Upolu is the most important of Samoa's islands. The Region of Upolu also includes all other islands of the country apart from the so-called "big" island of Savaii. Upolu was formed by a massive volcano, but there have been no recent eruptions. The island is 75 km long and contains Samoa's capital, Apia, which is in the middle of the north coast and Faleolo International Airport, which is towards the western end of the island. The island is fringed by reefs and has some beautiful beaches. Inland is hilly, with tropical vegetation and numerous waterfalls.
Upolu was affected by a major tsunami on 29 September 2009. Twenty villages in its eastern, southeastern and southern sides were destroyed or badly damaged. Deaths exceeded 100 and more than 3000 people were made homeless. Considerable tourism infrastructure was affected but several facilities have been rebuilt. In addition to its impact on land, the tsunami also had considerable impact on the area's coral.
There are many attractive villages throughout the island and on Manono island. Upolu also has some interesting natural reserves, lovely waterfalls, good diving and snorkelling and fantastic beaches. There is more information in the "See" section below.
Be respectful whilst traveling around the villages and the quiet outskirts of Upolu. Samoa is a very traditional society and it is important to respect Fa'a Samoa, the "Samoan Way". See Samoa.
The Samoan language is the official language, but many Samoans speak English fluently.
Most visitors arrive by plane at Faleolo International Airport, which has flights from various countries. The other options are Fagalii Airport, with flights from American Samoa, and boat service from Tokelau and American Samoa. For more information, see Samoa.
Old traditional buses are a must do. They are quite cheap, but can be uncomfortable. Buses leave from two locations in Apia: behind the flea market on the waterfront and next to the produce market "Marketi Fou". Ask the drivers for information on which buses to catch to your planned destination.
You can hire cars from Apia, sometimes for less than WS$50 a day. Rental companies include:
- Alby Rentals, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Apia Rentals, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Blue Pacific Car Hire, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Budget, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Discovery Rentals, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
Fill the tank in Apia as opportunities for refills are limited elsewhere.
- Lake Lanoto'o National Park (take the cross-island road that goes south from Apia; the turn off is 2 km after the Bahai temple -- a 4WD vehicle and good walking shoes needed from there). Contains a rare and important swamp forest ecosystem. The lake is full of goldfish, which have thrived since being introduced by expatriate residents.
- Lalomanu (Aliepata) in the east has beautiful beaches and sights of small idyllic islands. Nearby is a beautiful waterfall named Tiave'a.
- O Le Pupu-Pui National Park.. It has Samoa's highest mountain, Mt. Fito at 1100 m, at Togitogiga Falls. Some good hiking trails.
- Papapapai-Tai Falls (near the north-south road, 2 km south of the turn off to Lanoto'o). A 100-m drop makes these spectacular falls.
- Papase'ea Sliding Rocks. 6 km southwest of Apia, these water falls are a major attraction. A soft vegetation under the water makes it possible to easily slide down the falls into the pool below. Better in the rainy season. Fun for all ages. WS$5.
- 1 Manono Island (a 20-minute ferry ride from Manono-uta on the western tip of Upolu island). Manono Island is a low-lying island that has no cars or roads. There is a footpath that follows the coast. Dogs and horses are banned for environmental reasons. Things to see include a prehistoric Mound temple. This is one of the most traditional parts of Samoa and a very pleasant place to visit. Beach fales are available.
- Namua Island (off the eastern tip of Upolu, within the reef).
- Piula Cave Pool (Fatumea Pool) (east of Apia on the north cost, near Saoluafata; entrance via the Piula Theological College). In the grounds of a church and closed on Sundays. Attractive spring-fed freshwater pool by the sea for swimming and exploring of the caves. small fee.
- 2 Return to Paradise Beach (Southwest coast near Lefaga). A beautiful beach, but particularly interesting for fans of old films who remember the 1953 film starring Gary Cooper and written by James Mitchener, which was filmed here.
- Vailima. Home and grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. See Apia for more info.
- Surfing. There is good surfing in many locations but it is only for the experienced as the reef can be dangerous. Several resorts specialise in surfing, including Sa'Moana Resort, who operate two ocean going fibreglass boats with experienced guides and skippers, safety and back to base radio equipment. Check the web before committing to a surf tour operator as one or two do not have good reputations.
- Fishing. There is an abundance of fish in Samoa's waters. Charter companies mainly operate from Apia's harbour, and one operating from Sinalei Resort on the South Coast.
- Golf. Two courses are close to Apia: the Royal Samoan Country Club, for a long time Samoa's only golf course, and a more recent development, the Faleata Country Club, which is close to the sports complex constructed for the South Pacific Games. On the south coast the Sinalei Reef Resort has a nine-hole pitch and putt course.
- Diving. There are around 900 fish species and 200 types of coral in Samoa's waters. One dive company on Upolu is Aquasamoa (Based at Aggie Greys Resort), ☏ . Organizes diving trips and is a qualified PADI instructor.
- Beaches. Upolu has lengthy stretches of beautiful beaches. All beaches are Customary Land (owned by a village) and you may be asked to pay a small fee for their use. It would not be appreciated if you tried to argue.
Most restaurants are in Apia or at the hotels around the island.
