Samoa is a postcard of natural beauty consisting of ten islands, each offering very distinct and different environments to explore. From the rainforest covered rugged volcanic mountain peaks of the two main islands to the vast valleys leading down to a coastline ringed with a necklace of white sandy beaches.
Western Samoa gained independence on 1st January 1962 and was the first Pacific nation to do so. In 1997 it dropped the title 'Western' from its name to become the Independent State of Samoa.
In Samoa there are no crowded beaches, the air temperature averages 30 degrees all year round and the ocean is a warm 25 degrees. The people are friendly and will welcome you with open arms to experience their culture.
Samoa is a traditional society governed by Fa'a Samoa - the Samoan Way. Family is all important as is respect for elders. Christianity has been one of the few western influences that has been accepted into Fa'a Samoa. Samoans are never in much of a hurry to do anything and are extremely hospitable.
When walking around villages in Samoa, you should respect local customs and dress modestly. A lava lava (sarong) and tee shirt is acceptable. The traditional ladies clothing is the puletasi which is a matching skirt and tunic with Samoan designs.
Exploring the islands will leave you feeling like you're on an adventure. The picturesque villages will leave you wanting to stay for good. While all of the islands have volcanic origins, only Savai'i, the western most island in Samoa, is volcanically active.
The population of Samoa is around 183,000 people. About 92.6% are Samoans, 7% Euronesians (people of mixed, European and Polynesian ancestors) and 0.4% are Europeans.
Delicacies of Samoa include palusami (young taro leaves baked in coconut cream) and oka, (raw fish in coconut cream), both are must try dishes on any holiday. Seafood is abundant including crayfish, snapper, masimasi, octopus and tuna. The plantations of bananas, taro, tropical fruits and vegetables picked that day add to the freshness of the meals. All of the hotel and resorts offer traditional Samoan food, usually at their Fiafia nights, with traditional buffets and entertainment.
For those looking for a romantic getaway, Samoa's coast is dotted with glorious beach front resorts ranging from deluxe properties offering a little (or a lot) of luxury in an intimate setting, or the traditional fale - a Samoan beach hut located steps away from the glistening waters and surf breaks of the South Pacific.
Population: Approximately 183,000 people live in Samoa, with nearly three quarters living on Upolu.
Location: The island group is located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the South Pacific. Total land size is around 2,934 sq km.
Economy: Agriculture is the base of Samoa economy. Samoa's principal exports are coconut products, nonu fruit, and fish. Its main imports are food and beverages, consumer goods, industrial supplies, and fuels. Tourism is becoming an important source of economy day by day.
Language: Official languages are Samoan and English.
Religion: Around 90% of Samoan people are Christian - of these Catholic 28%, Presbyterian 24%, Methodist 10%, Pentecostal 10% and Latter-day Saints 9%.
Climate: Samoa has a warm, tropical climate tempered by trade winds between May and September. There is little difference in temperatures in different seasons, average maximum temperature in Apia is 30 degrees and a minimum of 22 degrees. The dry season is between June and September (the best time to visit), the rainy season is between October and May (December to March being the rainiest).
Currency: The Samoan tala. One Samoan tala can be divided into 100 seniti. The names are Samoan pronunciations of English dollar and cent. You cannot get the currency before you arrive because bringing Tala outside Samoa is forbidden by the government. You can collect it from the bureau de change at the airport but you can get a better rate at the Bank of Western Samoa in Apia. Both paper notes and coins are in use.
Time Zone: Samoa is 3 hours ahead of Australian Eastern Standard Time. They have daylight saving from September to April. Samoa has just recently changed its time zone in a bid to move into line with Australia and New Zealand.
Taxis: There are plenty of taxis and they are pretty cheap. If you are taking a taxi, make sure you agree on a price with the driver before you go, to avoid awkward situations.
Flying Times To Samoa: 5 and a half hours from the east coast of Australia. Just over 4 hours from Auckland.
Passports: All visitors to Samoa must have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity beyond the date of arrival.
