Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia Samoa



Samoa Beach

Samoa Beach

© tipitom

The two Samoan brothers (independent and American) are twins, though not identical. Independent Samoa (or Western Samoa as it was known as until 1997) differs from its eastern namesake in that it is a little less developed and a little less modern. It is therefore slightly less offensive to anthropologists and, we think, much more appealing to tourists. It also benefits from better beaches and more accessible swimming and snorkelling areas. Though deforestation's having its impact, inland Samoa is at times almost as attractive as aquatic Samoa.

That said, the similarities between the two nations far outweigh the differences. Many traditions are the same; both Samoas are keen to present their traditional culture to the adoring tourists who visit. So if you don't like Samoan dance and music styles, tough luck.



Brief History

The Samoans originated from Austronesian predecessors during the terminal eastward Lapita expansion period from Southeast Asia and Melanesia approximately 1500 BC. Contact with Europeans began in the early 18th century. Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutchman, was the first known European to sight the Samoan islands in 1722. This visit was followed by a French explorer by the name of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the man who named them the Navigator Islands in 1768. Contact was limited before the 1830s which is when English missionaries and traders began arriving. Mission work in Samoa had begun in late 1830. By that time, the Samoans had gained a reputation of being savage and warlike, as violent altercations had occurred between natives and French, British, German and American forces, who, by the late nineteenth century, valued Samoa as a refueling station for coal-fired shipping and whaling.
The Germans in particular began to show great commercial interest in the Samoan Islands, especially on the island of 'Upolu where German firms monopolized copra and cocoa bean processing. The United States laid its own claim and formed alliances with local native chieftains, most conspicuously on the islands of Tutuila and Manu'a (which were later formally annexed to the USA as American Samoa). Britain also sent troops to protect British business enterprise, harbor rights, and consulate office. There followed an eight-year civil war, where each of the three powers supplied arms, training, and in some cases, combat troops to the warring Samoan parties. All three sent warships into Apia harbour, and a larger-scale war seemed imminent, until a massive storm damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the military conflict. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Tripartite Convention partitioned the Samoan Islands into two parts: the eastern island group became a territory of the United States (the Tutuila Islands in 1900 and officially Manu'a in 1904) and is today known as American Samoa; the western islands, by far the greater landmass, became known as German Samoa after Britain vacated all claims to Samoa and accepted termination of German rights in Tonga and certain areas in the Solomon Islands and West Africa.

After repeated efforts by the Samoan people, Western Samoa gained independence in 1962 and signed a Friendship Treaty with New Zealand. Samoa was the first country in the Pacific to become independent.
In July 1997, the constitution was amended to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa. The U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, asserting that the change diminished its own identity. American Samoans still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans to describe the independent State of Samoa and its inhabitants. While the two Samoas share language and ethnicity, their cultures have recently followed different paths, with American Samoans often emigrating to Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland, and adopting many U.S. customs, such as the playing of American football and baseball. Western Samoans have tended to emigrate instead to New Zealand, whose influence has made the sports of rugby and cricket more popular in the western islands.

A rather unique action was taken during the last days of 2011. Samoa, together with Tokelau, has chosen to switch time zones by redrawing the international dateline at midnight on December 29, 2011. This means that Samoa will skip the date December 30 altogether, and go straight into December 31. The main reasons are economical, because from now on, Samoa will just be 1-3 hours ahead of Australia and New Zealand, making business with those countries easier. From being one of the last countries in the world to greet the new day (and New Year's!), it will be one of the first when moving to the other side of the dateline.




Samoa is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. The total land area is 2,934 km², consisting of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai'i which account for 99% of the total land area, and eight small islets. These are the three islets in the Apolima Strait (Manono Island, Apolima and Nu'ulopa), the four Aleipata Islands off the eastern end of Upolu (Nu'utele, Nu'ulua, Namua, and Fanuatapu), and Nu'usafe'e (less than 0.01 km² – 2½ acres – in area and about 1.4 km (0.9 mi) off the south coast of Upolu at the village of Vaovai). The main island of Upolu is home to nearly three-quarters of Samoa's population, and its capital city is Apia. The Samoan islands have been produced by vulcanism, the source of which is the Samoa hotspot which is probably the result of a mantle plume. While all of the islands have volcanic origins, only Savai'i, the western most island in Samoa, is volcanically active with the most recent eruptions in Mt Matavanu (1905-1911), Mata o le Afi (1902) and Mauga Afi (1725). The highest point in Samoa is Mt Silisili, at 1858 metres. The Saleaula lava fields situated on the central north coast of Savai'i are the result of the Mt Matavanu eruptions which left 50 km² of solidified lava.




