Apia was founded in the 1850s and has been the official capital of Samoa since 1959.
The harbour was the site of an infamous naval standoff in 1889 when seven ships from Germany, the US, and Britain refused to leave the harbor as a typhoon was approaching, for fear of losing face. All the ships were sunk, except for one British cruiser. Nearly 200 American and German lives were lost. Eventually, New Zealand occupied the area after World War I. During the struggle for independence organised by the Mau movement, a peaceful gathering in the town resulted in the killing of the paramount chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III and ten others by New Zealand police on 28 December 1929. The country attained independence in 1962.
As with most Pacific Island capitals, Apia is a little shabby and run down. Reasonably small in size and with few obvious attractions, Apia is very useful as an initial stop-off point for first time visitors to get their bearings, plan travel around the island of Upolu, organise accommodation on the beach, and recover from jet lag. Most of Samoa's highlights are outside the town, although many are within a very short drive.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Located just 13 degrees south of the Equator, Apia's climate is tropical with constant temperatures around the year. The amount of precipitation varies throughout the year; from December to March over 300 mm of rain per month can be expected while it's a bit dryer during the southern hemisphere winter.
- 1 STA Visitor Information Fale, Beach Rd, Matafele (next to the government building on the harbour), ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 09:00-17:00 Sa 08:00-12:00. The Samoa Tourism Authority has an information centre offering maps, brochures and other information for tourists.
- 1 Faleolo Airport (APW IATA), Main West Coast Rd, Faleolo (about 32 km (20 mi) west of Apia), ☏ . Outside the terminal are the normal stream of taxis, which cost between $30 and $50 for a ride into Apia. Several hotels operate shuttle buses for guests. Arrange this in advance, as the scrum of arriving passengers and eager taxi drivers can be confusing when a whole planeload of tourists step outside to the small drop off/pick up point.
Occasional cargo ships dock at Apia port on their way around the world. A twice monthly ferry sails to Tokelau. Yachties can berth in Apia Harbour, where there are good facilities.
The aptly named Cross Island Road connects the southern villages on the island of Upolu with Apia.
Much of Apia is within walking distance, although this coulbe be an uncomfortable experience on a hot and humid Samoan Day. Another thing to consider is the number of aggressive stray dogs towards dusk and in the evening. A walk from the suburbs into the centre is best avoided at night for this reason.
Taxis are cheap, safe and easy to hail down but single women are advised to sit in the back seat, particularly if wearing a short skirt. Ridesharing services including Uber and Lyft have become common means of transport in Apia too.
Buses fan out to the whole of Upolu from Apia. If you are staying at a hotel outside the centre of the town it may be possible to get there by bus. Ask at your hotel.
- 1 Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Cross Island Rd, Valima (About 5 km south of town in the village of Vailima), ☏ . 09.00-16.00 Mon-Fri; 09.00-12.00 Sat.. This was built by RLS, the author most known for Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, during the final years of his life, which he spent in Apia. It was said to be the only place that he or his wife ever truly called home. Although none of his most famous works were written here, he did write some short stories here, including "The Bottle Imp", which he wrote specifically for the Samoans and Pacific Islanders. The Samoan translation of this story became the first work of literature to be written into Samoan (excluding the Bible) and the only work by Stevenson to be translated into Samoan within his lifetime. The house is now a very well-kept museum with a good collection of items either originally from the home or equivalents. $15.
- 2 Robert Louis Stevenson's grave. Located at the top of Mount Vaea overlooking the home, it is best visited in the early morning. As long as there has not been a lot of rain the longer and shallower path takes about an hour and is an easy walk. The steep path downhill is an option if it has been dry recently. Take water. From the grave, there are good views to the east and across the Pacific. There is no charge to climb to the grave.
- 3 Falemata'aga - Museum of Samoa (Ministry of Education, Sports & Culture compound, Malifa (Cnr Ififi/Vaitele streets) in the old German school building), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 10.00-16.30 Mon-Fri. The country's national museum is housed in an over-hundred-year old colonial building that was once a German school. Among other things the museum has Lapita pottery and stone adze heads, used by the early settlers to the islands; a good selection of historical photos; information about tattoos, and examples of Samoan birds. Entry is free though donations are welcome.
- 4 The fish market. 06:00 on Sunday morning. This is when the locals go to buy fish for the special meal of the week, Sunday tonai.
- 5 Mulinu'u peninsula. Holds the parliament house, the law and titles court, the historic observatory, and many important tombs.
- 6 Clock tower. Built as a war memorial, the clock tower is regarded as the central point of the city.
