Samoa: The perfect island holiday for families sick of Fiji and Bali

When Samoa officially reopened its borders to overseas guests in August, the country invested in a global campaign that promised everything “beautiful” when you visit their picturesque island home. There were waterfalls, blowholes, turquoise lagoons, lava fields, and stunning sinkholes and caves to swim in. 

Who could say no? 

Now was my moment. Now was the time to venture across the pacific to experience something new for our next family adventure.

About Samoa

Samoa is located in the Pacific Islands and is renowned for its natural beauty, outdoor adventures, rich culture, and warm hospitality. 

Samoa is made up of a group of 12 islands, with only four inhabited, but the two main islands travellers venture to are the gorgeous islands of Upolu (which hosts the country’s capital city Apia) and Savai’i.  

Upolu is the place to be if you enjoy a bit of hustle and bustle on the side of some old-fashioned island adventure, as it’s home to many great outdoor attractions, picturesque beaches, oceanfront resorts, restaurants and bars. 

But if you want to have the true Moana “island life” experience, Savai’i will cover that completely. A good dose of both is the best way to go and it’s only an hour-long ferry ride between the two.  

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Getting to Samoa

As they’re getting back into the swing of things with overseas travel back on the cards, getting to Samoa isn’t the easiest place to get to, I have to be completely honest.

At the time of our visit, there were limited flights in and out of Samoa and most required a stopover. We travelled with Fiji Airways and the experience was smooth once the tickets were purchased. My tip: be open with your travel dates, so you can work around what they’re offering rather than getting frustrated with not being able to get there when you want. 

Samoa is about 5-6 hours from Sydney and our travel included a brief stopover into Nadi, Fiji. In fact, it was so brief we were hustled from one plane to the other within what felt like seconds!

From Fiji it took a little under two hours. Tickets average around $1000-$2000 for an adult return, so be sure to do some shopping to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Upolu – where to stay and what to do

Our island home in Upolu was at the relaxed Saletoga Sands Resort and Spa, Matatufu. 

The moment we stepped foot in our family deluxe villa ($326.60 AUD per night, including tropical breakfast) located opposite the pool (hello swim-up bar, we see you!) we felt instantly relaxed. 

The beachfront resort boasts many different room options – some by the lagoon and others by the garden, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you are. The pool includes a swim-up bar where we enjoyed many Pina Coladas and Baby Pinas for the kids (no alcohol of course) and when we felt like a bit of adventure, the beachfront is home to a cool slide that makes its way straight into the ocean, which the kids loved!

When you’re keen to simply hang around the resort, there’s also a day spa, where hubby and I enjoyed a 60-minute-long massage, a fitness centre, and watersport activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. 

Another stay option for those who prefer surf is Return to Paradise Resort and Spa, Lefaga. A two-bedroom oceanfront villa will set you back $375.40 AUD per night and it’s a good idea to stay here at least one night as it’s close to the airport and has a fun island vibe.

But no matter where you stay, Samoa is known as a wonderland for natural adventure, so you won’t want to sit in the resort all day. 

Sunday is church day for the locals and if you’re lucky enough to be around for a service, I highly recommend you pop in. We paid a Methodist church a visit and not only were we welcomed with open arms, it was a privilege to hear the beautiful church hymns sung by local families. 

When visiting Samoa, you hear so much about their beach fales. These are beach huts you can chill out all day by the beach and one on the bucket list is located on the famous Taufua Beach, which was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 beach destinations in the world. Renting a fale on this picturesque beach will set you back $26.80 AUD but it’s yours for the day. The kind staff will even set up a mattress for you and serve lunch inside. 

Located nearby is the famous – and very Instagram-worthy –  To Sua Ocean Trench. The 30-metre deep swimming hole is located in the middle of a lava field and has been dubbed one of the most famous natural swimming pools in the world. And honestly, it deserves that title. The emerald green water is accessed via a single ladder and once you’re down there, you’ll be in awe of your natural surroundings. 

Access is $10.70 AUD for adults and $5.40 AUD for kids. The ladder is steep though, so this is not an activity for the kids. Get someone to watch them while you go down and wave to them from below. 

If you’re craving a bit more culture, take a tour around the Samoa Cultural Village where you can catch a glimpse of traditional Samoan activities and the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum tour is also an interesting visit. The home of the famous Scottish author, where he spent his final days, is open to the public and you’ll hear all about why he decided to settle in Samoa and the amazing things he did for the community. Entry is $8 per adult or $2.70 per child. 

For a spot of souvenir shopping, a visit to the Fugalei fresh produce & flea market is a must. You can get fresh produce as well as any goodies you want to take home. Whatever you choose to buy, I recommend getting a fresh Niu (coconut) to sip on as you browse. Just be sure to ask around regarding prices of items, because they DO see tourists coming and prices might get a cheeky increase because you’re none the wiser. 

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Savai’i – where to stay and what to do

Savai’i is the largest island in Samoa, though it’s less populated than Upolu. It is renowned for its traditional way of life and natural beauty as it is surrounded by wildlife, rainforests and lava fields. 

If you want to experience the “real Samoa”, where you’ll discover the true meaning of what it means to be “laid back” head over on the ferry from Mulifanua Wharf, Upolu. Tickets are $5.40 AUD for adults and $2.70 for children and the trip takes a little over an hour. 

