Central Apia has been transformed in recent years, with enormous government buildings overshadowing the older churches and trading companies that still line the waterfront in the traditional South Seas movie-set manner. Yet away from the center, this city of 40,000 is only a cluster of villages.
In Apia Harbor, where the Vaisigano River has cut an opening in Upolu's protective reef, rock a motley assortment of container ships, fishing boats, interisland ferries, and cruising yachts. As at Papeete, you'll see teams of men paddling outrigger racing canoes around the harbor at sunset, about the only two towns in the South Pacific where this is so. Yet the languid inertia of Apia is pervasive. You can snorkel at the Palolo Deep, but the best beaches are on the south side of the island, about an hours drive away.
Apia makes a good base from which to explore northern Upolu, and there's lots of accommodation in all price brackets. The food and entertainment possibilities are also very good, so give yourself a break and see the city one step at a time. Get into the culture and prepare yourself for that big trip around Savai'i. Samoa is Polynesia's heart and Apia is the bright light around which the country revolves.