Yes, you’ve been warned, haven’t you? Fiji is a place for the rich. The wealthy Aussies and Kiwis – or the ones that work all year round for that one luxurious holiday to come back to their senses – have communally elected Fiji as a place to be spoiled and pampered.
But what about us, the backpackers and budget-sensitive travelers? Should we just scrape this divine island permanently off the list without even trying to explore it on a shoestring? Well, of course, if you really want to enjoy a Pacific Island on a budget maybe Samoa is a better idea... but even in Fiji there are certainly ways to keep the costs down! Let’s have a look at my budget bucket list, worked off in western Vitu Levu.
I usually never ever even think about booking a resort-holiday. Ugh! Unless you really want zero surprises and have all your experiences and food arranged for, frantically avoiding the way-less-luxurious local daily life and thus not getting to know the country at all, I see no reason why you’d come up with a decision like that. And no, I’m not implying you should stay at a cheap backpackers hostel either, how’s that any different from the previous arguments stated besides the price tag?
A way to experience the local life without the tourist-filter is by staying where the locals stay... like literally, right in their houses. Luckily, this is rather easy as websites such as Air BnB are jam-packed with affordable homestays, Couchsurfing being the 100% free alternative.
And how do you get this exploration started? Well, certainly not by booking a tour. Unless you have some recent inheritance you want to get rid of, then yes, book a few tours and you’ll lose your money before you can even blink. Fiji has one of the highest tourist influx of the Pacific Islands, making it the main branch of labour. Over the years the prices have been pumped up systematically, as basically they can... the rich non-backpackers-group mentioned earlier will pay whatever quoted... but you won’t!
You’re a big boy/girl, you can do it on your own.
Bus transport is by far the cheapest way to explore. Where you’ll pay FJD $85 to reach Sigatoka from Nadi Airport by taxi, and maybe only a tenner less by tourist shuttle, $5 is the standard bus rate (anno 2018). A disposable bus card of a chosen amount can be bought at every main Vodafone shop. Make sure you tell the driver your end destination, or he might charge you until his end destination (unfortunately speaking out of experience). If you can’t be bothered to buy a bus card, you can always pay a local the exact fare and ask him/her to swipe his/her card for you.
Local city buses can be hailed down at every bus stop on the street (destinations displayed up front), but be aware that they stop everywhere. For fast transport between cities make sure to take an express bus. Another option are the minibuses or vans racing around the main highways, only accepting cash.
Usually I’m the first to present hitchhiking as the choice of free transport, but unfortunately in Fiji that doesn’t fly. Sure, hitchhiking is common here. So common that everyone does it... which makes it a communal mode of transport, and is therefore paid. The driver will charge you the rate of the bus drive or up to double.
Buying a bus card here? Yes! Refilling your bottle(s) with free drinking water (which – by the way – is expeeeeeensive in Fiji)? Yes!
Cashing out at the ATM’s? No! Those bastard-banks dare to charge you FJD $15 here, which they don’t do anywhere else on the island. Buying a phone simcard here? Also a clear and loud NO, as they know how to rip off foreigners here. Wait half a day until you’re in your nearest town and get ten times as much data for not even half of the price they charge you via the ‘tourist simcards’.
Remember when I was just raging about the shallowness of unauthentic resort-experiences? Yeah yeah, sticking with that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them to our own advantage. Imagine at the end of the day you’re really tired of all that hiking, snorkelling, eating at markets and chatting non-stop with the locals and all you want is a brainless dive into a palm-covered hot pool... well, you can simply use the facilities of basically any resort surrounding you without even staying there. No no, no sneaky stuff this time, you can simply subscribe as a day guest and legally enjoy the free luxury.
Explore the outer coast of Pohatu Marine Reserve and marvel at its spectacular towering cliffs, rock stacks, reefs, and deep sea caves. Observe the diverse wildlife and marine species such as penguins, seals, various sea birds and possibly the world’s smallest dolphin!