Fiji Top 5 -where to stay, what to do and top tips for budget travel in Fiji

It’s easy to blow a lot of coin on a trip to Fiji, but it’s also possible to visit this beautiful country on a budget. The less money you spend, the longer you can stay. 2 weeks is simply not long enough in paradise. Here’s how to make those Fijian dollars go further.

Top 5 places to stay

Whilst staying on the mainland is more budget friendly, it’s not the Fiji you see on postcards. Head to Pacific Harbour for some white water rafting on the Upper Navua River, go for a shark dive off of Beqa Island, maybe stay a night in Nadi. Just make sure you catch the morning boat from Port Denarau and get out to the Mamanucas and Yasawas as quickly as possible!

1. Bamboo Backpackers (Nadi – Mainland) – This should be your first stop when you get to Fiji. With cheap dorms, reasonably priced private rooms and free airport transfers, it’s a great place to find your feet before heading to the other islands. There’s a friendly crowd, delicious food (we can recommend the Pho!) and cheap beer. What more could you want?

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2. Bounty Island (Mamanucas) – By far our favourite island in the Mamanucas, Bounty Island is a true paradise. We quickly fell into the routine of watching the sunrise, kayaking around the island, feeding the turtles, snorkelling and eating way too much food. You can drink the tap water, take a hot shower and rent water sports equipment for free. The staff are friendly and welcoming. You’ll be serenaded on arrival, departure and at every meal with traditional Fijian folk songs as well as a few modern covers.

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3. Naqalia Lodge (Yasawas) – More of a home stay than a resort, you’re welcomed as one of the family at Naqalia Lodge. The private bures are easy on the budget and there is a small dorm available, with cold water showers and clean toilets. You can refill your water bottles from the tap in the bar and there is never a shortage of kava. There are no activities on Sunday, except a trip to the local church where you can witness the astounding local choir sing their hearts out. Meals are eaten as a family, so don’t be late!

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4. Mantaray Island Resort (Yasawas) – If you plan to visit Fiji to swim with the famous manta rays then a stop off at Mantaray Island Resort is a must. Whilst this is a fully fledged resort teeming with families on holiday, it also has a 30 bed dorm to accommodate a lively backpacking crowd. The island boasts an incredible protected marine area just off the shore, with some of the best snorkelling to be had in all of Fiji. There is also a hearty hike available for free, and many other activities at not-so-budget prices – except the diving which is surprisingly cheap. The restaurant serves a huge variety of food, and it’s all utterly delicious. However, you pay a hefty daily meal charge of 95fjd for this, but we reckon it’s worth it. Stop off here if you’re in need of a bit of luxury and a comfortable place to rest your weary head.

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5. Barefoot Manta (Yasawas) – Not sure about the swankiness of Mantaray Island Resort? No problem – just head around the corner to the next island and you’ll find another chilled out paradise. This is much more suited to backpackers and you’ll find a friendly crowd and extremely welcoming staff here. It’s telling that this is the place that we shared half a bottle of rum round a bonfire with some awesome fellow travellers. The sun rose up right outside our dorm and the sun set outside of the pricier luxury bures, but this beach was still only a minute’s walk from the bar. Even if you miss the manta rays, you’re sure to leave with good memories.

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Top 5 Things to do

1. Swim with manta rays – a chance to swim with these gentle giants should not be missed. You can get a boat from White Sandy Beach for 40fjd, but they go every day without checking where the manta rays are, and you still have to pay even if you don’t see them. The boat from Barefoot Manta is 65fjd even though it is a much shorter trip. You have to be ready at 6am and wait for the dive team to beat the wooden drum to signify a manta ray spotting, but you are guaranteed to see them and you will get there before anyone else.

The best option is to go from Mantaray Island Resort. The manta ray swim is only 42fjd, and similarly to Barefoot Manta you only go out if manta rays have been spotted. If you’re really lucky, the manta rays might swim right up to the beach (they did this 2 out of the 3 mornings we were there) in which case you don’t need to pay anything!

Another great thing about Manta Island Resort is that it is surrounded by a marine conservation area, which has been protected for 12 years. The variety and quantity of coral and fish is astounding, so even if the manta rays don’t swim up to the beach, you’re in for a great snorkel and will likely see stingrays, reef sharks, octopus and maybe even turtles.

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2. Climb Vatu Sawalo – The rocky peak of Vatu Sawalo dominates the skyline of Waya Leilei Island, and a tough hike will reward you with incredible views of the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island chains.

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There are well trodden paths from Waya Leilei Resort and Naqalia Lodge, but you will need to do some free rock climbing to get right to the top. You can also get a boat from Kuata Island for about 25fjd per person and a guide will lead you up the old track, which is shorter but a lot steeper. We took the old track (unaware that there was an easier option) with a very knowledgeable Aussie called Peter (thanks for the bird watching lessons!) and a lovely guide named Ben, who took us to his house for a huge mug of sweet Fijian tea and fresh coconuts afterwards.

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3. Cook a lovo – this traditional underground oven style of cooking is usually reserved for celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. We were lucky enough to be invited to the joint birthday party of two women from the village neighbouring Naqalia Lodge. Naturally we offered to help with the catering – Flic’s Dad would be so proud!

Here’s how to cook a lovo:

  • Fill a large pit with rocks and light a fire. Let the fire burn until the rocks turn white from the heat.

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  • Weave palm fronds around chicken, pork legs, fish or even a whole pig if you’re really hungry.

