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9 Best Fiji Islands

Fiji, in the South Pacific, fuels countless tropical fantasies, and with 333 islands to choose from, it's easy to find a sublime stretch of palm-studded sand to suit your style and budget. Names like the Mamanucas and Yasawas roll off the tongue like gentle waves on a tropical beach, and these island groups offer everything from luxury hideaways and rustic eco-resorts to family-friendly hotels. The tourist town of Nadi, on Viti Levu, is the international gateway to these picture-perfect islands, and the resort areas of Denarau Island and the popular Coral Coast are a short drive away, near some of Fiji's top tourist attractions. But you don't have to travel far to flee the crowds and find your own Fijian paradise. Lush rain-soaked islands like Vanua Levu and Taveuni are off the beaten tourist track, with hiking trails, waterfalls, and flower-flecked jungles, while unspoiled Kadavu lures divers to the planet's fourth largest barrier reef. Whether you're an avid diver seeking fish-rich reefs, an eco-tourist, a beach babe, or a backpacker, this list will help you find the perfect Fiji island to fit your fantasies. And if you still can't choose between all these tropical beauties, hop aboard a Blue Lagoon Cruise and sample more than one.

1 The Mamanuca Islands

The Mamanuca Islands
The Mamanuca Islands
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A short hop from the tourist hubs of Nadi and Denarau Island, the magnificent Mamanuca Islands are among the most popular tourist destinations in Fiji, and for good reason. These 20 splotches of sublime white sand and striking blue water boast some of Fiji's best weather, with plenty of sunshine and less rain than other island groups. What these islands lack in cultural interest, they compensate for with dazzling beaches, clear waters, and fish-rich coral reefs. Thanks to this quintessential tropical beauty, Survivor and the famous Tom Hanks movie Cast Away were both filmed on islands in this chain.

Coral reefs lure divers and snorkelers, and surfers flock here for the world-class breaks, including the famous Cloud Break, a short boat ride from these islands. You'll find accommodation to suit every budget and style, from thatched bures (traditional Fijian huts) to luxurious beachfront villas. Topping the luxury list are Vomo Island Resort, Likuliku Lagoon Resort, and adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort. Popular mid-range resorts include Matamanoa Island Resort, Malolo Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, and Castaway Island. Beachcomber Island is a hit with the lively backpacker set, and if you're a surfer, the best resorts are Tavarua Island Resort, Plantation Island Resort, Lomani Island Resort, and Namotu Island Resort. Most of the islands lie less than an hour away by boat from Denarau Island Marina.

2 The Yasawa Islands

Nacula Island
Nacula Island
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North of the popular Mamanuca Islands, the sparsely-populated Yasawa Islands are more remote and less developed than their sister islands further south, but equally stunning. The 1980 film The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields, was filmed on one of these tropical beauties. Surrounded by crystal clear waters in almost every shade of blue, these islands tend to be drier than their southern counterparts, and they pucker into steep peaks that plunge to beautiful white-sand beaches. Popular activities include kayaking, swimming with manta rays, and exploring the cathedral-like Sawa-i-Lau caves. You won't find any towns in the Yasawas, only small villages, but accommodation options are diverse, with everything from rustic backpacker accommodation to luxury resorts such as Paradise Cove Resort, Turtle Island Resort, and Yasawa Island Resort. Sea planes, helicopters, and speedboats whisk guests to these resorts from Nadi, and you can also tour these islands on a Blue Lagoon cruise or the high-speed catamaran, the Yasawa Flyer.

3 Viti Levu

Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort Roderick Eime / photo modified
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If you're visiting Fiji for the first time, you'll probably fly into Viti Levu, the country's largest island and international gateway. The main airport is near the town of Nadi, on the island's western side, where souvenir shops and Indian restaurants jostle along the busy streets. Suva, on the island's eastern side, is the capital and one of the largest cities in the South Pacific, with a lively expat community. If you're looking for some posh digs near the airport, Denarau Island is an exclusive resort enclave with a cluster of large hotels and an 18-hole golf course, about six kilometers from Nadi. Most tourists who are staying on Viti Levu base themselves here or on the Coral Coast, about a two-hour drive from Nadi, where white-sand beaches and more large resorts rim the coast.

But Viti Levu also has a wild side. If you venture away from the tourist hubs, you can explore traditional mountain villages; zip-line through the jungle, and raft or kayak down the Navua River through pristine rainforests. Pacific Harbour, about an hour's drive from Suva, is an adventure sports hotspot, where you can dive with sharks in Beqa Lagoon. About 15 minutes from Nadi, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, in the foothills of the Sabeto Range, is a popular day trip for garden lovers, and after admiring all the orchids, you can soak in the nearby Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool. About an hour's drive from Nadi, palm-lined Natadola Beach is one of the island's prettiest crescents of coast, with gentle surf and decent snorkeling at its eastern end.

4 Vanua Levu

Clownfish and sea anemone
Clownfish and sea anemone
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Less touristy than Viti Levu, Vanua Levu is the second largest island in Fiji and a popular destination for nature lovers who like to travel off the beaten path. In Wasali Nature Reserve, waterfalls flow down the lush hillsides, and hiking trails thread through the rainforest to hot springs and panoramic lookouts. The town of Savusavu has a colorful farmers market, and its sheltered bay is popular with sailors. The island's rutted dirt tracks are fun for 4WD enthusiasts - especially along the scenic Hibiscus Highway, which traces the coast past coconut plantations and apple-green fields of sugarcane. Other popular activities include hiking and mountain biking through the jungle; river tubing; and basking on the empty, jungle-fringed beaches.

