Discover Samoa’s 11 best-kept secrets

Sebastian van der Zwan explores some of this Pacific paradise’s less-visited attractions

1. Papase’ea Sliding Rocks

Just 40 minutes from the airport, tucked away in the lush heart of Samoa’s most populous island, Upolu, lie these naturally formed waterslides. A hidden oasis surrounded by rainforest and pink teuila flowers (the national bloom), the rocks have been smoothed by thousands of years of running water, and there are thrills for all ages and levels of bravery. At the very least, it’s a serene spot for a refreshing swim to escape the tropical heat – Samoa’s temperatures average between 24 to 30 degrees year-round!

2. Mount Matavanu Crater

Adventurers, take note! This colossal crater, covered in lush vegetation, is a geological marvel and a relic of Samoa’s volcanic past, having erupted between 1905 and 1911, when it sent molten lava flowing down to the coast, destroying everything in its path. A real gem for trekkers and nature enthusiasts in Savai’i, the least-visited of the country’s two main islands, it offers a challenging hike, with breathtaking views of the isle’s western villages at its peak. It’ll take you 20 to 25 minutes to drive to the walking track by 4WD and two to three hours for the 6km hike.

3. Tafatafa Beach

If you’re in search of a secret surf spot, this white-sand beach on Upolu’s south coast is your answer. The hidden gem is known only to a handful of surfers who appreciate its consistent swells and uncrowded breaks. Paddle out and catch some waves in this secluded paradise. There are traditional Samoan beach fales here too if you want to maximise your time in the water.

4. Piula Cave Pool

Just 45 minutes from capital city Apia, escape the crowds and cool off in this underground pool. A natural wonder with clear freshwater, the attraction is adorned with stalactites, creating a surreal ambiance. Hold your breath and keep swimming to connect up to a second pool. This a tranquil spot to take a dip and soak in the mystical surroundings. There are day fales available if you want to spend a decent stretch of time here. Note that it’s closed on Sundays, like many of Samoa’s tourist sites.

5. Lalomanu Beach at sunset

While this stunning stretch of sand itself is no secret – it was named one of the top 10 beach destinations by Lonely Planet – witnessing the beauty as the sun goes down is next level. As the sky transforms into a masterpiece of vibrant hues, it casts a magical spell over the turquoise waters and golden shore. It’s a mesmerising sight and it’s even better with a cocktail in hand. I highly recommend staying in one of the beach’s many waterfront fales, which come with views of the small outer islands.

6. Fiafia Night in Savai’i

While many tourists flock to Upolu, Samoa’s larger but less-visited island holds a secret that’s not to be missed – the Fiafia Night at the Savai’i Lagoon Resort offers an authentic cultural experience. It’s a lively celebration featuring traditional dance, music and mouthwatering cuisine served in a family-style feast. Don’t miss the breathtaking displays of fire dancing!

7. Saleaula Lava Fields

Venture to this Savai’i hotspot and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped on to another planet. The remnants of Mt Matavanu’s volcanic eruptions have created a surreal landscape, with blackened fields and eerie tree skeletons standing as silent witnesses to nature’s power. Amid the five buried villages are the famous virgin’s grave, the London Missionary Society church and multiple lava mounds. For volcanic wonders on Upolu, check out the Coastal Walk in O Le Pupu Pu’e National Park, where waves crash against impressive stone arches.

8. Nourish Café

Right in the heart of Apia, this foodie hotspot was established in 2016 and offers wholesome, nutritious food with a classic Samoan twist and super-friendly staff. Fitted out with chic island decor, you’ll feel right at home at this adorable café while you enjoy a breakfast or lunch laden with local ingredients and specialties. Owner Kalais Stanley says, “We’ve noticed that our people are now becoming more aware of the value of healthy food and we want to implement that with the dishes we provide here.” Don’t miss the koko Samoa hot chocolate or the fresh kombucha. (Hot tip: This is also a great place to charge your phone!)

9. Piula Cave Church

Church is central to the Samoan way of life and most locals attend at least once a week. There are many beautiful religious buildings dotted around both islands, but this one, right by the Piula Cave Pool, is a hidden architectural marvel. Built into a cave, the historic Methodist chapel offers a unique spiritual experience, where sunlight filtering through the grotto’s openings creates a serene ambiance, making it a special place for reflection.

10. Vailima Botanical Gardens

Just outside Apia, by the famous Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, where the Treasure Island author lived for four years, these 12 hectares of gardens provide a peaceful haven away from the crowds. Stroll through lush forest filled with exotic flora, and don’t miss the chance to learn about Samoa’s native plant species and their cultural significance. If you’re after a decent hike, follow the Road of Loving Hearts to the top of Mt Vaea, where the Scottish writer – known as Tusitala or “teller or tales” to locals – is buried. The views are magnificent. Budget 30 to 50 minutes and wear good shoes.

11. Phat Burger

Located on Apia’s famous Cross Island Road and just a short taxi ride from town or the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, this burger joint offers hearty, traditional fare done Samoan-style. Well loved by locals and visitors alike, it’s a humble eatery that provides a casual dining experience for those wanting a quick bite while they lap up the island lifestyle, but it’s racked up some rave reviews on Google for its big portions and friendly service. The fish burger is especially popular and there are lots of vege options too. Try the cocktails if you’re not driving!

Click here to discover more about Samoa.

Related stories