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  • Remove any burning remnants from the fire and cover the hot rocks with banana leaves.
  • Pile your wrapped meat onto the banana leaves, then throw a ton of potatoes on top.

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  • Cover everything with more banana leaves and palm fronds, then bury it in sand.
    Make sure no smoke is escaping from the mound and leave it for several hours, depending on the size and amount of meat you’re cooking. A whole pig should take around 20 hours Fiji-time.

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  • Dig up your dinner and enjoy the smokey delights of lovo!

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4. Help out at a turtle conservation project – In Fiji, turtles are protected by law and it’s illegal to touch them or interfere in any way if you stumble across them on the beach. Getting involved with a turtle conservation project, such as the one on Bounty Island, is a great way to get close to some cute baby turtles without going to jail. You get to feed them every day and once a week you can clean them with a toothbrush! It’s great fun, a step towards sustainable travel and it’s totally free! +10 budget traveller points.

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5. Rafting on the Upper Navua River – Probably the best thing we did in Fiji. Ever wanted to go white water rafting with Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad? This is your chance. Not only are the raft crew insanely good at rowing, they are also generally insane and will entertain you with rude jokes and lurid stories of their ancestral past. You glide down a stunning canyon with the occasional grade 3 rapids to keep you on your toes, passing waterfall after waterfall, giant bamboo towering over the steep cliffs and wild orchids clinging on to the rocks.

It costs around £150 per person (we booked online in advance), which is great value considering 20% of that goes to the local village to help with the cost of educating the children and keeps the logging companies at bay. You also get some delicious food included in the price, and they can arrange transfers to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.

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Top Tips

1. The popular Bula Pass might not be the cheapest way for you to island hop. We recommend staying on each island for at least 3 nights, so you won’t be using the Yasawa Flyer very often and it might cost less to book each transfer individually. Some resorts might even come and pick you up in a tender boat for free if you ask nicely. We didn’t have to pay anything for our transfer between Barefoot Kuata and Naqalia Lodge or Mantaray Island Resort and Barefoot Manta. If you’re looking at a pass that includes accommodation, just be aware that most places charge 75-95fjd per person, per day for your meals and this is not included in the pass.

2. Don’t assume that there isn’t any medical help available in remote places – Flic suffered with an ear infection for 3 days in the Yasawas before asking to buy some paracetamol from the hotel reception. They promptly whisked her away to the local medical centre which was only a 5 minute boat ride away (Nick loves a ride in a boat – whatever the circumstances). It was temporarily operating from a shipping container because cyclone Winston had taken the roof off of the building, but the cheery nurse handed out painkillers and antibiotics like they were smarties!

3. Don’t trust Fijian hiking advice – We went on a couple of beautiful hikes during our time out on the islands. We quickly learned that Fijians give awful hiking advice. They told us that we were going on a long but easy hike, or a tough but short hike, that sandals would be fine and we’d be finished by lunchtime. Every time, the reality of the situation was completely at odds with their estimations. We found ourselves scrambling up bare rock faces within 2 minutes of starting, or we found that the hike actually took 2 hours instead of the supposed 20 minutes. This is not because Fijians want to mess with unsuspecting tourists – it’s because they’re just so damn good at hiking that they can’t understand why we find it so hard. While we’re doing up our hiking boots, they’re taking off their flip-flops because they prefer hiking in bare feet. While we’re out of breath, sweating and complaining that we can’t take one more step, they’re running up the steepest part of the trail without breaking a sweat. Our advice is this – always wear hiking boots and always assume you’ll be hiking all day, whatever your guide says.

4. Take the local busses – The busses on the mainland only seem to cost 1fjd no matter where you want to go. They have a maximum speed of about 3mph and usually no windows, although some busses inexplicably boast free WiFi.

5. Go in low season and book a dorm rather than a private room – You can save loads of money and you are often the only one in the dorm room, so it’s like you have a private room for half the price! Great for your budget.

Top 5 Fijian Words

The main languages spoken in Fiji are Fijian, Hindi and English (the official language). Most Fijians speak really good English so most tourists don’t bother to learn much Fijian. We wholeheartedly recommend learning a few essential words, as you’ll be treated much more like a local – even though Fijians seem to have a genuine love for tourists.

1. BULA! – It’s likely you have already come across this word if you are planning a trip to Fiji. It means ‘hello’ as well as ‘welcome’ and apparently anything else that you want it to mean. It is shouted at full volume several hundred times a day, and you are threatened with starvation if you don’t reply accordingly – no big Bula, no breakfast!

2. Vinaka – this means ‘thank you’ as well as ‘good’. It can be added to other words such as ‘kana’ (food), which translates directly as ‘food good’ but means ‘tastes great’! It’s even better if you can learn some of the local dialect while you explore the islands, and it’s surprisingly easy. In the Yasawas, say ‘vinandu riki’ and really roll the ‘r’ in ‘rrrriki’, instead of ‘vinaka’ when you want to thank someone. Try it and see what happens!

3. Sa Vakacava Tiko – this means ‘how are you?’. The pronunciation is a little tricky here because a ‘c’ is pronounced ‘th’ in Fijian, but you’ll get it with a little practice. The correct reply to this is of course ‘vinaka’ because you’re in Fiji, so everything is good.

4. Wananavu – this means ‘awesome’ and is always accompanied with a two-handed thumbs up, so make sure you finish your Fiji Bitter before attempting a wananavu!

5. Sega na lega – this is Fiji’s hakuna matata – it means ‘no worries’! You’ll be using this one a lot, because there really is nothing to worry about in paradise!