Fiji is one of those far-off tropical island destinations that many travelers dream about. Relaxed beaches, palm trees, thatch-roof bungalows, free-flowing kava, and some of the friendliest locals on the planet earn Fiji a great reputation. Fiji is located in the South Pacific, a ways east of Australia and north of New Zealand. Just to the West of the international dateline, it’s one of the first places in the world to see the sun each day! Being so close to Australia and New Zealand, it’s easy to add Fiji onto a trip to either of those two countries, especially New Zealand where there are several flights to Fiji each day. However, Fiji is great to visit all on its own, and there’s plenty to do there to fill a whole trip, even for the most restless traveler.
Comprising about 330 different islands, Fiji is larger and more diverse than many travelers realize. We can divide the country roughly into a few different regions, each with a slightly different feel, weather pattern and activities on offer. Depending on what you want most from your Fijian vacation, you will find one area to be more your style than another.
Nadi and Port Denarau
Nadi is located on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, and it’s where the major international airport is located. So you will probably land in Nadi when you first arrive in Fiji. This area is known for its easy access from the airport and domestic ferry terminal. Therefore, the Nadi area is ideal if you must stay overnight near the airport due to transportation schedules to the outer islands.
There are a number of 3 and 4-star hotels around Nadi. Many of the nicest resorts, including most major chain properties, are about a 20-minute drive from Nadi airport in an place called Port Denarau. Port Denarau is a resort district, meaning it has been developed entirely for tourism. It is clean and well maintained, with a golf course, international restaurants, the Hard Rock Cafe, and souvenir shopping complexes. These properties usually aren’t all-inclusive, since there are several places to dine nearby. The beaches here are not the best, being small, sometimes rough, and with dark compact sand. Port Denarau is the departure point for ferries to many of the outer islands, so it makes for a convenient stay if you have an early morning ferry to catch.
If you have just two nights to spend in Fiji, then Nadi and Port Denarau are your best bet. It’s also great for multi-generational family groups, because there are options for everyone. In addition to golf, dining and shopping, this area also has plenty of other fun activities. Most popular is to embark on an island-hopping day cruise with snorkeling, though there is also parasailing, jet skiing, surfing, light cultural tours to the island interior, skydiving, zip lining, fishing charters, and flightseeing by helicopter or even… by float plane!
If you’re heading to Fiji to get away from major tourist attractions, experience lots of peace and quiet, or spend time lying on a beautiful beach, then this area isn’t your best option. It also tends to be at greater risk for cyclones during cyclone season (more on that below!)
The Coral Coast and Pacific Harbour
For those with at least three or four nights to spend in Fiji who want access to lots of activities, the Coral Coast and Pacific Harbour are a great option. Still located on Fiji’s largest island, the Coral Coast begins about a 45 minute drive from Nadi International Airport and extends along the southwestern coastline of the main island. Therefore, it’s great for travelers who prefer not to take a boat or another flight to reach their resort. Past the Coral Coast, Pacific Harbour is the name of the shoreline that begins about a two-hour drive from Nadi airport, heading eastward towards the capital city of Suva. Suva has its own regional airport, so depending on where you stay in Pacific Harbour, you may prefer to fly to Suva and then travel overland from there.
The Coral Coast and Pacific Harbour are a great place to find family-friendly resorts around the 3-4 star range, with just one or two more luxurious options. The beaches tend to be better here than around Nadi and Port Denarau, with lighter sand and enough space to relax on a beach chair or two.
In addition to easy overland access from Nadi airport, this area is also known as the adventure capital of Fiji. Inland, you’ll find whitewater rafting, river jet boating and canoeing, light hiking, caving, golf, and shopping in local markets. On the water, you’ll find all of Fiji’s most popular watersports, including snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, motor cruising, and diving in Beqa Lagoon with sharks. There’s something here for the whole family!
