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 kilometres 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 already been rebuilt. In addition to its impact on land, the tsunami also had considerable impact on the area's coral.
Apia is the capital of Upolu, situated on the north coast. This is a rapidly modernising city, backed up with considerable history. The population is close to 40,000.
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. For more information see SEE, 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 50 Tala a day. Rental companies include:
- Alby Rentals, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Apia Rentals, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Blue Pacific Car Hire, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: 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. Turn off is 2km after the Bahai temple. 4WD plus 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 first 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.. Contains Samoa's highest mountain, Mt. Fito at 1100m. as well as Togitogiga Falls. Some good hiking trails.
- Papapapai-Tai Falls (near the north-south road, 2km south of the turn off to Lanoto'o.). A 100m drop makes these very spectacular falls.
- Papase'ea Sliding Rocks. Just six 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. SAT2.
- 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.
- Return to Paradise Beach (Southwest coast near Lefaga). A beautiful beach, but particularly interesting for those old enough to 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 out of 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, while the Aggie Grey's resort close to the airport is attached to the Penina Samoa International Golf Course.
- Diving. There are some 900 fish species and 200 types of coral in Samoa's waters. The only confirmed dive company on Upolu at the beginning of 2015 was:
- Aquasamoa (Based at Aggie Greys Resort), ☎ . Organizes diving trips and is a qualified PADI instructor.
- Beaches. Upolu has lengthy stretches of beautiful beaches. Note that 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, McDonalds, which is located 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.
- FaoFao Beach Fales, Saleapaga (on southeast of the island), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Totally destroyed by the Tsunami, FaoFao has been attractively restored. Eight fales. WS$80 inc. breakfast and dinner.
- Namua Beach Fales, Namu'a Island. Includes meals and launch transfer. This place should definitely be included in your itinerary. 70 tala.
- Taufua Beach Fales, Lalomanu (Take the cross island rd or the shore rd, it's about the same either way.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Arguably the best place to stay on Upolu with the best beach on the island. The reef inside the lagoon was badly damaged by the Sept 2009 tsunami. There are still heaps of beautiful fish but the reef itself is stark and has no color. Also, as a result of the tsunami when snorkeling you will see pieces of lino, clothes, building debris, etc. which are a very sad and heartwrenching reminder of what the people have been through. There is a dive shop on premises that can also organize snorkeling and surfing trips. The fales are basic but in good shape and are right on the beach. It's social but also quiet (except for the constant 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. Bodega 5 minute walk away for beer and basic food. There's a couple other places to eat and drink on this beach if you feel like some variety but there's nothing fancy.
- Airport Lodge, Lalovi Village, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 11.00. Eight villas in a garden setting, a short walk from the sea. Ten minutes from the airport and three minutes from the Savaii ferry. WS$180 for a villa sleeping two.
- Dave Parker Eco Lodge, Tapatapao (15 min. from Apia, in the hills), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Unique mountain-top lodge with rainforest right below you. WS$75+.
- Le Uaina Seaside resort, Faleapuna village, (Northeastern Upolu, 14km from Apia), ☎ , , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. Free launch transfer from 'Upolu. All meals included. Boat trips to reef. Outrigger canoe. 5 fales on the waters edge. Samoan family environment. Ferry wharf phone: +685 46177 100 tala.
- 1 Sa'Moana Resort, Salamumu (from Apia via the cross island rd, turn left in Salamumu or the Aleisa Rd, turn right in Salamumu. 6km from the turn off to the resort), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. 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: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Aggie Grey's Hotel (in Apia) and Aggie Grey's Resort are now both under the management of Starwood and have been re-branded as Sheraton Resorts. US$200 for large beachfront double..
- Coconuts Beach Club and Resort (On south coast, just to the west of the cross-island road.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Coconuts started as a beach bar and has grown from there. Set up by two Californian 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, six miles from the airport and three miles from the Savaii ferry), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Attractive location. For the price charged you would expect to be right on the beach but here there is a strip of volcanic rock between the fales and the sea. Fales from WS$500 to WS1500 a night plus tax, but discounts may be available on the web site.
- Sinalei Reef Resort, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Beautiful, but very 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 an initial 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.