Samoa consists of four inhabited and five uninhabited islands totaling 2,842 square km, a bit bigger than the American state of Rhode Island. Unlike most Pacific countries, which are scattered across vast areas, all of these islands are in one main cluster, which makes getting around fairly easy.
Upolu is the more developed and populous, containing the capital, Apia; Savai'i is a much broader island. Together these two account for 96 percent of Samoa's land area and 99 percent of the population.
Although Savai'i is much larger than Upolu, the population is lower because the rocky volcanic landscape is poorer for agriculture. Between them sit populated Apolima and Manono, while the five islets off southeast Upolu shelter only seabirds. The fringing reefs around the two big islands protect soft, radiantly calm coastlines.
Samoa's lush volcanic islands increase in age from west to east. Savai'i, though dormant, spewed lava only a century ago; the now-extinct cones of western Upolu erupted much more recently than those farther east. Well-weathered Tutuila and Manu'a in American Samoa are older yet, while 10-million-year-old Rose Island is a classic atoll.
Savai'i is a massive shield-type island formed by fast-flowing lava building up in layers over a long period. The low coast gradually slopes upward to a broad, 1,858-meter center of several parallel chains. Upolu's elongated 1,100-meter dorsal spine of extinct shield volcanoes slopes more steeply on the south than on the north. The eastern part of the island is rough and broken, while broad plains are found in the west.
Continue to Geography: Statistics »