DOS & DON’TS
What to Wear
Mail & Package Services
Newspapers & Magazines
For More Information
Although Fiji has palm-lined beaches and coral reefs like many other parts of the South Pacific, it’s often the people of the islands, rather than the scenery, that make it memorable. Their friendliness to visitors is well-known, expressed with a pleasant bula (welcome) and with an invitation to join them for a bowl of tongue-numbing kava.
Fijians have not always been as friendly to one another: Political struggles between ethnic Fijians and the descendants of Indian laborers have resulted in three political coups since 1987. Visitors were largely unaffected by the events, however, and although the situation remains somewhat unstable, Fiji is considered a safe destination. As a result, it is in the middle of a record-setting tourism boom.
A Fiji vacation promises a lot of enjoyable possibilities: exquisite scuba diving, lovely natural surroundings and an appealing range of places to stay—from secluded, eye-poppingly expensive resorts to pleasant guesthouses on the beach to simple accommodations with local villagers.
Located 1,300 mi/2,100 km east of Australia, the Fiji archipelago is made up of thousands of islands. Only 322 islands are considered large enough to support humans, and of these, just 111 are inhabited. Most remain uninhabited because of the lack of fresh water. Most of the islands are volcanic, although none of Fiji’s volcanoes are active. On the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, sharp peaks and rock outcroppings punctuate lush vegetation.
Fiji’s first settlers were Melanesians, who arrived there some 3,500 years ago. When European explorers landed in the islands in the late 1700s, they discovered that outsiders could expect a warm welcome—in a Fijian oven. The islanders’ custom of eating intruders and other undesirables didn’t cease until 1874, when Fiji became a British colony.
As they did elsewhere in the region, the British imported laborers from India to work the sugar plantations. Today, those workers’ descendants make up about 37.5% of Fiji’s population, with indigenous Fijians making up more than half. Although the new constitution makes everyone a “Fiji Islander” from a legal standpoint, mixing between the two groups is minimal, and informal segregation runs deep at almost every level of society.
Although ethnic tensions flared shortly after the nation gained independence from the U.K. in 1970, Fiji enjoyed relative peace until 1987, when elections seated a coalition government dominated by ethnic Indians. A coup led by Sitiveni Rabuka, a native Fijian military leader, overthrew the civilian government. A new constitution was written giving preferential treatment to ethnic Fijians. Pressure from the international community led to changes in the constitution in 1997, which resulted in the election of another Indian-controlled government in 1999.
In May 2000, a radical group of ethnic Fijian nationalists launched an armed takeover of the parliament. After a two-month standoff, government forces thwarted the takeover, revoked the 1997 constitution and appointed an interim civilian government. Under pressure from the international community, the interim administration drew up a new constitution and held democratic elections in 2001. The predominantly indigenous Fijian SDL Party, or Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua, won the elections and later survived a Supreme Court challenge to its legality. Key leaders of the 2000 uprising, including Fiji’s incumbent vice president, were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
The most recent coup in 2006 was confined primarily to the parliament house where Frank Bainimarama took control until September 2014. Banimarama’s Fiji First party won by a landslide and he is now officially Fiji’s elected Prime Minister.
Fiji’s foremost attractions are fascinating cultures, fire walking, world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, hiking, surfing, ocean kayaking, yachting, windsurfing, white-water rafting, good beaches, cruises, delicious food and small, out-of-the-way resorts.
Those looking for crystal clear water and slow-paced island life will enjoy Fiji. However, anyone who goes there should be aware that other Pacific islands have more lush, tropical scenery and better beaches (many of Viti Levu’s beaches turn into rather ugly tidal flats at low tide). For the white-sand beaches and blue lagoons of the brochures, one must travel to the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups.
Try to attend a fire-walking ceremony. There are two types. Fijian fire walking—actually walking over hot stones—is performed at hotels for tourists. Although totally commercial, it’s still fascinating. Indian fire walking over glowing embers is done only for religious purposes and is very difficult to find out about, much less to see.
An interesting dance widely performed for tourists is the meke, where Fijian legends are acted out by costumed dancers.
