I’d like to preface this by saying that I am by no means the ultimate authority on Fiji, but having spent a good 15 days there, I felt like there was a lot I learned about the country that I wished I’d known beforehand – and so, here are some tips and little pieces of information that I hope someone else finds useful.
Only go to Fiji if you want to do lots of relaxing, like watersports, and love nature.
Here’s the thing about Fiji – it’s pretty small and pretty underdeveloped. Someone told me before I went there that I’d only need about a week to see all of it and I thought he was being ridiculous – but he was right.
The thing is, Fiji isn’t the kind of place you visit because each city has such a unique character – the cities are overcrowded, polluted, and have only very limited attractions for travellers to experience. Sure, you’ll hear that Suva, Lautoka and Levuka are worth visiting, but each of those cities are really only worth spending a few hours in hitting the main sights – outside of that they’re just exhausting and overwhelming to be in, and you’ll be hassled constantly to buy things.
People go to Fiji for three main reasons: the first is to relax, the second is for the various watersports you can partake in there (kayaking, diving, fishing etc) and the third is for the natural scenery, which is some of the best I’ve ever seen.
However, everywhere in Fiji is more or less the same, and it’s small enough that you can get from one end to the other in a day, so if there’s something you really want to see that’s far away from where you’re staying, you can probably do it in a day trip, or at most, in a two day trip.
Be prepared though – there really isn’t much to do in Fiji besides watersports and a little bit of hiking. And a lot of places don’t have wifi or book exchanges, so make sure you come prepared with lots of reading material, cards and/or boardgames – because unless snorkelling all day everyday is enough to entertain you, you will start to get bored.
Where To Go – Why You Should Stick To The Big Islands More Than The Little Ones
So you’re thinking that you’d like to visit Fiji and you’re wondering where you should go. I can’t tell you exactly where you should visit but I can tell you how you should decide this.
A lot of people will tell you to get off the mainland and stick to the islands. Those people are silly and should be ignored. The mainland, Viti Levu, is gorgeous, and I loved driving around. Having said that, I did hear a lot of people rave about Taveuni and Vanua Levu as well. The best thing about travelling around these three islands is that they’re all big, so you’re not restricted to just one resort – there’s so much to explore and experience, and if you don’t like the food or activities at one place, you can go somewhere else.
Pick a few places you want to visit on the islands – a trek you’d like to do, some waterfalls you want to swim in, white water rafting you’d like to give a go – and choose a resort close to this. It’s that simple, and most resorts will help you organise your transport getting there. It’s also important to check what’s on at the resort – most of them have activities on some nights, things like fire dancing and bonfires, so try to book your accommodation around those.
On the other hand, if you visit the Yasawas and Mamanucas, which are all the little islands, most of these are tiny and have only the one resort on them, although occasionally there’ll be two or three. This gets boring really quickly – remember, you’re on a tiny island and stuck at the resort. There is literally nothing else to do outside of that.
The issue with those resorts is that they all charge you for compulsory meal plans, which will cost anywhere from 80-120FJD, which is ridiculously expensive considering that you can get a whole meal on the street for less than 5FJD. The food isn’t always amazing either, and sometimes the choices are very limited. They also charge you ridiculous prices for alcohol and snacks – they’re more expensive than some Sydney bars!
Without internet, there’s also a very limited range of things you can do: usually snorkelling, diving, kayaking, jetskiing or fishing – but remember that each of these cost (a fair bit) of money. Some resorts will let you snorkel and kayak for free, which is awesome, but others will charge you for it – Coralview charged 15FJD/2 hours of snorkelling and kayaking.
However, all these activities are weather dependent, and if the water is choppy or if it’s raining, or if the winds are really high, they’ll all get cancelled – this is what happened to me, and if those aren’t on offer, the only thing you can do is read a book and hang out with whoever you’ve come there with.
That’s not to say that these little islands aren’t worth a visit – I loved Mantaray and if I could do my trip over, I would have gone to just Mantaray rather than all the other islands. However, it’s pretty expensive getting to and between each island, and there isn’t really that much of a difference between what they offer – just in the price and the rooms.
Island hopping gets hyped a lot, but it makes more sense to just pick one of the Mamanucas and one of the Yasawas and visit those. This is especially good if you want to go diving – choose a package, because it’s cheaper if you’re doing a few dives rather than just one, and enjoy the islands for that.
Here’s an important tip on picking our island: check out TripAdvisor, but don’t rely on just a good/bad rating. Robinson Crusoe had a good rating, despite being awful, BECAUSE there was nothing to do there, and some people loved being completely removed from civilisation and distractions.
If you want to be completely alone with nothing to do and no distraction from the books you want to read, and you like having tiny unappetising meals, then it is great. Try to choose places without meal plans (or cheaper ones), with lots of free activities, and with a reputation for good diving/snorkelling/whichever activity you’re keen on indulging in.
Important Note: Fiji Is Expensive
Don’t go expecting to get to do lots of things unless you’re willing to spend lots of money. Fiji is cheap if you live there, but for travellers, if you want to actually do anything beyond relaxing in your hammock, it is very expensive.
