Exploring Savai’i - your guide to the real Samoa
Like most people, you’ve probably never heard of Savaii before. Savaii is the biggest but least populated island of Samoa and a true example of an unspoilt tropical island, almost untouched by tourism.
Top things to do on Savai’i Samoa
Savaii is the perfect example of the Pacific’s paradisiacal beauty, and we can honestly say that it is one of our favourite travel destinations so far.
If you ask a Samoan, they will tell you that Savai’i is the true Samoa. It is like time stood still on this pristine little piece of land, with wilderness and rugged volcanic landscapes as well as luscious green hillsides connected to flawless golden sand beaches as far as the eye can see.
These are the best things to do on Savai’i Island in Samoa -
1. Swim under Afu Aua Waterfall
Maybe we’re biased because we LOVE waterfalls, but we think visiting the Afu Aua waterfall is something you’ll talk about for days!
Located at the end of a gorge in the jungle this waterfall cascades over 3 levels. The bottom two levels are already deep enough to swim in but still shallow enough to be able to stand, but the top level is where the real fun is at. Here massive amounts of white foaming water violently tumble 30 meters down over a cave into a deep pool surrounded by rocks.
The freshwater pool is super refreshing, but still warm enough to swim around in for hours without getting cold, and the rocks allow for backflips (Tom loves his water shenanigans) and other acrobatic jumps into the crystal clear water.
Entrance fee: 10 WST
2. Get wet at Alofaaga Blowholes
Over 100 years ago Mt. Matavanu erupted, covering big parts of Savai’i with lava. One of the areas where the dried up lava rock fields still remain is near Taga. Here years of erosion and waves crashing onto the lava rocks created tubes, connecting the flat clifftop with the ocean below.
Whenever the tide comes in, water gets pushed through these tubes with such force, that it blows up over 30 meters high into the air which is an amazingly spectacular sight.
The force of these enormous water cannons is unpredictable meaning that you’ll almost certainly get wet if you get close (Zi got completely soaked and Tom couldn’t stop laughing), but you want to get close, co’s where’s the fun otherwise?
During the day locals will be at the blowholes selling you coconuts which they then throw into the blowholes as they erupt, blasting the coconuts tens of meters high up into the air. Catching one is something you’re allowed to brag about afterward, just make sure it doesn’t land on your head or your bragging rights get revoked.
Entrance fee: 5 WST
3. Watch the sunset at Falealupo Beach
On the westernmost point of the island, you’ll find a tiny village called Falealupo. The town itself is nothing more than three dozen houses built around a sandy town square, but the beach in front of the fales is arguably the nicest beach on Savai’i. What’s even better is the reef in the water. Once you put your snorkeling mask on and dive under about 20 meters out, you’re gliding through a completely different world full of bright colourful fish and funky shaped coral. And when you’ve had enough of this newly discovered world (which should take a while) you can join the locals in their volleyball match in the town’s square. End your day by watching the most incredible sunset from the beach. Because Falealupo is the westernmost point of Savai’i, you have an unobstructed view of the sun going down over the ocean, giving the sunset all sorts of spectacular colours.
Entrance fee: Free
4. Explore Paia Dwarf’s Cave
As we mentioned before, Savai’i is volcanically active, and all this volcanic activity in the past left behind large systems of underground lava tubes. These tubes are massive, some even big enough to drive a truck through, and the Paia Dwarf’s Cave is one of them. The name might sound contradictory to the size of the cave, but the name comes from the local’s story of a legendary group of dwarfs that delved into the depths of the cave and still live there. It is said that they occasionally find a dwarf’s footprint and that no one except for the dwarfs has ever made it to the end of the tunnels.
Locals in Paia, usually teenagers, will guide you into the cave for a small fee. Make sure to bring good shoes and headtorch, and prepare to swim and get seriously muddy. The tour starts with a half an hour walk through the jungle to the cave entrance, which is a small and completely overgrown hole that you’ll never find without a guide. Once you climb down into the cave you see a big winding tunnel ahead of you and you can almost envision the lava flowing through. Your guide will take you as far into the cave as you want to go, and if you’re brave enough you can even dive through some submerged passaged to get to different parts of the cave. Who knows, you might even be the first person to find the dwarves at the end of the tunnels.