Diving and snorkeling are also excellent in the waters around the islands; Jean-Michel Cousteau (Jacques' son) runs a popular dive center here, with courses for all skill levels. Top dive locations include Rainbow Reef, famous for its multi-hued soft corals, and Namena Marine Reserve, with some of the country's most unspoiled reefs. About 20 kilometers outside Labasa (Vanua Levu's largest town) is the legendary Snake Temple, with the Naag Baba Mandir, a sacred Hindu growing stone.

5 Taveuni

Tavoro Waterfalls
Tavoro Waterfalls
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Like its much larger sister island, Vanua Levu, to the west, Taveuni is a haven for hikers, nature-lovers, and anyone who wants to experience the country's more authentic side on their Fiji holiday. It is known as the "Garden Isle," thanks to its lush jungles and many waterfalls, fed by frequent rains. The Bouma National Heritage Park protects a large part of the island, with rare tropical blooms and superb bird watching; Kula lorikeets and silktails are among the many prized bird species here. One of the best ways to explore the island is along the Lavena Coastal Walk, a five-kilometer hiking trail that rims the rugged coastline, where black and white-sand beaches merge with reef-dappled waters. Not surprisingly, diving and snorkeling are a highlight; the waters are home to more than 1,198 species of reef fish, almost 300 different species of hard coral, as well as giant clams, turtles, sharks, and rays. Top sites include Rainbow Reef, Eel Reef, the Great White Wall, and Waitabu Marine Park. Other popular things to do in Taveuni include floating down pristine rivers on bamboo rafts, swimming in the natural pools at the 60-foot Tavoro Waterfalls, kayaking along the coast, village stays, and climbing the mountain peaks (Taveuni is home to Fiji's second highest peak, Mt. Uluigalau, at 1,241 meters).

6 Wakaya Island

Snorkeling, Wakaya Island
Snorkeling, Wakaya Island Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / photo modified
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Part of the Lomaiviti Group of islands, due east of Viti Levu, 2,200-acre Wakaya Island is privately-owned and home to the all-inclusive luxury Wakaya Club & Spa, a plush, private hideaway in pristine surrounds. Celebrities like Keith Richards frequently visit these shores, ensconced in large air-conditioned villas that are strung along a sliver of white-sand beach fringed by turquoise waters and coral reefs. Each features natural materials such as woven bamboo, tropical hardwoods, and lava rock as well as sumptuous Italian linens, Tibetan rugs, high-speed Internet access, oversized soaking tubs, and private gardens. Water sports include scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking, while land-based activities range from nature walks and golfing on the 9-hole course, to tennis, croquet, private picnics, and tours of the organic gardens and orchidarium.

Official site: http://wakaya.com/

7 Editor's Pick Toberua Island Resort

Toberua Island Resort
Toberua Island Resort | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings
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About a 30-minute boat ride from Suva along the scenic Navaloa River, tiny Toberua Island, in the Lomaiviti Group, is one of Fiji's island gems. Approaching from the sea, four-acre Toberua (pronounced "Tomberua") looks a little like Gilligan's Island, with its sliver of white-sand beach, arching palms, and cute thatched bures. Known for it's personal service and friendly feel, the island accommodates guests in 18 bures nestled along the shore, featuring a blend of natural textures and modern comforts. The long-time staff know all the guests by name, and there's no need for a watch or phone here. Pulsing drums announce when each meal is ready, and the friendly staff find you on the island to take your dinner order. Popular activities include diving, snorkeling, and fishing on the surrounding reefs, kayaking, swimming in the island's pool, spa treatments, petanque, and trips to nearby villages. You can also play "reef golf" on the 18-hole course, though you'll have to wait for low tide, and if you really want to splurge, you can book out the entire island.

Official site: http://toberua.com/

8 Matangi Private Island Resort

Matangi Private Island Resort
Matangi Private Island Resort Ed Bierman / photo modified
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Stretching into the shape of a smile, 240-acre Matangi Private Island Resort, northeast of Taveuni, is a picturesque couples-only island and a favorite wedding and honeymoon destination. The island is actually an extinct volcanic crater, with coral reefs fringing the lovely Horseshoe Bay, a seductive curve of white-sand beach lined by palms. The air-conditioned, thatched bures blend earthy textures with modern luxuries. Some are sprinkled along the shore, while others are split-level treehouses on stilts that stretch up into the lush rainforest canopy. A luxury spa presides over the water's edge. Activities here include diving, fishing, swimming, kayaking, cultural village and waterfall tours, and treks on nearby Qamea Island, and if doing nothing is your idea of paradise, you can just curl up in a hammock under rustling palms and gaze out at the blue, blue sea.

9 Kadavu

Kadavu
Kadavu
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Far from the well-trodden tourist trail, the unspoiled Kadavu group of islands are known for the fantastic diving on the Great Astrolabe Reef, the planet's fourth largest barrier reef. About 100 kilometers south of Viti Levu, Kadavu Island is the largest in the group, with volcanic peaks and vast tracts of virgin rainforest cloaking its interior. These jungles support an impressive diversity of birds, including the Kadavu musk parrot, velvet dove, and crimson shining parrot. Tourist infrastructure is practically non-existent, except for a few friendly eco-resorts strung along the coast, some with organic gardens and pretty beaches. Matava and Papageno Resort Fiji are two of the favorites. Guided kayaking trips are a great way to explore the coastline, and you can also visit some of the local villages for a dose of authentic Fijian culture. This is one of the world's rare places, where you can drop off the grid and immerse yourself in pristine natural beauty, both on land and in the water.

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