7 Reasons to visit Fiji as a backpacker

If you’re reading this post, then I guess you’re considering whether to visit Fiji. You probably don’t need much convincing that it’s a great idea to go there because, well, it is Fiji after all. But, you may need a little push and reassurance if like me you travel on a budget.

Well, today is your lucky day because, despite probably hearing over and over again that Fiji is crazy expensive to visit, it is possible to travel there without breaking the bank.

In this post, I share a few tips from my own experience on just how you can visit this dreamy location on a backpacker budget, along with sharing 6 other glorious reasons you should visit this paradise in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

Fijian warrior welcome
A Fijian Warrior welcoming us to Barefoot Island

The Islands are paradise

I don’t think I can reiterate this point enough.  I probably don’t need to if you’re reading this because if you’re considering Fiji as a location it’s because you’re in search of paradise. When you lie there picturing a paradise island in your head, trust me, that’s what the islands in Fiji look like.

Tivua island in Fiji
The stunning paradise of Tivua Island in the Mamanuca Islands

Fiji is made up of 330 islands, the two main ones being Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Not all of the islands are inhabited, in fact, I believe only a third of them are, but there is a huge amount to explore and they’re all stunning. Pictures don’t even do them justice.

The two main islands are the biggest and most populated. They aren’t quite as picturesque as the smaller islands, but they do make a good base or starting/ endpoint to your trip. They do also host a lot of the big expensive resorts, particularly on Denarau island which is just around the corner from Nadi (the budget location) on the west coast of Fiji. The resorts themselves are swanky, well kept and have beautiful facilities, but if you want to see the real Fiji you have to get out to the islands and there are a number of options available whether that’s day trips or multi-day island hopping. I’ll go into more detail on the best approach for this later on in the post.

A palm tree lined beach in Fiji
The palm tree lined white sand beach by the blue lagoon

Snorkeling in Fiji is awesome

The sea in Fiji is insane. When you go island hopping, you become spoilt by the crystal clear water that surrounds the islands.

You’ll probably find yourself snorkeling A LOT while you’re in Fiji because it’s such a brilliant place to do it. The water is so clear, there is a huge amount of fish and there’s lots of beautiful coral too (it’s better the further you are from the main islands).

two girls with snorkel masks on in Fiji
Snorkel selfie with my mate Steph

I saw reef sharks for the first time in Fiji and they were fascinating. Such cool creatures and it’s so special seeing them swim while you are underwater with them. I also saw a couple of sea snakes which, I’ not going to lie, did completely freak me out at the time, but in hindsight, it was pretty cool. Since then, I’ve seen quite a few sea snakes when I’ve been diving and I’ve become less fearful of them and actually find them mesmerising to watch.

P.S. It’s extremely difficult to get bitten by a sea snake because they have tiny mouths so unless you purposefully go playing around with one, you’ve got no fear of being attacked by one. Just like most creatures in the ocean, if you leave them be, they’ll leave you be.

Spending so much time in the sea in Fiji, started to alleviate some of the fears I had of the ocean. I think partly because the water was so clear, you could see a lot of your surroundings and there was such a huge array of fish that you become totally absorbed in this other world and forget the fears that were holding you back.

Reef shark in Fiji
One of the many reef sharks I spotted in Fiji

Seeing so much beautiful sea life here is what made me initially start thinking I’d like to give diving a go, which is something I thought I’d hate before I went to Fiji. In the end, I didn’t try it here, but I did while travelling in Australia. Now, I’m obsessed with the ocean and completely in love with diving. This trip to Fiji was definitely the source of a new passion of mine.

If you’re already a diver, 100% go diving while you’re in Fiji – you won’t be disappointed!

The Fijian Sunsets

One word sums up the sunsets in Fiji; unreal. It’s pretty much all there is to say, but maybe this picture will do better than words…..

sunset in fiji
I wish I had a better camera to capture this awesome sunset in Fiji

The sky at night time

 I spent a lot of my island hopping time in the Yasawa islands which are a few hours out from the mainland. The further you get out into the islands, the less light pollution there is, and woweee…the night skies are insane! New Zealand is renowned for its incredible starry skies, particularly in the dark night reserves like Lake Taupo, so I have become a bit of a starry sky snob. But, Fiji definitely rivaled those New Zealand stars for me and sits up there in joint first with some of the most amazing night skies I’ve ever seen. When it was clear, there were so many stars it looked like someone had sprayed silver glitter across a big black canvas and I saw shooting star after shooting star- there were so many it became a bit of a joke really.