- 7 Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Catholic cathedral and one of the bigger buildings in the town, also its cupols and ornaments sets it apart from the rest of the city's buildings. It was finished in the mid 19th century, badly damaged in the 2009 earthquake, and reopened after renovation and extension in 2014.
- 8 Apia Samoa Temple. The Latter Day Saints church west of Apia was opened in 1983 and is with its 75-metre high spire another place of worship that's also a remarkable landmark. Like other LDS Church temples, only members in good standing may enter, but anyone can walk the grounds.
- A walk along the sea wall is enjoyable. But only on a milder day (i.e. 25 degrees), and not after dusk because of the dogs. Many Apians walk along the sea wall in the late afternoon.
- 1 Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, Vaiala Beach, Apia. The only beach in Apia to the East of the harbour. Not really much a beach, though, it's mostly coral gravel. It's an official underwater park. The snorkelling initially seems pretty poor but if you venture further out (probably a good quarter mile swim) it gets a bit more interesting with the occasional turtle and black tip reef shark. Ask at the entrance where to swim - there's a marker post that helps. If you are stuck in Apia it's not a bad way to kill a few hours or just hang out at the "beach". You can rent snorkels here although it's a good idea to take your own. Also check the tide chart at the gate before you pay, at low tide there is a long paddle out over very sharp coral to get anywhere deep enough to snorkel. $3 USD.
- Fishing. Samoa is a popular fishing destination and most of the charter companies operate out of Apia. The Samoan International Game Fishing Association is based near the port and can provide information about boat companies. Every year it runs an International tournament, attracting anglers from all over the world. Fish in the local waters include blue and black marlin, sailfish, yellowfin, and the giant trevally. Charter companies include:
- Golf. Two courses are close to Apia: the Royal Samoan Country Club near Fagalii Airport and the Faleata Golf Club, which is close to the sports complex constructed for the South Pacific Games.
- 2 Vailima Brewery Tour, Vailima, Upolu (10 minute drive west of Apia), ☏ . Make reservations because tours are only given on certain days. Samples of the German style lager can be tasted straight from the vat. Free.
- 3 Apia Park, ☏ . One of the major sporting venues in Apia. Mainly used to hold rugby union matches but also association football matches and athletic events. Capacity is 12,000.
Markets in Apia host many interesting stalls and locally made souvenirs. Note however, that many of the items on sale, such as cloth in Samoan patterns, are actually imported from China.
- 1 Flea market. The flea market nearby the fish market to the west of the Clock Tower, sells a variety of local handicrafts and imported items.
- 2 Fresh produce market. The new market or marketi fou is a traditional market selling all sorts of local produce as well as some handicrafts. One section sells kava by the cup.
- 3 Fish Market. The seafood here is at its freshest on Sunday morning as early as 05:00. You will find yellow fin tuna, eels, octopus, crabs, lobsters, sea urchins among other delicacies.
There are numerous restaurants that cater for locals on a budget and will sell the sort of food that is eaten in the average household. Beer and soft drinks are available at most places. The menu is likely to include chop suey, chicken curry, and mutton flaps. Umu or earth oven cooked local food include roast pig, and the great delicacy, palusami. Palusami is made of an onion and coconut cream filling with a meat (usually corned beef, chicken or fish), all wrapped up in new taro leaves and baked. This is a "must try" and goes well with taro.
Remember that restaurants tend to close early by Western standards and that, with a few exceptions, the restaurants in the big hotels are the only ones open on Sunday. There are no street numbers in Apia so you will have to ask for directions if you do not take a taxi. The town is divided into lots of smaller villages and the restaurant location is given by village, road (e.g. Beach Road, which is a couple of miles long), or the building, which is not of much use to foreigners.
- 1 Amanis Restaurant, Fugalei St (from farmer Joe's supermarket, 200m more inland, on the right just before Tatiana motel), ☏ . Breakfast/Lunch only. Delicious local food by the scoop for takeaway or eat-in. Good Oka! $4-20.
- 2 Burger Bills, Vaitele St, Vaitele (At farmer Joe's supermarket), ☏ . Serves hefty portions of well seasoned fish and chips, fried chicken and chips and cheeseburgers. It's a challenge to finish the jumbo sized drinks. Limited options for vegetarians/vegans.
- The Curry House Restaurant, Cross Island Rd, Papaloloa, ☏ . M-F noon-22:00 Sa 16:00-22:00. Arguably the most authentic Indian cuisine in Apia.
- 3 Kokobanana Bar & Grill, Cross Island Road (just before Vailima), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 17:00-21:30. Premier steakhouse with impressive seafood too. Try the lobster.
