The 14 best things to do on Upolu, Samoa
Upolu is Samoa’s main and most populated island. The international airport and Apia, the capital of Samoa are located on this island. Upolu offers a great mix of Samoan culture, beautiful beaches, waterfalls and plenty to do, see and experience.
Top 14 things to do on Upolu Samoa
Even though the island is quite small, there is a LOT to do and see, from discovering impressive waterfalls, to swimming in crystal clear swimming holes, snorkelling in blue lagoons, and strolling down the perfect coconut-lined beaches.
These are the best things to do on Upolu Island in Samoa -
1. Swim in To Sua Ocean Trench
This is Samoa’s most popular and iconic attraction, and guaranteed to be one of the hightlights of your trip too!
This 30-meter deep swimming hole filled with crystal clear salt water, surrounded by lush jungle hanging down the edges of the trench is one of the most unique places to swim in the world.
For us, it was seeing pictures of the To Sua Ocean Trench that piqued our interest in Samoa, and the real thing definitely didn’t disappoint.
Entrance fee: 20 WST
2. Discover the underwater world at Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
If you’re into snorkelling, this is a MUST! There are many incredible reefs full of marine wildlife around Samoa, but Palolo Deep Marine Reserve takes the crown.
We didn’t expect much from a reef so close to the wharf but boy were we wrong!
After swimming over small clusters of coral with little fish shooting away left and right for about 50 meters, the seafloor suddenly drops down and you’re greeted by a whole new underwater world.
Every square centimeter is covered by the most vibrantly coloured coral and there are exotic fish everywhere. From schools so big that they block out the light as you swim through them to little pufferfish that suddenly quadruple in size. This spot is snorkelling heaven.
It’s best to visit at high tide as the first part is very shallow and watch out for the big kingfish, they can get territorial. Tom got bitten by one and while all it did was give him a little cut in his foot, you should have heard him scream!
Entrance fee is 5 WST per person
3. Learn about Fa’a Samoa at the Cultural Village
In the center of Apia lies the Samoa Cultural Village. Every Tuesday - Friday between 10:30 and 12:30 visitors are invited to join for a quick insight into Samoa’s culture and traditions.
You’ll start with making your own food bowl, then you’ll be guided around the village where you’ll be shown the preparation of the umu (food cooked in an earth oven), arts and crafts, and traditional tattooing (not for the faint-hearted).
The tour ends with eating the food that was just cooked in the umu, out of the bowl that you made yourself while enjoying traditional Samoan song and dance. The tour is free, but bring some cash for a small donation at the end.
4. Visit the Giant Clam Sanctuary
On the south coast, in the small village of Savaia, lies the giant clam sanctuary.
When we first heard about it, we didn’t think much of it. Just a bunch of clams didn’t seem too exciting. But more and more people kept mentioning it so we decided to check it out and it blew our minds.
In a marked area about 50 meters into the water hundreds of colourful giant clams the size of armchairs sit on the ocean floor. The ocean is only a few meters deep here, so you can easily dive in between them and watch them slam shut as you swim past.
It’s a strange sensation to realize that these massive stone-like things that you’re swimming past are actually alive. Very big. And very alive. We couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if one of our limbs suddenly got stuck as a clam closed.
Entrance fee: 10 WST
5. Slide down Papaseea Sliding Rocks
Through thousands of years of erosion a small waterfall has worn down the rocks to create smooth natural rock slides. If you don’t mind a bruise or a few scratches are several slides that you can go down, including a 5-meter high one with a pool at the bottom.
Going down these rock slides is great afternoon activity on a sunny day, but make sure to check if there has been enough rainfall first. During dry season there generally isn’t enough water to slide down on nor enough water to land safely into the pools at the bottom of the slides.
Entrance fee is 5 WST per person
6. Chase waterfalls
The combination of rainforest and volcanic hills make Upolu great for another thing; chasing waterfalls. There are dozens of waterfalls scattered throughout the island. Most are unnamed and you won’t be able to find them without a guide, but there are still plenty waterfalls that are easily accessible and well worth a visit. These are the ones we recommend checking out.
Togigagiga Waterfall - Located just off the Main South Coast Road, this waterfall is perfect for a swim. The falls cascade over 3 levels. If you can find your way into the middle level, you can then jump from the rocks into the bottom pool which is more than deep enough. Entrance to the waterfall is free.
Forest Café Waterfall - This waterfall doesn’t have a name, but its located close to the Forest Café along the Cross Island Road. From here you follow a path through the jungle leading to a small stream that flow towards the waterfall. Don’t let the size of the stream fool you, as it suddenly drops down the very high waterfall. Watch your step!
