Fiji feels like a world away, especially because getting into the Southern Hemisphere means passing the international date line. Once you get used to the fact that you’re living in the future, settling into this gorgeous tropical paradise doesn’t take much effort at all. Scattered across the bottom of the South Pacific, so many individual islands make up the nation of Fiji that even the locals don’t have a firm count (though it’s close to 300). Finding your way in this water-bound country is about balancing daring excursions with plenty of lounging—all while running on island time. Bring plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and an open mind for adventurous activities like river cruises and mud baths, after which you’ll absolutely deserve a cruise on a luxurious catamaran.
If this is your first trip to Fiji, please remember that spending so much time on the open seas can be a blessing and a curse: Dramamine is your friend. Boat travel will be a big part of your time here, and it’s the best way to experience all the beauty this culture has to offer. First and foremost, our best recommendation is to spend some of your time on the main island near Nadi, and the rest exploring an uber private resort on the nearby Mamanuca Islands. Follow along for a meticulous 7-day guide to what to do in Fiji. After all, a ten-hour flight warrants at least a week before it’s time to head home.
Getting to Nadi, Fiji
If you’re based on the east coast, our best advice is to get yourself to LAX before deciding to embark further on your lengthy international journey. The shortest direct flight to Fiji from America is the LA to Nadi route, clocking in at ten hours. The absolute best way to travel to Fiji is Business Class on Fiji Airways, which comes with lie-flat seats, generous access to alcohol options throughout the ten hours and two full meals along with other flourishes like hot towels, blankets, pillows and bedding for the sleeping portion, and enough space to feel safe with or without a mask.
Most flights leave very late in the day to help travelers adjust to the time difference, so splurging on the expensive seats to help get your body accustomed might just be the move. However, even if you settle on economy seats for the journey, Fiji Airways is still recommended for the trip. While American and British Airways do offer direct flights to Nadi airport, Fiji Airways also codeshares with the Oneworld Alliance, so you’ll get your points either way. And flying with the country’s flagship airline lets you support the local economy on the way in, and it serves as a preview of the island culture; the flight attendants wear traditional Fijian garb and the airline has a long history as part of the nation’s journey toward independence from Britain.
Settle in with some earplugs and eye masks, and get ready to wake up a day ahead.
Stay: Sofitel Fiji. Especially if it’s your first time to Fiji, setting up camp on the main island of Viti Levu while you get the lay of the land is a great idea. An even better idea is to kick off your trip at the Sofitel Fiji, which is located on Denarau Island, a private enclave right on the water that’s attached to the mainland by a bridge, and is within walking distance of the marina at Port Denarau. Viti Levu is one of two larger islands that make up Fiji, along with Vanua Levu, but since the airport and Port Denarau are both located on Viti, most visitors end up here.
Back to the Sofitel, it’s one of the higher-end options along the coastline on Denarau and just underwent a renovation that brings it light years ahead of the other properties in the area. Fiji remains a very popular destination for families—especially for Australian and New Zealand travelers, who are dealing with a much shorter flight path—but Sofitel offers a resort-within-resort experience with a swanky adults-only section called Waitui Beach Club. It makes all the difference in the world. Just a short ride from the airport, this “adults-only sanctuary” is exactly where you want to head while jet lagged and ready for rest and a fresh coconut.
Do: Either relax at the pool within Waitui Beach Club, finagle a way to get into your room early and crash for a few hours or step into the Sofitel Spa for a full-body massage to gently work those plane hours out of your system. All the treatments take place in individual huts, or cottages called bures, that offer privacy and ocean views, the best of both worlds.
Pro Tip: If you opt not to stay on the main island for a few nights at the top of your trip, you’ll have to take a bus or car straight from the airport to Port Denarau and catch a boat to your island. Closer islands are only about an hour or so away, but the larger shuttle boats run on a schedule about four times a day, so if you miss the window for your boat it could result in a lengthy wait at the port. Hiring a private boat to take you out to a specific island outside the larger ferries is possible, but very expensive (ask me how I know), so spending that money on a hotel room on the mainland instead just makes more sense. And exploring the main island while you’re there is a great way to get to know the culture, instead of just ditching out straight to a small island like a tourist.
Eat: Another draw of Sofitel is the multiple restaurant options it offers, with the Waitui Bar & Grill being the most popular for guests and the local community alike. While Fiji isn’t necessarily a huge food and beverage destination, local specialities like kokoda, often called Fijian ceviche, offers a heady mix of fish, citrus, chile, fresh veggies and herbs and coconut milk for a spicy, creamy appetizer that’s still incredibly balanced. Honestly, order this dish wherever you go, and then follow it up with some fresh caught fish, lobster or other seafood. Yes, there are turf options, but the surf side of the menu is why you’re here.