Our home in Savai’i was at the oh-so-quiet Amoa Resort, Faga. We settled into a garden view deluxe villa ($187.10 AUD per night, including continental breakfast) but a word of warning… you will spend very little time here – apart from winding down at the end of the day with a little swim and another cheeky cocktail by the swim-up bar!

Savai’i is renowned for all the natural tourist attractions – waterfalls, blowholes, rainforests, lava fields… it’s what they call their backyard. And what a stunning one it is.

First up are the famous Alofa’aga Blowholes, Taga. The blowholes, surrounded by hardened lava, are so powerful and impressive. We heard it was a must to throw a coconut husk into the hole to watch it get blown into the air, so we got a local to do the honours and it was a magnificent site. Entry is $2.70 AUD per person and the kids will likely never want to leave. 

New to the attractions list is the Wetlands Turtle Sanctuary. Here, you can experience swimming with the peaceful turtles and watch the caretakers feed them fresh papaya and scrub their muddy shells. Getting into the water can be a little daunting, but we’re assured that the turtles are friendly and are more than happy to share the space with you as you cruise around underwater with them. Entry is $5.40 per person and I recommend that you take along some snorkels and swim shoes to make the whole experience easier.

Lava is everywhere in Savai’i but nothing compares to what you’ll see at the Saleaula Lava Fields. This village was destroyed by the Mt Matavanu volcanic eruption between 1905 and 1911. The only standing building you’ll see is the ruined church and the lava formations along the ground are just incredible. And when you’re just about done with all the adventure, cool down at the Afu A’au Waterfall. Entry is $5.40 UD per person and the water is so fresh and cold it’s the perfect way to end the day. 

No kids club… for a very good reason

When you book a tropical island holiday for the family, your mind goes straight to dropping the kids off at the kids club so you can bathe in the sun and finally finish that book. Cocktail in hand, of course!

But, brace yourself, most of the resorts in Samoa have no official “kids club” and there’s a good reason for that. That’s because kids club is on offer whenever you really want. 

The staff at resorts will often ask if you want them to mind your kids so you can relax. I even observed a couple’s baby palmed off to a waitress who walked around singing songs and pointing out flowers so mum and dad could enjoy their meal.

If you’re staying at the Amoa in Savai’i, ask for Liz, the manager of the resort and proud Aussie who decided to settle into the Samoan way of life, raising her three children by the bluest lagoon you’ll ever see in your life! 

“Samoa is for all the parents out there who want to find the family fun destination that doesn’t have a kids club. It’s for the real experience. If your kids are learning about volcanoes at school, bring them to Savai’i and you can see a real volcano and hear legends and stories about the area and then hear the scientific version too,” Liz told Kidspot. 

“There’s so much to discover naturally. It’s very chilled and everywhere you go, people are looking out for you. That’s the Samoan way – especially children. We love children and showing them our way of life.”

Liz showed us what true island life was about one afternoon with a visit to her village and you can instantly see why everyone is so relaxed here. The children are playing in the crystal clear water as the sun goes down, neighborhood dogs watch on and games of rugby or volleyball are being played.

It’s your typical school night in Savai’i. No homework, no Fortnite or Minecraft, and definitely no fighting over device time!

But this attitude isn’t just reserved for the island of Savai’i. While staying in Upolu, our two children – aged 10 and 8 – were treated to a few hours of the island way with a staff member who we affectionately named “Aunty Fia”.

Just like any other kids club at other tropical destinations, they were shown how to catch hermit crabs, enjoyed a little race with them, weaved some baskets, husked and enjoyed eating and drinking a fresh coconut, and learned about some of their local flowers. It’s a unique way of doing kids club and many enjoy that one-on-one experience.

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Is Samoa COVID safe? 

Traveling during COVID times can be daunting. PCR tests are not needed when traveling out of Australia or into Fiji or Samoa, though you do need to provide a copy of your vaccination certificate, so be sure to have a copy of that handy for the adults traveling. 

While it’s not compulsory to wear masks on the plane, it is encouraged and given that there was talk of another wave hitting Australia, we opted to wear one during parts of our travels. Ie: in the uber traveling to the airport, when seated next to a stranger on the flight etc. 

But if you’re asking if Samoa itself is safe to travel to, I can confidently say yes. 

The vaccination rate in Samoa is higher than ours. The most recent data shows almost 93% of Samoa’s eligible population, aged 5 years and over, has been fully vaccinated compared to our 84.6% (at the time of publish). They take their health very seriously and this rate was pivotal in their decision to reopen their borders. 

Most stops you’ll take have sanitiser pumps and being an outdoor wonderland, a lot of the attractions are outside so that will also give you comfort being out in the fresh (read: humid) air. 

There’s no doubt that Samoa is an untouched paradise right now, with so many natural wonders to explore. It’s a country rich in culture, full of fresh seafood to enjoy and experiences that the children will talk about for the rest of their lives. And let’s not forget, will also have them appreciate what they have back home!

So when you’re next looking for a tropical escape, ditch the crowds and head over to Samoa. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Leah and her family travelled to Samoa as a guest of Samoa Tourism Authority but her experiences and recommendations are genuinely her own. She promises to return.

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