Backpacking Fiji On A Budget
Fiji on a Budget
Fiji on a budget? Is that even possible?
If you are reading this then you, like us, have probably always dreamt of travelling to one of the most desirable tropical destinations in the world, Fiji. The promise of being able to relax in a hammock with a drink in your hand on a white sand beach or being able to swim in flawless turquoise waters with rainbow coral and exotic fish all around you make Fiji one of the most swoon worthy destinations in the South Pacific.
Like most people, we thought although we would love to travel to Fiji, the cost would surely put it out of the realm of possibility.
Thankfully, we were wrong.
Like many other countries, if you stay at expensive hotels, eat at posh restaurants and go out drinking every night you can pretty much guarantee a blown budget. However, if you are willing to be flexible with where you sleep, exercise some restraint with expensive activities, take it easy on the drinking and follow our tips, we guarantee that you CAN fulfil your dream of travelling to the island paradise that is Fiji.
In doing our pre-trip planning, we found a disappointing lack of information on budget travel throughout the islands so we wanted to create this post to help other backpackers out there looking for information on backpacking Fiji on a budget.
The following expense category breakdown provides you with “Our Best Tips” on how to stay within a backpacker’s budget as well as sharing first hand experiences on what you can “Expect to Pay”.
We start with accommodation because this one tends to be the highest daily expense, so if you can reduce this as much as possible you should be in good shape.
The most popular areas for budget travellers in Fiji include the Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands and the Coral Coast on Viti Levu. Most lodgings will require you to pay a flat rate per day that includes accommodation AND basic meals for the day. Unfortunately we only came across a small handful of resorts that would allow you to buy your meals a la carte. Opting out is usually not permitted, meaning you need to keep this in mind when checking out resort prices in the islands.
Expect to Pay:
- Budget Resorts: $30-$40 USD per person for a dorm bed. $100-$140 USD for a private double room.
- Please note that these prices include three meals per day
- Couples and travellers in pairs rejoice, the cost of a double room is often only marginally higher than a dorm bed and far more comfortable.
Our Best Tips:
- Couchsurfing: We couch surfed in Nadi, staying with the family on three different occasions and had an absolute blast. We went to a rugby tournament, saw a bunch of sight we wouldn’t otherwise have, cooked and ate traditional Fijian food and ended up leaving them feeling like family. One thing to note is that in Fiji most couchsurfing hosts also work as travel agents which makes good business sense for them. Our experience was positive as they did not push us into any sale but I have heard a few negative stories so just be aware.
- Use a Travel Agent: A travel agent? I know. As independent budget travellers we rarely use travel agents opting for control over our bookings but in Fiji using a travel agent, at least a good one, should be able to negotiate better nightly rates at the resorts you are heading to. We used one, our couch surfing host, and they were able to save us hundreds of dollars on accommodations over the course of two weeks in the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. The truth is that the tourism industry is the #1 employer in Fiji and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be working with an agent at some point, best to get to know one early and build a relationship.
- Air BNB: We love using Airbnb especially in countries where the accommodations are a little more expensive. It allows us to save money not just on accommodations but because we sometimes have our own kitchen, we save money on food as well. Plus, the owners are a wealth of information on the city and country and may even show you around. Let us refer you and you’ll receive $35 USD off your first Airbnb booking!
- Look for Homestay Opportunities: Some of the most memorable experiences we’ve had while travelling the world have come from homestays where locals have invited us to live with their families. In typical Fijian style, locals are more than willing to have you stay in their home for however long you’d like. Not only is this THE best way to experience real Fijian culture, but you will probably leave as an honorary member of their family. Most Fijians are exceptionally generous and will literally give you their bed, their portion of dinner and even the shirt off their back and ask for nothing in return. Unfortunately that means that they will typically not ask you for money if you stay with them and some people take advantage of this. Make sure before your first night that you and your host are on the same page when it comes to how you’re contributing. Conversely, you can offer what ever money you feel is appropriate in a respectful manner at the end of your stay. We found this to be a good approach in some situations.
- Please don’t take advantage of the Fijian hospitality. I ran into one American guy who was bragging to me about how he’s paid nothing for accommodations for three months because the Fijian families never ask him for anything. Don’t be that guy. There are locals who if you treat them well they will consider you family and will not ask for money from you. You need to use your own instincts and best judgement in order to make sure that the relationship isn’t a one-sided affair.
- Book Ahead of Time: If you are somebody who prefers to have some or all of your accommodations pre-booked ahead of time so you can breathe easy, then Booking.com is your best bet as there are no booking fees and often times not free cancellation on hotel bookings.
Getting around Fiji can be quite pricey. Inter-island flights will cost a small fortune, taxi drivers will try to charge you Australian prices and the one company, Awesome Adventures, has a virtual monopoly on transfers to the Mamanuca and Yasawa chain of islands.
The best way to travel on the cheap is to mimic the locals as closely as possible which I will go into more detail below.
Expect to Pay:
- City Bus: Within Nadi and Suva you should expect to pay $0.50 USD or less to get around the city.
