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A Backpacking Guide to the Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Updated: Jun 19

In this backpacking guide to the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, we will go over everything you need to know to plan your budget-friendly adventure to this breathtaking archipelago in the Pacific.



CONTENTS




Fiji time!
Fiji time!

 


About the Yasawa Islands


Fiji has over 300 islands and planning independent travel there can be a little overwhelming at first! The Yasawa Islands (pronounced Yah-sow-wah) are a group of around 20 Fijian Islands northwest of the main Island of Viti Levu.


They, along with the Mamanuca Islands, are the most accessible for island hopping - so this is a great place to start when planning your backpacking adventure to Fiji!



Wayalailai Island, Fiji
Wayalailai Island

 

Mamanucas or Yasawas?


While this article focuses on the Yasawa Islands, I still wanted to answer this question. The Yasawas have a wider range of accommodation choices - with more adventure activities and cultural options. In comparison, the Mamanuca Islands are a little closer to the mainland with more of a focus on luxury accommodation as opposed to backpacker digs.



 


A Backpacking Guide to the Yasawa Islands, Fiji


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


When to Go to the Yasawa Islands


The Yasawas are considered one of the drier parts of Fiji, but even so, I would still suggest avoiding travelling there in the rainy season.


The official dry season is May - October, which also coincides with the Manta Ray season! During these months the plankton is prolific in the narrow channels between the islands, attracting majestic squadrons of curious Manta Rays that you'll likely encounter during your underwater escapades!



Fiji Crested Iguana
Fiji Crested Iguana - photo by David Clode

 


How to Get To and Around the Yasawa Islands


Fiji's international airport is Nadi, on the main island of Viti Levu - so if you're planning a backpacking trip to the Yasawa Islands you'll likely be starting here.


Unless you have a flight that lands at Nadi Airport in the early morning, you’ll need to stay the night on the mainland before departing for the Yasawas the next morning. You can find lots of budget accommodation options in Nadi on booking.com


There are three options for travelling from Viti Levu to the Yasawa Islands:


  1. Private boat hire

  2. Private seaplane

  3. The Yasawa Flyer (ferry)


Options 1 and 2 can both be arranged via your accommodation, but as this is a backpacker's guide to the Yasawa Islands I'll only delve deeper into option 3, The Yasawa Flyer.


The Yasawa Flyer is a ferry that leaves Port Denarau on the main island of Viti Levu at 08h45 every morning. It travels north through the Yasawas stopping at every Island, and once it reaches the top of the island chain it heads back south doing the same.


Therefore, every accommodation sees the ferry twice a day - once northbound and once southbound, and they will provide a tender that meets the ferry - dropping off/picking you up directly from the boat.


It would be best if you let your accommodation know from which direction you will be coming, especially for the smaller homestays where you might be the only guests arriving at that time.



The Yasawa Flyer, Fiji
The Yasawa Flyer

The Yasawa Flyer provides free coach transfers from the airport and many accommodation options on Viti Levu, you can see their bus timetable here.


The price of the ferry depends on whether you get a pass (more on that later), how far you are travelling and how many islands you hop. All tickets include luggage and the process at the port is simple and clear. There is a Captain’s Lounge upgrade if you’d like comfier seats and air-conditioning.



 


Accommodation in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji


The most important thing to know about backpacking in the Yasawa Islands is that you need to pre-arrange accommodation. Unless arranged through a private tour you can’t travel to many of the islands (or between them) for day trips.


So we have narrowed down the 300 islands of Fiji to the 20 islands of the Yasawas, now where do we go from here?


Deciding on where you want to stay on the Yasawa islands depends on how long your trip is, your budget, and the activities you are most interested in.


Thanks to the Yasawa Flyer, you don't need to stick to sleeping on one island only, you can hop about and mix it up! For our trip, we chose 3 islands, with 3 nights on each (plus a night in Nadi on either side).


You can either work your way north and have the long boat journey at the end, or like us, go the whole hog and start with the 5-hour boat journey, splitting up the journey back into 1–2-hour chunks.


Being a few specks of land in the middle of the Pacific, there isn't a huge range of lodging options, but you can normally find some type of accommodation in the form of Dorms, Bures (cabins), Homestays or Resorts.


It is important to know that a lot of these accommodation options have compulsory food packages that are not included in the prices shown on sites such as booking.com - so make sure you read the fine print before making any reservations!



Barefoot Kuata Resort Fiji
Barefoot Kuata Resort


I would suggest choosing a homestay for at least a portion of your trip, as often these involve staying with a Fijian family in a village - where you can truly immerse yourself in Fijian culture. These are not necessarily cheaper than resorts, and food options are limited in homestays so you'll need to be okay with eating whatever comes your way.


