Aerial photo of Fiji island

Fiji: The 333-Island Nation Bursting With Bula Spirit

Chantae Reden

Chantae Reden

April 29, 2024

7 min read

From barely there islets peering above the sea’s surface to large islands with lush mountains to explore, Fiji, located three hours north of New Zealand by plane, is a destination for adventure lovers. On land, you can relax with a coconut shell filled with kava, trek along waterfall trails, and whitewater raft through a misty gorge. Underwater, you could come eye to eye with bull sharks, search for small critters hidden in colorful coral reefs, and watch as manta rays glide through the water like graceful acrobats. 

Around 925,000 people live in the 333-island nation, with around 70% residing on the largest island of Viti Levu. Elsewhere, the islands feel sparsely populated, even during peak tourism season. With a culture that prides itself on being exceptionally friendly, Fiji is sure to make you feel like a welcome guest.

An island for me, an island for you

Islands dot the blue water in Fiji

With 333 islands throughout this Pacific Island nation, there’s bound to be an island that suits every interest. Viti Levu, the largest island, houses Fiji’s capital city of Suva and the widest range of accommodations and activities. Viti Levu is a spectacular hub if you’re short on time and want to scuba dive, venture out on a multi-day hike, spend the night in a village, go river rafting, and get high value for money. 

If it’s palm-lined, sandy beaches you seek, head to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands, a string of islands with an array of resorts, turquoise waters, world-class waves, and snorkeling. Taveuni, known as the Garden Island, trades beaches for lush jungle trails leading to waterfalls. To visit Fiji's old capital, Levuka, a historic port town and Fiji's only UNESCO World Heritage site, Ovalau awaits. To witness firewalkers, there’s Beqa. If you want to go well away from the tourist trail, charter a sailboat with captain and crew or book a cruise to the Lau group. 

Fiji’s islands span about 7,000 square miles, and they’re clustered into nine island groups. It would take months to cover them all. You’ll make the most of your trip by spending a week or two on a single island or group, as it’s time-consuming (and expensive) to transit from one group to the other. 

From fierce marine predators to soft corals 

Coral reef in Fiji

All it takes is a mask and snorkel to see why Jacques Cousteau, one of the founders of modern scuba diving, named Fiji the “Soft Coral Capital of the World.” (Some sources say it was actually his son, Jean-Michel, who dubbed the nickname, though Jacques is generally accepted throughout Fiji.) 

Although coral reefs are found throughout all of Fiji’s waters, there are a few reef systems that stand out among the rest. In the Somosomo Strait, between the islands of Taveuni and Vanua Levu, dive sites like the Great White Wall, the Purple Wall, and the Rainbow Reef are all aptly named after the corals that make them up.

The Great Astrolabe Reef, surrounding Kadavu, is one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world and home to corals, sharks, sea turtles, a gamut of crustaceans, and a large squadron of manta rays. Manta rays also cruise through the currents of the Yasawa Islands. 

The truly intrepid can blow bubbles with bull sharks (and the occasional tiger shark) off Beqa Island. While bull sharks tend to be the main draw, it’s common to see up to eight species of sharks on a single dive. Beqa Adventure Divers and Coral Coast Divers run regular fun dives for certified divers to the shark dive sites, as well as certification courses for first-time divers. 

Most of the larger hotels and resorts are affiliated with reputable dive centers and can arrange dive trips directly from your accommodation. All dive centers in Fiji will require you to have your PADI dive certification for fun dives. New divers can sign up for a Discovery Scuba course to gain a taste of Fiji’s diving scene or enroll in a multi-day course to return home with a dive license. 

Kick back with a bilo of kava

Kava-making process in Fiji

Kava, a relaxing drink made from ground pepper root, is the de facto national drink of Fiji that’s enjoyed both in formal and casual settings around the islands. Friends, colleagues, and even political opponents are known to find resolutions through talanoa—talking while sharing a bilo (coconut shell) filled with kava.

Although most hotels offer some form of kava, it’s best to try it within the community. Some tour operators, like Finding Islands Tours, arrange village visits where you’ll spend the day enjoying meals made from local produce and drinking kava. Don’t be surprised if the afternoon ends with singing and dancing as the rounds of kava keep coming—participation is encouraged. 