Most places charge you for wifi – a common rate was 45FJD/day – that’s $30 Australian dollars. Per day. Just not worth it. It makes much more sense, incidentally, if you do need to regularly check up on your email/Facebook/whatever, to buy a local SIM card and purchase some data.
I’ll cover this more in Food, Accommodation and Activities but just take note before you go that despite the fact that whatever currency you have may increase numerically when you go to Fiji, they rely on tourism for most of their income – and the Fijian tourism industry will charge you through the nose for every little thing they can.
Most of the dorms in Fiji are pretty hideously ugly. You’re coming to this gorgeous ocean paradise, and the single rooms and bures are incredibly pretty, so staying in a dorm really doesn’t make sense – especially since heaps of them are cramped, and you have to use shared bathrooms that often don’t have hot water.
I absolutely adored my room at Bamboo Travellers, which had Fijian art on the walls, a cute little bathroom with pebble floor, and which opened up onto the beach. The sound of waves crashing over the shore would put me to sleep every night and I’d wake up every morning on my soft double bed feeling completely relaxed. It’s more expensive than a dorm, but it’s totally worth it – and once you get onto the islands, the dorms are pretty expensive anyway so it doesn’t cost that much more to get a single room.
On that note, it’s also really worth shelling out extra for air-conditioning (or choosing accommodation in the first place that has air-con included). Fiji gets incredibly hot and humid, and it’s almost impossible to sleep without air-con: a fan just doesn’t cut it. I met a lot of people who hadn’t paid for air-con who were experiencing dire regret and then had to pay far more than they’d budgeted in order to upgrade.
Really importantly, make sure that wherever you stay, you first check your bed for bed bugs. We had bed bugs in one of our rooms, and I heard heaps of other people complaining about getting bed bugs at theirs too; from what I heard, they’re pretty common in Fiji so make sure you don’t get caught out. Read more about bed bugs – and how to avoid them – here.
Laundry is really expensive at most places, so see if you can suss this out before you go and plan where you’ll get your washing done. It goes from 14FJD/load (cheap) to 35FJD/load (expensive). I believe you can find cheaper rates outside of hotels/resorts, but it’s such a pain dragging your laundry there and picking it up that it’s not really worth it, and if you have to pay for a taxi there/back, it makes the cost go up by quite a bit.
You can get around Fiji on coaches, or catch taxis for short trips. You’ll hear that the public bus system is pretty good, but hardly any tourists use them, they’re hot and slow, and everyone will stare at you. It’s still totally worth using them if you’re really penny pinching or want to experience a more authentic Fiji, but if not, taxi’s are pretty cheap.
Watch out though, taxi drivers will often try to rip you off. Ask a local or your accommodation about how much a trip should cost, then agree with the taxi driver that that’s how much they’ll charge you. It’s really common in Fiji for a taxi driver to take you somewhere, wait for you to do whatever you’re doing, and drop you back again – most of them don’t use meters and there’s far more taxis than customers, so they’re usually happy to wait if they know they’ll get more business from you.
However, if you’re staying somewhere close to an airport, always message your accommodation beforehand to see if they do free pick-ups – most places do.
Fiji has stunning scenery and it’s a lot of fun getting to stop along the way at fruit stands and for coconuts, and at various beaches and rolling hills so if you can, it is definitely much, much nicer hiring your own car and getting around that way – it’s pretty cheap too, I’d checked it out and found cars for about 70FJD/day.
Lastly, if you’re like me and the idea of spending hours on a catamaran makes you want to hurl, I’d recommend getting a sea plane to take you around the islands. It costs about double what the Yasawa Flyer will cost you, but it’s way faster – it took me 25 minutes by sea plane to travel what took me 3 and a half hours by catamaran – and will let you avoid getting sea sick, which to me was priceless. Besides, it’s not actually that expensive – they’re just over 300FJD, and it’s a very scenic flight.
Food and Drink:
I thought Fiji would be all seafood and fresh fish, but what I didn’t expect was how carb rich their food was, and how often things were deep fried. They eat a lot of tubers – especially cassava, but also taro.
If you’re looking for fish and seafood, head away from the hotels and resorts, which serve lots of Western food and only a few Fijian specialities. If you eat outside it will cost you something like 12FJD for a really good meal, and maybe 4-5FJD for a decadent dessert. If you eat at a hotel/resort, they’ll charge you around 25FJD if they’re cheap, and go up to 50FJD for the more expensive meals. It always makes sense to try to eat outside the resort – the food’s much better too.
Most hotels and resorts do however offer a free breakfast, which is great. They usually have fruit platters – the pineapple in Fiji is excellent, and so sweet that even the core tastes delicious. The papaya is also amazing – especially with some lime or lemon squeezed over it. Avoid the watermelon – Fijian watermelon is bland and tasteless.
The ‘juice’ generally offered with Fijian meals is also rarely juice – it’s almost always fruit drink and incredibly saccharine. I thought I’d enjoy having fresh smoothies and cocktails by the beach, but they usually only use bottled fruit juice rather than juicing fresh fruits.