Off the coast of Pacific Harbour, you’ll find a 5-star all-inclusive adults-only resort on its own private island, one of the few luxurious private island resorts in this part of the country. Small and romantic, you can reach it from Nadi by helicopter in just 35 minutes! Of course, if helicopters aren’t your thing, then you can take a small plane to a boat, or travel overland by car to the boat departure.
By far, the Mamanucas are the most popular place to stay in Fiji for a private island resort experience. They are the closest island chain to Nadi International Airport, with easy access by boat from the mainland. The closest resorts are under an hour by ferry, though you can also take a quick water taxi, helicopter or seaplane direct from Nadi.
The Mamanucas are best for those with at least four or five nights to spend in Fiji, who want better beaches than they’ll find on the mainland, and who like more boutique or independent resorts. The Mamanucas are also good for snorkeling, diving and fishing, and most day cruises from the mainland go into the Mamanucas for these activities.
Accommodations here run the full spectrum from 3 to 5 star, with both family-friendly and adults-only options. Many islands have only one resort on them, while bigger islands might have two or three. Since you’re somewhat captive on an island, most resorts here are all-inclusive with meals and some watersports included in the rate. This means that they are often a great deal when compared to resorts on the mainland or in other tropical island countries like Tahiti, where meals and activities aren’t usually included! The Mamanuca Islands are also home to ten of Fiji’s eleven overwater bungalows.
Most activities in the Mamanuca Islands revolve around the water. Snorkeling, diving, fishing, island hopping, sailing, and sea kayaking are available from all of these islands. Some have access to a secluded sand bar for a romantic picnic. Most resorts have activities on land like tennis, volleyball, or cultural lessons… but water is the main focus. Or, perhaps you’d just like to vegetate on the beach with a cocktail!
Keep in mind that while Fiji has nice beaches, and the Mamanucas tend to see better beaches than the mainland, even here they tend to be smaller and rougher than the ones you’d find in the Caribbean. Fortunately, on Fijian beaches, you’re not competing with hundreds of other guests for space on the sand. Also, one reason Fijian beaches are smaller is that they have coral and fish close to shore. This means that you don’t have to travel so far to reach good snorkeling and diving. Many resorts even have their own “house reef” for exclusive use by their guests!
If you’re looking for lots of local culture, hiking, waterfalls, or a tiny resort with lots of peace and quiet, then the Mamanucas are not your best option. You’re better off heading farther from the mainland, either to the Yasawas or to the Northern Islands.
Remote, sun-drenched, romantic and exclusive, the Yasawa Islands are best for travelers who want to “get away from it all.” They are located north of the Mamanuca Islands, several hours by boat from the mainland. The best way to reach them is by seaplane or helicopter, which not only saves time, but also provides a stunning view of islands and tropical blue waters below. Due to the distant location, the Yasawas are best for those who have at least four or five nights in Fiji, though six or seven is ideal.
The Yasawas are one of the driest places in the country, which means that they are the best option for travelers who want to minimize their risk of rain. Beaches here are some of the best in Fiji. Being less touristed, the Yasawas have island after island with uninterrupted coastline for a secluded beach picnic. Also, unlike the Mamanucas, here you won’t see many other boats traveling by… it’s all about the peace and quiet.
The Yasawas are not the ideal destination for those who want tons of activities, big resorts with tennis courts and golf courses, lush rainforest, or to see “the real Fiji” with lots of local cultural interaction. The most common activity here is to relax in the sun with a cocktail, or enjoy a day at the spa.
One popular day trip for visitors here is to unique underwater caves, where you can snorkel in and out of underground limestone lagoons. However, you will also find your typical Fijian activities at all resorts in the Yasawas, like sea kayaking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and cruising. On land, you might even find some easy walks to a less touristed Fijian village, or to a private beach.