Guide fee: 5 - 10 WST
5. Swim with sea turtles in Manase
You might have heard about “Swimming With Turtles”. This place is said to be a turtle sanctuary where they rescue sick or wounded turtles and nurse them back to health. But we strongly believe that this is not the case and that they have taken the turtles out of the ocean for commercial purposes.
We’re not a fan of watching animals in confinement. Fortunately, we’ve found a way better alternative only five minutes away.
Just in front of the village of Manase lies the most stunning reef in all of Savai’i. Yes, even more impressive than the one in Falealupo! The people from the village have put a lot of time and effort into rebuilding and conserving the reef, and the results are starting to show because wild sea turtles are coming to the reef every day to eat.
At Stevenson’s Resort, they are nice enough to give you access to the beach, even if you’re not staying at the resort. Just buy some food or a drink at their restaurant and then grab your snorkelling gear for the absolute highlight of your time on Savai’i. You can find the turtles every day around high tide in the water between Stevenson’s Resort and their neighbour; Tanu Beach Fales.
When you see the turtles remember that they are still wild animals so be respectful. You can look at them, swim with them and you should definitely enjoy being in the water with them, but don’t touch the turtles and don’t harras them. By keeping this in mind you won’t stress the turtles out and you’ll ensure that they keep coming back to this little paradise.
Entrance fee: Buy some food or from the restaurant at Stevenson’s Resort or book a night in this awesome beachfront resort.
6. Wander the Sale’aula Lava fields
If you continue east from Manase for about 10 minutes you get to the village of Sale'aula. In 1905, Mt. Matavanu erupted and wreaked havoc and unimaginable destruction on Savai’i for over 6 years straight. Yes, 6 years! Covering farms, houses, schools and whole villages with meters of lava, making the people flee the island.
The area around Sale’aula was hit the hardest and locals have opened a small open-air museum to show visitors how massive the impact of this volcanic eruption was. In the museum, you’ll find the remains of a church that was covered in lava and now looks like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, and the grave of a virgin girl that is said to be unscathed by the lava.
While the museum can be interesting to walk through but for us the big eye-catcher are the lava fields that stretch for kilometers along the coast.
Drive a little bit further to the east from where the open-air museum is and you’ll see the lava fields alongside the road. Park up in a safe spot next to the road and simply walk onto the lava fields. This otherworldly landscape gives you a real idea of how massive the scale of this volcanic eruption was.
Entrance fee: Free for the lava fields - 5 WST for the museum
7. Climb up Mt. Matavanu crater
Ever since Mt. Matavanu stopped spewing lava in 1911 it has been dormant, so it is safe to go up the mountain to the crater now. You can walk from the village of Safotu over the road through the jungle that leads to the start of the walking track going up the mountain.
Walking to this point takes about 3 hours one way, but if you’re not into hiking we suggest driving this part with a 4WD, which takes about 20 minutes.
Next to the start of the walking track stands a small fale, this is where Da Crater Man will greet you with a wide smile.
Da Crater Man has been living here by himself since 2000, maintaining the track to the crater and guiding tourists to the summit. From this point on Da Crater Man, or Se’u which is his real name, will accompany you up the walking track to the crater and can tell you everything about the volcano and the eruption.
The walk to the summit takes about an hour from Da Crater Man’s fale, and from the top, you have a breathtaking view over the whole northern and eastern part of the island, showing Savai’i’s glistening shorelines and rugged volcanic landscape. From the tree-lined crated rim you can clearly see Mt. Silisili, the highest peak in Samoa in the distance, but be careful where you step because from the edge it is a sheer 200-meter drop down to the crater floor.
Entrance/guide fee: 20 WST
8. Meet the locals
Samoan people are very friendly in general, but because tourism is still in diapers here in Savai’i, the locals are even friendlier and genuinely interested in the visitors. While not all of them speak english, they will still try to spark a conversation and get to know you. And who knows, you might end up playing volley ball with them or sharing a meal.