Papapapaitai Falls - With a drop of a 100 meters, this is the highest waterfall in Samoa. If that isn’t impressive enough, the waterfall drops into a gorgeous lush ravine, making you feel like you’re on Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, the falls are only viewable from a viewpoint next to the road, but that doesn’t make it any less of an epic sight.
Fuipisia Falls - This waterfall is lesser known and a bit hidden away, making it all the more interesting if you ask us. It is actually two waterfalls dropping down 55 meters right next to eachother, and the best thing; you can swim at the top if you’re brave enough! From the top you’ll have a spectacular panoramic view into the river valley. Entrance fee is 10 WST per person.
Sopoaga Falls - Just as the Papapapaitai Falls, you can only view this waterfall from a viewpoint, and it also drops into a gorgeous lush ravine. With a drop of 54 meters, it isn’t as high as the Papapapaitai Falls, but the scenery feels just as epic. Around the viewpoint are perfectly manicured gardens full of native plants. Entrance fee is 5 WST per person
7. Go surfing
If you’re into surfing, then you’ll absolutely love surfing in Samoa. Imagine surfing in spots where the sea looks like an aquarium beneath your feet as you glide over a beautiful coral reef towards the palm tree-lined beach. Combine that with warm 28 °C water and swell ranging from 2 to 15 ft depending on the surf spot, and you’ll never want to leave again.
Surfing in Samoa is only for the more experienced surfers though. You’ll need to hop on a boat for a short ride to get to the better surf spots, and the surf spots closer to shore are quite risky as it gets really shallow, making chances of injuring yourself on the reef quite high. Whichever spot you go to, you probably won’t have to share it with more than a handfull of people as Samoa is still largely undiscovered as a surfing destination.
8. Relax on Lalomanu Beach
On the southeastern tip of Upolu, you’ll find arguably the nicest beach in all of Samoa; Lalomanu Beach. It is even voted as one of the top 10 beach destinations of the world by Lonely Planet, and it’s easy to see why. A seamingly endless white sand beach, a perfect turquoise coloured lagoon full of marine wildlife, and views over mysterious looking islands not far off the coast, but just too far to get to by yourself. Because of its location, you can also see both sunrise and sunset from here, and they are spectacular.
9. Hop over to Namua Island
How does a day trip, or even better, an overnight trip to a small private island sound to you?
A short 10 minute boat away lies Namu’a Island and its the perfect spot for absolute paradisiacal bliss. Go snorkeling in the lagoon in front of this island which is said to be the absolute best spot to see wild sea turtles, hike up the hill for a stunning view, or just chill on the beach with a coconut.
10. Dive into Piula Cave Pool
Another swimming hole that is worth a visit is the Piula Cave Pool. Unlike in the To Sua Ocean Trench, the water here is freshwater, and it’s also a lot colder than what you’ll get used to in Samoa.
With a monastery on top of the cliff above the cave opening, and the ocean on the other side it is a really picturesque spot. But the coolest feature lies deeper inside.
Swim into the darkness of the cave until you’ve reached the end. Then, if you’re a good swimmer and if you’re brave enough, you can dive through a short-ish submerged tunnel to reach another cave opening on the other side. Take an underwater torch to see where you’re going.
Entrance fee: 5 WST
11. Climb up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Tomb
A tomb? Why would I want to visit a tomb? Well, this isn’t so much about the tomb as it is about the location of the tomb.
Even if you’re not interested in Robert Louis Stevenson (the writer that wrote famous stories like ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’), we still suggest going here as the view from this spot is a-ma-zing! And if you are curious about how he spent the last 5 years of his life in this tropical paradise make sure to visit the Robert Louis Stevenson museum too.
From the top of the hill, the tomb is on, you’ll have a breathtaking view over Apia, the northern coast and the surrounding hills. Prepare to get sweaty though; the climb up is pretty steep and the Samoan weather is quite warm and humid.
12. Explore Apia and the Cathedral
Apia is the capital of Samoa and the only real city in the country. Spending the night in Apia will give you a chance to enjoy a jummy dinner at Paddles, go for a pub crawl and grab breakfast at Nourish.
Samoa is home to many many churches, and each one is bigger than the next. While we have mixed feelings about the influence of the church in Samoa, the Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral in Apia is without a doubt the most impressive building in the city. Standing in the middle of Apia, at the shore of the harbor, you can’t miss this huge building towering above its surroundings and you just have to go and have a look.
13. Shop at the Old Apia Market
Hidden away in a shed on Apia main road (Beach Road) you’ll find the best spot for local produce, souvenirs and heaps of fresh fish. This market is a buzzing combination of all sorts of markets, and if you’re looking for souvenirs, there are craftsmen here that can make them for you on the spot.
14. Go hiking
When most people think about a tropical island like Samoa, the beach is the first thing that comes to mind. But since Upolu is a volcanic island, it is full of steep hills covered in jungle, cliffs and rocky mountain peaks, making it great for hiking too.
