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The Best Islands to Visit in Fiji
Barely 2 hours by plane from Australia, Fiji is an archipelago of about 800 mountainous islands and coral-ringed atolls among Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean. Less remote than Tahiti, cheaper than New Caledonia, and only a quick flight from Vanuatu and Tonga, Fiji is a commercial and transport hub. It is also a popular tourist destination, especially among Australians and New Zealanders, for the turquoise lagoons teeming with marine life and the postcard-perfect over-the-water bungalows.
Almost everyone arrives by air at either Nadi, on the western edge of the main island of Viti Levu, or less likely, the airport at Suva, the capital on the east coast. To avoid time-consuming boat and plane connections, some stay on Viti Levu at Pacific Harbour or Sunset Strip along the southern coast.
Even more convenient are the 2 beach regions within 15km of the Nadi airport. Moving upmarket from its backpacker origins, Wailoaloa is increasingly popular for sunsets, walks, and views rather than the beach, which is grey and gritty. Denarau is home to numerous 5-star resorts, as well as a marina and golf course, but only a couple of resorts front a decent beach. Suva has an undeniable charm, with colonial history and excellent restaurants, but no beach.
Often ignored are the second and third-largest islands, Vanua Levu and Taveuni – yet both are reasonably accessible, and offer public transport, hire/chartered cars, and village life. More popular are the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups, golden droplets sprinkled among sapphire waters offering accommodation for all budgets. Only 1 or 2 hours by boat from Nadi, both collections of islands are very popular with day-trippers.
Before visiting the remote islands, weigh up the pros and cons. Flights are expensive, and often involve overnight connections in Nadi and/or Suva. Prices are high (because of transport costs and lack of competition), facilities are poor (often no banks or chemists), and villages are few or non-existent (so cultural interactions are unlikely). On the other hand, the serenity and beauty – above and below the water – are undeniable, although you may share a resort with hundreds of others searching for the same.
The Best Places to Stay in Fiji
- Best Region in Fiji for Beaches: Lomaiviti Islands
The beaches on the major islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levua are a little underwhelming: often with grey and gritty sand, and sometimes, rocky and unusable. The best beaches – and certainly the quietest and least developed – are often also the most remote. Arguably, the finest are on the Lomaiviti Islands: atolls surrounded by reefs, creating lagoons of calm blue-green waters swarming with marine life and coral. The beaches are pristine and bleached-white, although visitors may have to share the sand with egg-laying turtles. Added attractions are the accessibility from the main island, usually through the charming colonial town of Levuka (Fiji’s first capital), and the chance to spot humpback whales offshore.
- Best Region in Fiji for Diving & Snorkeling: Taveuni Island
With so many reefs surrounding so many islands, and atolls creating shallow and non-tidal blue-green lagoons, it’s hard to narrow down the finest places to explore the marine life and coral. With warm and (usually) clear waters, and a vast array of fish, rays and turtles, and occasional (harmless) sharks and whales, Fiji is understandably popular throughout, but it’s hard to go past Taveuni. The coral is particularly soft, sometimes luminous, and the strait between Vanua Levu and Taveuni is legendary among divers. But snorkelers will also relish what’s on offer. The island has a few dive operators, some public transport, and accommodation in all price ranges, and is easily accessible by boat or plane from the main island.
- Best Region in Fiji for Water Sports: Mamanuca Islands
These gorgeous islands are the perfect place for water sports, whether sedate (kayaking or paddle-boarding) or exhilarating (jet-skiing or paragliding). The beaches of soft white sands are also ideal for waiting and recovering, and the waters are astonishing for underwater exploration. Surfers flock here too, for breaks with names like Desperations, so they are strictly for the experienced. Water sports can be easily organized through any resort, and the islands are accessible in an hour or 2 by boat from Nadi, so are very popular with day-trippers.
- Best Region in Fiji for Outdoor Activities: Pacific Harbour, Viti Levu Island
Claiming to be the ‘adventure capital of Fiji’, this stretch of underdeveloped beach is close enough to day-trip from Suva. Adults have so much to choose from: over 15 dive sites among soft coral reefs, as well as rafting, and boat and fishing trips from the marina. Children would enjoy ‘ziplining’ (adventure ropes through the jungle), while the whole family would relish the Kila Eco Adventure Park. General outdoor activities are best organized through the Pearl or Uprising resorts (even if not staying there), or an agency at the Arts Village. Pacific Harbour is also home to an 18-hole championship golf course.