- Long Distance Bus: Known prices: 1) Nadi to Latouka (one way): $1 USD 2) Nadi to Suva (one way): $7.50 USD
- Hitchhike: Very popular way for locals to get around. After waving down a driver and having them drop you off where you need to go, the general rule of thumb is that you pay them whatever you would have paid for the bus.
- Taxi: Variable but expect to pay about 2/3 the rate of Australia as long as the meter is on. Always have them run the meter.
- Flying: Expect to pay approximately $320 USD (round trip) to either Vanua Levu or Taveuni. Inter country flights are infamously pricey.
- Boat Transfers Via “Awesome Adventures” to and from the Mamanucas & Yasawas: This cost is completely dependent on how many islands you want to check out and how long you want to be island hopping for. We paid approximately $100 USD per person for a seven-day, three island round trip ticket to the Yasawas.
- Inter-Island Ferries:
- Suva to Savu-Savu & Taveuni
- Goundar Shipping: $29 USD per person for economy, $42 USD per person for first class, $110 USD for cabin single occupancy or $139 USD for a cabin double occupancy ($165 USD to Taveuni). If you decide to not get a cabin and stay in economy or first class and do not have your own mat to sleep on, you can rent one for $5 USD.
- Savu-Savu to Taveuni
- Taveuni Princess – Bus & Ferry Combo: $8 USD per person
- Goundar Shipping – $16 USD per person for economy
- Suva to Savu-Savu & Taveuni
Our Best Tips:
- Bus: Cheapest and best way of getting around Viti Levu, the largest and most populous island in Fiji. After arriving at Nadi International Airport, walk toward the main security gates for the airport, cross the street and you will be able to catch as bus into town.
- Hitchhike: Very common and known to be safe, hitchhiking is a great way to get around Fiji on the cheap. You should pay your driver whatever the bus fare would have been for the same distance. Be wary of guys stopping and saying they are “private taxis” because they will want to charge taxi rates, not bus rates.
- Taxi: Try and avoid taxis if possible. Always demand they use their meter as the taxi drivers will try to charge you Australian prices. As mentioned above, be wary of guys stopping in normal looking cars saying they are a “private taxi” as they will not have a meter and you may run into trouble when it comes time to pay. The government is very anti-corruption and anti-scam with tourists so if get into trouble let them know you will report them to the taxi commission or corruption hotline (there is one).
- Flying: There aren’t that many options to fly within Fiji so the only advice we can give is book ahead as the planes are often only 16 seaters.
- Boat Transfers Via “Awesome Adventures” to and from the Mamanucas & Yasawas: You should be able to score a better deal on your Awesome Adventures transfer pass if you go through a travel agent and book your connections separately versus booking a package in their airport office.
- Inter-Island Ferries: We found that there are quite a few boats travellingtoVanuaLevuandTaveuni but its next to impossible to find or book anything online. Companies that we have been referred to include: Bligh, Goundar, Patterson, Westerland. At the time of this writing all bookings must be made in person. Also, most lines make the journey only once or twice a week with some even not running for a week or two at a time. Schedules are irregular and subject to change.
- Goundar Shipping: Typically runs twice a week from Suva to Savu-Savu on Vanua Levu. It then continues on to Taveuni. The boat leaves typically around 11pm arriving at 11am at Savusavu and then 4pm on Taveuni. Suva to Savusavu takes 12 hours (weather dependent) and then it’s another 3-4 hours to Taveuni.
- Savusavu to Taveuni: Your best bet is to take the Taveuni Princess which leaves at 6:15am arriving at the port at Navoutu at 8-8:30am. Ferry leaves at 10am or so, arriving at 11:30am in Taveuni.
Reducing expenses in this realm is by far the easiest way to whittle down your budget. In Fiji food isn’t cheap, even groceries can be pricey but there are some ways to keep your food costs low.
Probably the biggest challenge in keeping your food budget in line has to do with the ridiculously overpriced meal plans that the resorts force you to pay on the islands. Unfortunately the meal plans are almost always compulsory meaning while you island hop around Fiji you will have to do like we did and just grin and bear it.
The areas where you can really save some cash can be found when it comes to buying water, alcohol and your meals while on the mainland.
Make sure to try some traditional underground cooking (Lovo) which typically consists of kasava, sweet potato, other roots, fish and maybe pork cooked under hot coals for hours. You also need to try Kava, a social and ceremonial drink, before you leave Fiji. It is a natural drink like coffee, made from ground root and in our opinions doesn’t have a great taste but leaves you feeling relaxed and may even numb your lips slightly!
Expect to Pay:
- Resort Meal Plan: As mentioned under pricing under the “Accommodation” section, the price includes three meals a day. However, there are some resorts that will quote accommodation and meals separately. In these cases the meal plans range from $29-$55 USD per person per day.
- Duty free pricing: Two 750ml bottles of Bounty Rum for $34 USD
- Grocery store: One 750ml bottle for $39 USD
- Resort pricing: $3.50 USD for a can, $4 USD for a stubby and $4-$6 USD for a large bottle.