One evening, after we’d been drinking rum, playing cards and listening to our Fijian host play the guitar, I went and sat on the beach to do a bit of star gazing before I went to bed. On this particular night, there was a storm brewing on the horizon. It was incredible to watch as fork lightning struck in the distance, great big clouds gathered and then started to roll towards me, casting darkness over the sparkling sky.

Sitting on that beach, watching this huge storm gather and feeling the temperature of the breeze on my face start to cool, made me feel so small in our incomprehensible universe. I sat there in awe of mother nature and it actually made me feel quite emotional. Those kinds of moments really make me appreciate how lucky I am to be able to experience such amazing places like this, especially when there are so many people in the world that will never even get close to that opportunity.

blue sea, bamboo table and palm trees in fiji
This was the beautiful setting at our homestay on Nanuya Lailai in the Yasawa Islands.

Fiji time

If you visit Fiji, you will have to get used to Fiji time. And that’s definitely not a bad thing. Fiji is probably one of the most laid back, slow paced places I’ve been. If you do anything that involves the locals, you will no doubt hear the term ‘it’s Fiji time’ thrown about multiple times.

For example, if you go on a day trip they might say “we’ll return at 3pm, Fiji time”. Which really means, it might be a little before 3pm, it might be a little bit after 3pm, but no worries it’s Fiji time. Haha. So, if you’re someone that scrupulously plans out your itinerary and your day, be aware and perhaps leave some gaps in between your activities.

My favourite part of Fiji time is how flexible they become with everything. I went on a day trip to one of the Mamanuca islands which included breakfast with bubbles. They said at the beginning of the day that the bubbles are only available with breakfast. BUT, he added that breakfast sometimes goes on until 3pm (the boat returned at 4pm haha!). It’s safe to say, I was a little merry by the end of that trip.

This slow paced, chilled vibe emanates across all of the Fijian islands and soon starts to rub off on you. As we did our trip on a budget, we stayed in a kind of homestay environment in quite a remote part of an island and also stayed in other low key resorts. This meant no Wifi (unless you were desperate and felt the need to pay for a very temperamental connection), no phone signal and no real sense of timings. I think it’s the longest I’ve been disconnected to the internet since I started being connected to the internet as a kid. It was dreamy.

At our homestay on Nanuya Lailai Island, we arrived on this remote beach area and wondered what to do with ourselves for the afternoon. We ended up creating games out of coconuts including a coconut shy and ten pin bowling. It was like going back to being in scouts or brownies, where you have to create something from nature. It was a novelty for us, and a situation where I’m sure, our parents would have been screaming about how ‘this is what it was like in my day before the internet’ lol!

girl playing bowling with coconuts in fiji
Me giving our coconut bowling a whirl

The whole experience of being away on the islands and switching off from the outside world completely created a peaceful bubble which made it easy to fall into the laid back Fijian vibe. Probably the most relaxed I’ve been in a very long time. Take me back to that hammock life asap!

Island party life

On the one hand, Fiji is an extremely chilled out place. But, don’t get me wrong, if you like a party you can definitely find a party in Fiji. Most nights, there will be some form of fire show going on somewhere which are always a lot of fun to go and see. We humans really do have an obsession with fire. I guess because it’s so mesmerising to watch, and they certainly know how to put on a good fire show in Fiji – they’re definitely NOT amateurs or afraid of trying out some rather scary looking tricks.

Along with the fire show, there is normally some kind of welcoming ceremony or evening entertainment put on in the various resorts or islands you visit. One element that is sometimes brought along to these is the local specialty, kava.

Kava is made from the powdered root of the pepper plant, mixed with water. It’s a mildly narcotic drink (or not so mild if the Fijians are mixing it for themselves), and it creates a tingling in your mouth and on your lips and has a relaxing effect. The Fijians love it and it’s used as part of traditional welcoming ceremonies. Therefore you’ll likely get the opportunity to try it when you do a touristy day trip of some kind. It can also have a strong presence at Fijian parties (in it’s the stronger form).

As a backpacker, it’s not just these celebratory elements that lead to a party. There are heaps of other travellers hopping from island to island, and what do you get when you put a whole bunch of backpackers on remote islands with a whole lot of rum and some loud music….a party.