- Best Region in Fiji for Shopping: Port Denarau, Viti Levu Island
Tourists don’t come to Fiji for shopping. Only Suva and Nadi offer any variety and quality of international-standard shops and handicraft markets, while the capital is also home to several malls. But the finest place to flog the credit card is the marvelous complex at Port Denarau, part of the gated ‘island’ of upmarket hotels about 6km from downtown Nadi. It may not have much authenticity, but the clean, hassle-free, and shady setting alongside the harbor is appreciated by many. As well as a few foreign-based outlets, it offers a range of locally-owned shops selling anything and everything, and numerous eateries mostly alongside the water. This is also the place to change money, rent a car, and organize a boat trip to the outer islands, and free traditional entertainment is held most evenings. The complex is within a few minutes by Bula Bus from all resorts at Denarau, or from Nadi on the regular Westbus.
- Best Region in Fiji for Food & Restaurants: Suva
Befitting the Fijian capital and largest city in the South Pacific, Suva offers an impressive range of places to eat. Often reflecting the multicultural makeup of the islands, whether Indian, Chinese, Japanese or European, the setting is sometimes more impressive than the food – whether attached to the museum, in a colonial-era mansion, or inside an old cruiser berthed alongside the city park. Most are located within downtown Suva and accessible on foot or by metered taxi (which is best at night).
- Best Region in Fiji for Nightlife: Suva
Nightlife is not one of the main reasons tourists visit Fiji. All resorts and most hotels have bars, and many offer live music and traditional entertainment, such as ‘fire and dance’ shows. As Fiji’s only city, Suva offers the best selection, albeit very modest compared to Bali, Phuket, and Noumea. Many bars catering for locals are seedy – dark and dingy, with a few ladies of ill-repute. Opening from 6pm and closing late, some bars and clubs should be avoided if alone, and certainly given a wide berth by foreign women. And always take a taxi after dark. The best advice about somewhere lively and safe, and featuring live music, is an expat joint, or check out the Fiji Times. Elsewhere, Beachcomber Island, part of the Mamanuca group, has a well-founded reputation as the place to party.
- Best Region in Fiji for Markets: Suva
Although a city and the capital, Suva often seems like an overgrown village where markets still thrive. The Produce Market (or Municipal Market), next to the bus station, is just as expected: expansive, loud, chaotic, and scruffy, but fascinating, with rare tropical fruits, dangling slabs of unidentifiable meat, and cages of chickens with very limited lifespans. The Suva Handicraft Centre, conveniently located near the city park, offers a myriad of stalls in a dark and fairly unwelcoming building. But there are more friendly smiles than hard sells from vendors, and it’s authentic and affordable, although prices are of course, negotiable.
- Best Region in Fiji for Families: Sunset Strip, Viti Levu Island
Many resorts on the outer islands cater well for families, but children may soon become bored with all those beautiful views and magnificent reefs. The main island, Viti Levu, is far more developed and populated, so there’s more to keep the younger ones happy and engaged. And staying on the main island also avoids connecting flights. Arguably, the best base for families is the modest but grandly-named Sunset Strip, only an hour from Nadi. Some of the nearby attractions include the Sigatoka Sand Dunes and Tavuni Hill Fort, all close to the pleasant regional town of Sigatoka, which has a traditional market. A myriad of adventurous activities, such as rafting and cave exploration, and a visit to the invigorating Kula Wild Adventure Park, are easy to arrange. What’s more, the beach is clean, the waters calm, and the main street is very quiet.
- Best Region in Fiji for Vibe & Culture: Vanua Leva Island
Firmly on the itinerary for some is a ‘village tour’, perhaps trying some kava (a strong alcoholic drink), and spear-throwing. This is all contrived, of course, and not always authentic, so try to visit – or better still, stay in – a real village. It will be worthwhile, if only for the abundant welcoming smiles. Some remote islands are only inhabited by resort guests and staff, while others are so sparsely-populated that villages don’t exist. In contrast, most of the villages on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Leva, can be reached by infrequent bus or rented/chartered car along the rough roads, starting from the enchanting town of Savusuva.
