Culture Tours and Experiences in Samoa’s Capital and the Island of Upolu
No matter where you are on the island of Upolu, the Samoan culture is extremely accessible. From strolling through the villages from your resort or beach fale to mingling with the locals in the cultural hub of Apia, there are many ways to experience “fa’a Samoa”, also known as “the Samoan way”. Many of the traditions that we list in A Traveller’s Guide to the Samoan Culture are seen played out before you between dedicated culture tours to just happening upon them in local villages. Learn more about how to experience fa’a Samoa, especially on the country’s main island and capital, in this list of the best cultural activities in Apia and Upolu.
1. Immerse in Local Traditions at Samoa Cultural Village
If you’re wanting to experience the traditions of Samoa, then certainly don’t miss this free activity in Apia! Samoa Cultural Village takes place from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, Tuesday to Friday, starting with a hands-on experience of weaving your own plate for the umu. You’ll then be formally welcomed with an ‘ava ceremony before seeing how a traditional umu feast is prepared. While your lunch is cooking, discover how ‘ava bowls are carved and even witness a painstaking Samoan tatau (tattoo) being applied in the traditional manner. Finally, sit down with your freshly prepared umu lunch while watching a fiafia cultural performance including fire dancing. Oh, and did we mention it’s free? Epic! Discover more freebies across the island in the 25 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Upolu.
Location: Behind the Samoa Tourism Information Centre, Beach Road, Apia.
2. Experience Culture, Cuisine and Crafts at Apia’s Markets
The markets of Apia are certainly worth perusing whether it’s for retail therapy or cultural ambience. The largest market in Samoa and a hotspot for all sorts of cultural goings-on, Fugalei Market is a sight not to be missed. The Flea Market is a more compact version and specialises in crafts, while the Samoa Women’s Association of Growers (SWAG) Market is a cute Saturday gathering, and the Night Market on the last Friday of the month is a street food storm. As you can see, there are plenty of amazing markets to go through, so check them out further in the 8 Best Markets in Samoa.
Location: All over Apia! See the link above for specific locations.
3. Experience a Fiafia Night!
“Fiafia” means “happy” in Samoan and fiafia nights follow an equation that can’t help but put a smile on your face! Many will start with an ‘ava welcoming ceremony before guests are treated to a buffet of Samoan staples (just like the ones in the 20 Foods to Try in Samoa), as well as some international favourites. Once your stomach is gleeful, the show can get underway with cultural Pacifika dancing and, usually the highlight of the show, siva afi which is Samoa’s very own knife fire-dancing in the homeland where Polynesian fire dancing originated!
Location: All over Apia and Upolu! Make your selections, as well as find out their locations, in the 10 Best Cultural Shows (Fiafia) in Samoa.
4. See an Umu Demonstration
The traditional Polynesian method of slow-cooking fish, tropical root vegetables and dishes like palusami with hot rocks is usually saved for special occasions in Samoan culture, but there are a couple of ways to experience this special meal for yourself in Apia and Upolu. The easiest way would be to join one of Samoa Cultural Village‘s free tours (see above), while there’s also the opportunity to watch umu demonstrations at resorts such as Le Vasa Resort, Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa, Taumeasina Island Resort, Seabreeze Resort and more.
Location: Samoa Culture Village – Behind the Samoa Tourism Information Centre, Beach Road, Apia. Learn more about the resorts mentioned in the 17 Best Resorts on Upolu.
5. Learn About Samoan History at the Falemata’aga Museum of Samoa
The donation-based Falemata’aga, Museum of Samoa has an impressive collection of historical and cultural artefacts from across Samoa and the South Pacific. If you don’t want to sift through it all yourself, free guided tours are available with passionate guides to show you through six different galleries (in air-conditioned rooms, might we add) boasting 3,000-year-old Lapita pottery, colonisation history and even a small art exhibition, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied for as long as you wish. Get more of a museum cultural fix from the 5 Best Museums in Samoa.