If you do find yourself sitting around a tanoa (wooden bowl) of kava, keep a few etiquette tips in mind. Whenever you enter a village, bring kava, remove any items from your head, wear a sulu (sarong) around your waist, and avoid lingering in doorways. Sit where your village representative suggests. When you are offered a bilo of kava, clap your hands and say “Bula!” before grabbing the bilo. Then, drink it all at once. It’s polite to take the first round offered to you, but don’t be afraid to skip or ask for smaller portions, called “low tide,” on subsequent rounds. 

Smile and wave

A wave and rainbow in Fiji

When big waves come to Fiji, professional surfers follow. In 2022, 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater told InsideHook his favorite wave is Restaurants, a wave found off the Fijian island of Tavarua. In 2024, the iconic wave of Cloudbreak, also near Tavarua, will be a featured stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour.

You don’t have to be an experienced surfer to enjoy Fiji’s world-class waves. There are plenty of intermediate and beginner-friendly waves within an hour-long boat ride from Viti Levu’s western coastline. Surf tours run half- and full-day trips to the waves, with surfers sorted by skill level. If you’re keen to get coaching from one of Fiji’s former WSL competitors, Inia Nakalevu runs private surf tours through his company Dream Surf Fiji

Let your tastebuds lead the way

A coconut shell filled with fresh fish and produce in Fiji

Drive along the Queen’s Highway on Viti Levu, and you’ll get a glimpse of how fertile some of Fiji’s islands can be. Trees heavy with mangoes, papayas, coconuts, bananas, and noni fruit stand amidst fields of taro, ferns, and cassava. Pass any market, and you’ll find seasonal produce sold by the pile. 

Indigenous Fijian fare incorporates local produce, seafood, and meat, often cooked together in an underground oven called a lovo. Try palusami—taro leaves, coconut cream, onion, and spices wrapped in a banana leaf and baked for a smoky and creamy comfort food. Or, try a salad made from nama (fresh sea grapes), ota (young fern leaves), and coconut milk, often called a nama or ota salad. But, no foodie should leave without trying kokoda, fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with coconut milk, chopped tomatoes, and cucumber. 

Because 40% of the population is Indian, island-style curries made with ingredients like fresh coconut milk, just-caught fish, and zesty ginger are found throughout Fiji, especially in Suva, Lautoka, Nadi, and Labasa. One of the best local-run restaurant chains, Swagat, has restaurants in Suva and Nadi. Its flavorful dishes and plethora of scrumptious curries—best enjoyed family-style—make it a popular pick among locals. 

Not-so-Castaway experience

Luxury resort in Fiji

Although it’s possible to experience Fiji on a budget (Castaway was filmed here after all), it’s a destination that leans into luxury. Some private island resorts are so exclusive—and expensive—they’re thought to be the place where the billionaires go to escape the millionaires. 

Private island resorts offer all-inclusive experiences where meals are crafted to your cravings, dive guides will lead personalized tours of the reef, spa treatments are done with Fijian-made oils and lotions, each room has a dedicated staff member, and the island is solely reachable by private boat or air transfer. COMO Laucala Island Resort, Kokomo Private Island Resort, and Turtle Fiji Resort are prime examples, with prices starting well over $1,000 USD per night. 

However, if you want a luxury-type experience without the luxurious price tag, you can opt for a different kind of small-island stay, which might include dorm-style accommodations or communal bathrooms, like at Octopus Island Resort and Barefoot Manta Island Resort. Castaway Island Fiji also offers a more stylish stay with a smaller price tag. Across the board, accommodations typically start around $50 USD per night for dorm-style and around $300 USD per night for a private double room. 

Hike your heart out

A person overlooks the coastline in Fiji

Fiji’s coastline tends to steal the show when it comes to tourism brochures, but there are plenty of reasons to pack a pair of hiking shoes and head inland. Trek across Viti Levu on a multi-day hike with Joji Tamani Adventures (you can book a tour by messaging him through Facebook), led by one of the course-setters for Eco-Challenge Fiji: The World’s Toughest Race, eating and sleeping in village homes along the way. Also on Viti Levu, you can hike Mount Tomanivi, Fiji’s highest point at 4,344 feet, or go for a more casual stroll at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, home to around 40 species of orchids. 

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to summit Mount Everest along with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, failed to summit the volcanic plug of Joske’s Thumb west of Suva in the 1940s after getting lost and turning back due to poor conditions. After summiting Everest, Hillary returned to Fiji in 1983 to finish the job. Follow in his footsteps, and trek to the knuckle of Joske’s Thumb; this lookout point below the summit is reachable with a guide and does not require professional training. 

