Putting together a gallery of epic Fiji photos is, we’re a little embarrassed to say, as easy as it looks. After all, the islands of Fiji abound with everything from tumbling jungle waterfalls to white-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms. But Fiji isn’t just about idyllic South Pacific islandscapes. What makes these islands so enchanting are the people. Establish eye contact for a second, and you’ll find yourself downing kava with the local chief and shouting “Bula!” Fiji is truly the friendliest place in the world. Think of this list of our top 11 things to do in Fiji as a starting point for your dream Fiji vacation.
Day 1: Decompress on Viti Levu
Fiji’s largest isle, Vitu Levu, is home to the official capital, Suva (on the east coast), as well as the tourism capital, Nadi, arrival point for international flights via Air Pacific. But don’t hop on that interisland flight right away. Take a taxi ride from Nadi International Airport to the forested foothills of the Sabeto Range where late actor Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame) created the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a botanic sanctuary of vanilla-scented orchids and Zen-like lily ponds. Make the most of it by checking into the family-run Fiji Orchid resort. Stay in one of six elegant bures (Fijian-style bungalows), each with glass walls and a tent-like roof. The feel is blissfully remote, but you’re only 15 minutes from downtown Nadi.
Day 2: Sample the Culture in Nadi
At Nadi’s open-air souvenir market, pick up traditional Fijian crafts such as wooden kava bowls, hand-painted saris and scepter-like cannibal forks, the latter a nod to the region’s colorful past. Then explore the country’s Indian legacy at Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple, an elaborately painted Hindu temple. Nearly half of Fiji’s population is of Southeast Asian heritage, descendants of the Indians and Bengalis who came to work the British sugar-cane plantations in the late 1800s and decided to stay. Finish up your tour by tasting the melding of these cultures with an Indo-Fijian feast of fresh fish curry and spiced roti at the Curry House, a Nadi favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Day 3: Fly Over the Mamanucas
To get a different vantage of Fiji’s topography, take a helicopter tour from Nadi International Airport to the Mamanuca Islands, a string of islets that stretch for miles northwest of Vitu Levu. One of the highlights: Monuriki, the island Tom Hanks made famous in Castaway. Not close enough? You can also take day trips to the islands or experience them on a multi-day cruise.
Day 4: See Fire-Walking on Beqa
Located just off Vitu Levu’s southern coast is Beqa Island and the surrounding Beqa Lagoon, home to more than 100 dives sites, some just a five- to 20-minute boat ride from shore. See why Fiji is considered the soft coral capital of the world as you spy on blue ribbon eels, ghost pipefish, seahorses, pelagics and more — most at depths above 50 feet. But it’s not just about underwater sightseeing. Beqa Island is home to the Sawau tribe, who originated the traditional art of fire-walking. At the Lalati Resort and Spa, take in a fire-walking ceremony where warriors tread over burning embers from a lovo (earth oven) shouting “O-vulo-vulo!”
Day 5: Drink Kava on Vanua Levu
Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu, sits to the north and is accessible via a short flight from Nadi. Here you’ll find a more rural atmosphere, with stellar beaches and a number of fantastic resorts. On the south coast lies the eco-minded Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. With a name like this, you know you’ll find epic diving (complete with an on-site marine biologist to guide you), but it’s also a great place to see traditional village life. With a tour of Nukubaluvu Village, you’ll take part in a sevu-sevu (gift giving) ceremony, followed by kava drinking (an absolute must-do in Fiji) and a wild traditional dance with grass-skirted warriors.
Day 6: Discover Pearls in Savusavu
Justin Hunter has spent the past decade cultivating some of world’s most unique pearls in the pristine waters of Savusavu Bay. While you can find Hunter’s distinctive products at a variety of stores and resorts, they’re best sourced, well, right at the source. J. Hunter Pearls’ flagship shop is situated on the town of Savusavu’s main street, a stone’s throw from where the pearls are harvested.
Day 7: Hike the Falls of Taveuni
Located just off Vanua Levu’s east coast is Taveuni Island, known as Fiji’s Garden of Eden. More than 80 percent of it is protected within the Bouma National Heritage Park, and it teems with rare orchids, prehistoric tree ferns, tumbling waterfalls and natural water slides. Don’t miss the Tavoro waterfalls, a 60-foot horsetail of white water that cascades into an emerald pool and is easily accessible via a flat, grassy trail.
Day 8: Overwater It on Malolo
Lap up the lagoon views at Likuliku Lagoon Resort, home to Fiji’s only overwater huts. Take a bath overwater. Read a book overwater. Brush your teeth overwater. Here, everyday tasks seem new and exciting. Glass floors and glass counters let Fiji’s blues radiate throughout your living space at every turn. The hut is more house than hut thanks to an entryway, a full bath and shower, and a living space that trumps most overwater offerings in space and style. Stay one night or nine weeks. Leave only if you must.
Day 9: Hunt Lairo Crab on Qamea
A short boat ride from Taveuni, the intimate island of Qemea hosts lush jungle-clad hills and pristine beaches alike. Qamea is also known throughout Fiji as the home of the Lairo, a unique — and remarkably tasty — species of land crab that inhabit the island’s steep hills. During full moons from November to January, guests of Qamea Resort and Spa head into the jungle at sunset hoping to snare the Lairo as they trek toward the shoreline to breed. After a night spent awakening your inner hunter-gatherer, savor the fruits of your labor with a once-in-a-lifetime lunch of Lairo the next day.
Day 10: Get Lost on Matangi Island
Just north of Taveuni lies Matangi Private Island Resort, where thatched-roof bures built on stilts peek out from the leafy jungle canopy. (They also have bures on the sand if you prefer.) Pack a picnic basket and play Robinson Crusoe in Horseshoe Bay, a scimitar of sand cupped inside the once-active crater. You can snorkel right off the beach and then nap the afternoon away.
Day 11: Couple Up on Turtle Island
The setting for the 2011 Sports Illustrated calendar, this couples-only private-island resort remains as beautiful as it was more than 30 years ago when Brooke Shields filmed The Blue Lagoon here. The resort caters to couples (past guests include John and Cindy McCain and Brittany Spears and Kevin Federline) who hide out in luxe beachside bures, with a dedicated “bure mama” to handle any requests from room service to impromptu foot massages. Committed to sustainability, the resort has planted more than 500,000 trees in the past 30 years and gets much of its produce from an on-site organic garden. On sunny days, the recent installation of nearly 1,000 solar panels covers virtually all of the island’s power needs.