Samoa is a poster child for South Pacific beauty. Volcanic uprisings crafted much of this island’s dramatic topography: jungle-clad peaks plunge to the Pacific, and rugged rock islands rise from the sapphire sea.
Samoa is actually an archipelago of 10 tropical islands about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. You’re in the heart of Polynesia here, and the big hearts of the locals are a big part of the islands’ appeal.
Samoa also boasts some of the South Pacific’s most spectacular waterfalls, as well as flourishing coral reefs, wild beaches, hiking trails, picturesque crater pools, and surf breaks. Loll on Lalomanu Beach; hike lush rainforest trails; or take a dip in the To Sua trench, a picturesque crater pool ringed by tropical gardens. Staying on Samoa means soaking up an authentic taste of the South Pacific.
This is just a summary of what to see. Consult Apia, Savaii and Upolu for more detailed information.
- National Parks. There are several national parks in both Upolu and Savaii. These offer tropical vegetation, numerous birds and some interesting lakes. Falealupo Rainforest Preserve on Savaii has a short canopy walkway and you can sleep in the trees. Lake Lanoto’o National Park on Upolu has a fascinating lake where introduced goldfish thrive and grow to amazing sizes.
- Waterfalls. The inland areas of both Savaii and Upolu have some spectacular waterfalls, some with 100m drops. Those on Upolu are a bit more accessible. Papase’ea Sliding Rocks on Upolu have only a slight drop but the vegetation on the falls permits an interesting slide into the pool below.
- Blowholes. Savaii has some spectacular blowholes caused by the sea forcing water up through tubes in volcanic rocks.
- Caves. There are interesting caves on both islands.
- Lava Fields. Parts of Savaii are covered by lava rock, following various eruptions by Mt. Matavanu.
- Villages. Although Western-style buildings are gaining in popularity, traditional Samoan fales are still found everywhere. These are of an oval or circular shape with wooden posts holding up a domed roof. There are no walls, although blinds can be lowered to give privacy. The village is very important to Samoan culture and there are strict rules governing the way village societies function.
- Beaches. Samoa has miles and miles of beautiful and empty beaches. There is a range of accommodation, from simple beach fales to luxurious resorts. Beaches invariably belong to the nearest village and the villages often request a small fee for their use.
- Museums. Samoa was home to the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson for the last five years of his life. His home, just outside Apia, is now a museum. The Museum of Samoa in Apia is also well worth a visit.
- Kilikiti. This is the local version of cricket and is very popular in Samoan villages among both men and women. The principle of the game is the same as cricket but the rules vary considerably and there seems to be considerable flexibility in their interpretation. The most obvious differences are the bat and the fact that balls are bowled from each end alternately rather than employing the six-ball overs of cricket. Kilikiti is played on concrete pitches on village greens, and is accompanied by lots of noise and considerable enthusiasm.
Below is just an indication of things to do in Samoa. For more detailed information, see Upolu, Savaii and Apia.
- A Samoan Tattoo. This traditional art form is very much a part of the Samoan culture. There are different designs for women and men; in the case of men the tattoo can cover half the body. Beware that the tattooing process can be very painful, but if you think you can take the pain ask at your hotel or guest house for advice on local tattoo artists.
- Get married. Samoa is a popular place to get married and spend your honeymoon. Several hotels and resorts offer special packages on their web sites and they will make all the arrangements.
- Golf. Golf is very popular in Samoa. There is even a suggestion that the recent introduction of Daylight Saving Time was primarily done so that executives could get in a round of golf after work before it got dark! All courses are on Upolu. Two are close to Apia, one near the airport and a nine-hole course is found on the south coast.
- Diving. Scuba diving is a relatively new activity in Samoa. Both Upolu and Savai’i have great dive spots, with around 900 fish species and 200 types of coral. There are dive companies operating on both islands.
- Fishing. Samoa is a popular fishing destination. Fish in the local waters include blue and black marlin, sailfish, yellowfin, and the giant trevally. Most charter companies operate out of Apia harbour.
Eating is an extremely important part of Samoan life, as the size of many Samoans may suggest. They often take food with them when they travel. Samoan food is not highly spiced or seasoned. It uses ingredients that are relatively unfamiliar to most Westerners, such as breadfuit, taro (or talo), taro leaves, cooked green bananas and raw fish.
- Umu. The umu is the traditional method used for cooking. A fire is built and stones placed on it. When the fire is down to the embers the ingredients, such as green bananas, breadfruit, taro, fish, palusami and pork are placed on the stones. It is then covered with banana leaves and left to cook.
- Oka is the way Samoans prepare raw fish. It consists of small bits of fish that are marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, coconut cream, salt and finely chopped onions.