Wars in Fiji traditionally have been unkind to the vanquished. Torture and cannibalism were common less than two centuries ago, which explains why an outnumbered band of Fijian warriors on the island of Wakaya chose to leap over a cliff rather than be captured by a neighboring army. The cliff today is known as Chieftain’s Leap.
Among divers, Fiji is known as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World” for the abundance of colorful soft corals in its waters.
The Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, located along Savusavu Bay on the island of Vanua Levu, is partly owned by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, the famed underwater explorer. (Prior to his death, Jacques took great pains to keep his distance from his son’s resort project.)
In 1789, Capt. William Bligh and 18 loyal crew members passed between Fiji’s two largest islands in an open boat after being cast adrift in the famous mutiny on the Bounty. As they approached the Yasawa Group, Fijian war canoes took chase, and only some serious rowing and a fortuitous gap in the reef saved the Englishmen from cannibal ovens. Today the sea between Viti Levu and the Yasawas is known as Bligh Water.
Only 10% of Fiji’s land is privately owned “freehold” land. The government owns another 7%, but the remaining 83% is inalienable Fijian communal land, which can be leased but not sold. Control of the land has allowed indigenous Fijians to preserve their traditional culture to the present day. Outside the towns, most Fijians still live in small villages governed by hereditary chiefs, supporting themselves through agriculture and fishing. Isolated houses in rural areas are almost always occupied by Fiji Indians who grow sugarcane on leased Fijian land.
U.S. citizens have purchased so much freehold land on Vanua Levu that Fiji Islanders facetiously refer to Savusavu as Little America. In 2004, actor Mel Gibson bought Mago Island in eastern Fiji for US$14.8 million.
BOATING & SAILING
The same resorts that offer windsurfing usually also have kayaks available for their guests. At a few resorts near Viti Levu, where the beaches aren’t so good, the chance to kayak among the mangroves compensates. Organized ocean-kayaking tours are available to the Yasawa Islands, Kadavu and Taveuni.
A professional white-water-rafting operation (http://www.riversfiji.com) is based at Pacific Harbor on southern Viti Levu. Its rubber-raft trips carry visitors through the deep gorge of the turbulent Upper Navua River. The Lower Navua River is still very picturesque, with waterfalls plunging from the cliffs, and it’s possible to drift down on a bamboo raft or ride in a motorized canoe.
Fiji’s numerous ocean reefs can make sailing hazardous, and self-service bareboat yacht charters are not offered. Crewed yacht charters are possible at Musket Cove on Malalo Lailai Island in the Mamanucas and at Savusavu. Cruising yachties arriving on their own boats can clear Fiji Customs at Suva, Lautoka, Levuka, Savusavu and Laucala.
British colonialists left golf courses behind in all of the towns with sugar mills, including Nadi, Lautoka, Suva and Labasa. These are still well-used by local businessmen and politicians, but tourists are more attracted to modern championship courses, such as the Denarau Golf Club next to the Sheraton at Nadi, the Pearl Golf Course at Pacific Harbor and the Natadola Golf PGA Championship Course at the InterContinental on western Viti Levu.
HIKING & WALKING
Virtually all of Fiji’s outer islands offer excellent hiking along age-old trails between Fijian villages or up grassy hillsides. The western half of Viti Levu is also an excellent hiking venue, especially in Koroyanitu National Park behind Lautoka and the Nausori Highlands above Nadi. Dense rain forests make hiking in eastern Viti Levu more challenging, but the pleasant network of trails in Colo-i-suva Forest Park is only a 20-minute taxi ride away from downtown Suva.
SCUBA & SNORKELING
Fiji offers some of the best scuba diving in the world, with excellent visibility and a great variety of sites within a short boat ride from the main resorts. The largest concentration of dive shops is in the Mamanuca Group, just west of Nadi International Airport, but there are also well-established scuba-diving operations in the Yasawa Islands, along the Coral Coast, at Savusavu, and on Beqa, Kadavu, Ovalau and Taveuni islands.
