The Samoan islands are surrounded by miles of pristine beaches, crystal blue ocean, and dazzling reef. A trip to this country means you’ve probably already packed the basics, booked your flight and hotel, and you’re ready to embark on your journey to paradise. But keep in mind that Samoa is a conservative country, and if you don’t do your research ahead of time, you run the risk of offending the locals and putting yourself in danger. Here’s our list of 16 things you should NOT do when visiting Samoa.
1. Don’t Stay Standing
When it’s time to get down to business, you’ll notice that Samoans all sit down on the floor to engage in discussion. It’s also considered rude to eat or drink while you’re standing. If you happen to come across an elder in one of the communities, you’ll want to bring yourself to their level or lower. You can do so by sitting with your legs crossed and placing a mat over them as a sign of respect.
2. Don’t Enter During Prayer
Prayer sessions can happen frequently, and if you find that you’ve arrived at someone’s home during a prayer, wait outside until the invocation is finished. If you’re inside their home at the time the prayer’s set to take place, you’ll be expected to take part in the service as well.
3. Don’t Indulge in Kava
It’s customary in Samoan culture to take part in the kava ceremony. This narcotic brew is made with the roots of a pepper plant, and the cup of liquid is passed around for everyone to sip and enjoy – emphasis on the word sip. The last thing you want to do is start chugging this beverage, because overindulging in the drink can have some pretty nasty effects, including a decrease in your reaction times and motor coordination.
5. Don’t Just Be a Tourist, Brush up on the Culture
Samoan Cultural Village is the place most tourists visit to soak in all the information about the islands. Knowledgeable guides will take you around through different exhibits where you’ll be given a fun history lesson. You’ll also be taught coconut weaving, watch an entertaining dance performance, and be treated to a traditional meal cooked over an earth oven.
6. Don’t Visit Without Learning the Lingo
English is spoken throughout the islands, but it wouldn’t hurt to learn a bit of Samoan lingo before your arrival. A few key phrases that will definitely impress the locals are talofa (hello), fa’afetai (thank you), and tulou (excuse me). Now get out there and start chatting away. E le afaina! (you’re welcome).
7. Don’t Underestimate a Beach Fale
A fale is a hut, and they’re scattered across the islands on various beaches. You can actually rent one for a nightly fee and wake up to the waves crashing right at your feet. These handmade structures range from simple to luxurious, but to get a true experience, you’ll definitely want to stay in the old school version made of wood and dried coconut fiber.
8. Don’t Leave the Water Without Your Lava Lava
As we mentioned previously, Samoa is a conservative country – even when it comes to clothing. Modesty is expected at all times. So after soaking up some sun on the beach, make sure to cover up with a lava lava afterward. It’s similar to a sarong, and it basically covers up your body so that you don’t offend the locals. And keep in mind, the lava lava is worn by both men and women.
9. Don’t Be Too Concerned About Crime
There’s crime everywhere, but Samoa is one place where you don’t have to be too concerned about being a victim of a violent incident. In the country’s largest city of Apia, common disturbances are related to narcotics, theft from an employer, and burglary, and assaults, but these incidents happen on a smaller scale. As with any vacation, just be aware of your surroundings, travel in groups, and avoid exploring dark areas that you’re unfamiliar with.
10. Don’t Forget to Pay Taefu T Matafeo Store a Visit
Between Salelologa and the north coast, you’ll find a tiny establishment called Taefu T Matafeo Store. Inside, you can sip on some of the best espressos ever, while nibbling on homemade cakes. They also serve up light fare, including kimchi, and they have more than enough icy beer to go around.
11. Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls…Just Joking
Samoa’s backdrop is rich with gorgeous tropical forests that are home to some of the most stunning waterfalls. On Upolu Island, a guided hike will take you to Sopoaga Waterfall at the foot of Lotofaga Village. At the base of the falls, you can also take part in an umu demonstration and coconut husking.
12. Don’t be Afraid to Ride the Bus
When in Samoa, don’t be afraid to travel with the locals by hitching a ride on the public transit system. The buses in Samoa are an experience in themselves, right down to their uncomfortable wooden seats.
13. Don’t Be Disrespectful on Sundays
You should be respectful on all days, of course, but Sundays are when things really slow down on the islands. Most attractions are closed, including restaurants, and you’ll be expected to lower your voice and travel quietly through the villages.
14. Don’t Be Surprised by Beach Fees
You’re just chilling on the beach, enjoying the sun and gazing at the turquoise water, when all of a sudden, a Samoan comes up to you and asks for 15 tala. What do you do? Well, you fork over the cash, and here’s why: In Samoa, the majority of the beaches are owned by families and villages, and they charge visitors a small fee to swim, take photos on the beach, or even wander around the sand. If you’re staying at a resort, you won’t have to worry about this fee at all, but for privately owned beaches, prepare to spend anywhere from 5 to 20 tala.
15. Don’t Expect to Visit the National Museum on Weekends
The National Museum of Samoa should definitely be at the top of your itinerary, but when it comes time to plan your visit, make sure you stop by during the week, because they’re closed on weekends. You can send a special request to ask that they open their doors for you on a Saturday or Sunday, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll honor your request.
16. Don’t Stick to Your Resort
The resort food is probably prepared by some of the best chefs in town, but it’s a must that you journey out to other establishments to try authentic Samoan dishes. Savai’i restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients to create Samoan and Pacific cuisine, including coconut-crusted chicken and homemade pasta. Then, there’s Edge Restaurant & Bar, a laid-back place where you can enjoy a traditional lunch or dinner. Don’t forget to stick around for their 4 p.m. cocktail hour and their house DJ that begins spinning tunes at 7 p.m.