Samoa has many incredible tourist activities on hand, but is swimming with the turtles on Savai’i one of them? I had my doubts about how well the turtles were cared for and found a number of reviews online that reiterated my concerns; in a bid to find out for ourselves, we visited the turtle ‘sanctuary’.
Our Initial Thoughts on ‘Swimming with the Turtles’ on Savai’i, Samoa
Having read reviews online, we were pleasantly surprised by how large their swimming enclosure was and were initially pleased that we went to take a look.
Nathan and I had decided that we were more than happy to feed our new turtle friends, without getting in the water and swimming with them. We’ve both been fortunate enough to snorkel and dive with them in the wild and though we really valued the experience, it felt like swimming with them here was imposing on them just a bit too much.
As it turned out, we came to realise that the turtles would have greatly improved life had other tourists taken this approach.
Feeding them was a real pleasure; we found a quiet spot to the side of the main deck, dipped our toes in the water and enjoyed some quiet time with these beautiful animals.
In retrospect though, was it worth supporting an outfit like this? Absolutely not.
Unfortunately, it went downhill from there very quickly.
Before long other tourists were in the water, picking up the turtles and passing them around. It was really disappointing to see others showing such little respect for animals that by all accounts, already have a less than perfect life. Many of the turtles kicked out, obviously uncomfortable with what was going on.
This was then met by full grown men and women trying to hitch a ride on the back of their shells… naturally, the turtles dove sharply down in a bid to escape.
Yes, Swimming with the Turtles Makes for a Cheap Day Out, but is it Worth it?
We paid 7 tala each (NZD3.80/USD2.75) which is cheap as chips. Nathan and I chatted as we were leaving and came to the conclusion that we would have happily paid much more than that if there was a way to ensure the turtles were better cared for or put towards releasing the turtles after a certain amount of time.
There’s obviously a real tension in supporting something like this – on one hand, I believe that positives can come through these interactions (improved education etc), but at the same time, when there are tourists and travellers that will support these operations as they are, where is the need for them to change?
Would We Recommend a Visit to the Savai’i Turtles?
Having seen the turtles firsthand, we can say with absolute certainty that their enclosure is too small, the water too dirty and above all else, these amazing creatures are not treated with the respect that they deserve.
With that said though, Sava’i is certainly worth a visit, just be sure to leave this stop off of your itinerary!
Getting to Know Savai’i, Samoa
Savai’i is the larger of the two main Samoan islands, but by far the less populated of the two, so much so that we were taken aback by just how few people we saw out-and-about in comparison to Upolu.
Our decision to head over to Savai’i was a relatively last minute one and as we had accommodation on Upolu prebooked as part of our package, we decided to spend just the one night on the island.
Getting from Upolu to Savai’i
Getting to Savai’i is easy but is fairly time-consuming. The ferry ride itself is only an hour long but you’re meant to check in at the wharf two hours before the departure time which makes the entire journey a lot more involved. We figured that that was way too early (seriously, have they not heard of island time?!) so arrived approx an hour before each sailing which was more than enough time. We took our rental car onboard (which wasn’t a particularly cheap exercise but worth it to have the flexibility over on Savai’i) but you can travel over as a normal passenger too.
Roughing It in the Best Possible Way
Once there, we made our way over to our accommodation for the night, the Tanu Beach Fales. What a beautiful spot!! We had a fale right on the beach. The accommodation itself was rustic (cold water showers and insect nets with enough holes to question the point) but regardless, does it get any better than this?!
Dinner and breakfast were both included in our stay and was served like it would be at home – one option on offer, but both were home cooked and delicious!
Funnily enough, we really struggled to sleep in this beautiful spot. We tend to find that the first night camping is always hard going from a sleep point of view and we found the same thing here… the waves that were relaxing during the day became so loud at 2am that we couldn’t sleep (though I don’t doubt that the second night we would have been out like logs).
The local fales are far from luxe but they do give everyone the opportunity to experience Samoan paradise without the massive price tag.
Whilst on Savai’i we visited the turtles and spent a good chunk of time snorkelling off the beach. The snorkelling was gorgeous and though we didn’t see particularly large fish, we saw a wide variety of small-medium sized fish and some pretty healthy coral.
Skip the turtles but if you have a little spare time and appreciate small-island charm, be sure to pay a visit to Savai’i whilst in Samoa.
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