Walking on the mountain tops
Take a walk on the wild side of Savai’i by summiting Mt Silisili which at 1,858m is the highest point in the Samoan archipelago. This whole experience could be one of the most intrepid you’ll find in Samoa; it takes an approximate two-day round trip to reach the top, and a local guide is a must. You’ll need to start in the village of Aopo to find and arrange a guide. Visitors may be invited to spend the night in the village and experience a glimpse of what it’s like to live with a Samoan family and experience true Samoan hospitality. Then, summit Mt Silisili and find yourself on top of Samoa. It doesn’t get much wilder than that.
Swimming with sea turtles is pretty special, and one way to generally be assured of seeing them is by booking on a snorkelling or diving tour, where there's a high chance of a close encounter. Or head to Swimming with Turtles near the north coast, and be guaranteed a turtle to swim with.