9. Switch to island time
Just slow down, for real. The chill Savai’i vibes are contagious and once you embrace them you’ll feel so much better! Chuck that watch (or even better your phone) somewhere at the bottom of your suitcase, grab yourself a coconut (or even better a cocktail) and just take the day to chill real hard.
How to get to Savai’i
To get to Savai’i, you’ll have to fly to Upolu and then take the ferry over to the village of Salelologa.
The ferry terminal is only 5 minutes away from Samoa’s international airport making it easy and convenient to start off (or finish) your Samoan holiday with a few days on Savai’i.
The ferry takes 1 to 1,5 hours to get across to the village of Salelologa and goes every two hours between 6 am and 4 pm from Monday to Saturday, and twice a day on Sunday.
Getting around on Savai’i
Once you're on Savai’i, navigating couldn’t be easier as there is only one main road that circumference the whole island. We’ll go over all the worthwhile sightseeing spots on the island following the road clockwise from the terminal ferry. Generally speaking, there are 4 options for transport to get from spot to spot.
Rental car - Having a rental car is by far the easiest way to get around on the island. If you’re planning on driving around Upolu as well then it is most likely worth it to get the rental car at the airport and then take it to Savai’i on the ferry, as there are only a couple of rental companies on the island and they are quite a bit more expensive than on Upolu.
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. If you’re planning to take the bus when you arrive at the ferry terminal on Savai’i, make sure that you’re quick because all the locals take the same 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 - We’ve put the taxi down as the last option because we feel that it is the least viable option for Savai’i. Taxis are expensive and so few on Savai’i that you probably won’t be able to catch one unless you’ve booked it through your accommodation. So unless you have no other choice, you’re better off with any of the other three options.
Where to stay on Savai’i
Se’eti Beach Fales - Great when you’re on a budget as breakfast and dinner is included. On top of that, we think that spending at least one night in beach fales is a must when visiting Samoa, and what better bay to do that than right on Savai’i’s nicest beach?!
Stevenson’s Resort at Manase - Stevenson’s offers affordable luxury with amazing wildlife at your doorstep. From the front door of your beach villa you literally only have to take 5 steps to get into the water and swim with wild sea turtles. It doesn’t get better than that!
Tanu Beach Fales - Right next door to Stevenson’s Resort and a budget alternative if you’d like the same reef at your doorstep.
Amoa Resort - One of the closest places to the ferry terminal and your best bet if you’d like to splurge on accommodation. Luxury with a beautiful turquoise water lagoon in front.
For more ideas on where to stay, read our post about the best accommodation in Samoa.
Where to eat on Savai’i
In our opinion, the food in Samoa is probably the thing we like the least about the country. Definitely try a traditional Samoan meal, but you usually don’t get much more choice than that or deep-fried chicken. There are however still places that serve delicious food.
Vaimoana Seaside Lodge - The menu is a lot more diverse than what you usually find in Samoa, and everything we tried was absolutely delicious!
Barefoot Bar & Restaurant - Unless you’re into catching your own fish, Barefoot is the place to be for seafood.
Leilina’s Pizza - You probably won’t expect much of a pizzeria in Samoa, but the pizza’s here will pleasantly surprise you and are definitely worth a try.
Why should you visit Savai’i?
Savai’i is often referred to as the real Samoa. It is wild, authentic and largely undiscovered by tourism, and it offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world.
Floating around under Afu Aaua falls and waking up to turtles swimming in front of your bungalow is not something you will ever forget!
How many days should you spend on Savai’i?
Driving around the whole island in a car takes about 6 hours and some people do it in one day, but if you want to see everything without rushing it we recommend spending 3-4 days on Savai’i.
This also gives you the chance to relax and actually experience 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?
We loved Savai’i not only for its beautiful nature but also because it still feels really authentic and largely untouched. Take your time to explore the island and we’re absolutely certain that it will become one of your favourite travel destinations too!
Have you been to Savai’i?
Let us know what was your favourite thing to do!
KNOW SOMEONE WHO’D LOVE TO VISIT SAMOA?