Consider taking a cruise on a liveaboard if you have a strong interest in diving. Liveaboards are just what the name suggests: Divers live onboard the boat as it cruises from dive site to dive site. Liveaboards allow divers to make more dives in more locations than if they were staying at land-based resorts. They are particularly well-suited for Fiji, where the diving is varied and spread across a wide area. In fact, some sites are accessible only from a liveaboard. Although some liveaboards are quite luxurious, bear in mind that they offer almost no entertainment options for nondivers.
Although scuba diving costs money, snorkeling out from a beach is free. There aren’t many places around the two largest islands where this is possible (the Coral Coast on the south side of Viti Levu is an exception); however, almost every outer island resort has been built adjacent to an excellent snorkeling area. The Mamanuca and Yasawa islands stand out in this regard. The Blue Lagoon, made famous by Hollywood, is next to Nanuya Lailai Island in the Yasawa Group.
World-class surfing is available off Tavarua and Namotu islands in the Mamanuca Group, and on the reefs of Yanuca and Kadavu south of Viti Levu. Peak surfing season is March-October, when the southeast trade winds build waves that arrive unimpeded from Antarctica. Fiji’s reef breaks are not for beginners.
Most upscale resorts in southern and western Fiji loan windsurfers to their guests for free. It’s especially popular in the sheltered waters of the Mamanuca Group, but also at Nananu-i-Ra Island off of northern Viti Levu.
Shop for a wide variety of local goods—pottery, tapa (bark) cloth, recordings of local music, coral, wood carvings, Fijian grass skirts and shell jewelry. Fijian war clubs and sharply pointed cannibal forks make intriguing souvenirs, but you must purchase them before going to the airport, since the duty-free shops in the departure lounge aren’t allowed to sell them. It is a good idea to stop at a store belonging to the Jack’s handicrafts chain to familiarize yourself with some prices before heading out to bargain with market vendors.
Be careful when buying handicrafts, however, since many are now imported from Asia, and don’t buy turtle-shell or whalebone products: They will be confiscated by customs officials when you return home. Cameras, watches, perfumes and other items are available. However, many models may be less modern and more expensive than what you can find at discount stores at home. Security regulations permitting, a duty-free bottle of Bounty rum distilled in Lautoka is an outstanding item to take home. It’s brilliant with ice cream.
It is mandatory that sea shells of any significance collected in Fiji be declared and cleared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries before departing. The clearance ensures that nothing is illegal and judged as smuggling.
Shopping Hours: Monday-Friday 8 am-5 pm and Saturday 8 am-1 pm.
You’ll find a wide variety of food in Fiji, including European, Asian and Indian. Resorts usually serve western-style food, some of gourmet quality, especially at the small private island getaways. Both Nadi and Suva have world-class restaurants. Few Indian restaurants serve alcohol, and most close early, so a good plan is to have lunch at an Indian restaurant and choose a good Asian place for dinner. Suva has a floating seafood restaurant on the waterfront called Tiko’s. Phone 679-331-3626.
The local fare consists basically of pork, chicken, fish, vegetables and fruit. The local version of Indian cuisine is also good, although milder than what you’ll find on the subcontinent. Attend a lovo (Fijian feast), which offers roast pig, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and dozens of other dishes cooked over hot stones in a traditional underground oven. Among the local specialties are kokoda (raw fish marinated in lime juice and served with coconut milk), dhal (a thick and spicy lentil soup from India), fish in lolo (coconut cream) and a variety of curries.
Yaqona (pronounced YANG-gona), or kava, the slightly narcotic national drink, is used in Fijian rituals and is also an ingredient in an everyday drink known as grog. It’s made from a mixture of pulverized dry roots of a pepper plant that’s soaked in water and strained. It looks like muddy water and tastes like sawdust. For the ritual, everyone sits cross-legged on mats, with the master of ceremonies facing a wooden bowl (a tanoa) filled with yaqona. The master of ceremonies dips a coconut shell (the bilo) into the liquid and passes it to the guest of honor, who drinks the entire cupful in one gulp. The bilo is then refilled and passed to the next person. The ritual continues until everyone has had a drink. Yaqona is a mild narcotic, but you would need to drink a lot to get much of an effect. (Those who regularly drink a lot of it may get dry, flaky skin.) Most probably, it will leave your tongue with a numb, tingling sensation.
