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Fiji
Fiji is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, almost halfway between North America and Australia. International travelers fly into Nadi International Airport, on Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island (referred to by locals as the "mainland"). Here, you can explore museums, markets, and national parks. Head out by plane or boat to other islands, where you'll find luxurious and romantic hideaways, dive resorts, or beach shacks where you can get away from it all, Robinson Crusoe-style. Wherever you go, you'll be greeted with a hearty "Bula!" by welcoming locals.
To find Fiji's best beaches, look beyond the main island of Viti Levu. Many islands and most resorts have lagoons, where protective reefs calm the waves; low tide can turn lagoons into shallow wading pools. You'll find the country's best collection of silken sands on the Yasawa Islands, including several good options on Yasawa, the northerly island of the chain. The Mamanuca Islands also offer some excellent choices. For an unusual option, consider an offshore beach. As tides come and go, pristine sandbars appear. They make a great base for snorkeling, and some resorts will drop you off for a private, romantic afternoon.
Visit the bustling capital city of Suva on Viti Levu to see the country's busiest food market. In addition to getting a taste of Fijian cuisine, you'll also see Fiji's cultural diversity up close here. Learn about Fiji's many ethnic groups, and the country's history, at Suva's Fiji Museum. If flowers are more your thing, head to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, home to more than 2,000 different types of orchids. Get to know local critters, like parrots, boas, and iguanas at Kula Eco Park, a haven for Fijian wildlife. For an active inland adventure, tour companies will take you on river trips or hiking in Koroyanitu National Park, where you'll discover waterfalls and local villages.
Be sure to check out a lovo feast, the traditional Fijian meal cooked in a pit. Most resorts offer a lovo feast at least one night a week. Resorts can also organize a formal or informal kava ceremony. One thing you might not expect in Fiji is Indian food, but with nearly 40% of the population coming from Indian immigrant origins (many brought in under British colonial rule), you'll encounter some excellent Indian cuisine. At upscale resorts, chefs often hail from Australia or New Zealand, bringing with them their countries' taste for fresh seafood and lamb. If you like to fish, check to see if the resort will prepare your catch for you; many will if you've gone out on their boat.
Fijians' friendliness is legendary, and if you want to experience local hospitality firsthand, many resorts offer the opportunity to visit a local village. You'll likely be invited to participate in a kava ceremony, where the mildly hallucinogenic drink is served, and offered some handicrafts for purchase. Most resorts also have evening shows with Fijian song and dance performances. While some offer slick, professional troupes, in more isolated areas it's often locals who are performing from the heart. If you're in Fiji on a Sunday, hearing an a cappella church choir could be one of the highlights of your trip.
While Fiji is a year-round destination, high season runs from May to October, coinciding with the winter dry season. Temperatures and humidity are lower, and there's less risk of extended rainfall or cyclones. International travelers fly into Nadi International Airport, and often transfer by plane or boat to their final destinations. Resorts will either provide or help to organize transportation from Nadi. English is widely spoken, and the most important Fijian word to learn is, "Bula!" ("Hello!"). If you're staying at an all-inclusive resort, a credit card may be all you'll need, but Fijian dollars are available from ATMs in the airport and major cities. Tipping is nice, but not expected. Voltage is 240, with Australian three-prong plugs.
Gayle Keck AFAR Contributor