The Only Budget Travel Guide to Upolu You’ll Ever Need
Forget about blowing all your hard-earned cash on a resort. If you’re the type of traveller who cares more about travel experiences than where you sleep, then you’re onto a good thing with Upolu. Samoa’s main island has much to explore among the craggy peaks scattered with waterfalls and paradisal swimming holes. Cheap eats can always be picked up in the island’s capital, Apia, while your hosts at Upolu’s iconic beach fales will certainly make sure you’re well-fed, as is the Samoan way. In between the beach fale stay, there’s a small selection of budget hotels, guesthouses and holiday homes that will ensure a comfortable stay for the non-fussy traveller. Plan an epic yet cheap Upolu getaway with this complete travel guide to Upolu on a budget.
Before we begin the guide, be sure to also bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Upolu for more styles of travel.
5 Tips for Visiting Upolu on a Budget
Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Upolu, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:
- The cheapest way to get around Upolu is by taking the buses – see Taking the Bus in Upolu: Bus Fares, Routes & More. If you’re on a tight schedule, however, we recommend choosing one of the alternative ways to get around Upolu
- Note that most budget accommodations charge to hire snorkelling gear (when it’s available), so we highly recommend bringing your own, as you WILL want to go snorkelling – see the 20 Essentials You Need to Pack for Samoa for recommendations
- Pay the extra rate for food included in your beach fale or accommodation; alternative dining options are difficult to come by if you’re staying outside of Apia
- Speaking of food, you can save a ton by using your accommodation’s self-catering facilities, mainly available in Apia
- While most natural attractions have very affordable entry fees, there’s the odd site that might cost more than you’re expecting, especially the beaches; be sure to ask prices before setting off if you’re on a super tight budget.
How to Get to Upolu
Upolu is Samoa’s eastern island, lying about 3,000 km (1,864 mi) northeast of New Zealand and 3,700 km (2,300 mi) southwest of Hawaii. The island is home to Samoa’s only international airport and receives regular flights from New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and Fiji, which are all well-connected to the rest of the world. Find out about airlines travelling to Upolu in our guide, Which Airlines Fly Directly to Samoa?
Alternative ways to get to Upolu include day trips with cruise liners, as well as via private sailing yacht. Find out more about your arrival options in Getting Here: How to Get to Samoa?
How to Get Around Upolu
Upolu is well-connected by a main coastal road around the island, which is approximately 185 km (115 mi), as well as three roads across the island. Car rentals, scooter rentals and bicycle rentals are an option – note that you’ll need a temporary diver’s license. Alternatively, bus services, taxis and guided tours are also readily available.
Find out all you need to know about transport in our Upolu Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Upolu.
Free Activities on Upolu
Upolu has enough going on between waterfalls and hiking trails to keep you entertained without having to spend a cent. Although most natural attractions have an entry fee, as per Samoan customs, there are a rare few attractions that you can enjoy free of charge, which include…
Samoa Cultural Village
“Fa’a Samoa” means “The Samoan Way” and you’ll certainly get the full flavour of the Samoan culture at Upolu’s best-value attraction (and not only because it’s free). Happening behind the Samoa Tourism Information Centre from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm, Tuesday to Friday, Samoa Cultural Village starts with a hands-on experience of weaving your own plate for the umu. You’ll then be formally welcomed with an ‘ava ceremony before seeing how a traditional umu feast is prepared.
While your lunch is cooking, you’ll move between various fale to see how ‘ava bowls are carved and even witness a traditional pain-staking Samoan tatau (tattoo) being performed.
Finally, sit down with your freshly prepared umu lunch while watching a fiafia cultural performance including fire dancing. See how this compares to other cultural shows in the 10 Best Cultural Shows (Fiafia) in Samoa.
Swap Samoa’s famous beaches for another side of Upolu’s coast on the serene and secluded Coastal Walk. Protected within the O Le Pupu Pu’e National Park, the one-hour return walk (with no entry fees) winds its way through lush pandanus forest before emerging on rocky lava cliffs. With the waves crashing below, seabirds occupying the horizon, and a number of coastal sea arches to uncover as you walk, this certainly is a special place to experience on foot. Speaking of, closed footwear is recommended and the trail is mostly flat, making it suitable for most fitness levels. For more free and affordable walks, check out the 10 Best Walks & Hikes on Upolu.
That’s right, this waterfall is one of the rare ones that is 100% free to visit. After checking out the Piula Cave Pool (an awesome cheap attraction, FYI), follow the signposts inland to Sauniatu Falls on the grounds of a Latter-Day Saints compound. Follow some steps down to a rainforest setting which provides excellent swimming beneath a 20 m (66 ft)-high waterfall. For more waterfalls to chase, check out the 10 Best Waterfalls in Samoa.
Falemata’aga Museum of Samoa
If there’s only one museum you visit on Upolu, make it the Museum of Samoa, Falemata’aga. The free but donation-based museum in Apia has an impressive collection of historical artefacts where information boards provide context into their significance, as well as provide an important context of Samoa’s history.
If you don’t want to sift through it all yourself, free guided tours are available with passionate guides to show you through the highlights of the museum. With six different galleries (in air-conditioned rooms, might we add) boasting 3,000-year-old Lapita pottery, collections from across the Pacific, colonisation history and even a small art exhibition, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied for as long as you wish.
Check out other museums to peruse in the 5 Best Museums in Samoa.
Other Free Activities on Upolu
While the above mentions are just a taster of Upolu’s free activities, there are attractions like the Baha’i Temple, Fugalei Market, Ma Tree and Togitogiga Waterfall, Papapapaitai Falls, the Mt Vaea Robert Louis Stevenson Tomb Walk and more that are also free to enjoy. Check them out in the 25 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Upolu.