- 4 Italiano Cafe. The Italiano Café on the beach road, halfway between the tourist office and Aggie Grey's has decent pizzas for $18/27/36 (small/med/large). A “medium” is enough for 2!
- At the Flea Market and at Marketi Fou there are lots of food stalls selling local food, mostly fried stuff. "The Samoan pancakes" (small fried banana dough balls) are delicious and cost 10 sene each.
- 5 Marketi Fou, Saleufi Street (Entering Apia from the Airport, turn right at Mr Lava Lava). Mon - Sat. The main produce market in Apia. Operates 6 days a week with a few additional traders on a Saturday. A great selection of local food and exotic fruits, including fresh limes, mango, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, soursop, breadfruit, coconut, taro, leafy greens, and several varieties of banana (including red ones). Absolutely try the palusami (taro leaves baked in coconut cream). It's a good idea to stock up on fruit here before heading anywhere on the islands.
- 6 Sails Restaurant, Beach Road, Mulinu'u Apia (on waterfront just past Parliament House), ☏ . M-Sa 11:00 util late, Su (dinner only) from 18:00. Serves seafood, steak, salad and a variety of pastas. Jazz nights, huge deck overlooking the harbour, very friendly service. $8-45.
- 7 Seafood Gourmet, Beach Rd (near the wharf). Good food for reasonable prices and provides a view over the harbour
- 8 Hotel Amanaki (on the beach road, towards the Mulinu'u peninsula, the second one after the park). Decent food for decent prices ($20 for fish steak w/fries). A popular meeting place for locals and ex-pats.
- 9 Paddles, Beach Rd (Far end of Beach Road close to the harbour.), ☏ . Popular, if slightly overrated, Italian-style restaurant.
- 10 Bistro Tatau, Beach Road, corner of Fugalei St, ☏ . M-F 12.00-14.00 and 18.30-21.00. Dinner only on Sa. Australian-run restaurant that is often considered to be the closest to Michelin quality in the city. Guys running the place reportedly a bit distant.
- 11 Apaula Heights Lounge, Mt Vaea, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Has a bar rthat affords views across the eastern part of Apia and the Pacific. The food is above average standard for Apia and prices range from $30-70 a main course.
- 12 Giordano's, Falealili St (2km south of Beach Road on the Cross Island Road), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Italian restaurant famous for its pizza. Vegetarian friendly.
- If you are wandering around town and absolutely stuck for a place to eat, the most westerly and remote McDonald's in the world can be found in central Apia.
Alcohol can be bought at almost all restaurants. Soft drinks and bottled water are generally available and safe. While the purity of the tap water is questionable, all factory-bought ice is safe. It is only later handling that can contaminate it.
- Kava at the market. (see Samoa)
- There is a mall (meaning a pedestrian street) in the centre of town with coffee shops, that are great place to sit and watch people passing by.
- 1 Le Well, Fugalei St. Liquor store, sells a good range of spirits and wines that are much cheaper than buying them by the glass from your hotel.
At the end of 2010 the Apia bar scene had been thrown into some confusion by the puritanical tendencies of the Prime Minister, who was trying to get them closed by 22:00. Given the confusion opening hours are not specified here. You should check when you arrive. All bars are closed on Sundays.
There is a string of bars in the centre of town between the fire station and the Australian High Commission. This is a good area to visit in the late afternoon and early evening but is best left before closing time when things can get a bit troublesome.
- 2 Cocktails On the Rocks, Beach Road (just west of the Clock Tower). Well-established cocktail bar, often with some attractive Samoan girls seeking the "company" of foreign tourists.
- 3 RSA Club, Mulinu'u Road. A local club that tends to be a bit rough and ready and caters to an older, beer-drinking clientele, but is a great way to meet locals and chat.
- 4 The Edge Marina View, Beach Rd, ☏ . Restaurant, cocktail bar and event venue with DJs playing Wed to Sat nights
There is no "gay scene" nor gay community per se. In common with much of Polynesia there is widespread acceptance of homosexuality in Samoa. This acceptance of fa'afafine (the way of a woman) owes much to the tradition of raising some boys as girls. In families with all male children parents would often choose one or more of the boys to help the mother. Because they would perform the work of women they were raised as if they were girls. Although their sex was widely known, they would usually be dressed as girls. Many however, would eventually get married to women. Modern fa'afafine are more likely to choose to live as women, and more likely to be homosexual. Boys who appear effeminate may be recognised as fa'afafine by their parents. They will neither be encouraged nor discouraged. Fa'afafine tend to hang out together and bars popular with them tend to change over time.
Gays who are self-aware enough to realize they are gay, and not fa'afafine, may socialise in fa'afafine circles, and thus be more readily recognized as gay. There is an annual fa'afafine pageant.
