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How do you picture Fiji? White sand lapped by crystal clear water? And… honeymooners? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Fiji is a fantastic honeymoon destination, but it’s got SO much more to offer with a great backpacking scene. And believe it or not, it’s very possible to do some incredible budget backpacking around Fiji.
Budget Backpacking on Mainland Fiji
Having flown into Nadi, we escaped this small city as soon as possible – there’s a public bus service from right outside the airport that can take you down to the Coral Coast. Two hours later and we arrived in paradise: Fiji Beach House. Conveniently providing a fantastic few days stopover between Nadi and the capital city of Suva, the Beach House has a fantastic backpacker vibe. Made up of a combination of very pleasant dormitories and private rooms with exquisite outdoor bathrooms, it caters for all budgets. This is a fantastic place to start easing you into the ‘Fiji time’ pace of life for exploring these beautiful islands.
Tip: From Fiji Beach House, you can hire horses to explore further up the beaches, and inland around the surrounding hills. It was such a great adventure!
After our wonderful stay at the Beach House, we continued via public bus further down the coast to Suva. Originally we had planned to stop again on the way, but after being off the bus for the afternoon we realised there was very little to see, so carried on to the capital.
Suva is a wonderfully vibrant city, everything you’d expect from a Pacific Island. We were lucky enough to be here when a Fiji vs All Blacks rugby game was on, providing an excellent afternoon of sports fun, coupled with an incredible competitive atmosphere. Other key things to do in the capital include visiting the Fiji Museum to learn all about the country’s colonial history, and venturing out to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. Before visiting the Forest Park, we had heard reports of attacks on tourists in the region, but we found nothing but a tranquil rainforest with friendly guides. Easily accessible by the Sawani bus (leaving Suva bus station every thirty minutes, costing $2), make sure you get yourselves a guide from the visitor centre upon arrival. This allowed us to find the best spots in the park, including rope swings and waterfall swimming. We didn’t find many hostel options in Suva, so stayed at a B and B called Nannette’s Accommodation – I’d really recommend it for clean, pleasant, but budget amenities in a good location. If you budget allows, treat yourself to an exquisite stay at The Grand Pacific – five star luxury at its finest.
Budget Backpacking Around Fiji’s Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands
Following our week-long adventure on the mainland (this is plenty of time as part of your four week budget backpacking around Fiji adventure), we returned to Nadi as the gateway to the infamous Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. In order to catch the early morning Bula Boat out to the islands, we spent the night at Smugglers Cove hostel, which provides free transport every day to the port – hence, it’s filled with excited outbound travellers swapping stories with those that have just returned from the islands.
Tip: Buy yourself a 14 or 21 day Bula Pass for the boat. It leaves Nadi every morning (check local times for seasons) and journeys up the archipelago to reach the furthest point in the Yasawas, Nacula, by lunchtime. Then it returns to Nadi, stopping at each island again. Therefore, every island has a boat that passes twice a day – once going North, and once going South. Bula passes allow you unlimited travel on the boats, but only in one direction, so pick a few stops on the way up, and a few on the way on the way back!
Our first stop was Bounty Island (now called Serenity Island): small enough for you to walk around its entire shores in under an hour, but big enough to feel perfectly secluded. We had this pristine beach nearly entirely to ourselves all day every day of our stay. As one of the smaller islands, there isn’t that much ‘to do’ beyond relaxing and snorkelling, so solo travellers probably wouldn’t want longer than two days here. We stayed for three though, and certainly could have done longer. It’s BEAUTIFUL!
Next, we hopped back on the Bula boat for the short journey to Beachcomber island. Known as the ‘party island’ of the Mamanucas, it’s got something to offer everyone – day trips out diving, snorkelling, paragliding, and of course, a big beach party every night. The island itself is really small, but can hold up to 160 backpackers at once – in one giant 120 bed dormitory, and about 20 private rooms. We opted for a private room here, but the cheaper dormitory option looked surprisingly nice due to a clever use of partitions, and certainly provided a lot of fun. Beachcomber isn’t built for a quiet and relaxing time – it’s a laugh (and drink) a minute as cocktails flow perfectly into dancing the night away.
From Beachcomber, you can get a speedboat to Cloud 9 – my personal highlight of our whole trip. Cloud 9 is a two story floating bar/restaurant, so far out into the ocean that all you can see is crystal clear blue water for miles. We spent an incredible day here jumping from the top platform and chatting to other backpackers, it’s incredible! A day spent here really doesn’t feel like the classic budget backpacking around Fiji experience – it’s swanky!
After Beachcomber, we set off for Mantaray Island in search of the local giant mantarays. Here, a guy drives round in a little boat during the day, and then bangs a really loud drum whenever he spots a mantaray. This is your cue to run down to the beach, snorkel gear at the ready. We’d been on the island for three days before this magical moment finally happened – the second we jumped into the crystal clear blue water with these giant creatures, I was so overwhelmed! We swam with them for about half an hour (and we had to swim fast to keep up!) before they dived too deep again. Note: Mantaray Island is still worth visiting even when it’s not the right season (July-August), as I honestly thought the snorkelling here was better than the Great Barrier Reef!
Blue Lagoon and Octopus Resorts
Interestingly, our final two stops are ‘sister islands’, with resorts owned by the same people: Blue Lagoon on Nacula, and Octopus Island. Blue Lagoon is like no other hotel I’ve ever visited – it has the perfect harmony of budget backpackers and also luxury travellers. In one resort there are both dormitories (which are lovely, we stayed in them) and exquisite five star beach front huts. The facilities are amazing too – a gorgeous pool and brilliant food. It was amazing to think that in one restaurant there were travellers spending just £10 a night on a dorm, next to people spending upwards of £500 for a luxury ‘bure’ on the beach. Despite this, you couldn’t tell at all, as the hotel fosters an wonderfully inclusive atmosphere. From here, there are several activities including paddle boarding, hiking the beautiful surrounding mountains, and visiting the local village and churches.
Tip: Be prepared that all islands in the Mamanucas and Yasawas have a compulsory food charge – this makes all stays all inclusive. The reason for this is that there is only one restaurant and bar on each island, so they charge a fee upon arrival so cash never has to pass hands throughout your stay. I didn’t really like this at first, but quickly realised it made for a much more relaxing experience. Food quality really varied, but the food on Mantary, Octopus and Blue Lagoon was exquisite – one night we had 5 courses including lobster and steak! It usually worked out at between £30 and £50 per day for all food and water.