Samoa’s borders opened for international visitors this week, ending 865 days of travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was at 4pm on August 1 when the 154 international travelers landed on a Fiji Airways commercial flight, the first allowed into Samoa.
Following this flight, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern touched down to be part of Samoa’s 60th anniversary of independence celebration.
It was a true Samoan occasion at the Faleolo International Airport with the Samoa Tourism Authority putting up traditional performances as part of its Beautiful is Back campaign.
The travelers were greeted with garlands, huge smiles and the sounds of drumming, guitars, dancing and singing, while reigning Miss Samoa, Fonoifafo McFarland was amongst the group of performers.
Owners of commercial outlets at the airport terminal were well organised in setting up their businesses and services for the borders’ reopening.
Overseas-based Samoans were amongst the passengers but tourists dominated the flight.
A series of developments and new processes were set in place to ensure Samoa was travel-ready and that the health and safety of locals and international travelers was prioritised. More travelers are expected in the coming months.
These vigorous preparations include a digital contact tracing app, training and up-skilling for local employees, upgraded travel instructions and bolstered testing capabilities.
Five ‘must do’ but unusual Pacific travel experiences
Samoa still opening as FSM deals with COVID
Announcing the reopening of Samoa’s borders, Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said the decision was subject to Samoa’s vaccination progress and the removal of restrictions to facilitate quarantine-free travel.
Vaccination rates have remained central in the decision to reopen, with the most recent data showing almost 93 per cent of Samoa’s population aged 18 years and over, were fully vaccinated.
Top 10 things to do in Samoa
According to the Samoan Tourism Authority, here are ten ways to spend your time while in Samoa.
Soak up culture and delicious local cuisine at a fiafia night
Being part of a fiafia night celebration is a great way to experience Samoa’s colourful ancient culture through traditional dance – including the not-to-be-missed fire knife dance – music, and a buffet of delicious umu-cooked food.
Popular with visitors and a true reflection of traditional culture in Samoa, most resorts and hotels have their own weekly fiafia nights, as do tour companies and cultural centers such as The Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.
Snorkel in some of the most gorgeous Pacific coastlines
The ultimate tropical island experience and another Samoa ‘must-do’ is getting into the warm waters around the islands to see all kinds of vivid sea life and coral within the reefs of Samoa’s coast.
Some of the most stunning snorkeling spots are Lalomanu Beach, Matereva Beach, the Aleipata coastline, and Falealupo on Savai’i. Or if you’re closer to Samoa’s capital Apia, at high tide you can take a dip in the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve.
What other capital city in the world has a coral reef right on its doorstep?
Be wowed by the Saleaula Lava Fields
Savai’i’s Saleaula Lava Fields were formed when one of the island’s volcanoes, Mt Matavanu, erupted and destroyed five entire villages (thankfully not killing any locals). What remains is a fascinating shell of the village church with the eruption’s volcanic flow eerily set in place. You can see exactly where the lava flowed past and through, including interesting imprints of trees and other remnants of village life.
Witness the power of nature at the Alofaaga blowholes
These spectacular blowholes, formed in the rocky coastline of Taga on Savai’i, force thousands of liters of seawater skyward making for a spectacular sight. Local villagers add to the drama by throwing coconuts into the blowholes to watch them shoot out meters into the air, showing the powerful force of nature.
Forget bar crawls, take a waterfall crawl
Because of its mountainous landscape, Samoa has plenty of waterfalls, particularly along the southern coasts of Upolu and Savai’i. Taking a day tour of Samoa’s waterfalls is a great way to discover some of the country’s most stunning landscapes, while giving you the opportunity to cool off from the heat.
If you just get to one waterfall, Fuipisia at the eastern end of Upolu is one of the most impressive to see. And for something more off-the-beaten-path, head to the Falease’ela River Walk for an exhilarating river trek in the Samoan wilderness.
Head to the markets
There are few more truly local experiences than visiting a market. Samoa’s famous fish market in Apia, in particular, is worth a look. The Fugalei fresh produce market is the place to shop like a local and pickup delicious fruit and other market snacks. And don’t miss the Savalalo Flea Market for souvenirs and gifts to take home.
Make the effort to visit food markets early on a Sunday morning as this is when Samoans turn out in force to prepare for their weekly post-church feast.
Swim with turtles
For just a few dollars, you can swim with the endangered green turtle. Savai’i is one of the only places on the planet where you can swim with green turtles in captivity before they’re tagged and released.
At the Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary, juvenile turtles are raised from infancy by villagers, before they’re released into the wild where they reach up to 180 kilograms.
To-Sua Ocean Trench
To-Sua Ocean Trench is as stunning in real life as it appears on Instagram. Its azure-blue waters are accessible 30 meters down a ladder to a wooden platform that opens into the massive waterhole, fed by water flowing through lava tubes from the ocean.
The hole is in fact two holes that are joined by a cave. The brave can swim under the tubes into caves, and out to the lagoon.
Ride a local bus
Why ride a public bus on holidays? When you see one of the colourful vehicles for the first time, you’ll know exactly why.
If you do manage to spot a bus passing by, simply wave it down. Most buses have booming music to add to the experience. Catching one may be a bit tricky if you’re on a schedule because the buses are not always on time. It’s not unheard of for buses to stop at supermarkets and wait while locals do their shops.
Listen to a local church choir
Whatever your religious beliefs, listening to the enchanting sounds of a Samoan church choir is bound to impress and inspire your senses. Samoa is a Christian country, and most people faithfully attend Sunday services.
Visitors are welcome to join church services. You might also encounter the choir singing at a religious event on a different day of the week, or even practicing in one of the many churches throughout the week.