Resorts here are some of the smallest and most romantic in Fiji. Options are few, due to the location, but they really go “all out” to provide plenty of comfort and for honeymooners, lots of private time. Resorts here are about 4 to 4.5 star, mostly adults-only, with rustic barefoot luxury. They do tend to cost a bit more, since it takes more time and effort for supplies for get there. However, visitors who make the trek are well rewarded with quiet relaxation and personalized service. If you enjoy staying at tiny independent resorts with friendly staff who are eager to make your stay unique, then the Yasawas are an excellent choice.
The Northern Islands include Fiji’s second- and third-largest islands, Vanua Levu and Taveuni respectively. The northern group also includes a number of smaller private island resorts, like Matangi, Qamea, Laucala and Nukubati. Fiji’s northern islands have tropical rainforest, the best dive spots in the country, the most authentic local culture experiences in the country, and a stunning variety of other activities to boot.
The North is best for travelers who have five days or more in Fiji, though a week to ten days is ideal. You can reach Vanua Levu by domestic flight into Labasa or Savusavu airports, and reach Taveuni and points East by domestic flight into Taveuni airport. From the airport, you can take a private motorboat or overland vehicle to your resort, depending on whether it’s located on the same island as your airport or not.
Fiji is known as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World,” and all of its best dive sites are in the North. Somosomo Strait is the most famous, with its stunning Rainbow Reef and Great White Wall providing more than just coral, but also plenty of tropical fish, reef sharks, and even manta rays. Several 3-5 star resorts, some for families and some adults-only, offer access to Somosomo Strait.
More remote and even more pristine is Fiji’s incredible Great Sea Reef, the third longest barrier reef in the world. There is one resort with access to this reef, on its own private island at about a four-star level.
In addition to great dives, the Northern islands also offer excellent hiking and waterfalls, authentic local village and school visits, reef walks and talks, a rare pearl farm, and a variety of marine life from tropical fish and crabs to turtles, octopi, turtles and dolphins. Resorts also have all your typical Fijian activities like snorkeling, boating, fishing, sea kayaking, relaxing spas, kava-drinking ceremonies and more. A few have horseback riding, golf and tennis courts.
Accommodations range from 3 to 5 star and tend to be small and independently-owned. In keeping with the remoteness of many Fijian resorts, rates are usually all-inclusive with meals and non-motorized watersports included.
Since the Northern Islands are near to such great dive spots, they tend not to have the best beaches. Ensure that you know whether or not your resort even has a beach before you go. The ones that do have beaches really maximize their impact, with hammocks, privacy, and warm yellow sand. Just offshore though, you will find coral underfoot so reef-walking shoes are helpful.
We love the North of Fiji for its unique feel, authentic local culture, variety of water and land activities, and exclusive resorts.
For those going to Fiji for over a week, you may wish to consider combining two different resorts in order to see two different sides of Fiji. Try mixing a northerly resort with one in the Mamanucas or the Coral Coast to experience all the diversity that Fiji has to offer. Just remember that unless you charter a helicopter, you will need to go back through Nadi in between resorts. Due to flight and ferry schedules, you may even need to overnight near Nadi in between. Still, why not try a small thatch-roof bungalow on the beach for part of your stay, and then move to a larger resort with heaps of amenities and activities? This way, you get the best of both worlds.
Fiji’s cyclone season runs roughly from November through March. It’s similar to the hurricane season in the Caribbean, in that you do run the risk of a cyclone, or hurricane, during those months. Peak cyclone season tends to run from Christmas through March. If you must travel during this time period, then consider the Yasawa Islands (which are drier) or the mainland (for easiest access from the airport during inclement weather).
In Fiji, it can rain any time of year, with November through March being the wettest. However, even on wet days, it tends to rain for just a couple hours in the afternoon with the rest of the day clear. From January through March, you can really find some great deals even at the most exclusive, expensive resorts. There’s only one way Fiji can stay so lush and green, and that’s with the rainfall!
The best time to go from a weather perspective is May through October. These months tend to be driest, and are at lowest risk of cyclones. Just make sure to book early, because since Fiji has so many small, independent, unique resorts, they tend to fill quickly. Nine months ahead is best.
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