The Independent State of Samoa, also known as Samoa, is an independent nation that makes up one part of the Samoan Islands, which are located in the South Pacific ocean. Samoa has probably a few of the most stunning landscapes of the South Pacific region. Extinct craters, lava tubes, brilliant marine life, steep trails, and huge plantations are just some of what you can expect to see in this Polynesian country. Samoa has two major islands: Savai’i and Upolu. Savai’i is one of the largest islands in the region. Apia is the capital of the country and is located on Upolu.
Almost all of the population of Samoa follows Christianity. The official languages of the nation are English and Samoan. Tattoos are also a part of the Samoan culture and these tattoos are different for men and women. The tattoos have a geometric design; men’s tattoos are called Pe’a whereas women’s tattoos are known as malu. Sunday is the day of worship and almost everything shuts down on this day. Samoan villages are very traditional; it is recommended that you do not walk through them on Sundays. Further, there is usually a half an hour long curfew (for prayer) at sundown everyday in a number of villages; avoid walking around during curfew.
The villages still have a chief, called matai and follow a number of traditions. It is best to comply with these; foreigners are, at times, given some amount of leeway but you should still not wear clothing which is revealing and should try to follow all the rules that are set in place by the matai. Apia, unlike other places in Samoa, is slightly less traditional and does not enforce strict etiquette rules. Nudity and even going topless (in the case of women) is not acceptable. If you find difficulty in deciding what to wear, try a lavalava, which is a traditional attire.
Samoa is filled with places to explore – national parks, waterfalls, blowholes, caves, lava fields, traditional villages, beaches, and museums. In Savai’i, for instance, you can explore a kilometer long cave called The Dwarves Cave or a lava cave near Letui village called Peapea Cave. Alofaaga blowholes, which are near Taga (a village) are a must see. From Paia Village, a three hour long walk will take you to the lava fields of Mt. Matavanu. For history and archeology buffs, there is an attraction called Pulumelel Ancient Mound, which is Polynesia’s largest ancient structure. You can also visit the lava fields of Sale’aula as well as the Falealupo and the Tafua Rainforest Preserves.
In Upolu, the Lake Lanoto’o National Park is a good place to visit; it is home to a rare swamp forest ecosystem. If you are looking for beaches, then you must go to Lalomanu. In Apia, you can find the house and grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. Apia also houses the Museum of Samoa. Mt. Fito is Samoa’s highest mountain, having an altitude of 1100 m. The mountain is located in a national park called O Le Pupu-Pui. Other attractions include Piula cave pool and Manono Island.
In Samoa, food brings friends and family together. Seafood, fruits and vegetables are the major food items. Some of the popular seafood include snapper, crayfish, octopus, masimasi and tuna. Most of them are caught fresh everyday for the meals. Yams, talo (also called taro), coconut, bananas and breadfruit are some of the fruits and vegetables that are cultivated on the island and used in preparation of food. Coconut, in particular, is used as an ingredient in many of the local dishes.
On Sundays, lunch, which is called toano’i, is a social event during which several families get together and eat food made in umu (earth oven). Meal includes a whole pig, an array of seafood items and baked taro. In traditional cooking, hardly any oil is used. There are two local delicacies that should be tried at least once. The first is called palusami – a dish, which has a rich taste that is made with taro leaves that are cooked in coconut cream. The second dish is oka – it is a raw fish, like tuna, and also cooked in coconut cream. There are two local alcoholic drinks that you can try: the Kava and the Vailima beer. Corned beef is also taken as an accompaniment to many dishes.
In Apai, at 6 in the morning of every Sunday, a fish market materializes. In this market, locals buy fish for the toano’i. A visit to the fish market can be quite an experience. When in Samoa, do go and see a “fia fia”, which literally means happy, and which Samoans construe as partying. During a fia fia, you get to witness traditional dancing, music and singing, drumming, as well as the fire-knife dance. Apia also has a flea market and a new market; both of them sell local handicrafts. Snorkeling and fishing are also good activities to undertake while in Apia.
In Savai’i, you can swim with turtles in the Satoalepal turtle reserve. If you are an experienced surfer, then beaches in Savai’i are good places to surf. You can also try your hand at diving. You can try surfing and diving in Upolu as well; note again that you should be an experienced surfer to try surfing in these waters. One other thing that you can partake in when in Upolu is golf – there are a couple of courses near Apia.
The Faleolo International Airport is the major point of entry into Samoa if you intend to fly in to the country. The airport is around 45 minutes away from Apia. Faleolo is well connected to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. If you are flying in from the American Samoa, then you can fly in to the Fagalii airport. Arriving in the morning will give you brilliant views of Samoa. You can also get in to Samoa by a boat, which is operated by MV Tokelau, from Tokelau.
There are four main ways of moving around in Samoa. Note that from 2009 onwards, traffic has been moving on the left side of the road. Taxis are the best way to move around; they are inexpensive and are available in plenty. You can also rent a car, but you will need to first obtain a driving license; international license in not recognized. If you want a memorable traveling experience, then try riding a bus. There are no set schedules and buses leave only after they get filled. Buses are available on both Savai’i and Upolu. The other way to move around is by cycle; before deciding to cycle around, keep in mind that there are a number of steep uphill sections on both islands.
If you are in possession of a valid passport, you are entitled to a 30-day visa-free visit to Samoa. Furthermore, if you are from the Schengen region, then you can stay for 90 days. You can receive a visitor’s permit on arrival in Samoa for a period of 60 days – there are, of course, a bunch of conditions that need to be met. While arriving and leaving, you have to submit arrival and departure declarations. The local currency is called Tala. It is illegal to partake in business transactions in any currency other than the Tala. Samoa has tropical climate with average temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) around the year; October to March is the rainy season and the rest of the year is the dry season.
It should be noted that some travellers experience an allergic reaction to Kava. There has also been a Chikungunya outbreak in Samoa in January 2015. While Malaria does not exist in the country, Dengue fever does. Protecting yourself from mosquito bites, therefore, is essential. You can find one hospital in Savai’i (in Tuasivi) and two hospitals in Apai.