Do: Sigatoka River Safari. Ease yourself into your new boat lifestyle with a trip up one of the main rivers in Fiji on the Sigatoka River Safari before heading out to sea. Hey, you’re on the mainland for now so it’s time to explore the local culture a little. Be advised that it’s a bit of a drive to get out to the river from the Nadi area, about an hour and a half by car, so the safari does end up taking a full day. But this river safari is repeatedly billed as one of the top tourist attractions in the country, and that’s probably because it comes complete with a speed boat component that can get downright wet if the captain decides to pull a couple of 360 “Sigatoka spins” during the journey (he absolutely will), as well as a visit to local villages where the residents still live and work in community together.
Though the buildings are shabby and small, and all women are required to wear either pants or skirts that go past their knees, visitors are warmly welcomed in and invited to participate in a kava ceremony with the villagers. Kava is a traditional drink in Fijian culture that’s made from the root of the yaqona plant, it’s a very mild narcotic that has sedative effects when consumed in larger quantities. The yaqona root is dried in the sun and then ground into a powder that’s mixed with water. Each person at the ceremony is invited to have a sip, followed by singing and music, a dance party and a shared lunch prepared by the community.
Eat: If you’re an adventurous eater, partake in the food offered by the villagers, which includes dishes like daal and naan, roti, boiled eggs and spinach, rice, papaya, sweet potato, taro root and a few types of chicken preparations. However, if you prefer to wait until you’re back at Sofitel, Solis Restaurant is another on-site dining option that’s a Mediterranean grill approach on seafood. This might be a good time to indulge in a whole grilled rock lobster, or seafood paella with prawns, calamari and mussels.
Pro Tip: On certain nights of the week, the locals and some staff members gather in Bazaar Kitchen, a buffet style restaurant on the property, to perform native Fijian dances and songs. There’s also a kava ceremony in case you can’t make it all the way out to the village to experience one. The performances are free for guests and all you have to do is grab a seat in the restaurant to watch the show.
Do: Visit one of Fiji’s many disappearing and reappearing sandbanks.
It’s time to dip your toe in the water as far as exploring beyond the mainland. Your jet lag should be pretty manageable by day three, and kicking off with an activity that is almost completely unique to Fiji is in order. There are a few different sandbanks or sandbars near Port Denarau that emerge and submerge with the tides, impermanent patches of sand that are perfect for short trips and lots of those impossibly-clear-water-for-miles pics. Plenty of vendors at the port offer excursions out to these during low tide, but South Sea Sailing’s Sabre catamaran is a good option for first timers to get out to Mana Sandbank. This cruise brings chairs and umbrellas for guests, and even serves drinks during the stop. It’s the quickest way to drive home the fact that you’re essentially in the middle of the ocean.
Do: Hit the local mud baths.
Before leaving the main island for good, one more excursion inland to experience another natural wonder is in order. Sabeto Mud Pools and Hot Springs are about a half hour from the Port Denarau and Nadi area, and again, this is a very local excursion that is not for the faint of heart. But the results are, as it often goes with hot springs, undeniable. First, visitors get completely covered in thick, warm mud that’s packed out of the natural mud pool. Once this has completely dried, guest wade all the way into the mud pool and completely submerge, with all the textures of fallen leaves, silky mud, and hot water underfoot, this can feel a bit unsettling at first. But finding the hot mud feels extremely soothing, and getting out to wash off in the slightly cooler springs, and then moving to a concrete pool full of warm water makes the experience gradually more familiar. And after completing all the steps, your skin will be incredibly smooth and ready for the beach.
Pro Tip: Sofitel offers complimentary laundry services daily for all guests. Absolutely take advantage of this during your first few days of mud baths and river safaris to get your soaked and muddy clothes cleaned up and ready to use during the rest of your trip.
Do: Take a trip to the island where Tom Hanks filmed Castaway.
Staying at Sofitel comes with other perks too, as the resort has a good relationship with the people of Yanuya, who are the owners of Monuriki island. This is a very well known island in Fiji because it’s where Tom Hanks filmed Castaway, though there’s no sign of Wilson these days. In Fiji, most of the native land is still owned by the people themselves, and for a private island like this, special permission has to be granted for guests to visit. If you set up a trip through the property, they can include meals on the boat, jet skis and snorkeling gear and plenty of libations to make an uninhabited area more hospitable. Most of these boat trips involve travel on the way there and back, so plan to spend most of the day out in the sun for a sailing excursion.
