Tongatapu Main

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Sunday is the perfect day to go to the beach in Tonga - if you're a visitor; an islander found swimming on the Sabbath is subject to a fine. Yes, they do take their religion seriously in the "Friendly Isles."

Tonga, like its neighbor to the west, Fiji, is not just one island, but an entire archipelago of far-flung isles. In Tonga's case, the islands number about 170 (only about 45 are inhabited), geographically divided into four distinct groups. Tongatapu, with the capital of Nuku'alofa, is the hub of this island chain in western Polynesia. Two of every three Tongans live here (including King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV), and if you can't live without some sports (rugby is the game here), a little nightlife, and low-key shopping, Tongatapu will help ease the transition to the rest of Tonga - the beautiful coral atolls of the Ha'apai group (some of the best shelling in the entire Pacific), the cruising waters of the Vava'u group, or (for the truly off-the-beaten-beach traveler) the remote Niuas chain to the north.

Beaches are, in fact, are one of the main attractions throughout Tonga, along with sensational snorkeling and a rich culture that finds its most lasting expression in dance and song. But the active traveler will also find surfing (beachbreaks on northern Tongatapu) and hiking (through rain forest on nearby 'Eua island), as well as horseback riding (don't expect saddles, however), caves to explore (near Nuku'alofa), kayaking, sailing, and diving. And on Sunday, when the entire island chain closes down for church services you'll have those white-sand beaches all to yourself.