Samoa is made up of two primary islands and eight small islets.

The two large islands are

  • Upolu, home to the bulk of the population and the capital Apia
  • Savaii, larger, wilder. Approximately 24% of the population and less developed than Upolu. Most services are available in Salelologa and at resorts.




  • Apia
  • Asau
  • Mulifanua
  • Lotopa



Sights and Activities


Both of the main islands of Samoa are ringed with gentle sandy beaches sloping into the clear sea. Beaches on Upolu include popular Lalomanu and Saleapaga. Aganoa is an interesting black sand beach. The beach on the islet of Namua Island is also particularly attractive.

On Savai'i, the most popular and accessible beach is at Manase - a good beach for swimming due to its gentle gradient, low current and shallow water. Beaches towards the Western end of the island are wilder and in more dramatic settings. Falealupo can justifiably claim to be the last beach in the world - the furthest west you can stand before the international date line.


Samoa has a number of world-class breaks. Surf tourism is a fledgeling industry - those who make the effort to get here will have the waves to themselves though there are now several small surf resorts.

Lake Lanoto'o

Nestled in the uplands in the centre of Upolu, and a short hike from the main island road, Lake Lanoto'o is an unusual lake. Deep green in colour, it's filled with thousands of goldfish. Legend also says that the lake is so deep that the bottom has never been found.

Alofa'aga Blowholes

Also known as the Taga Blowholes, by the village of Salelologa on Savi'i, these are the second most powerful blowholes known in the world. The little cafe by the rocks sells coconut shells - get your timing right and watch the force of the blowholes rocket the shells into the sky.


Malololelei on Upolu, and Olumoe on Savai'i - two of the most perfect tropical waterfalls.

Falealopu Canopy Walkway

A short walkway suspended high above the canopy in a small forest reserve at Falealopu on Savaii. The walkway is strung between two fascinating trees - a tall Floribunda and a gargantuan Banyan. For a small fee, it's possible to sleep on the platform at the top of the banyan.

Salea'aula Lava Fields

A dramatically bleak area covered in black rock, once a community but covered in lava by the eruption of the Matavanu volcano in 1906. The only building still standing from the village is the church. It's possible to explore the 'lava tubes', caves formed underneath the lava.

Manono Island

Manono is Samoa's 'third island'. A large islet situated halfway between the main islands of Upolu and Savai'i, known for being an outpost of the traditional Samoan way of life. Visitors are welcome, traffic is not.



Events and Festivals

Apia Arts and Crafts Festival

The Apia Arts and Crafts Fair is a busy festival every March. It is located in the capital city of Samoa, and not only focuses on local artistic talent, but also traditional handicrafts from across the nine islands of Samoa. Visitors should head to the local markets in Apia to experience this event at its best.

Samoa International Game Fishing Tournament

In the month of April, Samoa plays host to the International Game Fishing Tournament. The event actually spans across an entire week, encompassing the final days of April and the first few days of May. The abundance of clear skies, beautiful waters, and challenging game fish species makes Samoa a perfect spot for this famous tournament.

Fire Knife Festival

The interesting Fire Knife Festival is part of the much more renowned Samoa Festival, which is held in the month of May. The competition is held in the Polynesian Cultural Center, and includes both adult entrants and high school entrants. Of course, there are plenty of other traditional cultural displays found throughout the event.

Fautasi Outrigger Canoe

One of the best sporting events in the country is the Fautasi Outrigger Canoe competition. Occurring in the month of June, this outrigger race has become the most loved water race in Samoa. The competition begins at the north coast of Upolu, but then ends at Apia Harbor. Twelve long boats compete in the event each year.

