Apia is the capital city of Samoa, one of the South Pacific island nations. Sharing the same archipelago with the territory American Samoa, Samoa is a proud independent nation with strong Polynesian roots. Apia sits in the center of the northern coast on Upolu, one of the two largest islands in Samoa.
A visit to Samoa is sure to be filled with incredible beauty, authentic Fa’a Samoa (The Samoan Way) experiences, and hopefully plenty of relaxation and tropical food. We always love our time in Apia, and hope to share some of our tips and tricks below for you to enjoy as well.
In the following guide to Apia, Samoa travel we outline recommendations for the best Apia accommodation, Apia restaurants, and things to do in Apia. If you’re looking for experiences beyond Apia, you can find our favorite spots around Upolu in our Samoa Vacation Guide.
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Guide to Apia Samoa Travel
When planning our first trip to Samoa, we found most online resources were focused on activities around Upolu and Savai’i (Samoa’s other large island). With the large size of the Samoan islands, some activities could be hours from Apia! Additionally, flight itineraries often dictate an overnight stay in Apia while flying through Samoa, so we’re sharing our guide to Apia to help you enjoy and navigate Apia itself.
Logistics for Apia, Samoa Travel
The currency of the country is the Samoan Tala (WST). As with every foreign country travel experience, do your research ahead of time to determine your personal bank fees to see if they are better or worse than having your cash exchanged. When this article was updated (August 2020), the current USD to WST conversion is 1 : 2.61 .
The Faleolo International Airport has both a Western Union and an ANZ Bank ATM. There are two ANZ Bank ATMs in downtown Apia, on Beach Rd.
If you want to rely on internet services during your trip, the most inexpensive way is to bring along an unlocked cell phone and purchase a local SIM card.
BlueSky and Digicel have mobile services in Samoa. Both are easily found at “Top Up” stations at the frequent convenience stores throughout Apia. Our preference is Digicel, as they often give you a few free GBs when you add money to your SIM. Don’t forget to pack your electric adapter to keep your electronics fully charged (our favorite Conair version has been going strong for a few years).
Book your Apia Travel Insurance before departing, preferably as soon as your reservations are made. Take a look at quotes from our partners at World Nomads to make sure you are fully covered during your travels.
Apia’s international airport (Faleolo) sits 45 minutes to the west of central Apia. Flights to Samoa arrive daily from New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga. Commuter flights arrive multiple times a day from neighboring American Samoa.
To help you plan, we’ve written a detailed article Flights to Samoa on the airlines servicing Samoa.
Getting Around Apia
Your travel itinerary before or after your time in Apia will likely dictate your mode of transportation. Taxis, car rentals, and buses are the three motorized options in Apia. If you would rather travel by foot, most locations in Apia central are not terribly far apart, and roads typically have sidewalks for easy walking.
If you want to avoid renting a car, taxis are readily available around Apia, and very inexpensive. We’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes before an available taxi drives by. If we’re taking a taxi to the outskirts of town (such as Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, see below) we will grab the taxi drivers number and call back when we’re ready to head into town.
Fares in and around town have cost us between 4 and 10 Tala each ride, but typically 5-7 Tala is the range we see. For the 45-60 minute taxi ride between Apia and Faleolo (international) airport, fares are typically 70-80 Tala one way. Scheduling with a driver ahead of time for your transport from Apia to Faleolo is the safest bet. Allow plenty of time for the trip, as simple accidents or heavy rain can slow traffic considerably on the small island roads.
Samoa car rentals are abundant in Apia, and prices start around 90 Tala per day. When planning, keep in mind that Samoans drive on the left side of the road and the driver seat is on the right side of the car. Be sure to book an automatic car (there are some manual shifts at the rentals) if you are not used to left side driving.
If you are flying into Faleolo Internation Airport and plan to book a car, most car rental companies are based in Apia town. Some companies will offer their services to pick you up at the airport and drive you to their office to pick up the rental. Take a look at the prices before committing, as we find the cost of a taxi is cheaper.
For the most economical and Samoan experience, try your hand at the local bus system around Apia. If you’re interested, Samoa Tourism’s page has bus schedules and navigation tips.
