To many, Fiji is a land of white-sand beaches, thriving coral reefs, coconut trees, and laid-back way of living. While Fiji has obviously earned this reputation, many tourists forget that visiting Fiji might be different from what they expected or planned. After traveling around this interesting chain of Melanesian islands, here are the six mistakes I often see tourists make (and sometimes still make myself).
They don’t budget for meal plans
When you go to book your accommodation in Fiji, the price may sound quite appealing. $100 for three nights in a private bungalow? That’s an incredible deal no matter where you are in the world. But if you read the fine print, there’s a $90 per day mandatory meal plan you need to account for, too. This is a common requirement in Fijian resorts — especially resorts that exist on a private island or at the end of a long dirt road. After all, where are you going to go? Climbing a coconut tree and fishing at the local reef might sustain you for a few meals, but soon you’ll be hungry for more. When a resort has a monopoly over food, they can charge virtually any price.
If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to check the cost of a mandatory meal plan before you commit to your stay.
They underestimate the Indian food
Just over 40% of the Fijian population is ethnically Indian. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Indians relocated to Fiji to escape the caste system and work as indentured servants on British sugar plantations. Today, Fiji is awash in tens of top-notch Indian restaurants that often serve tropical versions of classic Indian dishes. Many tourists visit Fiji and order solely the staple foods of kokoda (a fish ceviche) and fried cassava. If you want the best Indian food in Fiji, head to Yellow Chili — a tiny restaurant on one of the back roads of downtown Suva.
They refuse to adjust to island time
It’s essential to manage your expectations when it comes to things running on time — or at all. Your dinner might come out thirty minutes after your friends. The bus might not arrive on time. Listed shop hours are more like suggestions on when to visit, not strict opening and closing times that everyone adheres to. It can be frustrating at times, but you’ll adapt quickly if you embrace island living and the nuances that come with it. Many of us come from busy cities where the clock dictates what we do and how we feel. Every so often, it’s refreshing to throw the entire concept of being on time away and go with the flow.
(An exception to this rule: Fijian drivers. Island time stops at the wheel when it comes to driving on the windy, pot-holed roads. Don’t be afraid to tell your taxi driver, “Slow down — we’re on Fiji time!” You’ll often be met with a chuckle and a tap on the brakes.)
They overpack like crazy
Fiji is hot and humid. Rarely will any situation require more than a light outfit — and anything heavier will get drenched in sweat within a few minutes. Don’t bother packing makeup (it will melt off), or fancier attire like high heels, dress shoes, jewelry, or the long-sleeve button down shirt that Tom Cruise loves to wear. Even the luxury resorts require little more than a bathing suit/board shorts, a cover up/t-shirt, and sandals.
They treat coral reefs like a McDonald’s Play Center
Fiji’s incredible coral reefs beckon travelers who want to get a closer look at life below the sea’s surface. What many visitors don’t understand is how fragile corals are and how long it takes for a coral to grow. Because of pollution, climate change, development, over-fishing, coral harvesting, and tourism, coral reefs are more threatened than ever. Tourists commonly make the mistakes of standing on corals, kicking corals with their snorkeling fins, and entering the water with an oil-slick of reef-damaging sunscreen trailing behind them. Look, but don’t touch coral reefs to keep them pristine. If you truly want to get hands-on with marine life, consider participating in one of Fiji’s many coral gardening programs.
They forget that they’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean
Many confusing aspects of Fiji can be explained with one simple fact: You’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean.
Internet not working? That’s because you’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean. Cyclone threatening to wipe out your whole town? That’s because you’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean. Mail never arrive? That’s because you’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean. Is the grocery store out of stock of everything that’s on your shopping list? You get the picture.
Fiji’s islands are too small and too remote to accommodate mega-malls and five lane freeways. Things take a long time to arrive, get fixed, and the country seems to be constantly in a state of repair thanks to the many tropical cyclones that devastate its infrastructure on a regular basis.
Still, there’s no place better to be than on this little piece of paradise that happens to be a rock in the middle of the ocean.