To choose which 3 islands to sleep on, we first looked at which activities we wanted to do then chose the cheapest accommodation nearby (in true backpacker style!)


Those 3 islands ended up being: Nacula, Drawaqa, and Kuata.



 


Our Itinerary for the Yasawa Islands, Fiji


Nacula Island – 3 Nights at Nabua Lodge.

Activities: Sawa-i-Lau caves and snorkelling at Blue Lagoon.

FJD $540 for 3 nights in a bungalow (between 2 people), plus FJD $20 compulsory food package per person per meal.


Drawaqa Island – 3 Nights at Barefoot Manta Resort

Activities: Mantas rays and hiking.

FJD $360 for 3 nights for 2 beds in the female dorm, plus $119 per person per night food package.*


Kuata Island – 3 Nights at Barefoot Kuata Resort.

Activity: The amazing Bull Shark Scuba dive!

FJD $360 for 3 nights for 2 beds in the female dorm, plus $119 per person per night food package.


Nadi - 2 Nights (book-ended) at Aquarius on the Beach.

FJD $257 for 2 nights in budget double room plus FJD around $30 FJD for dinner per night


Total for 11 nights accommodation and food for 2 people (staying mostly in resorts): FJD $2471 (£880). As you can see, Fiji is not the cheapest place to travel, but it does not have to break the bank either. If this figure is beyond your budget, you can check out Couchsurfing options.


*HEADS UP
While Barefoot Manta Resort was lovely with some amazing beaches, hammocks, and friendly staff, we did get very ill along with 20 other guests on our last night, believed to be food poisoning. We were promised a refund for the last day’s food package as we were too unwell to eat. We never received this refund and have had no response to multiple emails, messages, and calls. Take from this what you will.


A dormitory at Barefoot Manta Fiji
A dormitory at Barefoot Manta

 


Awesome Adventures Fiji – Bula Pass and Awesome Pass


Awesome Adventures Fiji offers 2 special passes for the Yasawa Flyer, and whether it is worth your while or not depends on your itinerary.


The Bula Pass is just for the Yasawa Flyer ferry itself, it gives you unlimited trips on the ferry for anywhere between 5 and 15 days. This is a good way to save cash if you intend to hit as many of the Yasawa islands as possible.


As we were only stopping at 3 islands during our 10 days backpacking in the Yasawas, it worked out cheaper for us to book individual ferry journeys.


The Awesome Pass not only includes unlimited ferry trips but also covers your accommodation. They offer a Standard pass for dorm or entry-level Bure accommodation or the Upgrade version for private Bures.


With the Awesome Pass you can either book the accommodation before (recommended) or as you go - giving you complete flexibility over your trip. However, if look closely, it may not be as peachy as it seems.


We met a lot of people throughout our trip on the Awesome Pass who were not satisfied with it. Many of them only had one night at each resort, which meant not enough time to do activities, and we also saw friends who were split up and forced to go to different islands alone!


For comparison at the time of travel (09/23):


Awesome Pass for 2 people in dorm accommodation 10 days/9 nights in the Yasawas, including food and ferries would have been FJD $5272.


Booking the same itinerary independently (like we did): FJD $3208.



The water is beautiful in Fiji
The water is beautiful in Fiji

 

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for Fiji, do what I do, and have a browse on Travel Supermarket - choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


Top Things to Do in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji


Prices are per person as of 09/24 - they may vary depending on where you are staying.


Scuba Dive with Bull Sharks on Kuata


Scuba diving with Bull Sharks on Kuata Island was one of my best diving experiences ever, I even went back for a second go! I think this is THE BEST thing to do in the Yasawa Islands!


This is 1 of only 4 destinations in the world where you can safely dive with what is said to be the deadliest shark in existence. At Barefoot Kuata Island Resort you can dive with the sharks even if you're not a certified diver (certified divers go down to 22m and new divers are only allowed to 12m.)


This isn’t your normal fun-dive, as the number of guests matches the experienced ‘bodyguards’ who take care of everything, and your only job is to kneel behind the wall and stare in wonder at these amazing animals.


As always with tourism involving animals, it is important to research the company and its ethics. Everything I read and was told says that there is no negative impact from these dives on the sharks, they have been part of an ongoing research project for years before Barefoot Kuata marine biologists were given the okay to bring in tourists.


PRICE: Certified divers: FJD $319. Non-certified divers: FJD $379.

If scuba diving is not for you, you can still have a fantastic experience snorkelling with Blacktip and Whitetip Reef sharks for FJD $99.