- Mainland pricing: $1.50 USD for a can, $2.50 USD for a stubby and $3-$4 USD for a large bottle.
- Water: Most resorts do not include water in your meal plan. Only a handful actually provide fresh water to their guests for free. You should also be awarethattapwaterisperfectlysafeonVitiLevu, VanuaLevuandTaveuni. On the other smaller islands it’s likely not safe to drink.
- Resort pricing: $2.60-$4.20 USD for a 1.5L
- Mainland pricing: $0.75-$1.50 USD for a 1.5L
- Awesome Adventures boat pricing: $2 USD for a 1.5L
- Street Food: (roti, chicken and kasava) will cost $2-$5 USD
- Restaurants in Nadi & Suva: Lunches typically cost $5-$10 USD and dinners $10-$15 USD
Our Best Tips:
- Plan ahead: Before going to the Mamanucas and Yasawas bring your own water, alcohol, and snacks.
- Local Markets: Local markets are the best place to find cheap produce. In our experience, they are very willing to barter with you.
- Shop at the Cheapest Grocery Store: RB Patel is the cheapest grocery store in Viti Levu. The most expensive is MH.
- Use Cooking Facilities – If the guesthouse or bungalow that you are staying at has cooking facilities, make good use out of them. Eating out can be quite expensive.
- Street Food: You won’t find a lot of vendors selling local street food but there are a few. In Nadi town for instance, right by the Downtown Hotel are four or five vendors selling local food like roti, chicken & cassava for as little as 5 FJD.
- Dollar Stores: There are a handful of dollar stores in the cities of Nadi, Latouka and Suva which sometimes sell cheap snacks and drinks.
- Suva: Food courts in malls are a great place to get cheap dinner.
Most of your expenses under the entertainment section in Fiji will probably come from water activities like scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing & surfing. With the rest coming from spa treatments or excursions from your resort such as visiting the islands where Castaway and the Blue Lagoon were filmed.
Expect to Pay:
- Scuba Diving: Expect to pay approximately $85-$95 USD per dive
- Snorkelling: Expect to pay $3-$5 USD for a full day rental
- Kayak Rental: Expect to pay $5 USD for full day rental
- Spa: Expect to pay approximately $31 USD for a full hour massage
- Fishing/Spear Fishing: Expect to pay $15-$20 USD for a half day trip
- Castaway Island Trip (Mamanucas): Expect to pay $40 USD
- Blue Lagoon Snorkel Trip (Nacula): Expect to pay $15 USD for a half day snorkel trip
- Sawailaw Cave Trip (Nacula): Expect to pay $30-$40 USD
- Snorkel With Manta Rays (Yasawas): Expect to pay $20 USD
Our Best Tips:
- Scuba Diving: Like other parts of the world, better deals can be had if you purchase a package of four dives or more or if you’ve got your own equipment.
- Snorkelling: Bring your own mask & snorkel if you can. Gear quality is typically not great and the hygiene between uses was questionable.
- Free Activities: If you book with a resort in the Yasawas of Mamanucas for more than 3 nights you can typically get an activity for free.
Here are our some important miscellaneous tips for backpacking Fiji on a budget.
Expect to Pay:
- Resorts: $2.75 USD per hour or $11 USD for 24 hours
- Internet Cafes in Nadi or Suva: $0.80-$2 USD per hour
- ATM Withdrawal Fees:
- Bank of South Pacific Bank: $4 USD
- Westpac: $5.50 USD
- ANZ: $5.50-$7 USD
Our Best Tips:
- WiFi: The internet cafes in Nadi and Suva and fairly cheap and even more importantly, quite fast and reliable.
- ATMs: ATM fees are ridiculously high in Fiji so minimize withdrawals while in the country. Also, BSP has the cheapest fees out of the all the ATMs we used (as per the pricing above).
- Pharmacies/Chemists: Most chemists will sell you contraceptives and antibiotics over-the-counter. Much cheaper option than buying these back in the Western world.
- Barbers: Cheapest haircut I’ve had in the entire world was in Nadi at a busy local barber where I was charged only $1.50 USD! It was so good I went back there again before leaving Fiji!
Our Numbers and Overall Recommendations
We spent 35 nights in Fiji and spent on average $58 USD per person per day.
We travelled mostly by local bus and ferry but did purchase a seven-day, three island transfer pass from Awesome Adventures. Our average includes a flight we chose to take from Taveuni to Nadi because we wanted to stay in Taveuni for Alyse’s birthday. If we had taken the ferry back to Viti Levu, a much cheaper option, our average would have dropped to $54 USD per person per day.
During our five weeks in Fiji we stayed in a mix or dorms and private rooms while in the Mamanucas, Yasawas and Taveuni. We couchsurfed and did homestays for a total of nine days on Viti Levu and Taveuni.
We were cautious with our entertainment spending but still had a lot of fun. We each enjoyed massages, scuba dived the Rainbow Reef, snorkelled with manta rays and enjoyed a volcanic mud bath.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful and that you feel confident that you can enjoy all that the islands of Fiji have to offer even on a backpackers budget.
Ross & Alyse
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