My tip to you is, buy yourself some spirits in the duty-free at the airport on your way out to Fiji. Everything is imported so buying it there is very expensive, but if you take it with you, it’s happy days and you can party away to your heart’s content without worrying about burning through your cash. Everywhere I stayed on the islands were happy for you to have your own drinks and you can still buy a cold, local beer or two on the islands at not too high a cost if you just fancy a casual drink.

Fiji gold beer
The only beer you’ll be drinking in Fiji

You can do Fiji on a budget

As promised, I’m here to reassure you that you can go to Fiji on a backpackers budget. I mean, if you have the money, you can also do Fiji in a whole lot of luxury. There are endless 5* resorts from the Doubletree Hilton to the Intercontinental and individual, luxury villas in Denarau, with the most well-kept golf courses you’ve ever seen. But if you’re like me, and that’s definitely not an option, then you can do Fiji on a budget too.

On my travels, I have met a lot of people who were surprised when I said I had been to Fiji. The first question they ask me is, ‘isn’t it really expensive?’ And yes, if you stay at those luxury resorts and drink wine in the posh hotels it is. And no, you cannot do it as cheap as you might do paces like Asia. But there are budget options available and it doesn’t have to be a place you write off because of expense.

In Nadi, you can find the backpacker area where there is budget accommodation available based on the beachfront in Nadi Bay. It’s a great starting point as a backpacker because you’ll meet a lot of other travellers there and you can speak to some local experts to help you plan your island hopping trip – which is the best bit about travelling Fiji! I paid 9NZ dollars (about £4.50) a night to stay at Bamboo hostel when I first arrived. It was pretty basic, but it had a great vibe and really helpful staff. I then paid 16 NZ dollars (roughly £8 a night) at Smuggler’s Cove Resort, just down the road, which was a bit nicer and had a bit more going on, with fire shows and a more lively restaurant in the evening. As you can see, these options are cheap and cheerful and accessible to backpackers on a budget.

When you start heading out to the islands, the prices do get more expensive so it’s worth doing a bit of planning and preparation in advance, but there are a few different options to choose from depending on your budget.

In terms of island hopping and getting the best value, it’s always worth chatting to the people who work at the hostels there for tips on where to go. But, if you do decide to island hop in the Mamanuca islands and the Yasawa islands, then your best bet is buying a Bula island hopping pass.

Fiji island paradise
How can you say no to this….??

For accommodation, if you want to get it all set before you arrive,  you can purchase a Bula Combo Pass or their cheap pass option which will give you accommodation and food plans built into the price. These are designed specifically for backpackers. They are the most budget accommodation on the islands, but you are still set in paradise (just be warned the food is not great). This is one of the most cost-effective ways of booking your trip without having to spend hours and hours doing a lot of research, but if you want to be a bit freer, you can just get a Bula pass to cover your boat travel and figure the accommodation out as you go along.

My top tips for budget travel in Fiji are:

  1. Stay at a hostel in Nadi for your first night (drinks are cheap here too). With Bamboo hostel, you get a free pick up from the airport too.
  2. If you like to party, buy a couple of bottles of spirits in duty-free at the airport.
  3. Buy a Bula pass for island hopping rather than individual ferry tickets to the islands.
  4. Research the accommodation packages and meal plans – there are two levels for the accommodation packages. Food isn’t great, but if you can accept that in return for swaying in a hammock on a paradise island you’ll be grand.
  5. On the mainland, there are regular local buses that are a cheap way of getting around.
  6. Take plenty of sun cream and toiletries from your previous destination – they’re expensive in Fiji.
  7. Take a few snacks out with you. Everything is imported to Fiji so you will be paying a lot more there than places like Australia or New Zealand so it doesn’t hurt to take a few crackers etc. in your backpack. Please note there are restrictions on what food items you can take into Fiji, so double check before you start packing your backpack full of foodie goodies.

Hopefully, this reassures you it’s possible to visit the paradise that is Fiji on a backpacker budget. And I hope the reasons above have pushed you over to the ‘yes’ side of the decision on whether to add Fiji into your trip.

If you have any questions about visiting Fiji that I haven’t covered in this post, please feel free to comment below or reach out to me via email.

Thanks a bunch for reading!


Wonder Seeking Sarah
XOXOX

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