Cheap Activities on Upolu
Don’t miss the natural and cultural highlights of Upolu that are still very affordable. Most attractions that we list here have an entry fee, that ranges from ST$5 to $20 per person, while some are per car (usually ST$20-$30). Learn more about Samoa’s entry fees at attractions in our guide to Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions.
To Sua Ocean Trench
Don’t pretend like you weren’t going to go anyway! If you have only seen one image of Samoa, it’s likely to be the turquoise swimming hole with the iconic wooden rung ladder of the To Sua Ocean Trench. This 30 m (98 ft)-deep coastal sinkhole has a cave on either side, one of which dips underwater leading to the ocean so avoid that one. Ropes cross the swimming pool to hold onto in case there is a bit of current. Otherwise, floating with verdant reeds hanging from the cave walls above is a beautiful experience.
There are more sinkholes to peer into around the site, so be sure to wander through the manicured grounds of this attraction. You can also follow a footpath down to the coast to a classic Samoan swimming pool for more bathing opportunities.
Discover more of Upolu’s famous sights, as well as the location of To Sua, in Sightseeing on Upolu: Top 10 Sights on Upolu.
Papase’ea Sliding Rocks
Try out nature’s waterslides at the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks. After walking down an anxiously high number of steps, knowing that you have to get back up them again, you’ll come across the first and biggest slide that locals call the “men’s slide”; a near verticle 5-m (16-ft) slide. Further down is the “kids’ slide”, a much less precarious slide with a little drop at the end of extra fun. Finally, at the bottom, you have the “women’s slide”. Lots of fun, lots of laughs; what’s not to love? Avoid the busiest times, which tend to be the weekends, to get optimal slide time.
Find this attraction in Se’ese’e, Faleata District on the outskirts of Apia. The access road turns off Maugafolau Road near the University of the South Pacific campus.
Vavau Beach offers a secluded and stunning beach destination on the south coast of Upolu. Exclusively for day visitors, there are a number of fales set back from the white sands. Enjoy picturesque islands dotted around a shallow lagoon and soak in the scenery of the bush-clad environment that tops the coastal cliffs on all sides. Pay your entry fees at the access road. The community does a good job of keeping this beach clean.
Vavau Beach certainly isn’t the only beach to enjoy on Upolu, so check out the 10 Best Beaches on Upolu for more recommendations, as well as information on Vavau Beach’s location.
At first glance, it might not look like much. But 100 m (109 yards) off the shores of Apia and under the lagoon’s surface hides an amazing array of marine life that will make you squeak in your snorkel. Hire snorkelling gear from the kiosk at Palolo Deep and swim out to the white buoy to see an underwater trench thriving with staghorn coral, hundreds of tropical fish species, starfish, octopus and, if you’re lucky, perhaps even some turtles. The latter is more likely to be seen near the tiny island. Note that the water is way too shallow for enjoyable snorkelling when it’s not close to high tide, so plan your visit accordingly. Find this attraction between the Marina and Vaiala Beach along Beach Road, Apia.
For more sweet (and affordable) snorkelling spots, check out The Best Snorkelling in Upolu: Top 10 Places to Snorkel.
Other Cheap Activities on Upolu
Any attraction that you have heard of on Upolu is likely to have a cheap entry fee. From Sopoaga Falls to lounging on Lalomanu Beach, we list far more cheap experiences in the 25 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Upolu.
Budget Dining on Upolu
Food can be very affordable on Upolu, especially if you opt to eat like a local. If you’re staying at a beach fale, we highly recommend choosing its “breakfast and dinner” option which usually provides very good value for money in that your host will be eager to overfeed you. Incidentally, this may leave you only needing to grab snacks from the nearby village convenience store for lunch – check out some snack recommendations in the 20 Foods to Try in Samoa.
Otherwise, budget travellers staying in Apia can eat for cheap thanks to the local takeaways, markets and supermarkets for self-catering.
Cheap Restaurants and Takeaways
If you’re willing to put that diet on hold, then you’ll find no lack of cheap takeaway options across Apia. Kardenia’z, Mr Chicken Plaza, Chickalicious, Mr Chippy, Raynim’s Fast Food are just a few takeaways offering deep-fried delights, kebabs and burgers between ST$5 and $20. If just burgers are more your thing, then slightly better burgers can be found at Kilo’s Shack and Skippy’s Restaurant. Finally, get affordable Asian cuisine from Bella’s Kitchen and Yummy Fast Food.
The best market for cheap street food is the Apia Night Market on the last Friday of the month from 5 pm. It’s when the island’s food vendors and eateries gather together for a whirlwind of tastes, from cheap steak sarnies to cupcakes to carnival favourites like candy floss and popcorn.
Alternatively, see what’s cooking at the Fugalei Market, available all day every day except Sunday. As well as fresh produce, some vendors sell cooked Samoan favourites. Find out more about Upolu’s markets in the 8 Best Markets in Samoa.
Self-Catering on Upolu
A surefire way to save money on food while staying on Upolu is to cook for yourself. You’re never too far away from a local convenience store no matter where you are on the island (provided you’re in some sort of village, of course). On the other hand, Upolu’s self-catering accommodations are pretty much limited to Apia, so you’ll certainly need to stay in or near town to make the most of this money-saving technique.
More About Upolu on a Budget
That’s it for our complete guide to Upolu on a budget but by no means the end of our advice. Check out more guides to help save the cents on your trip:
- Essential Tips for Staying in a Beach Fale in Samoa
- Is Samoa Expensive?
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for Samoa?
Finally, don’t forget to open The Complete Backpacking Guide to Samoa on a Budget to plan more of your trip later.