Fiji has gone through two democratic elections since the civil coup of May 2000, and the country is now quite safe to visit. It’s still wise to be wary after dark in Suva and other cities. Busy Victoria Parade in Suva and other main streets are quite safe during the day, but take a taxi back to your hotel after a night on the town. It’s a good idea to remain aware of your surroundings and keep away from dark streets and alleys.
During weekends and on holidays, when the streets are busy, there is the occasional pickpocket. Keep your belongings close.
Anyone carrying a package or bag who accosts you on the street for no reason will likely try to trick you into buying whatever it is they have for an exorbitant price. Also beware of self-appointed shopping guides and touts. These people may seem friendly at first, but their mood can change very quickly. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times, and never leave valuables in your hotel room or rental car.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
There are public hospitals on Viti Levu (Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva and Lautoka Hospital in Lautoka) and limited services on several of the other islands. These places are always crowded with local residents who qualify for subsidized health services, so if you need medical attention, seek out a private hospital or physician. Suva has an excellent private hospital open around the clock. By North American standards, medical charges in Fiji are extremely low. Take along any necessary prescription and nonprescription medications.
Sanitary conditions in most restaurants are good and, except on the more remote islands and during periods of excessive rains, the water is safe to drink throughout the country; however, bottled water is available everywhere and is recommended for tourists. Hamburger, sausage and other mystery meats should be avoided if possible. A hepatitis vaccination is advisable only if you are planning to spend long periods of time in rural areas.
Fiji is free from most tropical diseases, including malaria. Outbreaks of another mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever, do occur. Take along plenty of insect repellent. You’ll also need sunscreen, a hat, comfortable walking shoes, and a pair of aqua socks or other shoes for offshore wading (bare feet can be cut by the coral).
For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Do be prepared for “Fiji time,” which means that things on the islands probably won’t go exactly according to schedule.
Do cover up when invited to visit a village. Women who cover their shoulders, arms and legs will be treated with more respect. Walking around in a halter top, hip-hugging pants or a bathing suit is considered to be very rude. It is easy to wear a traditional sulu (sarong) as a long skirt over shorts or pants. On a village visit, do remove your hat (only the chief may wear a hat); remove your shoes before entering a bure (house); never touch someone’s head; and ask before taking pictures.
Don’t wander into villages uninvited. It’s considered quite rude.
Do be aware that women who travel alone in Fiji are considered “available” by local men. Women should not go alone to isolated beaches—it’s much safer to be in a group.
Don’t expect to shop on Sunday: Although restaurants, tours, taxis, buses and gas stations can do business, the only shops open are hotel boutiques and small mom-and-pop “milk bars” that sell groceries.
Do learn a few Fijian words. Thank you is vinaka (pronounced vee-NAK-ah), please is yalo vinaka (ya-LOWvee-NAK-ah), and hello is ni sa bula (nee sam bu-LAH).
Don’t waste your time with young men on the streets who strike up a conversation and try to give you a free gift.
They’re known as “sword-sellers” and will try to dupe you into buying worthless wood carvings.
Don’t stand up straight if you’re invited into a bure (village house). It’s considered good manners to stoop a bit.
Do accept kava if offered. Clap once with cupped hands, take the bowl, say “bula,” and drink it all in one gulp. Hand the cup back to the same person and clap three times, saying “vinaka” (thanks).
Do smile and say hello to people passing by unless you’re in a large city. In the islands, generally only tourists look the other way.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports and proof of onward passage are needed by citizens of Canada and the U.S. A yellow-fever certificate is required if visitors are arriving from an infected area (South America or Central Africa). The F$200 departure tax is now included in most international airline tickets, and there is no departure tax for domestic flights. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: English, Fijian, Hindi.
Predominant Religions: Christian (mostly Methodist), Hinduism, Islam.
Time Zone: 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+12 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed Generally between the end of October through mid-January.
