When you picture paradise, you’re basically picturing Fiji.
Over 300 different little islands, some huge and covered in a mix of villages and resorts and cities; others so small you can walk round them in a few minutes. All of them though have looming coconut palms, the friendliest locals and sea so blue you just want to lie on a lilo all day long, the water lapping beneath you so clear you can always see incredible coral.
Oh and the sunsets? They’re something else…
So how is it possible to visit such a luxury holiday destination place without saving until you’re middle aged?
Well, hit up the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands – a slither of the dreamiest destinations, which are connected by a bright yellow ferry. It’s about a five-hour journey from the very north of the island chain, back to the luxurious port of Denarau on the main Fijian island of Viti Levu (where you’ll find capital Nadi).
They’re the most popular set of islands when it comes to young travellers. Bear these tips in mind and you’ll have the perfect paradise trip – one you probably never thought possible as a lowly backpacker.
1. How does island hopping work? Your best bet is to buy a Bula combo pass (“Bula” means hello FYI) through Awesome Adventures Fiji, for a duration of five to 21 days. Then you can book islands in advance or speak to travel agents onboard the ferry as you travel, for up to five hours, between islands. Popular ones (Barefoot Manta especially) fill up, so this can be risky. Five islands = around two weeks in Fiji.
2. Be patient and prepared for travel issues. The Yasawa flyer boat that takes you between islands is not exactly reliable – everythign is on Fiji time. Be ready for disruptions … and take snacks.
3. Buy water on the mainland. You might be told you can drink the tap water while staying on some of the resorts in the Yasawas and Mamanucas but don’t – take our word for it. Big bottles of water will set you back about £5 so buy crates from the cheap supermarkets on the mainland before you island hop.
4. Between May and October manta rays migrate and you can swim with them – so definitely save money for that. On the islands of Manta Ray resort and Barefoot Manta (geddit?) an alarm rings when some have been spotted. There’s also the chance to snorkel with sharks in Fiji. Yikes. You can spot them right up close to the shore just while walking along the beach, but go on a snorkelling trip from Barefoot Kuata and you’re guaranteed to be swimming alongside them.
5. Make the most of free snorkelling trips on the islands that have them. The ones from Beachcomber (twice daily) include the chance to feed the fish before you jump in. Fiji is famous for its bright blue starfish – honestly you’ll be blown away by how many you see. On Manta Ray island and Barefoot Manta you can float around and sunbathe in big rubber rings for free; while you’re surrounded by friendly humbug fish in the shallow, warm water.
6. Go to Beachcomber for serious fun – we’re talking four happy hours a day. It’s weird accommodation with 100-bed dorms that don’t really have windows – but it’s definitely an experience. Dancing on tables is acceptable – and dancing barefoot is a must (the bar is basically built on sand). There’s DJs, and a ridiculously long cocktail list, including refreshing alcoholic slushies.
7. Go for the “two coconut” rated accommodation – this means you sleep in little bures – the Fijian word for a wood and straw hut. Often these are right on the edge of the sand, metres from being able to snorkel after you wake up, or they’re perched on a cliff top with an ocean view. With these little beach shacks you might even get your own standalone bed. Yes, talk about luxury.
8. Go to the very north of the Yasawa islands for the famous blue lagoon. Resorts there include Safe Landing Resort, Coralview, Nabua Lodge and the fancier Blue Lagoon Beach resort. At family-run Safe Landing there are countless free activities – golf, traditional medicine lessons and jewellery making using coconuts. They offer a trip to the actual blue lagoon – but if you’re feeling the pinch, rest assured that, at the resort, you can swim right out and be literally surrounded by turquoise water and nothing else.
9. Get to know the locals who work at the resorts and accommodation. They’ll knock coconuts down for you to slurp out of, play rounds upon rounds of cards with you, and tell you stories about the islands, their families, and so much about Fiji. Tourism is so important to them and this is what the famous Fijian hospitality is all about.
10. Rum is their local spirit so it’s not too pricey. Also pineapple Fanta is a thing here – try it to believe it. And Fijian beer is quite good too. However, if you just want a few nights partying, head to Beachcomber. Otherwise Fiji’s vibe is much more a tipple or two as you watch the sunset followed by early nights. Breakfast is often served at 7am.
11. Be warned: if you stay on one island more than three days you will get sick of the food as they tend to serve the meals on rotation. You’ll get a lot of fresh fish though, which is absolutely delicious, and there’s a lot of yummy Indian influence in Fijian cooking and BBQ-style lunches. Take snacks with you from the mainland though if you’re a particularly fussy eater – watermelon in egg fried rice anyone?!
12. Plan which islands you want to hop between before you go – pick resorts that include food in their price, some you have to pay extra for on arrival. The islands vary in terms of what they offer – some are more rainforest-y, with hikes up mountains like on Way Lai Lai, while others are simply just about the beaches. For a taste of luxury with good food, but still a backpacker place, head for Barefoot Manta.
13. Spend time on the main island of Viti Levu if you can – there are popular hostels with big pools and cheap meals and drinks, such as Smugglers Cove. But venture far out of the tourist-y areas and obviously be prepared for it to be very different to the luxurious Yasawa and Mamanuca islands. In fact many people choose to volunteer while in Fiji, at places like local schools, as a huge percentage of Fijians live in poverty.
14. Make the most of the sunrises and sunsets. Seriously – there’s nothing quite like sitting in a hammock watching the blurring of oranges and yellows and reds over the pacific ocean. Oh and snorkelling at sunrise? Better than you can ever imagine.
15. Pick South Sea island as one of your stops. Yes, it’s the closest island to the mainland so it feels a bit more commercial (they get day trippers here every day, cue screaming kids and drunken grandmas – fo’ real). But in the evening there can literally just be a handful of backpackers staying the night and you can dine under the stars. We’re not kidding when we say you can walk from one side to the other in under 20 footsteps.
16. There are things you just don’t need to worry about buying on the mainland – for example, sun cream is often left out for people to use for free. And, side note, wi-fi is never free. There are some islands where you can buy it – but unless it’s an emergency, don’t bother. It’s super slow, and crazy expensive – we’re talking £20 for an hour. Plus spending time bonding with other backpackers instead of Instagramming everything for your mates at home, is part of the beauty of Fiji.
Although those snaps of paradise will make people jealous whenever you get chance to upload them…