Independence Day

On the 31 May every year, Samoa celebrates its independence from New Zealand administration. The entire country gets into the festive mood on this day, with traditional dances, artwork, cuisine, and music available for all locals and tourists. Even the smaller villages get into the spirit of this occasion, so visitors can enjoy Samoan Independence wherever they stay.

Tafesilafa’i Festival

Held over the last 16 years, the Tafesilafa’i Festival is a celebration of Pacific Island culture. Tourists flock from all over the Pacific to witness the cultural spectacle that is Tafesilafa’i. The event begins at the end of July and spans the first week of August. More than 28,000 visitors come for part or all of the festival each year.

Teuila Festival

Teuila Festival is Samoa’s main event. A range of fascinating cultural happenings are found during September’s Teuila Festival, including cuisine displays, traditional dance performances, canoe racing and more. The event usually lasts for several days, and is most prevalent in the capital city of Samoa, Apia.

Apia Jazz Festival

Jazz performers are drawn to Apia in September, as this is when the city hosts its annual Jazz Festival. Several different spots are home to the best in jazz music during this month. Even some of the more famous jazz musicians from across the globe love to make their way to Samoa for the event.




Samoa has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures hoover around 30 °C throughout the year and never drop much lower than 23 or 24 °C at night. Temperatures are slightly higher during the wetter November to March period and slightly lower between April and October. This last period is the best season to visit as it rains less (but still significantly) and there is almost no chance of hurricanes, which can strik from December to March. There is always some relief of the heat by constant sea breezes. Note that the interior of Samoa might be slightly cooler because of its height.



Getting There

By Plane

Most travellers arrive at Faleolo Airport (APW), about 30 kilometres from the capital Apia. The national airine is Polynesian Airlines, with flights from Apia to Tonga, Niue and American Samoa. Also, Polynesian Blue serves Samoa, mainly to and from Auckland and Sydney.
There are many flights with Pacific Blue and Air New Zealand from Australia (mainly Sydney) and New Zealand (mainly Auckland).

By Boat

Samoa - American Samoa vv
The only option to get to American Samoa from Samoa is by taking the MV Lady Naomi. It operates between the capital of Samoa, Apia, and Pago Pago once a week departing Apia every Wednesday at midnight returning from Pago Pago every Thursday at 3:30pm, taking around 7 hours to complete the journey. Expect rough rides now and then. Although it costs about half compared to a plane ticket, it is rather basic and takes much much longer of course. The return deck/cabin fare from American Samoa is US$75/100 and tickets have to be purchased at least one day in advance from Polynesia Shipping Services.

Samoa - Tokelau vv
Three cargo ships sail between Apia in Samoa and Tokelau. Bookings for the 20-hour (or more, this is to the nearest atoll, Fakaofo) trip can be made in Apia at the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (685-20822, 71805; [email protected]; PO Box 865, Apia, 8:00am-5:00pm Monday to Friday). Sailings are usually fortnightly (2-3 times a month) but sometimes there are more sailings. Return deck/cabin fares are NZ$290/530 per adult; children half price. The MV Tokelau makes the trip to Tokelau every two or three weeks and in n addition, there are larger, passenger/cargo vessels that are hired to make the round trip every month or so. If you have a choice go for a hired vessel as they are more comfortable and have more passenger bunks than the one-cabin MV Tokelau.



Getting Around

By Plane

Polynesian Airlines flies between Apia on Upolu and the island of Savaii several times a day. There are two airports served on Upolu and tow on Savaii. Also, there are flights between the two airports on Savaii.

By Car

You can rent cars on both the islands of Upolu and Savaii. Several agencies have offices on the aiports or in the capital Apia. Of course, it is one of the best ways to get around, although a taxi with driver comes at about the same price. Roads are twisty but generally in good shape. You need to buy a local driver license as well.