Location: Vaitele Street (look out for the large mural on the building), Apia.
6. Join In on Your Resort’s Village Tour
You’ll drive through many villages during your time on Upolu but nothing compares to experiencing them at a more relaxed pace. Cue the “village tour” an activity that resorts offer guests in order to share more about the Samoan culture and where Samoans live. Some a pretty informal, like those with Coconuts Beach Club and Return to Paradise Resort, while resorts like Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa offer more formal village tours with organised cultural activities like coconut husking, fine mat weaving and more.
Location: All over Upolu! See more of Samoa’s village tours in the 10 Best Village Tours in Samoa.
7. Stick Around for Your Resort’s Culture Day
A common item on the activities schedule of Upolu’s resorts is a “Culture Day”. Once a week, resorts like Seabreeze Resort, Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa and Coconut’s Beach Club Resort put on a free culture day for guests complete with umu demonstrations, coconut tree climbing and husking, weaving, local storytelling, an ‘ava ceremony and more.
Location: Seabreeze – Main South Coast Road, Aufaga, southeast coast of Upolu. Saletoga Sands – Main South Coast Road, Matatufu, southeast coast of Upolu. Coconut’s – Maninoa village, Main South Coast Road, southeast coast of Upolu.
8. Admire the Art at the EFKS Museum
Certainly an art gallery rather than a museum, the EFKS Museum boasts a large glass-walled fale packed with the creations of the talented students of the School of Fine Arts. There is a range of contemporary carvings, sculptures, paintings and more to admire or even purchase should you feel inspired enough. Don’t leave the grounds after you’ve finished perusing the art gallery too quickly, as the open-air walkways around the lake outside provide a tranquil setting to explore. Discover more galleries worth visiting in the 5 Best Art Galleries in Samoa.
Location: Malua (signposted next to the Malua Theological College) along Main West Coast Road on the northwest coast of Upolu.
9. Stay at a Beach Fale
Elevated on the sands with the sound of the waves rolling onto the distant reef; not only is sleeping in a traditional beach fale a beautiful experience but a social one. Upolu’s beach fales are run by local families, offering a cultural experience from the traditional structure where you sleep to the home-cooked breakfast and dinner shared with fellow travellers. Meals are a mixture of the foods that contemporary Samoans like to eat, like curry and chop suey, to more traditional dishes like palusami with dinner and koko rice (cocoa rice) or supo esi (papaya soup) for breakfast. In short, your beach fale experience is like an awesome homestay including “glamping” on the beach. Learn more about it in The Guide to Staying in a Beach Fale in Samoa.
Location: All over Upolu! See the 10 Best Beach Fale Accommodations on Upolu to compare your options.
10. Experience a Sunday Church Service (and a Sunday To’onai)
Wrapping up this list of the best cultural activities in Apia and Upolu like wrapping up your average week in Samoa, how about attending a local Sunday church service? Even if you’re not religious, anyone can appreciate the breathtaking melodies of a Samoan church choir. After church, you may even get invited to a to’onai, a traditional Sunday lunch. If not, hotels, resorts and beach fales host to’onai where you can try dishes like palusami and food that has likely been cooked in an umu. Learn more about experiencing a to’onai in the 10 Best Foodie Experiences on Upolu. Plus, for more ways to spend your Sunday, check out the 10 Things to Do in Samoa on a Sunday.
Location: All over Upolu! See churches to attend in the 10 Best Churches in Samoa to Experience as a Visitor.
More Cultural Activities in Apia, Upolu and Samoa
That’s it for our list of the best cultural activities in Apia and Upolu but it’s by no means the end of our advice! Check more guides to experiencing the Samoan culture across Upolu and Samoa:
- 10 Best Cultural Activities in Samoa
- How to Have an Authentic Samoan Experience
- 10 Best Historical Sites on Upolu
Finally, complete your bucket list with the 101 Best Things to Do in Samoa: The Ultimate List and if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in A Traveller’s Guide to the Samoan Culture.