On Taveuni, hike along coastal trails to hidden waterfalls, and search for the rare Tagimoucia flower, which only grows on this island. Fijian legend states these crimson and white flowers grew where a princess’s tears once fell. To punish the princess’s father for forcing her into an arranged marriage, the petals do not have a scent. 

Come sail away

Sailboats sit off the coast of Fiji

Fiji became inhabited around 3,500 years ago, in 1500 BC, with settlers arriving from other Pacific Islands by wooden double-hulled canoes called druas. The drua has become an emblem of the islands, with logos, sports teams, and museums dedicated to its legacy. 

Druas and sailing artifacts can be seen at the Fiji Museum in Suva. You can occasionally see a replica drua sailing around the islands today as part of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust. (Contact Finding Islands Tours if you’d like to sail on the drua yourself.) Many resorts also have small replica druas and Hobie catamarans for rent. 

For a modern sailing experience, go on a day tour around the Mamanuca Islands onboard the 78-foot catamaran Sabre, or charter a sailboat with Charter Yachts Fiji to experience many of Fiji’s otherwise-unreachable islands from the water. If you don’t have a captain’s license, you can charter a sailboat complete with captain and crew. Sailboats are able to anchor at most islands in Fiji, though it’s customary to offer a bundle of yaqona (kava) and ask the nearest village for permission to stay. 

Good to know

Is Fiji expensive? 

While it’s possible to do Fiji on a budget, it’s generally an expensive place to visit. Accommodations range from basic hostels for around $10 per night to private island resorts starting at $1,000 per night. Most three-star resorts will cost around $250 per night. 

Meals at hotels run around $20, though you can find great eats in the cities and villages for $5–$10. Be sure to look beyond the room rates, as many accommodations require transport and meal plans, not included in the price of your nightly rate. 

Activities and excursions are expensive, but packing your own hiking and snorkeling gear can help you save on rental fees. 

If you’re on a strict budget, stay on Viti Levu, which has the widest range of accommodations, public transport, and food offerings.

Best time to visit Fiji

May to October is outside of cyclone season, and the temperature tends to be in the mid-80s (F). 

June to September is the high season, and prices tend to climb. However, crowds are generally not bad even in peak season, as most accommodations are spread out among the islands. 

From November to April, Fiji is prone to cyclones, and temperatures are at their highest. This is a time to save on accommodation. Rainstorms usually pass quickly (as long as there is no cyclone). 

What languages are spoken in Fiji?

The main languages spoken in Fiji are English, Fijian, and Fiji Hindi. While Fijians speak their local language at home (dialects range from island group to island group, and 40% of the population speaks Fiji Hindi at home), nearly everyone speaks and understands English. English is the language used in tourism no matter where you go. Even the most remote islands will have people on them who are happy to help in English.

Fiji with kids

Fiji is a wonderful destination for families. Infants and children are welcome, in general, in Fijian society—it’s even common for Fijians to offer to hold or entertain your child while you eat at a restaurant.

Most large resorts have extensive kids clubs with cultural activities, art workshops, and kid-friendly pools; adult-only sections of resorts and adult-only resorts are also common. Kids have plenty of activities, such as snorkeling, ziplining, sailing, and conservation programs.

Fiji public transportation

The larger the island, the better public transport tends to be. Viti Levu, the largest island, has an extensive bus system that circles the island. Taxis are affordable and easy to hail.

Public transportation to and on the outer islands is nonexistent. On most small islands, you will need to rent a car or hire a guide.

Tourist ferries run to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. Public ferries run to other Fijian islands but take much longer than a domestic flight and are prone to being off schedule.

Private island resorts will usually arrange private flight or boat transfer.

Is Fiji safe?

Fiji is generally safe, with theft being the most common crime against tourists. Take precautions in the bigger cities, like Suva and Nadi, especially after dark, where intoxicated tourists may be targeted for theft.

Fiji ranks #35 with a score of 68/100 for LGBTQ+ equality, according to Equaldex's LGBT Equality Index. Fijian society generally has mixed attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community, with cities like Suva and Nadi being more accepting. Fiji is generally quite conservative when it comes to any public displays of affection, especially with members of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Getting to Fiji

Other destinations in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania

Chantae Reden

Chantae Reden

Freelance Writer

Chantae Reden has been living in Suva, Fiji, with her husband and cat for the past six years. She has gone everywhere, from the tourist hub of Denarau to the most remote Fijian islands of Lau. When she’s not home, she’s likely freediving, scuba diving, surfing, or sailing in Fiji’s warm waters. 


Published April 29, 2024

Last updated April 29, 2024

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