However, you can buy fresh fruit and coconuts from the roadside, and they are both cheap and delicious. Coconuts cost 2-2.5FJD, and if you get charged any more than that you’re being blatantly ripped off – I was with a girl who agreed to pay 5FJD, and when our Fijian driver wanted to buy a coconut too, the woman charged him only 2FJD.
Don’t ever drink the tap water or rainwater in Fiji – buy big bottles of water or if you’re in a room with a kettle, boil the water, put it in the fridge, and then drink that. Check with restaurants – a lot of them will boil their water, so it’ll be safe to drink.
Lastly, alcohol can be fairly expensive at the resorts – at Uprising we paid 13FJD for one shot of bottom shelf tequila – 8.55AUD. Always take advantage of happy hours – most of the hotels and bars will have them – but also see if you can buy your own alcohol from the supermarket (which isn’t hugely cheap either – they don’t have cheap wines there like they do in Australia) and just pay corkage.
Otherwise, see if you can smuggle in spirits and mix them with the juices or soft drinks they sell at the resorts. Just be careful: on the mainland, the resorts will just tell you that you can’t drink your own drinks on their grounds, but on some of the small islands, they’ll actually confiscate it from you.
Everything in Fiji costs money, including visiting the villages and going trekking. Check the prices at your resort before you go, because the prices vary widely.
Visiting the villages is an awesome experience though – you get to participate in a traditional kava ceremony, eat home cooked food, go rafting and swimming, and it’s very chilled – and really cheap. You can even spend the night there.
Fiji has some great hikes and they’re pretty cheap – you pay entry to the National Park and you might have to pay for a guide. Here are some places that are worth visiting.
If you want to go diving, it is definitely way cheaper to buy your dives in a package than individually. Even if you buy a dive package at one dive shop, they will take you out to a variety of dive sites so you don’t need to worry that you’ll be missing out on anything or that you’ll be restricted to just that area. Dives are cheaper on the smaller islands than on the mainland because they don’t have to take you out as far. You can find out about the best places to dive here.
Fiji is a tropical country, and as such, is full of mosquitoes, so pack some bug spray. It’s expensive to buy there and you can’t buy it everywhere, so it helps to bring some with you.
Likewise, pack a lot of sunscreen. Pack more than you need of both bug spray and sunscreen because it’s very likely that people will keep asking you if they can use some of yours.
Bring all your own medicines too – they wanted to charge 60FJD for anti-histamines and the pharmacy we went to didn’t even have any anti-itch creams at all. Avoid going to the doctor if your insurance doesn’t cover it because they charge exorbitant fees for foreigners and have different rates based on what country you come from.
Kava is a mild narcotic that is very slightly psychoactive and mildly anaesthetic. All it really does is make your tongue swell and your face numb, and if you have enough you start daydreaming and losing track of time, until if you have heaps, it puts you to sleep. Watch out if random locals, especially in stores, try to give you kava – they’ll usually charge you for it afterwards if you don’t buy something from their store.
However, lots of hotels also have kava ceremonies, as do the little villages. It’s totally harmless, and lots of fun to drink, even though it tastes awful – which is why it’s really useful to bring a chaser with you to a kava ceremony.
All Fijian accommodation gives you soap, so you don’t need to carry that with you. It doesn’t really get cold, but it does occasionally get windy, but having a thin cardigan will cover you for that. Obviously you need swimmers, but if you have a sarong, also take that – you need one if you’re going to visit the villages, and you can use it as a second towel the rest of the time.
It’s also really worth carrying is a lot of conditioner and some deep conditioning treatment – the water is really salty, and some of the islands use salty bore water in the showers, so that your hair is always sticky and fragile and a lot of it breaks and falls. If you have long hair and don’t want it to get massively damaged while you’re holidaying in Fiji, use conditioner liberally.
If you have them and can carry them, it’s also useful to bring your own fins, mask and snorkel – it means you don’t have to pay, but more importantly, a lot of places don’t have very good equipment, and a very limited range of fin sizes. Snorkelling gear doesn’t weigh a lot, so if you can carry your own, you’ll be a lot more comfortable.
Lastly, it can rain very suddenly in Fiji, so if you have a raincoat, you’ll probably get a lot of use out of it.
Other Miscellaneous Things
- Avoid cyclone season – everything will be closed, and a lot of the water sports will be cancelled. Which means you’re pretty much left with just reading indoors.
- Fiji is one of those places where it’s super easy to make friends with other travellers. Don’t be scared of travelling on your own here, you won’t be lonely.
- Heaps of Fijian hotels and resorts will have planned activities. It’s worth finding out whether yours does or doesn’t – one of the ones I stayed in at Wailoaloa had free tours of Nadi, as well as knife and fire dancing, and Fijian language lessons.
- Take out cash in large amounts, and try not to use your credit card – ATM fees are 10-12FJD, and card fees are typically 4.5%. That’s not something you want to keep paying.
- Lastly, if you’re a single woman, watch out for Fijian men. Fijians are very friendly, but a lot of the time, the men will hit on you if you let them, and if you’re not careful, may try to feel you up. It’s not all Fijian men, of course, but this did happen to me and to most of the girls I travelled with, so it helps to be aware of this before you go so if someone seems like they’re being too friendly, you know to nip it in the bud.