Fiji is a country that has been devastated by tsunamis and hurricanes in the quite recent past, and thus the economy, which wasn’t that great before this, is now even more in need of a boost. This means that as a tourist, things are in general pretty cheap now, but also that people are more desperate for the business. A local tour guide I had explained that her main job is working in a factory which makes a variety of products from noodles to car tyres and earns $25 for an 8 hour shift. The unemployment rate is high, and people without jobs usually work in small roadside shops owned by someone in their family or their neighbours, or on the land on family farms. The Fijian government is trying to improve this by having a push for education and teaching people trades at the University of Fiji in Suva. People are generally friendly, but the need to earn is always very evident, and people seem to not have enough in general, so tourists are a good way to earn a good amount of money quite quickly. Cruise ships aren’t coming here on too frequent yet, so the locals will try to make what they can from us while we are here. However, people are friendly and respect loyalty to companies from returning crew members (or guests) and are welcoming and kind.
Fiji has three official languages. Fijian, which is the main language of the local natives, English, which is taught in schools and has been for over two decades to a high level, and Hindi, due to the high population of emigrants from India. Almost everyone here will speak good English. The most important Fijian word to know is “Bula!” which serves as an all round greeting, similar to the Hawaiian “Aloha”. It means hello, how are you, goodbye, and is a welcome.
The local currency is the Fijian dollar, and the current rate at time of writing this (December 2017) is about $1 USD to $2 Fijian dollars. Most touristy places – such as tourist stores and the Grand Pacific Hotel, as well as to pay for local tours – will also accept USD, AUD and NZD due to the bulk of tourists coming from these countries. However, you will get the best rate for items, as with anywhere, if you use the local currency, so I recommend if you’re planning on doing more local shopping, like in a market, or if you’ll be in Fiji for more than one day, to exchange some money. This is very easy to do in Fiji. There are plentiful currency exchange outlets and ANZ banks around in all of the ports except Dravuni Island (which has no town and is literally just a beach) where you can use the cash machines to take money out, or exchange other currencies for Fiji dollars. They ask for ID, a crew ID is sufficient for crewmembers, and for guests a government issued ID like a driver’s license or passport (or photocopy of a passport) is accepted.
The weather is sunny and rainy every day, hence the proliferation of rainforests in Fiji. The West, (where Lautoka is located), is a lot drier than the east, (where Suva is located). Temperatures range from about 24-32 degrees Celsius, and expect humidity and possibly rain on every outing. Bring sun lotion, an umbrella, and bug spray for every trip out in Fiji and you’ll be covered for everything, which you probably will experience in each of those trips.
Fiji is not the most technologically advanced country I have been to. “Free” Wi-Fi with a purchase is very rare (except in fast food joints in which the Wi-Fi quality is almost as awful as that of the food), and even in higher quality establishments (like the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva), or in internet cafes where their actual purpose is to sell you Wi-Fi and you use it (like in the Connect Suva Café in Suva), expect slow connections, and consistent disconnections for no apparent reason. In short, internet wise, it feels like about 15 years ago, when the internet was still becoming a “thing”. In Connect Suva Café yesterday, I half expected to hear the white noise, then crinkly hissing of the sound to dial up for broadband access of years gone by. You can also buy Internet cards to use with your phone in Fiji, which are of certain time limits or megabyte limits in some stores. If you purchase these, check the details of the product available carefully.
Fiji is a good place for local hand made wooden souvenirs, as well as ‘Bula’ dresses and shirts, along with wooden jewelry, and bowls. My favourite Fijian souvenir is the natural, delicious smelling pure coconut oil, especially the noni fruit one. It is one of the country’s best, and most natural exports, and raising the popularity of it with foreign tourists can help raise their fragile economy using their lovely natural assets.
As far as I know, no visas are needed for any nationality to enter Fiji.
