After making the long haul to Fiji, your first human encounters come as pleasurable revelations. Customs officers call out a cheery "Bula!" Porters and taxi drivers repeat this South Pacific nation's traditional greeting, literally translated as "life." From roadside perches, kids wave madly as you pass on the way to your hotel, where gardeners, housekeepers and managers wait to greet you with a song. In short, everyone seems genuinely eager to fill your visit with happy moments. Explore treasures of Fiji with our Fiji travel guide.
A primer on paradise - Fiji travel guide
Choosing where to soak it all up is the biggest challenge for first-time visitors to Fiji. For convenience and variety, it's hard to beat the big three – Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Each island has its distinctive appeal: jungle hikes and waterfalls on Taveuni; scenic drives on Vanua Levu; exploring Fiji's culture (plus day trips to nearby islands) on Viti Levu. With regular plane and ferry service between all three islands, you can tailor your trip to take in as much – or as little – as you want. Oh, and don't worry about the weather. Temperatures hover between 70 and 85 degrees year round, and the sun shines even during the mild rainy season, from December through Aprial.
Viti Levu – white water and culture - Fiji travel guide
Most travelers arrive on Viti Levu, known locally as "the mainland." At just over 4,000 square miles, it's the second largest island in the South Pacific. (Hawaii's Big Island is slightly larger.) Viti Levu has more hotels and attractions than any other of Fiji's 300-plus islands, so it's a natural base of operations. Sprawling resorts with spas, kids' clubs and weekly Fijian mekes (dance performances) line the sunny Coral Coast to the south. Adventurous types should head to Pacific Harbour, where tour operators offer rain-forest zip-line packages and white-water excursions to the Navua Gorge. More tranquil travelers can opt to drift down the Navua River on bamboo rafts or snorkel in the gorgeous Beqa Lagoon.
While visiting Fiji, it's worthwhile (and easy) to explore the islands' culture. Most of Viti Levu's hotels arrange day trips to the nation's capital, Suva, where visitors can learn about cannibalism (common here until the late 19th century) at the Fiji Museums. Tours to Nadi, the island's other major city, take in the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple, a Hindu place of worship created by Indian craftsmen in 1994. Visitors are allowed within the compound after removing their shoes (wear socks; the pavement is hot) and donning a sulu (sarong) to cover bare legs or shoulders.
Perhaps the best immersion into Fijian culture is a jet boat tour up the Sigatoka River to a remote village in the interior. Residents gather in a ceremonial bure (hut) to greet visitors, share homegrown veretables and drink from coconut shells filled with a yagona (a tranquilizing beverage made from kava roots). As the boat turns back toward modern civilization, children gather along the riverbanks, waving and shouting "Bula." After a few days in Viti Levu, you will feel totally comfortable yelling "Bula!" in return.
Vanua Levu – laid-back, stunning - Fiji travel guide
A slow, easygoing pace, abundant creature comforts and some Fiji's most dramatic scenery characterize Vanua Levu. Sailors moor their yachts in the lyrically named Savusavu Bay, a natural harbor protected by steep mountains on the island's southern coast. The bay's old trading town, also called Savusavu, looks more American than Fijian, with its internet cafés, art galleries and souvenir shops. To see more of Fiji's famed black and gold pearls, head to the J. Hunter Pearls farm, just south of town. If you are actually in the market to buy, brace yourself: a necklace of perfect, multihued pearls can go got as much as 50,000 USD.
The most scenic drive in Fiji connects the two sides of Vanua Levu. The paved two-lane road rises above Savusavu (photo opportunity) into volcanic mountains draped in gray mist. Along the way, brilliant red ginger flowers bloom outside simple wood frame houses. Humped Brahman and horned Holstein cows (introduced in Fiji in the late 1800s) graze in grassy weeds beside mounds of rich red volcanic soil and vast kava farms. Gradually, the road dips down toward Labasa's rice and cane fields. Whether you go by rental car or public bus, or with a driver arranged through your hotel, the two-hour trip is well worth the effort. To avoid backtracking, fly into Savusavu and depart from Labasa.
Most of Vanua Levu's resorts take full advantage of the south side's lush landscape, aquamarine lagoons, deep blue bays and views of tiny islands in the Koro Sea. Modest beaches face shallow reefs hassle-free Nemo sightings. Afterward, head to the Namale resort's freestanding spa, one of the country's best. The facilities are stellar (the hydrotherapy tubs command amazing sea views) but it's really all about the therapists. They perform wonders, combining Thai, Balinese and Fijian techniques to ease every muscle into submission. All in all, it takes little effort to appreciate Vanua Levu's charms.
Taveuni – the lush life - Fiji travel guide
Though it's limited in size (162 square miles), Taveuni is the perfect retreat for nature lovers. It has earned its nickname, the "Garden Island of Fiji": waterfalls crash down slick mountainsides and impenetrable rain forests cover hills and valleys with a dense green carpet. Toward the coast the vegetation gradually gives way to cobalt bays and aqua lagoons. Slim coconut palms away beside the secluded beaches. Parrots, doves and flying foxes soar above the treetops, and rare flowers flourish in the rich volcanic soil. It rains a lot on Taveuni. If you'd rather avoid a good shower, consider taking strategic afternoon naps.
To get in the thick of it, head to Bouma National Heritage Park, the site of three spectacular waterfalls. You don't need to tackle a rugged climb to feel the falls cascade on your shoulders: lovely Bouma Falls splashes into a sandy pool just a 10-minute walk from the trailhead. Linger here while more ambitious types set off up switchbacks in search of more waterfalls. Or take a lazy boat tour along Taveuni's northeastern Lavena Coast, where hikers must ford rivers to reach Wainibau Falls. The boat trip lets you see the remote Savulevu Falls and be back at your hotel for lunch.
One of the world's best diving spots, Rainbow Reef, sits 20 minutes off the west coast of Taveuni. Nourished by the swift currents of the Somosomo Strait, this Technicolor wonderland teems with fish. After floating face down until your skin puckers, or simply blissing out on the beach, visit the markets in Somosomo and Nagara. To the south, Des Voeux Peak towers over the stone church at Wairiki Mission, overlooking the Somosomo Strait. Come on a Sunday to hear singing that rivals that of the best gospel choirs.
At nearby Waiyevo, you can straddle the 180th meridian and pretend you are halfway in today while still enjoying yesterday. The International Date Line should run right through the island, but instead it zigzags around Fiji to keep the nation in sync. On Taveuni, days blend into each other so effortlessly that dates disappear from your mind. You are on Fiji time.