- Best Region in Fiji for Weather: Mamanuca Islands
There is no escaping the wet season in Fiji from November to April, when downpours can be heavy – although not usually prolonged – and there is the ever-present danger of a possible cyclone. Some islands (such as Taveuni) receive more rain, while others like Viti Leva and Venua Leva, the 2 main islands, have mountains which affect local weather patterns. For some reason, the Mamanuca Islands (and the neighboring Yasawas) avoid some of the heaviest rains and winds. In fact, some parts are so drought-stricken that they’ve become uninhabitable. Bad for locals, great for tourists.
- Best Region in Fiji for Romantic Holidays: Mamanuca Islands
Fiji caters very well for romantic getaways, especially those on honeymoons. Many resorts offer special deals, including secluded dinners on the beach, bungalows with private pools, and spa rooms for 2. Some resorts provide those popular and intimate over-the-water bungalows that radiate from piers above lagoons, while a few, especially on the remote islands, are strictly adults only, or at least, have child-free bars, restaurants, and pools. Within an hour or 2 by boat from Nadi, the Mamanuca Islands boast endless idyllic atolls, such as Mana Island, where Fiji’s first over-the-water bungalows were built. Of course, there isn’t much to do but admire the views, walk the beaches, and snorkel among marine life in turquoise waters from ladders attached to private patios, but who cares?
Best Regions in Fiji for Tourists
Nadi (on the main island)
Although home to the main international airport, Nadi (pronounced NAN-dee) is surprisingly undersized and underwhelming. It is divided into 2 parts. Downtown is a 500m stretch of road with a few banks, plenty of eateries selling unhealthy food, the bus station and just 1 basic hotel. There is no reason to stay here, and it becomes a little unsettling after dark. A far cleaner, safer, and nicer base is the Marintar area (also called New Town) about 4km away. Based along Queens Road which heads to the airport, this region is home to numerous quality hotels and cafés, a few decent bars, and a shopping center with a supermarket and cinema. It is also within a short bus/taxi ride of downtown Nadi, the airport, Denarau Island, and Wailoaloa Beach.
- Best Hotel: Fiji Gateway Hotel
Denarau Island (on the main island)
This former mangrove swamp has been converted into a ritzy gated complex of top-notch resorts, with a golf course, water park, marina, and multiple ways to enjoy a holiday and spend money. It’s not really an ‘island’ however, but joined to the mainland, and accessible along a 50m causeway. About 8km from downtown Nadi and 15km from the airport, Denarau is of course, nothing like the ‘real Fiji’, but most visitors enjoying the world-class facilities and immaculate environment don’t care. Port Denarau is home to the boat terminal for day cruises and ferries to outlying islands, and has abundant shops and charming harbor-side restaurants. Denarau is well-connected to Nadi by public bus, and the cute Bula Bus helps tourists get around.
- Best Hotel: Sheraton Denarau Villas
Wailoaloa Beach (on the main island)
The stretch of beach between the airport and main thoroughfare, Queens Road in Nadi, is collectively called Wailoaloa (which sounds way more exotic than the other name of New Town). Backpacker lodges are being slowly replaced by mid-range package-holiday hotels. There are also enough places to eat and drink to satisfy most, but the beach is disappointing: with grey sand often lined with uncollected debris after high tide, the beach is almost unusable at low tide. But it is popular for the laid back tropical holiday vibe, enhanced by perfect sunsets, long walks, and calm shallow waters for kayaking, and for youngsters to splash about. One advantage is the proximity (by bus and taxi) to the airport (8km) and Queens Road (2.5km), home to numerous quality eateries. The downside is that Wailoaloa is too close to the airport, although the infrequent thunderous jets aren’t too disruptive.
- Best Hotel: Ramada Suites
Suva (on the main island)
The capital of Fiji, and the largest city in the South Pacific, still maintains a laid back country town feel. Fairly scruffy around the edges, particularly in the suburbs, Suva is likeable, and far nicer than Nadi. Downtown is home to several malls, while the southern area of central Suva is lined with colonial-era buildings. Some visitors relish the tropical charm, while most stay in Suva while waiting for connections elsewhere. But other reasons to linger longer are the modest but fascinating Fiji Museum, the handicraft and produce markets, the numerous excellent restaurants, and the occasional festival.
