As the days continue to get colder, you may find yourself fantasizing about your next tropical getaway. While the Caribbean islands are a popular choice, it's worth the extra hours on the plane to head to the South Pacific instead.
Of the thousands of postcard-perfect islands in this vast region of the Pacific Ocean, it quickly became clear to me on a recent trip why Fiji is one of the most popular tourist spots here. You'll discover the white sand beaches, turquoise waters, top rate scuba diving and snorkeling among vibrant coral reefs -- and so much more. With 333 islands, only a third of which are inhabited, Fiji is diverse not only in its environment, but also in its culture.
Here are some reasons to consider Fiji the next time you're craving a real escape.
1. It's closer than you think.
Fiji may seem far-flung, but getting there isn’t too complicated. Fiji Airways has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Nadi. These overnight flights take about 11 hours -- plenty of time to fit in a movie and some sleep before arriving in the morning. Fiji Airways also flies to Nadi three times a week from Honolulu. Even better? Compared to many other islands in the South Pacific, flying to Fiji is comparable or sometimes even cheaper. This past week, we found roundtrip flights on Fiji Airways from Los Angles to Nadi in early January for $1,445 and in mid-February for $1,028. For that same time, traveling to Papeete in Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui costs $1,675 and $1,540.
Bonus: If you’re ready to splurge for a special occasion, you'll be even more refreshed traveling in business class aboard the airline's new Airbus A330s. This means on an almost flat bed, as well as enjoying noise-canceling headsets, a Masi-print eye mask, and, as of earlier this month, Fijian-inspired meals.
2. You’ll find accommodation for all budgets.
Unlike some of the more expensive islands in the area, Fiji caters to all budgets. In fact, many of Fiji's accommodations boast mid-range prices. Fiji's Yasawa Islands and its main island Viti Levu particularly have a wide range of budget accommodations, and the Mamanuca Islands -- where the movie “Cast Away" was filmed -- are also popular with budget travelers and backpackers. For instance, the Funky Fish Beach and Surf Resort in the Mamanucas offers everything from a dormitory bed for about $25 a night to a one-bedroom beachfront bure (traditional hut) for about $260. If you prefer a little more luxury, Fiji has no shortage of such options. Likuliku Lagoon Resort, a couples-only resort with the country's only over-water bures, also in the Mamanucas, is just one of them. These will cost you about $1,600 a night.
Of course, there are plenty of choices in between. Tourism Fiji's website is a great resource, as is Fiji Independent Travellers & Backpackers Association for additional budget tips and accommodations.
3. It’s not just for honeymooners.
Yes, Fiji is a hot destination for romantic escapes, honeymoons, and weddings. The country attracts many vacationing families and groups, too. For an extended family vacation, many resorts offer family-orientated water activities, childcare facilities, and kids' clubs to keep children busy all day long, while others provide nannies for as little as $4-$5 an hour. (Many of the good value family resorts can be found in Nadi or the Coral Coast, since they're easier to get to than some of Fiji's more remote islands.) For everyone else…
4. There’s sun, sea, and sand -- and much more.
While there’s certainly plenty of the sun, sea, and sand that people flock to Fiji for, the country also has strong cultural traditions and a great respect for ceremonies. One of the most popular traditional customs involves kava, also known as yaqona or grog (and also consumed in Tonga and Samoa). Kava, a mildly narcotic drink that may leave your mouth and tongue a bit numb is made from the root of a pepper plant. It’s considered the country's national beverage, as it plays a large role in Fijians' everyday lives. Drinking kava is a social pastime but can also mark an important occasion. If you're invited to partake in a kava ceremony, whether in a village or at your resort, you'll have to follow certain steps according to custom before taking a sip. Just know that kava's taste can take some getting used to though -- for some, me included, it can be akin to drinking muddy water.