A trip to Fiji is by no means cheap, let alone traveling to one of its most stunning and remote archipelagos — the Yasawa Island Group.
The Yasawas get a bad rap for being a tourist destination where people soak in the sun and sip on fruity cocktails without stepping a foot outside their resorts.
However, we found with a little motivation and extra effort, the Yasawas can be a culturally fulfilling experience as well as a relatively affordable one.
We planned seven nights in the Yasawas and spent days evaluating TripAdvisor reviews and the least expensive options for getting around the islands.
So, to save you time (and money), these are our recommendations on how to find comfort, culture, and connections in the Yasawas—without breaking the bank!
If you prefer to know exactly where you’re going prior to arrival, you can book your accommodations and transport online through several booking sites, or straight from the resort websites. Transport can be booked through your accommodation or Awesome Adventures Fiji.
Travel to the Islands
Many resorts offer incentives for longer stays, for example, if you book four nights, then you get your fifth night free. Be sure to inquire about special deals.
Awesome Adventures Fiji (parent company is South Sea Cruises) offers travel pass options, including all-inclusive combination passes with accommodations, on its Yasawa Flyer vessel, which we found to be the most inexpensive. Take advantage of the Bula Pass (7, 14, or 21 days) if you plan on island hopping.
Other transport alternatives include private speedboats and seaplanes. These are faster, but if you don’t mind a few extra hours on a boat, then the Yasawa Flyer will save you money.
If you pre-booked your transport with Awesome Adventures, then you can find its office just outside the customs terminal at Nadi airport. There is a free shuttle to take you to Port Denarau.
If you didn’t pre-book your boat pass (like us), don’t worry.
More on Getting to the Islands
When we arrived at the Awesome Adventure desk, they told us the boat was full and we couldn’t get a pass for that day (the Yasawa Flyer leaves once a day around 8:30am).
If it weren’t for Pate, an amiable local man who runs a small tourism office, we might have had to spend the night in Nadi and try again the next morning. Pate told us the travel companies let international passport holders on the Flyer first, and there’s usually extra room.
Pate booked all our boat transfers for us. He got us a better rate than if we would have booked directly with Awesome Adventures (not sure how that worked, but it did). Commissions are built into all pass fees, and we paid Pate’s commission directly to him, instead of to a large company, which made us feel like we were supporting the local people.
If you’re planning a day trip to one the closer islands, we learned water taxis are cheaper than the Flyer. Utilize taxis on sunny days, as they aren’t the most reliable means of transport.
Where to Stay
Most resorts will offer transport to and from Denarau upon booking; however, they will charge more for their private boats. If you want to island hop, ask your next resort if they’ll pick you up for free. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
*Note: Fiji runs on “Fiji time”—if you’re pedantic and or punctual, don’t stress. Use this as your mantra: I will be late, but I will get there. Everything will be okay, and everything will work out.
Research which islands you want to see, how far you want to go (the farthest islands can take five or more hours to get to), and how much money you want to spend, and then choose the resort that fits your criteria.
We chose to stay three nights at Octopus Resort on Waya island, the first of the Yasawas, for its imposing topography and snorkeling; and chose to stay the subsequent four nights at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula island, the third largest and one of the furthest of the Yasawas from Nadi, for its famous beach, great hiking, and snorkeling as well...
After thoroughly reading through forums and TripAdvisor reviews, we hoped we would get the comforts of clean rooms, quality food, great beaches, security, and a calm atmosphere at these resorts; the cost difference between most the budget resorts is minimal, so we made sure to choose wisely.
We stayed in dorm beds instead of private bures, which was the right choice for us; the dorms were clean, cheap (around $23 USD), air-conditioned (many bures do not have AC), and the people staying there weren’t your typical partier crowd—they were considerate, amiable, and laid back (maybe we were lucky).
Both Octopus and Blue Lagoon were clean. The communal bathrooms at Octopus were just a touch cleaner—the staff cleaned all day long. Each resort offered hot showers, fresh towels (beach and shower), clean linens, and free drinking water from the bar.
The food was plentiful, fresh and very tasty; all meals were included in a meal plan, which you are required to purchase for around $45 USD per day. I was initially resistant to paying that much for a meal plan because I have a lot of dietary needs, but the resorts noted my restrictions, and the chefs made special meals for me. I felt especially taken care of by the chef at Blue Lagoon—he found me every day and prioritized each course I would have for dinner.
We met travelers who said they were much happier at our chosen resorts than the resorts they had come from (including Beachcomber, Oarsmans Bay Lodge, Mantaray Island Resort, and Treasure Island).
Both Octopus and Blue lagoon are owned by the same New Zealand company, and if you book for the other while staying at one resort, you’ll get $30 off your bar tab as an extra incentive!
Daily activities at Octopus and Blue Lagoon allowed us to explore Fijian culture. The resorts offered basket weaving, traditional Fijian cooking classes, Fijian dance lessons, kava ceremonies, and village visits.
On Sundays, visitors are invited to attend the local village church service, which we attended (all 2.5 hours) while staying at Octopus. Although the entire service was in Fijian, we were moved by the singing and emphatic pastor.
Villagers greeted us afterwards; they shook our hands, and one even gave me a kiss. One woman told us she hadn’t been back to her village in 20 years, and was so happy to be back visiting her family.
We joined a village tour on Nacula and learned about Fijian customs, danced with the locals, played rugby with the children, and had the opportunity to purchase mementoes from the local craft fair they set up especially for us.
You can experience culture in the Yasawas, you just have to put down your book, get off your beach chair, and take part in the activities.
Given the fact our visits to the villages were guided, we still felt it was a genuine Fijian cultural experience—a far cry from many a Luau on Hawaii!
We hope our recommendations help you plan your budget-conscious and culturally significant trip to the Yasawas, and because we’re saving you money, you wouldn’t mind taking us back with you, right?
Vinaka (thank you)!
Travel tip shared by The Globe Less Traveled