VISAS: Australian tourists travelling to Samoa for up to 60 days do not need to obtain a visa in advance. You need a valid return or onward air ticket and sufficient funds for visits less than 60 days.
Departure tax: Adults WST 40 , children under 12 years exempt, payable at the airport.
Health: No vaccinations are required. Be sure you have good travel insurance. Drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea. There are two hospitals in Apia and one on Savaii at Tuasivi.
Electricity: Electricity is 240 volt with 3 prong angular plugs (same as Australia and New Zealand).
Check-in counters are open 3 hours before departure. Always be prepared to arrive at least two and a half hours before international departures or 80 minutes before domestic departures. There is a duty free shop at the airport.
All visitors (including children over 11 years) are required to pay a departure tax of ST$40.
Polynesian Airlines operates daily flights between Apia and Pago Pago out of Fagalii Airport, which is located about 5km from the Central Business District.
The main entry point into Samoa is Faleolo International Airport, 35km from Apia on the island of Upolu. Upon arrival currency exchanges are open for all international flight arrivals and departures for converting your currency.
Airport shuttles are provided to the major hotels which can be booked prior to arrival or organised when you arrive after clearing Customs. One way fares start from ST$12 per person.
Taxis are also available and a ride to Apia will cost you about ST$50 and it's recommended you confirm the price with the driver before you depart. If your flight is arriving during the day, then you can catch a local bus into Apia from the main gate of the airport. There are no set timetables and the fare will cost you about ST$5 one way.
Virgin Samoa, Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Polynesian Airlines operate international flights from New Zealand, Australia, United States of America, Fiji and American Samoa into Samoa.
Hiring a car is a great way to see Samoa. You will need to validate your foreign license at the Land Transport Authority in Vaitele. Cost is ST$12. Driving is on the
left hand side of the road. There are many rental car companies to choose from and you can hire everything from sedans and 4WDs to 12-seater vans if you have
a big group. The coastal roads on both main islands are sealed and the roads in general are in good condition.
Taxis are abundant around the islands and are very good value. Taxis are not metered so it's good to have an idea of what the journey will cost and agree on a price with the driver before setting off.
Another fun way to explore the islands is to take a map and board a local bus. Buses come in a variety of colours and all the seating is wooden. Locals are happy to sit on each other's laps if the bus is full and if the bus is heading into Apia or Salelologa, the locals may be carrying their produce on board to the markets. There are no bus stops around the islands, so just wave down a bus if you want to get on, and when you want to get off simply pull the cord to ring the buzzer. You pay your fare as you leave the bus and try to have the exact change.
If you're fit, you may like to hire bicycles to see the islands. There is not a lot of traffic but aggressive dogs can be a problem. You can take bikes on the ferry.
There is a passenger/vehicle ferry running between the mains islands of Upolu and Savaii every 2 hours. The ferry departs from the Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu near the international airport and departs from the Salelologa Wharf on Savaii for the return journey. The trip takes just over one hour each way and it pays to arrive early at the wharf to purchase your tickets. One way passenger fares are ST$6 for child 2-12 years and adults ST$12. Vehicle charges (depending on the size of the vehicle) are between ST$80 - ST$110 each way. To get to Manono Island, boats operate from the Manono-uta at the western end of Upolu, just down the road from Mulifanua Wharf. One way fares cost ST$1 for children and ST$3 for adults one way.
You can fly between the islands - Polynesian Airlines flies between Fagali'i Airport on Upolu, and Ma'ota Airport, 5km west of Salelologa on Savai'i. There are usually two to three services a day.
The colourful Maketi Fou (food market) on Apia's Fugalei Street, is perfect for stocking up on fresh fruit like pawpaws and bananas. The flea market - about a 10-minute walk from the food market - is great for souvenirs where you'll find everything from kava bowls to lava-lavas (the Samoan sarong), baskets and jewellery. It is open 8am-4pm Mon-Fri and 8am-noon Saturday. There is a large variety of gift and boutique stores on Upolu Island. Most shops are closed on Sundays.