Note that from the 7th of September 2009, people have to drive on the left side of the road instead of the right. This has been changed mainly because the change will mean that 170,000 expatriate Samoans who live in Australia and New Zealand, which both drive on the left, will be able to send home cheap right-hand drive vehicles. It will also mean that inexpensive used cars can be imported from Japan, where driving is on the left as well. Most vehicles currently in Samoa are left-hand drive models imported from the United States and nearby American Samoa. Although one-fifth of the population was against the new rule, Samoa has now been the first country ever to switch from right to left driving and the first one to change at all since Ghana in 1974. Opponents say that there will be a higher chance of crashes, especially during the time that many cars are still lefthand steered. Also, local car dealers and bus companies will have negative financial consequences because they need to change there car/bus stock.

By Bus

Buses are a good, albeit time-consuming, way of getting around most of the main islands. There is no fixed timetable and you can get on and of the bus almost anywhere. It is cheap but unreliable but is a very great experience and gives you the opportunity to travel like the locals and have a talk with them. Maybe you will be invited! Most buses terminate and originate in Apia on the island of Upolu.

By Boat

There is a car ferry service between Upolu and Savaii, plying the 22 kilometres across Apolima Strait between the two islands. Tickets cost ST9/65 per person/car. Large ferries depart the Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu and the Salelologa Wharf on Savai'i every two hours between 6:00am and 4:00pm Wednesday to Monday, while a smaller ferry services this route at less regular intervals on Tuesday. Vehicles should be prebooked through the Samoa Shipping Corporation. The voyage takes about 1 hour.



Red Tape

Visas are not required by anyone except for inhabitants of American Samoa. You can stay for 60 days, unless you are a citizen of a Schengen member state, in which case you can stay for up to 90 days. For more requirements and information check the Samoa Immigration website.




See also Money Matters

The tālā is the currency of Samoa. It is divided into 100 sene. It is variously written as WST, WS$ or SAT.

There are coins of 10, 20, 50 sene, 1 and 2 tālā and banknotes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 tālā.





The country's native language is Samoan (a Polynesian language). English is widely understood and spoken in the capital, Apia, as well as in many tourist resorts. However, it is less commonly understood in the villages, so learning a few words of Samoan can really help.




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.




Beach fales are an enjoyable and inexpensive way to stay in Samoa. 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. There is also a good range of resorts, hotels and guest houses in Samoa. A large number have been constructed in recent years.




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.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Samoa. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Samoa) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Samoa. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety

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. The biggest danger tourists face is not from humans, but rather from dogs, who roam in packs and can get very aggressive. The risk of a dog attack should not be underestimated. Travel by taxi after dark and always carry a pointed object while out walking. If you find yourself surrounded, kneel down as if you are picking up a rock.



Keep Connected

Internet, and Lesamoa are the Internet Service Providers. There are several public Internet access points in Apia, where fast, reliable access can be had for around 12 tala (4 US dollars) per hour. There are a couple of internet cafes on Savaii. If planning to stay in remote parts of Upolu or Savaii and you cannot survive without your daily internet fix then check in advance with the hotel to make sure it has wifi. Most don't.


See also International Telephone Calls

Samoa's international telephone code is 685. Samoa has an adequate telephone system with international calling. Some villages have public phones available and require a pre-paid phone card.



  1. 1 2008 estimate, Samoa Department of Statistics

Quick Facts

Samoa flag

Map of Samoa


Constitutional monarchy under native chief
188 350 [1]
Samoan, English
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Samoan Tala (WST)
Calling Code
Time Zone


as well as Peter (7%), magykal1 (7%), Hien (1%), mojorob (<1%)

Samoa Travel Helpers

  • maorigirl

    Can recommend tips and info on following places: Cairo, Sharm el sheik, Luxor, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Samoa, Gold Coast Australia and some of North Island NZ.

    Can recommend tips on budget accomodation and general advice. Travelled here for weekend with my daughter who was 4 years old at the time and always felt really safe. Only stayed on main island - have not travelled to Savaii.

    Ask maorigirl a question about Samoa

    I spent 5 weeks in this paradise and was even adopted by a high-chief. Can give advice on Upolu and Savaii islands and customs. This place is Polynesia at it's best, especially Savaii.

    Ask SLOAN a question about Samoa

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