The usual kinds of European, Asian and fast foods are available, but be sure to try the "umu", which is made in a traditional pit-oven, using red hot lava stones heated by charcoal. Whole pigs, fruits, chickens, fish, etc., are placed among the rocks for many hours, and covered with banana leaves. The food has an absolutely delicious smoked flavour, and meats are as tender and juicy as possible. Traditional food can be purchased from Apia. If you must, you can also visit the only fast food outlet in Samoa, McDonald's, which is on Centre Road, Apia.
Vailima is the local beer. Bottled water is recommended.
See Samoa for more information.
In addition to hotels in Apia there are some good resorts, guest houses and fales on other parts of the main island and outer islands. Some hotels damaged by the tsunami are still recovering and are not listed here.
- 1 Sataoa Beach Fales, End of Sataoa Road, Sataoa Village, Lefaga District (on southwest of the island within reach of Apia and the airport.), ☏ . 08:00-10:00. A renovated property with fantastic meals. It is well off the main road, quiet and great for relaxing. Surrounded by a lot of bush and next to a freshwater mangrove which is great for kayaking along. The coast is coral-free, but shallow and easy for swimming. WS$50-60 for a beach fale including breakfast, WS$160-180 for a fan unit including breakfast. Dinner is available for WS$20 per person.
- 2 Sina PJ Fales, End of Tafitoala Road, Tafitoala Village (On south of the island), ☏ . A real family-run set-up with several basic wooden beach fales right on the waterfront. It peaceful and great for relaxing. Close to surf spots, some good coral and underwater sights and a nearby blackwater sand beach to check out. WS$70 a beach fale including breakfast and dinner.
- 3 Vaiula Beach Fales, Tafatafa Village (On south of the island), ☏ . Standard fales but with reality tv advertising tarpaulins instead of traditional blinds. The service is lacklustre, the food is bland and basic, and the facilities are of poor quality. Run like a camp by a few disinterested teens. WS$70 a beach fale including breakfast and dinner.
- 4 Transit Motel, Main West Coast Road (On north-east of the island, 3km from the airport), ☏ . Very close to the airport, but should only be considered if you're desperate or have a particularly early flight. The rooms are small, stuffy, and sounds carry through the walls. WS$75 for a single, no meal included.
- FaoFao Beach Fales, Saleapaga (on southeast of the island), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Was destroyed by the tsunami, FaoFao has been attractively restored. Eight fales. WS$80 including breakfast and dinner.
- Namua Beach Fales, Namu'a Island. Includes meals and launch transfer. This place should definitely be included in your itinerary. WS$70.
- Taufua Beach Fales, Lalomanu (take the Cross Island Rd or the Shore Rd, it's about the same either way), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Basic fales, but in good shape and are on the great beach. The reef inside the lagoon was badly damaged by the Sept 2009 tsunami, but there are still heaps of beautiful fish. There is a dive shop on premises that can also organize snorkeling and surfing trips. It's social but also quiet, other than the pounding of the surf out on the reef. Meals are served long table style and are a mix of western, eastern and traditional Samoan food. Bar on premises. Internet access available.
- Dave Parker Eco Lodge, Tapatapao (15 min from Apia, in the hills), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Unique mountain-top lodge with rainforest immediately below. WS$75+.
- Le Uaina Seaside resort, Faleapuna village, (northeastern Upolu, 14 km from Apia), ☏ , , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Resort by the sea with a small beach. Good restaurant. WS$175+.
- Sunset View Fales, Lepuia'I Village, Manono Island, ☏ . Tranquil Manono island: no vehicles, no roads, no dogs. 5 fales on the waters edge. Free launch transfer from 'Upolu. All meals included. Boat trips to reef. Outrigger canoe. Samoan family environment. Ferry wharf phone: +685 46177 100 tala.
- 5 Sa'Moana Resort, Salamumu (from Apia via the Cross Island Rd, turn left in Salamumu or the Aleisa Rd, turn right in Salamumu; 6 km from the turn off to the resort), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. A small, private and unpretentious resort with white sandy beach and lava rock infinity pool. Accommodation options include beach front bungalows, beach house and dorm style all inclusive surf package. Bungalows and beach house have outdoor lava rock showers. Restaurant, bar, children's activities and tours on-site. Excellent snorkelling directly in front of resort.
- Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa (Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Resort) (2 min from the international airport), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. US$200 for large beachfront double.
- Coconuts Beach Club and Resort, Maninoa Village (on south coast, just to the west of the cross-island road), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Started as a beach bar and has grown from there. Set up by two Amercian lawyers, the resort has very spacious fales and consistently gets high ratings. Start at US$270. Over-water fales for US$400.
- Le Vasa Resort, Cape Fatuosofia (far west of the island, 10 km from the airport and 5 km from the Savaii ferry), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Attractive location. For the price charged you would expect to be on the beach but here there is a strip of volcanic rock between the fales and the sea. Fales WS$500-1500 a night plus tax, but discounts may be available on the web site.
- Sinalei Reef Resort, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Beautiful and upmarket development on the south coast. Rates start at US$245 a night for a garden fale. Beachside fales start at $500 a night.
Do not walk alone at night, and stay with people you know and trust. Free roaming dogs can be a safety problem in the capital Apia. The Government of Samoa (GoS) passed the Canine Control Act in 2013 as a first step toward addressing dog management. Most dogs ignore you and don't see you as a threat if you ignore them.
No visit to Samoa is complete without a visit to Savaii. This is the larger but less developed of the two main islands.