We already mentioned the hike up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tomb, but there are many hiking trails in the central highlands (where it is a lot less hot and humid) of the island too. Some, like Mt. Fiamoe, have clearly marked trails so you can do them alone. Or if you’re looking for something more adventurous, there are hikes like Mt. Fito; the highest point on Upolu, that have no marked path at all and should only be done with a guide.
And if you’re not into hiking, just driving through the highlands on the central and eastern roads of the island provides you with enough epic vistas to spend days on end taking pictures.
How to get to Upolu
You can get to Upolu Samoa by airplane, flying into Faleolo International Airport, about 45 minutes from Samoa’s capital city Apia.
Airlines like Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, and Samoa Airways fly multiple times a day between Faleolo International Airport and destinations in Australia, New Zealand and other pacific islands like Tonga and Fiji.
We recommend you use Skyscanner for finding the best flights.
Getting around on Upolu
If you’ve already read our blog; Top things to do on Savai’i, you’ve seen the chapter where we talk about ways to get around on Savai’i. For getting around on Upolu the same four options apply, with a few minor changes, the main one being that besides the main road that basically circumferences the island, there are some roads going across too. Whichever option you take, keep in mind that the speed limits in Samoa are a lot lower than what you’re used to (usually 50 km/h) and that the roads aren’t always in top condition, so traveling around takes a lot of time. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need a 4WD for the roads on the west coast.
Rental car - Having a rental car is by far the easiest way to get around on Upolu. If you plan on exploring and seeing what the island has to offer, instead of just chilling in a resort all week then getting a rental car is definitely worth it. There are plenty of rental companies at the airport and in the city of Apia, and rental prices are quite reasonable, especially compared to the prices on Savai’i.
Public bus - Busses in Samoa are colourfull, funny looking things and riding on them is cheap and an experience in itself. Timetables mean nothing to bus drivers and don’t be surprised if the bus you are on doubles as a delivery truck and stops regularly at roadside food stalls to take food orders for passengers. One of the busses we were on took a detour to a steelyard, loaded the aisle full of building supplies, and dropped them off at a building site along the way. None of the local passengers seemed surprised. Most buses depart from the ferry terminal, the airport or from Apia. If you want to catch the make sure that you’re quick when it arrives because many locals take the bus, and when it is full it leaves. And by full we mean that people will be sitting on each other’s lap.
Hitchhike - Now we understand that most people heard horror stories about hitchhiking and feel very uncomfortable doing so, but let us assure you that those horror stories do not apply to Samoa. Here hitchhiking is as safe as it can be and considered a perfectly normal everyday sight. Most locals will happily give you a ride in exchange for some good conversation if they’re heading in the same direction, so don’t be afraid to stick that thumb out!
Taxi - Taxis are quite expensive in Samoa, but they are still a good way to get around Apia. Outside of the city, they are scarce so you probably won’t be able to catch one unless you’ve booked it through your accommodation.
Where to stay on Upolu
Samoa has some fabulous resorts and quirky accommodation for you to chose from. Below are out top 3 places to stay on Upolu, or you can read this blog for more suggestions on where to stay.
Where to eat on Upolu
Paddles - The best Italian food you’ll find in the Pacific. This restaurant that is located close to the waterfront near Apia’s habor, has won the ‘Best Restaurant In Samoa’ award twice already. Everything on the menu is truly delicious (we’ve tried it all), and the host Giovanni will make your evening unforgettable.
Nourish Café - Good coffee is hard to find in Samoa, but this place in Apia has it! They also serve very tasty breakfast food (try the pancakes!) and delicious smoothies.
Forest Café - Besides being a great pitstop during a hike and being the starting point of the path to the waterfall we’ve mentioned earlier, the Forest Café also serves very flavoursome food.
Aga Reef Resort - The chef at Aga Reef Resort is said to be one of the best chefs on the island, and we believe it. Besides the food being delicious, the ocean front terrace you can have your dinner on provides beautiful views, making it a true fine dining experience.
Why should you visit Upolu?
Upolu offers a great mix of interesting Samoan culture, relaxing tropical island vibes and plenty to do and see, both leisurely or very active.
Not to mention the fabulous To Sua Ocean trench which should be reason enough to hop on a plane to Samoa.
How many days do you need for Upolu?
We recommend spending 7 to 10 days on Upolu. This gives you the time see and do the things you want, but also to relax and experience true island life. Because if you go on holiday to a tropical island, you want to be able to enjoy all it has to offer right?
Also remember that island time is a real thing in Samoa, so everything takes longer and nothing runs on time. Embrace the slow pace, grab a coconut, and explore the island. We’re certain you’ll love this little piece of paradise.
Have you been to Upolu?
Let us know what was your favourite thing to do!
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