Throughout Apia, Upolu and Savai'i you will come across many restaurants, and most Samoa resorts and hotels have their own restaurants. Samoan food is not heavily spiced, and is characterised by the use of coconut milk and cream. Staple foods are taro, breadfruit,
bananas, coconut, fish and shellfish, chicken and pork. Samoan Umu, a traditional above the ground stone oven heated by glowing hot lava rocks is used to cook food.
The food can be placed directly on the rocks, wrapped in banana leaves or plaited in coconut fronds for cooking.
Samoa is home to people from many countries including Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese and other Europeans. This is reflected in the diversity of restaurants. The larger towns and resorts are great places to find the best cafes. Apia offers the widest range of dining options from international cuisine to McDonalds.
Most of Samoa's bars and clubs are also located in Apia. The traditional drink of Samoa is kava. Considered to be one of the best beers in the Pacific region, Vailima Beer is brewed in Samoa.
There are many activities available for families in Samoa. Here is a list of the most popular ones:
To Sua Ocean Trench
Located in Lotofaga village, To Sua is otherwise translated as 'big hole' that is converted into a large swimming area. A ladder is installed on site for visitors to access the 30m deep seawaters. It is surrounded by beautiful, colourful gardens. Opposite is a lava field with blow hole, tide pools and walking paths along the rocks near the ocean's edge. The cost is $15/adult and $6/child, under 7 free.
Piula Cave Pool
Piula Cave Pool is a remarkable and refreshing freshwater cave pool, located beneath an historic Methodist Church at the Piula Theological College. It connects two caves via a small underwater entrance. An excellent place for family picnics. Take a mask or goggles. Closed on Sundays. The cost is $5/adult and $3/child.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Located in Vailima, 5km from Apia, this is where this famous Scottish poet and author fell in love. The Museum is perfectly restored with some of the author's work and family memorabilia. The museum is well kept and has a gift shop. You can get a guided tour of the museum and you can also do the walk up to his tomb. The cost is $15/adult and $5/child.
It is referred to as one of the longest waterfalls in Samoa. A vantage point just off the Cross Island Road offers a spectacular view of the Papapapai-Tia Waterfall cascading into a deep gorge. You can't really get access to the waterfall, but it makes for a great photo.
The fish market is best visited early on a Sunday morning, from about 6am. There is an amazing variety of fish available, ranging from huge cross sections of freshly caught yellow-fin tuna to octopus, crabs and eels all at unbelievably low prices. There is also a produce and flea market.
Swimming with Turtles
Located in Sato'alepai Village on Savai'i. For an animal encounter with a unique twist take the plunge with half a dozen or more green turtles. These majestic prehistoric creatures have been hunted for years and years and as a result they are now endangered. The kids will love feeding papaya to the turtles. The cost is $5/adult and $3/child. If you'd rather swim with green turtles in their natural habitat, the ideal place to do just that is in the ocean around Namua Island, just off the southeastern coast of Upolu.
The major issues facing travellers to Samoa are those associated with safe water & food and diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Gastro-intestinal infections are common illnesses affecting travellers. Proper food handling,
drinking purified water, and maintaining good personal hygiene are key to prevention. It is advised that you boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and
undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea. Be sure to pack a medical kit when travelling with children.
No vaccinations are required, but you should ensure your routine immunisations are up to date. Check with your doctor one month prior to departure. Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever occur. It is strongly recommended you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent, wearing long, loose fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof. There are no hyperbaric chambers on any of the islands for treatment of scuba diving related injuries.
Hospital and medical facilities are limited and medical evacuation may be required in serious cases. It is recommended to have comprehensive travel insurance organised before you leave.
Samoa has two official languages - Samoan and English.
Some of the more common Samoan words and phrases are:
talofa - hello.
tofa - goodbye.
fa'afetai - thank you.
loe - yes.
leai - no.
fa'amolemole - please.
'ua lelei - that's alright.
afio mai - welcome.
tulou lava - excuse me.
masalo - maybe.
taeao - tomorrow.