More than just a source of pristine bottled water and an idyllic honeymoon destination in the South Pacific, Fiji is a friendly place whose residents welcome travelers with a heartfelt “bula!” (health). Its cultural mix shows up in its traditional fire walking ceremonies, Indian restaurants, Chinese supermarkets and the European influence of Christianity. More than 100 of Fiji’s 300-plus islands are inhabited. Seek out Robinson Crusoe-like isolation on tiny Monuriki or pampered indulgences in resort-heavy Nadi or Denarau.

Fiji has a lot to offer in terms of raw material for building the region’s largest tourism industry. In the most-visited areas and especially on Fiji’s marvelous offshore islets, you’ll find gorgeous white-sand beaches bordered by curving coconut palms, azure lagoons, and colorful reefs offering world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, green mountains sweeping to the sea, and a tropical climate in which to enjoy it all.

Suva, the capital city on the largest island (Viti Levu) is home to half of Fiji’s population and the Fiji Museum, which tells the country’s story through musical instruments, cooking tools, and war clubs. It’s miles and miles of windswept, undulating sand, some dunes as high as 60 feet, at the island’s Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park. Hop over to Nadi on the west coast for the colorful Hindu Sri Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple, the largest in the southern hemisphere.

If asked, say yes to a drink of pungent yaqona, a relaxing traditional drink made from kava root. For a no-frills lunch in Nadi tuck into a filling pumpkin curry. Fijians love their lashings of coconut milk, served with ota miti, the tender young shoots of the wood fern, or in palusami to steam fresh fish wrapped in taro leaves. Juicy pineapples and mangos from Suva Municipal Market will satisfy any sweet cravings.

On the island of Viti Levu, hike the Koroyanitu National Heritage Park and explore the ecotourism village of Abaca, from here you can reach forests of the protected native Dakua tree, sacred to Fijians. Sea kayaking is popular among many of Fiji’s small islands, especially the shores of Kadavu. Divers love the narrow passage between Vanua Levu and Taveuni, Fiji’s most famous site for soft corals, especially its Great White Wall and Rainbow Reef.

Complete escape is what the sunny, secluded beaches of Monuriki are all about, and this is also where Castaway with Tom Hanks was filmed. Halfway between Nadi and Lautoka and off the beaten track, you’ll find Sabeto Hot Springs, home to therapeutic yet refreshing muddy waters. Swim in the warm bays on the Yasawa Islands, or enjoy the deep white sand and turquoise lagoons of Matana Beach on Kadavu.

The large hotels usually have something going on every night. This might be a special meal followed by a Fijian dance show, and the large hotels also frequently offer live entertainment in their bars during the cocktail hour. Check with the hotel activities desk to see what’s happening. With several pubs, Martintar is Nadi’s most civilized nightlife center, with several of its restaurants providing live music, especially on weekend nights. Out on Denarau Island, bands play every evening except Sunday along the outdoor patio surrounding the restaurants at Port Denarau.

Just to know what’s the Fiji Time: There’s an old story about a 19th-century planter who promised a South Pacific islander a weekly wage and a pension if he would come to work on his copra plantation. Copra is dried coconut meat, from which oil is pressed for use in soaps, cosmetics, and other products. Hours of backbreaking labor are required to chop open the coconuts and extract the meat by hand. The islander was sitting by the lagoon, eating fruit he had picked from nearby trees while hauling in one fish after another. “Let me make sure I understand you,” said the islander. “You want me to break my back working for you for 30 years. Then you’ll pay me a pension so I can come back here and spend the rest of my life sitting by the lagoon, eating fruit from my trees and the fish I catch? I may not be sophisticated, but I am not stupid.” The islander’s response reflects an attitude still prevalent in Fiji, where many people don’t have to work in the Western sense. Here life moves at a slow pace, which the locals call “Fiji Time.”

Consequently, do not expect the same level of service rendered in most hotels and restaurants back home. The slowness is not slothful inattention; it’s just the way things are done here. Your drink will come in due course. If you must have it immediately, order it at the bar. Otherwise, relax with your friendly hosts and enjoy their charming company.

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