Love the sun? Love the sand? Love the sea? Love to surf? That’s four things you’ve got in common with Fiji’s many other visitors, who flock to this country that’s made up of over 300 mountainous, jungle-covered islands. Fiji may have one of the most developed economies of any Pacific Island, but due to its geography, with so much of the population spread out on over 100 different islands, many local people suffer from inadequate access to education, healthcare and other social services. Rural communities on the outlying islands struggle with poverty. They live largely on subsistence farming, which may seem idyllic, but which results in many poor, rural children dropping out of school at the age of 13 or 14 in order to work on the family farm. Most of Fiji’s visitors only see the beautiful beaches and resorts, but if you come to Fiji as a volunteer, you can provide access to healthcare, economic opportunity and education to people who otherwise would have been left without it. Fiji is a beautiful place where volunteers can really make a difference.
- Less than a third (106 out of 332) of the islands in the archipelago that makes up Fiji are inhabited.
- Only 10% of the area of Fiji is land.
- The two main sources of foreign income for Fiji are tourism and sugar exports.
- Fiji was colonized by the British in 1874 and it gained independence in 1970. In 1987, a republic was declared after a coup, and it wasn’t until 2014, after a series of further coup’s, that Fiji held its first democratic election.
- The climate is one of Fiji’s many natural draw-cards – it is tropical with very rare extremes. This makes it balmy year round. And with temperatures often rising above 30C, the pace of life in Fiji is deliciously slow. The eternal question being asked by most Fijians seems to be, “Why hurry?”
- Gloriously fresh seafood abounds in Fiji, and it is often served with root vegetables such as cassava, taro, plantain and jackfruit, as well as ota, the leaves of a native tree fern that taste a bit like spinach, and miti, a relish made from grated coconut.
- Fiji is officially one of the happiest nations on Earth – according to a WIN-Gallup poll, 89% of Fijians are happy.
- Kava is to Fiji as beer is to most Western countries (except without the brawling and the hangovers). The ceremonial drinking of kava out of half-coconut shells will leave you calm and relaxed – the drink is a natural sedative made from the roots of a kind of pepper plant.
- When visiting Fiji’s villages, avoid offending the locals – wear sarongs to cover your legs and shoulders, don’t wear a hat, and don’t carry your bag from a shoulder strap.
- For brave and experienced surfers, the waves of Cloudbreak, Swimming Pools and Frigates are legendary.
- There’s amazing snorkeling and diving to be had off the islands’ lovely, palm-fringed beaches. Fiji is known as the “soft coral capital of the world” for good reason.
- You might not associate Fiji with cities, but two-thirds of the population live in urban centers. The island of Viti Levu is home to the cities of Suva (the capital) and Lautoka, a port town. Suva has a youthful, student-y vibe and a thriving nightlife.
- Visit Colo-i-Suva National Park for walks through lush rainforest amid teeming bird and animal life.
- If you visit during July or August, go to Mariamma Temple in Suva to watch the spectacular South Indian fire-walking festival.
- Navala is a quaint, picturesque mountain village, with buildings almost all made from only local materials. There is only one telephone in the whole village! Locals charge tourists a fee to enter, but it’s worth it for the step back in time that you’ll get to take when you visit.
- As if spending time on Fiji’s idyllic beaches won’t leave you relaxed enough, Fiji is also home to a number of its own special relaxation techniques. Indulge in traditional Fijian Bobo massage with local nut oils; Duavata island-style four-handed massage; or Thalgo therapy mud and algae wraps.
- A traditional Fijian banquet is a must-see during your stay. At a “lovo”, local people dig a big hole in the ground and fill it with banana leaves and hot stones, light a fire in it and then cook whole chickens, pork and root vegetables in it. This “earth oven” cooks the meat perfectly, and the subsequent feast is a celebration of friendship and community.
Fiji is one of the main airline hubs of the Pacific. Nadi International Airport (NAN) is where most visitors to Fiji arrive.
Fiji is only a short flight away from Australia and New Zealand, and is a popular stop-over point between the US and Australia or New Zealand. Fiji Airways (formerly Air Pacific) flies direct to Fiji from Los Angeles, but if flying in from another US city, it might be worthwhile to fly via Hawaii, Australia or New Zealand.
From the UK and Europe, you can either fly via Hawaii (Honolulu) or Los Angeles, or via Hong Kong or Seoul. Flying to Australia or New Zealand with a stopover in Fiji is also an option.