- Palusami is made from taro leaves and coconut cream. The coconut cream, onions and some taro are wrapped in whole taro leaves and cooked in an umu. Well cooked, this can be unforgettable and you should not leave Samoa without trying it.
- Corned beef. Samoa rapidly adopted this import and it is widely used as an accompaniment to Umus and other dishes.
Unfortunately it is difficult to find these delicacies, maybe partly because western food is more “cool”, partly because the average tourist wants to eat what he eats at home. The usual things you get is more or less good imitations of western-style or Chinese food. The market in Apia is a good place if you want to try some of the local stuff. It’s also a good idea to stock up on fruit there before heading anywhere on the islands.
Most restaurants are casual and not too expensive. Places to eat are listed in the pages for Upolu, Apia and Savaii. Outside of Apia, most of the best places are associated with hotels or resorts.
The drinking age in Samoa is 21.
No significant gathering in Samoa, whether official or for pleasure, is complete without the ‘Ava (or kava) ceremony at the beginning. Kava’s biological name is Piper methysticum, which means intoxicating pepper. The roots of the plant are used to produce a mildly narcotic drink that is passed around meetings following strict rules. However, you do not need to participate in a Samoan cultural event to try it. On some days it can be purchased at Apia’s central market (marketi fou).
The local beer is Vailima  beer. It’s cheap and you can buy it everywhere.
Non-alcoholic beverages and bottled water are available in all roadside stores. Coke, Fanta and Sprite are available in 750 ml glass bottles for about 4 WST. You will need a bottle opener for these if you want to take them with you to drink later; otherwise stores will have a bottle opener available. Bottled water is available in a range of sizes.
Alcohol is plentiful in the bars. There’s not that much in most stores and it tends to be expensive. Le Well near the market in Apia (ask any taxi driver) has a good range at the best prices. For heavy drinkers, the cheapest liquor is generally vodka in large (1.75 L) plastic bottles. This may be bought from supermarkets and bottleshops and is also available in smaller 750 ml bottles for about 25 WST. Imported wines are generally very expensive, although not as expensive as in the restaurants.
The government shut down most of the popular and legendary bars and night spots in Apia in 2006, citing underage drinking, drugs, noise, and crime. They were reopened several weeks later. At the end of 2010 bars and nightclubs were supposed to close at 22.00 although some seemed to be able to evade this. There are lots of smaller bars and night spots to check out. Also every hotel has a bar as do most of the restaurants.
Beach fales are an enjoyable and inexpensive way to stay in Samoa. A list can be obtained from the Samoa Tourism Authority (firstname.lastname@example.org), but the best way to know where to stay is to ask other travelers. Samoa is not very big and tourism is limited, so you will bump into the same people once in a while making it easy to exchange information.
With the explosion in accommodation it is now less necessary for those wanting to visit the remoter parts of Samoa, particularly Savaii, to stay in villages, which was fairly common in the past. However, this is still possible. If you want to stay in, or even just visit, a village it is important to remember not to offend local culture. See Respect, below.
There is also a good range of resorts, hotels and guest houses in Samoa. A large number have been constructed in recent years.
Accomodations are listed under Apia, Upolu and Savaii. Please do not list them here.
Samoa is a generally safe destination. Crime rates are low and people are very helpful and friendly. Items do, sometimes, get stolen. With sensible precautions, however, the threat of this happening should be minimal.
Free roaming dogs can be a safety problem in the capital Apia. The Government of Samoa (GoS) passed the Canine Control Act in 2013 as an initial step toward addressing dog management. Most dogs ignore you and don’t see you as a threat if you ignore them.
As of January 2015 there is an outbreak of Chikungunya in Samoa. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine and no cure. Take precautions to prevent mosquito bites (nets, repellent, long sleeves and pants, rooms with A/C.)
Samoa is a malaria free zone. However, there are occasional outbreaks of Dengue Fever and so precautions should be taken such as using mosquito nets and insect repellent. Note that the mosquito that transmits dengue normally bites during the day.
Drink bottled water. It’s cheap and readily available.
There are no known poisonous animals or insects on land, although centipedes can give you a very painful bite. In the water beware of purple cone shells, sea urchins, fire coral, etc. If not using fins, wearing footwear while snorkeling is highly recommended.
Some travellers have reported a violent allergic reaction with the ceremonial drink kava. Symptoms include a very obvious rash and swelling to the neck and face area, sweating and discomfort. Medical attention should be sought immediately and a prescription for Prednisolone usually does the trick. It takes from 12-24 hours for the effects to noticeably subside.
There are two hospitals in Apia and one on Savaii at Tuasivi, a couple of miles north of the ferry wharf at Salelologa.