Voltage Requirements: 240 Volts. Telephone Codes: 679, country code;
Change plenty of money at the airport, where the bank is open 24 hours, before you set out for remote islands, where there are no banks and changing foreign currency is usually not possible. Most resorts accept U.S. dollars, but the rate is not as good as the bank’s. Some properties will charge credit cards in U.S. dollars. Credit cards are often not accepted outside resorts.
Nadi airport has an ANZ bank currency exchange window in the baggage claim area, as well as several ATMs. There is also a City Forex exchange at the arrivals concourse that typically offers better rates than ANZ.
Check ahead with your bank to find out which bank it has a partnership with in Fiji and whether that exempts you from paying an ATM fee.
Fijian notes and coins depict national fauna and flora such as the endangered crested iguana and endemic tagimoucia flower.
Most shop prices in Fiji already include the 12.5% value-added tax. Hotels rooms are also subject to this tax, plus a 5% service-turnover tax (STT). STT is also applicable to tourism related service providers such as bars, upscale restaurants and transfers. The less expensive hotels usually include these taxes in their quoted rates, but the upscale properties often do not. To avoid a 20% surprise at checkout, verify the hotel’s policy in advance.
No tipping is expected. Guests who wish to reward excellent service can make contributions to the Christmas Fund, which is shared by the employees at the end of the year.
When it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter in Fiji. But the average day temperatures are in the 70s-80s F/23-32 C year-round. Nights are usually in the 60s-70s F/15-27 C. Our favorite time is April-October, when it’s the driest and the pleasant southeast trade winds ease the humidity. The rainiest time is November-April: Rain falls nearly half the time. This is also hurricane season. It rains more on the east side (near Suva) than on the west side (near Nadi). Take along a light sweater any time of year, as nights can be cool.
What to Wear
Lightweight cotton, linen or rayon clothing works best. The dress is casual, unless you’re a golfer and wish to test your swing on one of the country’s upscale courses. There, a collared shirt and dress shorts are required for men, smart casual for women, and golf shoes for all. Fijians don’t usually wear shorts, but they’re used to seeing tourists in them. Many shops in Nadi, Lautoka and Suva sell colorful bula shirts and bright, wraparound sulus similar to the Indonesian sarong.
A wide-brimmed hat is essential for protection from the sun, and long pants and socks will deter the mosquitoes in the evening. Comfortable shoes are always handy while traveling. Flip-flops or rubber thongs work fine around the resorts but will bar you from some restaurants and nightspots with dress codes. You won’t need a heavy business suit unless you’ve made arrangements to be received by the president or prime minister, and a dress shirt and tie with light slacks or a dress below the knees will work fine for business meetings.
Cell phones are found in most parts of the main islands. The two major mobile companies in Fiji are Vodafone and Digicel. All town and city areas have good mobile reception coverage. Strong reception depends on equipment used by the mobile company, but coverage is available on major islands. Some mountainous regions of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu do not have good reception for mobile phones, and in the outer regions of Fiji you will find lack of mobile reception, especially for the Lau group. Digicel and Vodafone continue to focus efforts on covering the whole of Fiji with mobile coverage.
Vodafone (http://www.vodafone.com.fj) has a prominent office at Nadi International Airport, where you can rent a cell phone and Vodafone SIM card. Provided you set up roaming service before leaving home, you can use your GSM dual-band or tri-band mobile phone in Fiji if it operates on a 900 Mhz frequency. Exercise caution when using roaming service, as local calls might be charged at international rates. Unlocked SIM data cards start at F$5.
Pay phones are available in Fiji, but their maintenance sometimes leave much to be desired. The most available type is the Telecom Fiji Limited (TFL) pay phone that requires local phone cards, which can be purchased at all post offices and many shops. Dialing instructions are printed on the cards. Calls placed from hotel rooms are generally much more expensive than those placed from public phones.
Internet cafes are fairly common around Fiji, and many resorts also have public computers. The lowest rates are found in the Internet offices of Suva and Nadi. Several in Suva stay open 24 hours. Internet access generally costs around F$3-$4 an hour, with up-market shops charging F$5.
Most Internet cafes and shops provide Wi-Fi service.
