Planning a Trip
The friendly staff of the Samoa Tourism Authority, P.O. Box 2272, Apia, Samoa (tel. 63-500; fax 20-886; www.samoa.travel), have free brochures, maps, and other publications available at their office in a handsome Samoan fale on the harbor side of Beach Road, east of the Town Clock. The bureau is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 8am to noon.
The visitors bureau has offices in:
- Australia: P.O. Box 611, Leumeah NSW 2560 (tel. 02/4627-5926; fax 02/4627-5926; firstname.lastname@example.org)
- New Zealand: Level 1, Samoa House, 283 Karangahape Rd. (P.O. Box 68423), Newton, Auckland (tel. 09/379-6138; fax 09/379-8154; email@example.com)
The bell captain's desk at Aggie Grey's Hotel & Bungalows also has brochures and other information.
Except for American Samoans, who must get a permit and pay a fee, no visa or entry permit is required for visitors who intend to stay 60 days or less and who have a valid passport, a return or ongoing airline ticket, and a place to stay in Samoa. Those who want to stay longer must apply, before arrival, to the Immigration Office, Government of Samoa, P.O. Box 1861, Apia, Samoa (tel. 20-291; www.samoaimmigration.gov.ws).
Vaccinations are not necessary unless you're arriving within 6 days of being in an infected area.
When to Go
The Climate -- The Samoas enjoy a humid tropical climate, with lots of intense sunshine, even during the wet season (Dec-May). Average daily high temperatures range from 83°F (28°C) in the drier and somewhat cooler months of June through September to 86°F (30°C) from December to April, when midday can be hot and sticky. Evenings are usually in the comfortable 70s (20s Celsius) all year round.
Holidays & Events -- Easter Week sees various religious observances, including hymn singing and dramas. Independence Day in early June features dances, outrigger-canoe races, marching competitions, and horse racing. The country's biggest event is the Teuila Festival during the first week of September (www.teuilafestival.ws). It features a variety of entertainment, including canoe races, dance competitions, traditional games, a floral parade, handicraft demonstrations, and the Miss Samoa beauty pageant. The second Sunday in October is observed as White Sunday, during which children go to church dressed in white, lead the services, and are honored at family feasts. Christmas week is celebrated with great gusto.
The Samoa Tourism Authority posts the precise dates and the schedules for these events on its website, www.samoa.travel.
Holidays -- Offices and schools are closed January 1 and January 2 for New Year's Day; Good Friday and Easter Monday; April 25 as Anzac Day, to remember those who died in the two World Wars; the Monday after the second Sunday in May as Mothers' Day of Samoa; June 1 through June 3, for the annual Independence Celebrations; the first Monday in August as Labour Day; the Monday after the second Sunday in October, in honor of the preceding White Sunday; Christmas Day; and December 26 as Boxing Day.
Samoa uses the tala (pronounced tah-lah; the Samoans' way of saying dollar), which is broken down into 100 sene (cents). Although many people will refer to them as dollars and cents when speaking to visitors, you can avoid potential confusion by making sure they mean Samoan talas, not U.S. dollars. The banks use both WST and SAT for the tala, but I have used S$ here. Samoa's major hotels and some other firms quote their prices in U.S. dollars. U.S. dollar prices are given in this guide as US$.
How to Get Local Currency -- ANZ Bank, Westpac Bank Samoa, National Bank of Samoa and Samoa Commercial Bank have offices on Beach Road in Apia. ANZ and Westpac both have ATMs at several locations in Apia and at Faleolo Airport, and ANZ has one at Salelologa on Savai'i. GlobalEX will exchange currency and traveler's checks at its office on Beach Road. Banking hours are Monday to Wednesday 9am to 3pm, and Thursday and Friday 9am to 4pm. All are open on Saturday 8 to 11am for foreign currency transactions.
The banks also have offices in the baggage claim area at Faleolo Airport, which are open when international flights arrive and depart, and there's an ATM outside in the main concourse.
Get Rid of Your Talas --- Because the Samoan tala is virtually worthless outside the independent nation of Samoa (and that includes American Samoa), don't buy any before you get here. Be sure to change your leftover talas back to another currency before leaving Samoa. Use them to pay your hotel bill or change them at the airports.