The welcoming Samoan culture combined with a desire to shine favour from visitors, who are presumed to be very wealthy by comparison, can lead to confusing signals from friendly men.
Lesbianism is much less accepted. While there are lesbians, there is no lesbian scene and nowhere to easily meet Samoan lesbians.
- 1 Samoan Outrigger Hotel, Savalalo Rd (Downtown Apia, near the hospital), ☏ , ✉ Outrigger@samoa.ws. A prime choice for medical students doing their electives at the local hospital. Run by a Danish man and his Samoan wife. Clean and friendly with a pool and beautiful gardens. Option of staying in a traditional fale (very economical) or air conditioned rooms. Discounts can sometimes be negotiated for longer stays during medical electives, etc. Has Lavasoft wifi (paid). $80 for a fale, $150 for single rooms, $200 for a ensuite single with air conditioning.
- 2 Apia Central Hotel, Savalalo Road, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Good value hotel close to downtown. Free WiFi. Non-smoking rooms. rates start from $55 (single room), $60 (double room), $80 (family room).
- 3 Eden's Edge, Togafuafua (A few minutes walk south of the Apia Clock Tower.), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Air-conditioned rooms with an outdoor swimming pool and restaurant.
- 4 Leric Housing Motel, Ifilele St (Turn inland at the Vailima Brewery.), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. With eight two-bedroomed units, the motel styles itself as family friendly. 10 minute drive from downtown Apia. Pool, basketball and tennis courts available.
- 5 Lynn's Getaway, Salenesa Road , Motootua (Down from the hospital and next to Lynn's Supermarket), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Colonial style bed and breakfast. En suite rooms from $ 130 to 150. Complimentary tropical breakfast. Rooms are air conditioned. Has a pool and free WiFi. rates from $130 (room with shared facilities, one person).
- 6 Hotel Elisa, Beach Road, ☏ , (mobile), ✉ email@example.com. Has a restaurant & bar, a meeting room for business travellers and a swimming pool. $250+ but there are also 14 budget rooms.
- 7 Hotel Millenia Samoa, on Mulinu'u Peninsula NW of town centre, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Very nice, air-conditioned rooms and friendly staff. May be slightly expensive for backpackers but if travelling as a couple, then it's reasonably priced. Free breakfast. Short walk to the centre of town. Some rooms have patios overlooking the harbour. Notice that the wi-fi (LavaSpot) isn't free, but don't buy the internet from the desk staff, you can get it cheaper by buying it directly from the intercept page. Room rate is single / double and extra person WS$50. Children under 2 years are free.
- 8 Hotel Tanoa Tusitala, Beach Road, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Completely rebuilt hotel after the former Hotel Tusitala was destroyed by fire. Good quality, spacious rooms in large grounds. Has a main swimming pool, a children's pool, a playground for children, tennis courts, fitness centre. WiFi access is free throughout the hotel but is capped at 1GB per day per room.
- 9 Le Alaimoana Hotel, Main East Coast Rd (almost next door to the UN building), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14.00, check-out: 09.00. Somewhat overpriced hotel for what you get. Convenient for visitors to Apia's large UN headquarters but a short taxi ride ($3) to town if you are a tourist. standard rooms from $195.
Samoa is generally very safe. Locals who strike up a conversation are unlikely to have sinister motives, however you will often be asked for money.
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.
Nearly all of Samoa's nightlife is in Apia, and so, like anywhere in the world around closing time, it can get a bit rowdy. Samoans are, on the whole, extremely friendly and despite their size, remarkably relaxed and gentle people. This does not mean you should let your guard down. Alcohol related violence is a major problem in Samoa.
The concept on ownership in Polynesia is different. Locals believe in sharing everything, and this does mean that items can be swiped. Do not leave anything of value lying around.
Embassies and High Commissions
Only Australia, China, Japan and New Zealand have full diplomatic representation in Apia. The U.S. is represented by the Ambassador in New Zealand but maintains an Embassy in Apia. Britain and some other countries have Deputy High Commissions.
- 2 Australia, Beach Rd, ☏ .
- China, Vailima, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Japan, Level 2, B-Building, SNPF Plaza Savalalo, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- New Zealand, Beach Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- United States, 5th Floor, ACC Building, Matafele, ☏ , (Emergencies), (after hours), ✉ AmEmbApia@state.gov.
Take a local bus, tour or car out and around the island of Upolu. Take the ferry to Savaii and spend a week or two staying in beach fales around the island. Pop across to American Samoa and visit Pago Pago, the inspiration for Somerset Maugham's play "Rain".