Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 volcanic islands in the South Pacific, only 110 of which are actually inhabited. Most of the population actually resides on two main islands, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. The other islands include Taveuni, the Yasawa Islands which are a group of islands in northwestern Fiji, the Nananu-i-Ra Island in the north, the Mamanuca Islands made up of a group of tiny islands west of Viti Levu, the Lomaiviti group of islands in central Fiji, and the Lau Islands made up of small islands in eastern Fiji. The major destinations in Fiji are Nadi, Suva, Lautoka, and Ovalau in Lomaiviti.
Unfortunately, Fiji is very ethnically divided between the indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians, who comprise close to 45% of the population. The Indo-Fijians are ancestors of migrants from India who were brought over as contract laborers by the British after Fiji became a British colony in 1874. The tension between the two groups has led to three coups by the indigenous Fijians, one in 1987, one in 2000, and the most recent one in late 2006. Although there are signs of recovery, the recent military takeover of the government has significantly hampered tourism in Fiji. The good news is that there have been no violence, looting, or significant protests stemming from the event, and tourists who have visited the last couple of months have not been directly affected by the political problems.
For those brave enough to venture off to Fiji despite the travel advisories still in effect, there is much to enjoy in Fiji. The scenery is much like other South Pacific islands – palm-draped beaches, turquoise lagoons, rainbow corals, coconut palm trees, lush green rainforest, and rugged mountains. Beyond the hiking, canoeing, swimming, suntanning, snorkeling, sailing, trekking, jetboating, you’ll get to try your surfing hands at the famous Cloud Breaker, which is the six-meter wave found off the shores of Tavarua. Thousands of adventurous surfers flock here from the world over the attempt this “Mount Everest” of surfing. You can also scuba dive with the manta rays at the famous Astrolabe Reef and the White Wall. Or safari into the mountain peaks and highlands where you’ll find remote villages a tucked away thatched cottages.
The food in Fiji is varied. You’ll find Indian, Chinese, and Fiji-style fish, pork, and lamb. Local delicacies include the paulsami, which is baked taro over lemon and coconut milk marinade, and the kokoda, a seafood dish in lemon and milk. The intoxicating “Yagona” or “Kava” is also a popular. It is a drink concocted from the pepper plant, piper methysticum, and leaves you numb but relaxed after a chug.
Perhaps the best part about Fiji is its people. Fijians always greet you with a “Bula”, which means “welcome”. They are always very hospitable and kind to visitors, and have earned a reputation for being some of the world’s friendliest people.