You can also purchase a portable USB Internet flash drive from Vodafone. This is the most user-friendly way of getting quick Internet access on your own computer. Prices range F$75-$120. Typically, the more expensive it is, the greater the amount of Internet byte allocation you are offered. The majority of consumers in Fiji use the portable Internet flash drives for their Internet use as this is easy to register for and pay with a one-day transaction time.
Mail & Package Services
Post offices are open Monday-Friday 8 am-4 pm. Surface mail can take up to six months to reach North America, but luckily, airmail is reasonably priced. The maximum weight for regular parcel post is 22 lbs/10 kg. Express mail service (EMS) is more expensive but faster, and up to 44-lb/20-kg packages can be sent. All main post offices around Fiji accept EMS mail. Both UPS and DHL have offices in the Nadi airport.
Newspapers & Magazines
Fiji’s two daily papers, the Fiji Times (more popular, owned by News Corp) and the Fiji Sun (owned by the government), are readily available in all the towns. Although they’re an excellent way of getting a feel for the country, these papers are intended for a local audience and don’t usually carry listings of tourism businesses or events.
All travel agencies and many resorts have racks of free brochures advertising activities, tours, resorts, rental cars and the like. The New Zealand marketing company Jasons produces free visitors maps and guides to Fiji, but these only promote their own advertisers.
The Fiji Visitors Bureau has a great website (http://www.fiji.travel) and the tour desks at most large hotels are usually very helpful.
Several airlines serve Nadi International Airport (NAN), which is 5 mi/8 km north of Nadi and 118 mi/197 km northwest of Suva. The entire airport has recently been renovated. Hotels provide or arrange for transfers to and from the airport for guests. The major rental car companies have operations at the airport (driving is on the left), and numerous taxis are available—fares are inexpensive, but negotiate before setting out. In addition to connecting flights on domestic airlines, there is twice-daily air-conditioned express bus service between Nadi airport and Suva, a ride of three and a half hours. Anything-but-deluxe local buses ply the Queen’s Road just outside the terminal on their routes between Nadi and Lautoka.
Nausori Airport (SUV), about 15 mi/23 km northeast of Suva, is the second international airport in Fiji, situated on the eastern side of the main Island of Viti Levu. Nausori Airport is a 30-minute drive from the country’s bustling capital, Suva, a main hub for the South Pacific and home to many international and regional centers. It is used for a few international flights to and from New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa and for many domestic flights.
Airlines operate domestic shuttles from Nausor to Nadi Airport to connect to international flights in less than 30 minutes. There are also weekly flights connecting internationally to Nuku’alofa and Funafuti, and domestic shuttles connecting the main island of Viti Levu to Vanua Levu. Transportation to and from Nausori is primarily by taxi. The modern four-lane Rewa Bridge provides easy and direct access between Nausori and the heart of Suva in less than 30 minutes.
The Nausori terminal is long overdue for a major overhaul. There have been minor renovations with improvements made to the international arrivals and departure lounge, and other technical equipment has been installed to improve operations at the airport.
Both Nadi and Nausori airports have security check-ins for international and domestic flights. There are no security procedures at Fiji’s other airstrips, which handle only domestic flights.
Seaplane, helicopter and high-speed catamaran service to the offshore islands is available at Nadi. Surface transportation is by escorted and/or hosted bus tours, chauffeured or self-drive cars, seaplanes, local buses, taxis (in cities) and ferries.
For More Information
Fiji: Tourism Fiji, Suite 107, Colonial Plaza, Namaka, Nadi. Phone 672-2433.
U.S.: Fiji Visitors Bureau, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 220, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Phone 310-568-1616 or 800-932-3454. http://www.fiji.travel.
U.S.: Embassy of Fiji, 2000 M St. N.W. No.700, Washington, DC 20036. Phone 202-466-8320.
Foreign Embassies in Fiji
Canadian Consulate, 6 Cawa Road, Namaka, Nadi, Vitu Levu. Phone 679-672-2400.
U.S. Embassy, 158 Princes Road, Tamavua, Suva. Phone 679-314-4466. http://suva.usembassy.gov.