As with most destinations, there is a wide range of Apia accommodation options. If you’re looking for an Apia, Samoa resorts experience, take a look at Taumeasina Island Resort or the Sheraton Aggie Grey’s, both in the heart of Apia. There are also plenty of mid-range hotels in Apia to choose from.
Budget Guide to Apia Samoa Accommodation
Instead of luxury, perhaps you’re of our same opinion where we would rather pay for simple and clean and leave the extra money for plane tickets! Below are three AirBnbs that we’ve personally stayed in and can recommend. All three locations have air conditioning in the bedrooms, basic kitchen necessities, easy to work with hosts, and accommodated our family of four.
Head over to a local grocery store to stock up on kitchen necessities, but make sure to source your produce from the Fugalei Market (see below for description) for the best value and flavor.
Taumeasina Cottage 2-Apia Park
Taumeasina Cottage 2-Apia Park is located very close to the heart of Apia, and we were able to walk to the majority of our destinations. The cottage is recently upgraded, and the smaller rooms give a cozy feel. If you are planning on spending a large amount of time at the cottage during the day, this might not be your ideal booking. The neighbors enjoy their loud music during daylight hours, but are respectful and turn it off by bedtime.
Lelata Studio is located just a little further inland from the heart of Apia, but still a quick taxi ride from everything you might need or a longer walk to your destinations. Rooms are large and spacious, and recently upgraded.
Holiday Makers Paradise Vaitele-tai
Holiday Makers Paradise Vaitele-tai is an entire home, about 15 minutes outside the heart of Apia towards the Faleolo airport. There is plenty of room in the house and surrounding grounds for kids to stretch. This home is best if you have a rental car or just staying for a night since it’s away from Apia’s main attractions. There is a grocery store within walking distance, and taxis as always are easy to catch.
Cafes and restaurants are abundant in Apia, but take care to plan your eating out in advance. Most are closed on Sundays, and many restaurants are closed for lunch and do not open until 5:00 PM or later. The Samoan SIM card really comes in handy when we are researching where to eat out or calling to verify the location is open!
Coffee and Breakfast
Our favorite go to spots in Apia are Nourish Cafe and Milani Cafe. They both have an excellent combination of delicious coffee and appealing breakfast options. Both of course are closed on Sunday!
On our most recent Apia trip, we discovered Coffee Roaster Samoa that is thankfully open Sundays. As the name implies, the cafe (located on Togafu’afu’a Road in Apia) is also a coffee roaster with an owner committed to fresh and delicious coffee. Plus the food is tasty at Coffee Roaster Samoa!
Another Sunday morning option is the extensive brunch at Sheraton Aggie Grey’s Hotel. Come hungry as the buffet selection is both delicious and extensive!
Giordano’s Pizzeria is definitely a local favorite of ours, with an inviting outdoor seating area and open on Sundays!
For a fine dining dinner out, Paddles right at the waterfront has always been an outstanding dining experience for us. In addition to stellar food, they cater to families and bring out appetizers and meals in lightening speed to keep traveling kids in a positive attitude!
Guide to Apia’s Local Attractions
Planning one day around Apia, or a few? There is so much to see and do around the city, and we’ve always found something to fill our time.
Samoa Cultural Village
The best first stop in Apia is the Samoa Cultural Village. The village hosts free interpretive tours three days a week beginning at 10:30 AM, complete with a traditional Samoan meal at the end. The engaging staff walks you through the history behind traditional tattoo and then moves on to all the steps involved in preparing an umu. Umus are traditional earth ovens, and the Samoan Cultural Village shows you both the ingredient preparations and the steps of building the oven.
Next step is to watch traditional wood carvers and see the wide variety of pieces they make, plus heard about the tradition behind them.
The cultural tour finishes up with a detailed presentation on making tapa, or traditional bark cloth. The presentation starts with a stick of Paper Mulberry tree, and ends with a printed square of tapa. It’s a phenomenal process to watch, and impressively time consuming to think about all the details that go into traditional Samoan wear.
Try and time your trip to the cultural village at the start of your trip to Apia and Samoa. It will set the tone for your time in Samoa, and help you understand fa’a Samoan (the Samoan way). Set aside two hours for the full tour and meal.
