A Backpacker’s guide to (Western) Samoa : Traveling in Paradise on the cheap!

If you are thinking of being a backpacker in Samoa, you will have a blast. It is everything that someone would want. It is rough. It is undeveloped. The people are friendly. It can be cheap. I have been to the country at least a half dozen times. Well, at least enough the Immigration office knew me on a first name basis. 

While it is not backpacker’s Fiji Holidays; it is still very doable and if you follow the tips on Travel the Fire, you can have a pretty amazing time without breaking the bank. Is Samoa cheap? It is not Vietnam if that is what you mean but it is also not Norway, either. There are ways to save money but you have to seek them out. Like any tourist location, business are set up to take your money, not help your save it.

The suggestion time for being a backpacker in Samoa would be about two weeks: one on Upolu (main island) and one in Savaii (the big island). If flying back to the United States, traveling to American Samoa for a day or two might be worth it.Anything more and you might get bored but any less and you won’t get to enjoy the country. Being in a rush just doesn’t work in Samoa. Not at all actually. Life is on Samoa time (very slow).

Where to best in Samoa for a backpacker?

While I would suggest a day in Apia to learn about where you are and get some supplies that you need. Farmer Joe’s Supermarket seems to be the best place for that. Also, go over to the Open market if want some fresh fruits. While in town, make sure you get a sim card from BlueSky Samoa. I would also do anything you need to do online, internet once outside of the city can be very, very dodgy at best.  The world of always been connected in real time has not reached the villages of Samoa yet.

The next morning, take off to the South Coast of Upolu on the Lalomanu bus. (They sit by the Flea Market) It is a long drive (but scenic) with a stop at some bread shop. You will want to go in and get some food for the long ride. Once you get to Lalomanu, stay at the popular Taufua Beach Fales the first night. It is a little touristy but it is best to do while learning where you are and where you want to go.  After that, slowly work your way down to Saleapaga beach and finally go to Maninoa close to the Cross Rd that is your ticket back to Apia. Maninoa has a few places but the surf camp seems to be the cheaper one for the backpacker.

Then, head to the Mulifanua wharf to head to the Big Island. I suggest trying to get there early so you can skip the town of Salelologa. It is just a very small Apia, after all. Take off to the northern coast and the find a place to stay and just move your way the other direction. Price seem to change often so I cant tell you which one are the best to stay at in Savaii. A word to the wise is be careful with the locals, there has been rise in sexual assaults on Savaii.

After that, head to the Faleolo International Airport to fly home. Make sure you leave that early ferry across to the main island. If you can’t, I highly suggest coming back the night before and finding somewhere cheap to stay by the airport. Cheap is not a word to use for the area but you should be about to find something for about $30 USD a night.

Be prepared for camping

Samoa is not a developed country. Many of the things that we use often like Skype is unheard of and in some cases, even having electricity is seen as a dream. This is not Kansas anymore, Dorothy. You are in the middle of the nowhere, literally. As such, being connected is not something that is easy to come by.

The good news is wherever you stay, the host will normally include at least breakfast with the price. Many of the beach fales also include dinner. This is nice to have but realize that if you do not like Samoan food, (some don’t); you are pretty much out of luck. The closest American food will probably be in Apia. Just a reality.

The other thing to watch when going to the South Coast is the weather. If there is hurricane (Cyclone in the South Pacific), you will not want to be staying in a fale. You should push inland at best. In reality, heading to Apia to stay in a normal hostel or hotel is the much better option. Beach fales are only fun with good weather. High winds and downpours don’t make being there much fun.

Cultural norms will matter!

When you are in the villages, they are very strict about some things. Being white won’t get a free pass at some of them, either. I will admit a few of the customs are downright silly but it is their village, not ours. One of these is no walking on the street on Sunday. I guess the roads need to rest as well.

If you are a woman, wearing a bikini around in the village just won’t fly. However, all you need to do is put on a lava lava if wearing a one piece and you should be fine. They are very touchy about this as a religious country. It is best to be aware of this before arriving.

With that said, on Sundays, it is customary for everyone to go to church, no matter how bad of a sinner they were the night before. In some villages, it might be required. It is recommended that you make an appearance at the service if you are in the village. At the least, you can experience some local culture (and probably get a free lunch out of the deal!)

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