In Fiji, a Vivid Underwater World Awaits

The South Pacific’s famously biodiverse marine environment is the perfect destination for conservation-minded visitors.

A person scuba diving among sharks and fish

Friendly reef sharks swim among guests at Vomo Island.

Courtesy of Vomo Island resort

Fiji’s marine life is famously beautiful: a colorful show of turtles, rays, and sharks swirling amid sun-dappled shades of green and blue. The main stage for this dazzling performance is its array of coral reefs—fragile ecosystems in which the symbiotic relationship between plants and fish plays out daily, their delicate dance a microcosm of our ever more stressed planet.

Given this aquatic world’s wonders, it’s no surprise that the hotels on the archipelago’s 333 islands are at the forefront of marine conservation efforts. In the south, Kokomo Private Island works with local nonprofit Manta Project Fiji to identify, tag, and protect manta rays in the surrounding aquamarine waters. The resort also shows visitors how to swim and snorkel among them peacefully. Six Senses Fiji, meanwhile, planted 600 mangrove saplings in 2022 to provide shelter for marine life, part of a larger ecological restoration project that extends protection to terrestrial species too, including the Pacific boa snake and the critically endangered Fijian crested iguana.

Several resorts have in-house marine biologists. At Vomo Island resort, Laisenia Rokoua oversees such initiatives as coral planting, species identification, and coastal cleanups. On the characteristically dreamy private island, children can make coral “cookies” out of concrete and pieces of living coral that are then planted in the reef. The hotel has just constructed little “fish houses” to protect the reef’s smaller finned residents.

A roofed wooden deck with empty white and red seats overlooking the Pacific Ocean

Nanuku Resort Fiji in Pacific Harbour on Viti Levu comprises just a few dozen villas over 500 acres—and includes a private island fringed with a reef.

Courtesy of Nanuku Resort

“I get so much enjoyment out of watching our guests participate in these practical activities that really have a positive impact,” Rokoua says. “It’s a feeling of achievement to be good for the planet and know that a little thing like making a coral cookie can breathe some life back into the ocean.”

At Nanuku Resort, on Fiji’s largest island of Viti Levu, I observed some of these efforts firsthand. Marine scientist and sustainability manager Kelly-Dawn Bentley showed me how delicate mangrove saplings are nurtured on-site and then planted along the coast near villages, where local communities can witness the carbon-sequestering plants’ superpowers as storm protection barriers. Seremaia “Jerry” Delana, Nanuku’s sustainability officer, snorkeled with me alongside the resort’s reef. He pointed out parrotfish (which nibble away the algae) and the angular metal structures of coral nurseries, which seemed a little incongruous but provide vital support for an ecosystem threatened by spear fishing, storms, and ocean warming.

As we drifted with the currents, spying the hopeful signs of newly planted coral nurturing tiny fish, a distinct lack of other travelers made it even more memorable. Comparatively few people come to experience—and protect—Fiji’s splendor. (Some 70,000 came from the United States in 2022, compared to 7.7 million Americans who went to Hawai‘i. Fiji welcomed just 636,000 inbound visitors overall in 2022.) That means you “don’t have to worry about overtourism,” according to Josua “Josh” Cakautini, Nanuku’s gregarious cultural ambassador. “There is lots of space on our islands to welcome everyone.”

Tips for planning your trip

  • Make it a cruise: The 13-night “Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands & Society Islands” itinerary from Paul Gauguin Cruises stops twice in Fiji and visits tiny Beqa Island, where snorkeling adventures await.
  • Don’t miss: Participate in a kava ceremony, in which a mildly intoxicating brew made from the Piper methysticum plant is passed among hosts and visitors.
  • Required eating: Try lovo, a meal of chicken or pork and root vegetables wrapped in leaves and cooked on top of heated rocks in a pit in the ground.

For the full list of our favorite destinations this year, read Where to Go in 2024.

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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