We loved our time at the Cultural Village so much that we wrote a detailed post with more pictures and details: Visiting the Samoa Cultural Village
Immaculate Conception Cathedral
The Catholic Church in downtown Apia, right across the street from the Samoan Cultural Village. This stunning Church is open for the public to wander inside and admire its beautiful walls and ornate wooden ceiling. There is no fee to enter the church, but donations are accepted.
Apia Town Clock Tower and Daily Flag Raising
While in downtown Apia, make sure to wander down the street to the beautiful clock tower in the center roundabout. It stands as a memorial for lives lost in the Influenza epidemic of 1918, and the Samoans who fought in World War I.
Time your visit to a weekday morning at 8:45 AM, and catch the Royal Samoan Police marching band as they head down beach road and to the Samoa Government Building. They play the national anthem while raising the flag at the government building.
Fugalei Market is located in the center of Apia, and filled with all the local produce in season. Regulars such as bananas, papaya, coconut, breadfruit, citrus, greens, and eggplant are always available. Depending on the season, you might find starfruit, pineapple, avocado, passion fruit, mango, or plenty of other specialty fruits. There are also stands selling prepared traditional Samoan foods.
The market is open every day of the week, and convenient for purchasing snacks or stocking up your AirBnb fridge. About half of the market space is dedicated to wares and trinkets. It’s a perfect place to buy a Samoan souvenir, or enjoyable to just wander down the aisles.
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve is located just outside the main road in Apia, and is a stark contrast to the city streets you’ll be walking. The reserve is an incredible array of dense corals and reef fish. Some of the best we’ve seen in Samoa! A large reef flat at Palolo Deep opens up to a deep blue hole lined with vibrant corals.
Time your visit with high tide, otherwise the water depth over the reef heading to and from the drop off will be too shallow to swim over. Also be aware of the tide height for that day, as a lower high tide will mean less time at the drop off. We use Tide Forecast to help us plan out tide dependent activities.
The swim out to the drop is not terribly long (about 100 yards), but the current can be quite strong. As such, this is not a beginner swim. With the current and length, swim fins (flippers) are a must. Snorkel gear is available for rent if you are not packing yours, but we observed the rental gear looked to be poor quality.
We are firm believers in proper fitting snorkel gear for kids, so they can enjoy their surroundings instead of being irritated by constantly leaking masks. Take a look at our review of the best snorkel sets for kids that include dive fins that small enough for packing!
If you are visiting Palolo Deep with young children who are not yet strong enough for the swim out to the hole, the edge of the reef (about 25 yard swim) does have a nice selection of corals reef life to view.
Museum of Samoa
The Museum of Samoa is located in central Apia, and showcases the history time line of Samoan occupation, through independence, and into today. There is also a display of pottery and stone adzes dating back 3000 years ago.
The five museum rooms are relatively quick to move through. We were there for about an hour with thorough reading of the placards. There is no fee to enter the church, but donations are accepted.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
In 1890, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson moved to Samoa and its warm climate to help him cope with tuberculosis. Here he built an extravagant mansion in the village of Vailima, on the hillside above Apia. He was much loved by Samoans, and resided in Vailima until his death five years later.
Stevenson’s home is now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. The tour of includes family history, Samoan stories of the time period, and European and Samoan cultural artifacts. The grounds around the home contain beautiful botanical gardens.
Stevenson’s grave is set on top of Mt. Vaea, and can be access by hiking trails leaving from the home. The hike is a steep 0.8 km if you take the short route, or a gentler 2.4 km for the longer route. Views along the trail and at the top are gorgeous, and well worth the effort.
See More on the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Papase’ea Sliding Rocks
Papase’ea Sliding Rocks are a 10-15 minute drive above Apia. They are a series of river worn sloped rocks, that are often used as the name suggests. For sliding!
While the site was beautiful and worth the time and effort to hike down and back up, we did not at all find the rocks to be remotely safe for sliding. Perhaps it was the low water level when we visited, but we’ve since heard stories of quite a few emergency evacuations from the slides. If you’re contemplating sliding down, check ahead of time to see if your health insurance covers emergency medical evacuation for off island treatment!
Heading to Samoa?
Are you planning a trip to Samoa and found this guide to Apia useful? We’d love to hear from you with questions or comments!
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