The small capital of Samoa is a charming, bustling city situated on the north coast of Samoan island of Upolu.
We loved our time here, enjoying the various diverse things to do in Apia before setting off to explore the rest of stunning Samoa.
Things to do in Apia
Samoan Cultural Centre
In my opinion this free attraction is the best thing to do in Apia.
We had not expected our visit to be so good and we ended up spending several hours here. We do not usually choose to visit cultural centres preferring, if possible, to enjoy less contrived cultural experiences.
But the Samoan Cultural Village is not like any other cultural centre we have visited.
The cultural ‘village’ consists of several open fales in a pretty compound. The centre is open every day but check in advance of your visit which sessions are on offer in the fales on the day of your visit.
It is these interactive cultural sessions that are the highlight of the Samoan Cultural Centre.
We happened to visit on the same day as a tourism delegation from Tonga so we were lucky enough to experience all the activities on offer at the village.
You are taken to each fale by a guide who explains the traditional craft of activity that is taking place there. In this way, the village feels more like a gathering of local people who are sharing their skills -and tourists just happen to be there to watch. It does not feel contrived or ‘put on.’
Our guide was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about Samoan history and culture and answered any and every question asked of him.
In one fale, we witnessed wood carvers making lava bowls.
We learned how traditional Samoan hot stone ovens (called an Umu) are constructed and used for cooking food. We saw how to intricately wrap fish in palm leaves for cooking (and we got to eat the fish later)! Our guide showed us how to break a coconut – he made it look a lot easier than it actually is!
We enjoyed watching how siapo cloth is made and watched artists painting onto it. These artists were all female and were working whilst their children played happily around them. We bought a couple of artworks here; the prices were comparable to the flea market and it was great to buy direct from the actual artist.
The highlight for our children (bizarrely) was watching a stoic young local undergoing a phase of traditional tattooing.
Samoan tattoos cover the upper arms, torso and upper legs and are an intricate blend lines and dot patterns.
The extremely painful process can only be completed in stages over a long period of time. Two men held the young man still, whilst another continually wiped away the trickles of blood. The tattooist hammered a tiny chisel into the young man’s skin to make the tattoo.
The watching crowd was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. Photos are forbidden here (understandably)!
At the end of our highly enjoyable and informative visit, the entire staff perfomed a ‘fia fia’ show. The singing was rich and thunderous and it was the most natural fia fia show we enjoyed in Samoa.
The finale encourages anyone of shared South Pacific heritage to join and it was a spine tingling moment when the entire Tongan delegation joined in the body slapping, rhythmic dancing. It was a wonderful memory we will not forget.
Our visit ended with a delicious meal of the food we had earlier seen being cooked in the umu.
The Samoan Cultural Centre is unmissable thing to do in Apia.
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral (a Roman Catholic church) lies on the waterfront in the centre of Apia across the road from the Samoan Cultural Centre.
The white painted domed church is instantly recognisable on the low skyline of Apia.
It is a relatively new building (it only opened in 2014) but stands on the site of a previous cathedral dating back to the 1850’s. The church is enormous with a cavernous interior that is able to hold 2,000 people.
The church undoubtedly has European influences in its exterior design but it has an overwhelmingly Samoan feel to it. Unlike may other churches around the world that could be located in any country, when you stand in this beautiful church, you know you are in Samoa.
The exterior of the church has vivid blue trims to echo the pristine seas around the island. Inside, the cathedral is adorned with detailed, colourful art including a painting of the Virgin Mary dressed in a typical Samoan dress.
The intricately patterned marble floor creates a welcome cool temperature.
But for me, the most striking feature of the cathedral is the ornately carved, rich toned wooden ceiling. The ceilings were apparently designed to emulate the traditional weave of Samoan pandanu mats. Whatever the intentions, the stunning ceilings are a work of art you won’t be able to stop staring at.
Samoa is a strongly religious country with over 95 % of the population being regular church goers. In fact, the small nation’s motto is ‘Samoa is founded on God’. So there will usually be a service on whenever you visit Apia cathedral.
If you can, try to catch a sung service; the enthusiastic, beautifully harmonised singing will give you goosebumps!
Alternatively, visit a place of worship of a different denomination.
For such a small island there are many denominations and faiths that have found a welcoming attitude in Christian Samoa.
You can visit the imposing white granite Mormon Temple just outside Apia or the beautiful Baha’i House of Worship in nearby Tiapapata.
This Baha’i house is one of only eight Baha’i worship sites in the world. The stunning 20 acre gardens of the compound contain 60 different plant species, all of which are native to Samoa. This striking building is open to all visitors of any faith or background.
Our family loves a good market. We love discovering new fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as arts and crafts. We always try to visit a market wherever we go.
There are several markets to choose from in Apia, all located along the waterfront.
Every Sunday morning there is a fish market though you need to get up early to visit it. There will be lots of new and unusual looking fish for you to Google later!
A produce market is open Monday to Saturday with lots of fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables to try.
Don’t miss the chance for a refreshing coconut drink or grab a freshly cooked lunch at the communal eating area behind the market.
The Flea market runs every day except for Sunday. It is a bustling, atmospheric market which can get very hot under the canopy in the narrow crowded lanes.
There are lots of traditional crafts to buy though very few from the people who actually made them. We bought a lava lava (sarong), pandanus fans and a miniature lava bowl.
You can purchase household sized pandanus mats, large lava bowls and ornate masks. Shop around as prices vary.
It is one of those times I regretted travelling hand luggage only!
If you are searching for a colourful Samoan shirt and are spending a few days in Apia, do not buy a shirt from the market.
Instead, why not have one made especially for you?
My 6ft 5 husband had two Samoan shirts made at a little shop opposite the market for a similar price to those in the market.
He chose his own fabric, was measured up and two days later was the proud owner of two well fitting Samoan shirts. (I also bought some fabric scraps here for future, still to be realised projects)!