Fiji on the cheap: top money-saving travel tips
With its azure waters, rainbow-coloured reefs and fine-sand beaches, Fiji is all about tropical escapism. Sure, staying in a luxury resort can help you wind down to island time—but that’s not the only way to experience this stunning destination. Here are our top tips for enjoying Fiji on a budget.
The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Fiji will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates.
You’re likely to get better rates by using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. Check with your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal).
You’ll find ATMs in Nadi, Suva and in and around Port Denarau. Our top tip is to remember the outer islands won’t have any machines available, so you’ll need to take some cash with you. If you have a Westpac account, you won’t be charged a withdrawal fee to use Westpac ATMs in Fiji.
When you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or the local currency. Always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate.
How to get around
Keen to chat with the locals? Ride the open-air buses. The ride can be a little bumpy, but it’s the cheapest way to get from A to B. You can hail them from the street and fares start at FJD 70 cents. They run at regular intervals, but they’re on island time so don’t bother with the timetable!
If you’re staying at one of the outer island resorts, your boat transfer can be arranged at the time of booking and may be included in your package price. The larger ferry companies are based in Port Denarau, so if you’re arranging your own transfers, take a look at the smaller ferries operating out of Wailoaloa and Lautoka Wharf. The boats aren’t as flash but you’ll save some dollars. For example, The Mana Flyer will take you to any of the Mamanuca Island resorts for a flat rate of FJD 80—much less than South Sea Cruises.
Heading to the Yasawas? The Tavewa Seabus makes the five-hour trip for just FJD 100 one way. The same operators can take you between resorts if you want to do some island hopping. You can sometimes do day trips if you want to keep the same base. Just be aware that there’s a landing fee at every island.
Where to eat
Most island resorts offer their guests three meals a day for a set price. This is usually less expensive than ordering à la carte from the restaurant. Some outer islands will have a mini-mart, but the prices will be at a premium. If you have time, pick up some snacks for your room at one of the larger supermarkets in Nadi or Suva before boarding your boat.
If you have the chance, don’t miss a visit to the Nadi Municipal Markets, where local farmers sell an amazing array of tropical fruits and vegetables—it’s a real sensory experience. Fiji’s fertile islands are blessed with plenty of rain and sunshine, so the quality of the produce is top notch. Be aware that haggling is not a Fijian custom and prices will be clearly displayed. Cool off with a coconut juice for only FJD 2 or dive into a bag of papaya chunks for FJD 5.
When you’re on the main island, you’ll have plenty of dining options to choose from. Try to stick to restaurants serving up local fare, like freshly caught seafood. Indian and Chinese restaurants serving fusion dishes influenced by both regions are a great choice. Prices start at around FJD 9 for a main at restaurants in town, while resorts will charge at least FJD 20. Buffets and lovo feasts for the tourist crowd will be north of FJD 50 per person so it’s worth shopping around for the best prices.
Where to shop
Both Suva and Nadi have great handicraft and flea markets where you can find traditional goods including rustic wooden carvings, pottery, handmade jewellery, woven mats, baskets and lots more. Handwoven tapa cloths will cost around FJD 60, kava bowls range from FJD 200 to 300 and black pearls can range from FJD 250 to 500 depending on size and quality. Look for the ‘Fijian Made’ stamp to make sure you’re supporting the local community and ask if wooden goods are treated and customs-friendly!
Unlike at the food markets, haggling is advisable at the handicraft markets. The seller will tell you that the price is not negotiable, but it always is. If they start with a really high price (say, FJD 100 or more for a wooden turtle carving), offer half and negotiate from there. When it comes to fun souvenirs like Hawaiian shirts or fridge magnets, you can get a better deal by asking for extra items to be included (eg, three shirts for the price of two). Take cash—it’s better for bargaining, and many stalls won’t have credit card facilities.