Pro Tip: Sea sickness is real, especially once alcohol is involved. If you’re prone to nausea or motion sickness, take Dramamine preventively, several hours before getting on the boat. This will help immensely! Some people even recommend taking it as early as the night before, but an hour or so out always worked for me.
Eat: If you sail all the way out to Monuriki, you’ll want to spend most of the day enjoying its beach and swimming in the infamous light blue water that makes Fiji such an Instagrammable destination. On the way back, stop over in the port to get dinner at Sails, one of the newest restaurants on the mainland. They’ve got a massive drinks list, and island specialities like fish and crab curry, the aforementioned kokoda, and more familiar options like pizzas if you’re ready for a break from seafood.
Stay: Lomani Island Resort.
Staying on the private islands will cost a pretty penny, but it’s a must for anyone visiting Fiji. The main island is a great jumping off point, but these smaller, less inhabited islands are part of what makes Fiji special, and heading out into the nearby Mamanuca Islands is worth every cent. Try an adults-only resort like Lomani for the most private beach experience of your life. With only 30 bures available on the property, most of them opening out directly onto the ocean, this resort is incredibly secluded. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. All guests are given a complimentary foot massage when they first arrive, which is a welcome amenity after the hour-long ride on the Malolo Cat over to the island.
Pro Tip: There’s another resort on this island, Musket Cove, that also has its own set of restaurants. A short golf car ride can pop you over to Dick’s Place or Trader Cafe for another dining option aside from Lomani’s own excellent oceanfront spot, The Flame Tree.
Do: With a gorgeous pool that looks out on Malolo Lailai bay, the de facto private beaches out front of each guest’s personal bure, the best thing to do once you’ve settled in at Lomani is to swim and lounge. This island is private for a reason, and it’s a coveted place to soak up the sun with snacks and drinks and settle into Fiji time. Being on one of the smaller islands means there’s fewer activities and amenities nearby, and yes, much slower wifi, but that’s also part of the appeal. Of course, if you’re feeling antsy or active there’s also snorkeling, fishing, and plenty of other sporty activities that the island includes for guests at no additional cost.
Do: Cloud 9.
One of the most popular attractions in Fiji is a floating bar out in the middle of the ocean, pretty rightly named Cloud 9. With upper and lower decks, a dance floor and DJ booth, lots of drinks, snorkeling gear, safe water for swimming and including food options, this day trip is the chance to hang out on a literal floating bar all day. There’s even a pizza oven on board. A rotating cast of chillhouse DJs makes this a low key day club that can be a chance to dance and party, or just as easily be another day spent snorkeling, or lounging in the sun. Lomani offers a roundtrip package out to Cloud 9, which is very close to the property, so setting up a visit through the hotel is a seamless process.
Eat: The Flame Tree.
Head back to the resort and freshen up for a dinner at The Flame Tree, Lomani’s signature restaurant that also has some of the best food in Fiji. Head chef Pranesh Gounder offers everything from ribeye to mahi mahi to local seafood and vegetables. There are few restaurants in the world where every single table offers an ocean view, and The Flame Tree is one of them. There are also private dining tables out closer to the water that are secluded for couples or visitors who want a more intimate setting.
Pro tip: The bures on this property come complete with outdoor showers, but since it can be very humid or hot during the day, the time to take advantage of this perk is post dinner when it’s a bit cooler. Just watch out for bugs, because this is a bit of hospitality stuck in the middle of the wilderness. Make sure to get into some of the Fijian products while you’re here, especially in the case of the Pure Fiji brand, they smell incredible and are very high-quality to boot.
Do: Visit the Malamala Beach Club.
Stash your bags at the front desk or back at Port Denarau and take advantage of your final day in Fiji by visiting the Malamala Beach Club. Most of the return flights also leave very late at night to help with jetlag on the way back, so there’s no reason to cut short your activities on the day you’re returning on. Just a short trip from the main island, this elevated day club is a different experience than just sitting on a beach, it’s got bars and daybeds, an epic wooden pier for swimming and jumping, water sports and activities, an infinity pool, and beachside cabana. It’s a great final stop for any last stand up paddle boarding, photo opp moments, or final swims in the South Pacific.
Stay: Fiji Gateway Hotel
Right across the street from the airport, the Fiji Gateway Hotel is exactly what it sounds like — an airport hotel. But this property, which is a sister hotel to Lomani, is wise enough to offer their rooms at a day rate, so travelers who are done exploring the islands, but still have time before a night flight, can shower or relax without getting into full blown airport mode too soon. Then again, if you did splurge on Business Class, the Fiji Airways lounge in the Nadi airport is another option for relaxation before the transatlantic flight home.
The best part about Fiji? Your first trip is all about getting a lay of the land, so you can explore even further on a return visit.
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