- Best Hotel: Grand Pacific Hotel
Pacific Harbour (on the main island)
Midway along the southern coast, an hour by road from Suva, Pacific Harbour is mostly an exclusive housing development with a marina and golf course, but it also offers a few upmarket and mid-range hotels in a likeably laid back setting. The extended cove between the Uprising and Pearl resorts is tranquil, clean, and back from the main road, and mostly underdeveloped as a public beach. Around a huge lily pond just off the main road, the fun-filled Arts Village is home to cafés and other tourist facilities.
- Best Hotel: The Pearl Resort
Coral Coast & Sunset Strip (on the main island)
The Coral Coast is the loosely-defined name for the extended coastline from Pacific Harbour (midway along the southern coast) to Momi Bay (on the western edge of the island). There is no center, just a collection of tiny villages offering very basic supplies for locals, not tourists, and a few remote beaches commandeered by top-end resorts that are maybe 90 minutes from an airport, and even a 15-minute drive from any shops. The area around the Outrigger Resort is often labelled the Sunset Strip – a grand name for a very modest collection of places to stay and eat. The beach there is narrow and gritty (not so at the Outrigger), but the calm and shallow waters, protected by a reef about 800m offshore, creates a lagoon that’s ideal for swimming and kayaking. And within a short bus or taxi ride is the agreeable regional center of Sigatoka.
- Best Hotel: Outrigger Fiji
Vanua Levu Island and Savusavu Town
Fiji’s second-largest island is ideal for those wanting to escape the crowds (whether locals or tourists), and avoid the isolation and lack of facilities on the far-flung islands. Vanua Levu’s largest urban center, Labasa, is unexciting, but certainly worth visiting, or even staying, is Savusavu, a picturesque town popular with yachties. The island offers a mountainous interior for trekking, friendly and genuine villages, and world-class diving and snorkeling. Also, it’s reasonably easy to get around by public transport or chartered/hired car, although some roads are rough. What’s more, there’s a wide range of accommodation, including family-friendly options, and it’s easily accessible by plane or boat.
- Best Hotel: Koro Sun Resort & Rainforest Spa
The third-largest island in Fiji is more remote than some, but still reasonably accessible. The so-called Garden Island offers the feeling of isolation, with empty beaches and welcoming villages. Inexpensive family-run lodges are popular among long-stayers, while magnificent resorts are sprinkled around the distant coastlines. A large swathe of Taveuni is national park, only accessible on foot, and with Fiji’s highest mountain, the island receives more rain than anywhere else in the country. And with superlative diving, the underwater delights are just as impressive as anywhere in the South Pacific.
- Best Hotel: Taveuni Dive Resort
Fiji’s most popular island group contains 20 atolls and islets with resorts clinging to sandy coastlines, but only 2 – Mana and Malolo – have villages. Reefs create lagoons around each island and atoll, producing photogenic turquoise waters. These are perfect for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking – but less so, sometimes, for swimming because of the coral. The Mamanucas cater exceptionally well for families and those on romantic getaways, while a few, such as Beachcomber, have turned into party islands. Most are accessible by boat within an hour or so from Nadi, so some beaches burst with day-trippers.
- Best Hotel: Mana Island Resort & Spa
Divine beaches, sapphire-blue lagoons, lofty volcanoes, and approachable villages – these islands have it all. Sparsely-populated, and often so tiny they can be circled on foot within an hour, the Yasawas cater more for those seeking budget and mid-range accommodation, in contrast to the pricier Mamanuca Islands nearby. Attractions include the dramatic rugged interior, villages unaffected by mass tourism, superior snorkeling, and the chance to laze on a Crusoe-esque beach with no-one else around. And the islands are easy to reach by boat within an hour or 2 from Nadi.
- Best Hotel: Barefoot Manta Island
Although close to the main island, the Lomaivitis are usually overlooked – yet they’re perfect for anyone seeking isolation and serenity without long, infrequent and expensive inter-island flights. The main island, Ovalau, offers a pleasing range of accommodation, while the majority of the upmarket and exclusive resorts are dotted among remote atolls. The activities above and below the water seem endless, and include hiking among jungles and waterfalls. And an unexpected pleasure is the country’s first capital, Levuka on Ovalau Island. With colonial-era buildings protected by a UNESCO listing, it’s the only town in Fiji that could be called ‘quaint’.
- Best Hotel: Royal Hotel