The Samoan Tala, the U.S. & Canadian Dollars & the British Pound -- At this writing, US$1/C$ = approximately S$2.50 (or, S$1 = US40¢), which is the exchange rate I used to calculate the dollar values given in this guide. For British readers: At this writing, £1 = approximately S$5 (or, S$1 = 20p). Note: International exchange rates fluctuate depending on economic and political factors. Thus, the values given in this guide may not be the same when you travel to the Cook Islands.
Credit Cards -- American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Diner's Club credit cards are accepted by the major hotels and car-rental firms, and many restaurants accept MasterCard and Visa. Discover cards are not accepted. When traveling outside Apia and to Savai'i, you should carry enough cash to cover your anticipated expenses.
Air New Zealand flies between Auckland and Samoa, with one flight a week going on to Los Angeles and back. Polynesian Blue, a joint venture between the Samoan government and Virgin Blue, connects the country with Auckland and Sydney. Air Pacific flies twice weekly between Apia and Fiji (usually in the middle of the night). A less direct way to get to Apia is on Hawaiian Airlines, which flies between several West Coast cities and Honolulu, thence to Pago Pago in American Samoa. Connections to Samoa can then be made on Polynesian Airlines' small planes.
Flights into and out of the Samoas are often packed with Samoans leaving and returning to the islands, so reserve a seat as soon as possible.
Arriving -- All international flights arrive at Faleolo Airport (APW), on the northwest corner of Upolu about 32km (19 miles) from Apia. There are duty-free shops and two currency exchange windows in the baggage claim area, or you can wait until you've cleared Customs and use ANZ Bank's ATM in the main concourse.
Getting to Your Hotel -- Aggie Grey's resorts and some other accommodation send buses to meet their guests who have reservations. Otherwise, transportation from Faleolo airport is by taxi or by buses which meet all international flights. The government-regulated taxi fare into town is S$50 (US$20/£10), but make sure you and the driver agree on the fare. The bus ride officially costs S$12 (US$4.80/£2.40) each way.
Departing -- Shuttle buses also transport passengers from the Apia hotels to Faleolo Airport for departing international flights. They arrive at the hotels at least 3 hours before departure time. Be sure to tell your hotel what flight you are leaving on; otherwise, the bus could leave you behind.
Everyone over 12 years old must pay a S$40 (US$16/£8) departure tax before leaving the country. Get your boarding pass and pay in Samoan currency at one of the banks in the main concourse, or after clearing Immigration if the banks aren't open.
There is no bank in the departure lounge, so change your leftover talas before clearing Immigration. Remember, Samoan currency cannot be exchanged outside the country, even in American Samoa.
The Samoa Shipping Corporation (tel. 20-935; www.samoashipping.com) operates the MV Lady Naomi ferry between Apia and Pago Pago in American Samoa. It usually departs Apia on Wednesday at midnight, arriving in Pago Pago at 8am on Thursday. The return voyage departs Pago Pago at 4pm Thursday, arriving at Apia at midnight. One-way fares from Pago Pago to Apia are US$60 (£30) for a seat, US$75 (£38) for a cabin.
Getting There & Getting Around -- Air service to Savai'i is supposed to be provided by Polynesian Airlines, although it was not flying during my recent visit. Samoa Shipping Corporation operates two ferries between Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu and Salelologa, the commercial center on Savai'i.
You can plan a trip to Savai'i yourself, but the easiest way is to use one of the tour operators in Apia. Oceania Travel & Tours (tel. 24-443) has day trips for about S$350 (US$140/£70) by ferry, including breakfast and tour. It also has 2-day, 1-night packages.
Taxis meet the ferries. One-way fare from the wharf to the east-coast hotels is S$10 (US$4/£2) one-way. The one-way fare is F$60 (US$24/£12) to Manase, and S$120 (US$48/£24) to Asau village, 89km (55 miles) on the other side of Savai'i.
Local buses going around the east and north coasts to Manase meet the 8am and noon ferries arriving from Upolu. The fare to Manase is S$4 (US$1.60/80p).
PK Rentals (tel. 51-025; firstname.lastname@example.org) has offices in both Apia and Salelogoga on Savai'i. Savai'i Car Rentals (tel. 51-392; fax 51-291; email@example.com) is based here. The round-island road is completely paved. Sekia Rentals (tel. 54-008; firstname.lastname@example.org) is based near Le Lagoto Beach Resort on the north shore. Expect to pay about S$115 (US$46/£23) a day in cash, not to a credit card.