Food and drink
Fishing is still one of the largest industries in Fiji, and this is very evident in the cooking. You can find seafood on almost every eatery and street vendor’s menu. Fiji’s populace is made up of about 50% native Fijians, and about 50% Indian people (most of whom are at least second or third generation). This makes the food of Fiji very tasty and varied, with the Fijian dishes being mostly based o seafood and using the local plants like cassava as the main starchy vegetable used, and also Indian dishes like curry and roti being mainstays. Both culinary routes have influenced the other with some Fijian dishes being spiced up a little more, and more fish and cassava making an appearance within the Indian dishes. This makes for some really tasty local foods to try. Fruit is everywhere in Fiji, and therefore so is fresh fruit juice, such as mango and pineapple, with smoothie stores around in the city. The local beer to try is ‘Fiji Bitters’. A must to try while in Fiji is the extremely popular local cold drink called kava. The drink is made from the ground up roots of the kava plant, then sees the powder sieved through a muslin cloth into a special wooden mixing bowl, then cool fresh water is gradually added into the mixture to make the liquid. Kava is drank at almost every occasion in Fiji, from welcoming new guests, or visiting friends and relatives, so special ceremonies for coming of age or at weddings and birthdays. It looks, and sort of tastes, like mud water, and is a rather acquired taste. After drinking it, your tongue will likely feel quite numb and a little fuzzy, as it has a relaxing effect, which explains its popularity. I definitely recommend trying it at least once while you are in Fiji. You can buy bags of it to take home for family or friends to try, buying it in the tourist souvenir shops or in the local markets. You’ll get a better bargain procuring it from the local markets, with it costing probably about half of in the shops. Be wary though about being able to bring it out of the country, as rules on bringing non factory sealed products out of Australia and New Zealand especially are very strict, so if you leave from these countries in particular, it might be best to pay a bit more for the shop one, so you don’t risk potentially losing it or getting told off by customs authorities.
Due to several natural disasters in Fiji in recent years, the economy of the country is still trying to recover and build so at the moment you can find high quality accommodation for very reasonable prices. There isn’t that much of them, but Suva the Grand Pacific Hotel, and the chain hotel next door in
Fijians are almost all Christian in religion so all Christian celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Lent are observed. About 50% of Fiji’s 800,000 strong population are of Indian descent, so that half of the populace are Hindu, and observe all Hindu celebrations. Small villages will also have celebrations for all major occasions, such as if a teenager moves away to go to University, important birthdays for coming of age etc. and of course weddings and funerals.
My Favourite & Least Favourite Thing About Fiji:
Fiji’s natural beauty is really her best asset, and there are some really stunning places to see. From pristine soft white sandy beaches, to dramatic tall waterfalls amid lush green rainforests, being in Fiji’s natural habitats is really something to cherish.
The towns and cities can feel a little dirty and unkempt as the country still works on becoming a shiny nice destination. The Internet situation everywhere isn’t great either. I am hoping that Fiji will be able to utilize its natural beauty, like Costa Rica is doing, to make Eco-Tourism the new main industry, to bring in the tourists and the money.
Local Customs/Etiquette to be aware of
“Bula!” Is the all-encompassing general greeting you will hear being called to you everywhere in Fiji. Call it back to whoever is greeting you. It means, hello, goodbye, thank you, welcome, anything really, and is always a friendly welcome. The country is quite poor, so mentally prepare to see locals often walking around with no shoes on and sometimes-tattered clothes. Ease your tourist guilt by simply enjoying the country, and spending some money in it on seeing the beauty, and wonderful products and food it has to offer. Tell friends about it if you enjoy it and would like to return or recommend others visit for a vacation. I have found Fijians to be pretty friendly in nature, but in markets, with local tours, and even in most stores, everything is a bargaining game, so be prepared to listen to the first price and think on it before committing. It isn’t offensive to barter, it is part of the process, but don’t try to barter too low, make sure you are still paying a fair price for whatever you are buying as the country needs money coming in. Don’t take advantage of that fact to the point of trying to really lowball locals for their wares or services.