If you are thinking about an exotic trip and dreamlike landscapes, I would like to invite you to read this introductory article on the Samoa islands hoping to inspire your next adventure.
Precisely why Samoa? For the beauty of the green landscapes dotted by frangipane and hibiscus, for its many waterfalls and coral beaches, for its traditional culture that goes back to 3000 years ago, for its safety level (the crime rate is extremely low!), its hospitality and smiling people. Samoa is not much exploited by mass tourism and is a suitable place for people looking for a relaxing holiday, for those that practice water sports and for those that love uncontaminated nature.
To reach this paradise from Europe, take into account to make a long trip with at least two intermediate stops. The only direct flights to Apia, the island capital city, are from Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa and Fiji. My itinerary, for example, has been Milan – Abu Dhabi – Sydney – Apia and lasted a good three days of travel. Once arrived at the tiny Faleolo airport, you could get around with a taxi, local bus (pay attention at their regularity), hire a car or request the shuttle bus service to your hotel.
Travelling around these islands is quite chaotic: if you have in mind to get around a lot in order to visit all the attractions, often quite far apart one from each other, it will be better to hire a car asking for a temporary driving license which costs 20$ per month. At the airport you will find a touristic info point where you could request a map and, unless you already have a guide, the small free pink pamphlets Visitor Guide by Jasons, that are sufficient to discover the best attractions, performances, museums and natural attractions.
A brief digression on those local busses called wooden busses: they look like very colored vans with wooden interiors that carry passengers, with high volume music soundtrack, from one village to the other with no predetermined stops. They have no line number written, but only their village end destination. Despite being a public transport service, the vehicle itself is a private one and at night it is usual to see it parked close to the house of its owner, who is free to decorate it the way he likes better and, at times, he also receives a fee for diffusing educational messages.
These buses are a typical subject to photograph, both for their colors and for the vehicle’s peculiarity. With about 3 Talas (a bit more than 1€) you will be able to take a trip from one village to another. Don’t be uncomfortable if there will be tight physical contact with other people, you may experience to sit on somebody’s lap or, a tactic to use if you want to avoid that, if you want to take in your arms a child, so more people will be able to sit down. This is a very normal thing, don’t worry: the rules says that no passenger should be standing, hence here is the solution.
Samoa islands are the heart of Polynesia. You will often hear people talking about Fa’a Samoa, translated as The Samoan Way, that is their lifestyle that is still as strong as it had been in the past and is unique in its genre characterized by habits and customs, traditions, respect for family and community, religious devotion and the bond with nature. This strong cultural tradition has the tendency to be lost in the other islands of Polynesia, while here it is still regulating the days of its residents.
This archipelago consists of the main islands Upolu (where the airport and Apia, the capital city, are), Savai’i also known as the big island and eight small atolls of which just some have residents. On my two weeks trip I choose to stay at Upolu an I have done trips to the islands of Manono and Namu’a. In spite of that, if you look for a fuller experience, getting to Savai’i is easy with the ferries leaving from Malifanua Wharf (not that far from the airport area) and in one hour and a half they reach Salelologa, the most important city of Savai’i. In another article I will tell you about the island of Namua (who has never dreamt of spending the night on a desert island?) and about Manono, the third more populated small island.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
You can choose the traditional structures called fale (which are cheaper), or the many resorts and hotels, while there are no hostels. If you know someone and your idea is to stay there for a longer period of time and pay a reasonable amount, get some information about the second homes that some families have available.
I have always lived at about ten minutes drive from Apia’s city centre. The first week at the Green Ridge Motel, a simple but pretty accomodation, and the second week in the second home of my Samoan boyfriend. Initially we thought about spending some night in the other areas of the island, but at the end we decided to stay at Apia and travel around in our car to reach the Southernmost part, which is a couple of hours away. We established a daily schedule of the attractions we wanted to go visit, devoting some days to resting together with his family.
Samoan is the official language, however English is spoken by the majority of people and is more spread than what I believed it to be: street signs, newscasts, ads, signs etc. so communication issues are minimal. Try anyway to learn some basic word, as they always like to hear it.
Take with yourself summer and simple clothing. Low neck or short clothing are not well accepted, I tried not to be noticed by wearing long gowns up to my knees and dresses that reached my ankles. Everyone dress up in a very simple manner and flip flops are the most used shoes in any occasion, from office working to the disco nights on Saturday evenings. Look for pragmatism and sobriety. Men and women very often use the lava lava some kind of sarong with typical reproductions and a sleeveless t-shit, but girls also wear the puletasi, traditional dresses that I find to be extremely beautiful.
Another tip: in the free beaches out of the resorts, especially those close to the villages, is not good for women to wear a bikini: you will never see a local girl wearing it, so in order to respect their costumes, bring with you some pants and a t-shirt even for bathing in the sea.
Between may and October there is the dry season, which is the best to go visit the island, while between November and April there is the rain and tornadoes season. I have been there in this period and, apart from some tropical rain in the afternoon, the weather has always been hot-humid over 25°C.
In Samoa the power sockets are the same as those in Australia (Voltage: 230 V – Frequency: 50 Hz ) and for us Europeans there is the need for an adaptor. Take into account the strange shape of the socket: I had what I believe was a universal adaptor but it didn’t fit! You can easily buy one there upon arrival.