Bull Sharks Fiji
Bull Sharks!

 


Visit the Sawa-i-Lau Caves


On Sawa-i-Lau; a northern island in the Yasawa chain - are some amazing limestone caves where you can explore hidden caverns and swim through Tiffany-turquoise waters, it is like something out of a dream.


Depending on the way you move around the chambers there could be a bit of clambering, slipping, sliding and jumping involved! Most accommodations on northern Yasawa islands can arrange day trips to these caves, and your tour will include a guide with a much-needed flashlight!


PRICE: FJD $100 per person from Nabua Lodge on Nacula Island. I suggest taking a little extra cash to buy something beautiful from the handicraft stalls in the nearby village.



 


Snorkel in the Blue Lagoon


Blue Lagoon is a beautiful beach on the island of Nanuya Lai Lai on the northern end of the archipelago, and visiting here is one of the best things to do in the Yasawas.


This is another trip to ask your accommodation about, as each offers a slightly different package. Most tours will take you to Blue Lagoon as well as other snorkelling sites so you can make the day of it. You can also swim to the beach and relax on the white sands. We saw lots of Clownfish and even a Sea Snake!


PRICE: FJD $60 booked through Nabua Lodge on Nacula Island.



 


Walking and Hiking


Fiji is a hiker's heaven, where when strolling along the rocky volcanic outcrops you're likely to stumble across natural pools, deserted beaches, vibrant bird life and cloud-topped hills! It truly is like something out of Moana.


Many of the hiking trails have lookout points, which offer a great spot for sunset or sunrise! You can ask your accommodation about hiking options, and whether they advise you to take a guide or not. If you choose to go it alone and take a hiking trail that passes through a village, be sure to bring a small gift (e.g. kava) and ask permission to explore further.


For an example of the price for a guided hike (that we did not do) - A trip from Barefoot Kuata Resort (Kuata Island) to the neighbouring island Waya Lai Lai to do the summit hike is FJD $30.


For all hiking when I travel, I wear my Hoka Goatspeed – I love them! They are super comfy, sturdy and lightweight, it is like walking on a cloud!



 


Visit Fijian Villages


Village and community are everything in Fijian culture, and if you are staying in a resort they can arrange village tours, often where you can speak to the chief, learn about their culture, and have a go at learning Fijian crafts. We met other travellers who had weaved their own traditional baskets (known as Tali koto).


PRICE: We visited Namara Village from Barefoot Kuata Resort for FJD $69.


(Some Homestays are situated in the villages, where if you're staying with a Fijian family a paid tour is not necessary.)





 


Snorkel with Manta Rays


During dry season Manta Rays can be found all along the Yasawa Island chain. Swimming with these highly intelligent and graceful creatures is definitely a bucket list experience, but it may not be one of the best things to do in the Yasawa Islands.


We chose to snorkel with Barefoot Manta, but they also offered the same experience on the island of Nanuya Balawu - with Mantaray Resort.


As with all wildlife encounters, there is no guarantee, but that is not why I would not recommend this experience.


The marine biologists at Barefoot Manta have drones scouring the ocean's surface all day looking for mantas, and when one is spotted the drums are sounded with the staff screaming ‘Manta’ !!! (They also notify nearby Manteray Resort.)


Everyone then rushes to the snorkel shack, fills out a tedious amount of paperwork and gets given gear, and the 40 or so people are herded onto the boat to find the Manta.


When I was there the water was so crowded, and I was unsurprised to hear the manta had shot off quickly. Fortunately, you only get charged the FJD$ 85 if your boat sees the manta, so at least there's that.


To me, this felt a bit unnatural and unethical, and if I did it all again I would just go snorkelling independently and take my chances in seeing them more passively.



 


Experience Fiji Time


When in Fiji you are going to hear this phrase a lot: “No Hurry, No Worries”.


You are on island time now folks! The impatience and fast-pacedness of the world you are used to make no sense here.


An important part of backpacking around the Yasawa Islands is simply pausing to take it all in. Appreciate the slow pace of island life, relax on the white sand beaches, lounge in the hammocks, and paddle on the shore. You really do not need to jam-pack excursions - but enjoy simple pleasures like playing cards, reading a book, and bobbing around in a kayak!


A lot of resorts will also arrange low-key activities like beach volleyball, crab racing, and Fijian language lessons. None of these will cost you a dime!



hammocks in Fiji
You will not find a shortage of hammocks in Fiji

 


Bonus Activity 


If you feel like treating yourself, instead of getting the Yasawa Flyer to your first accommodation, consider a seaplane. Prices for a seaplane start at around FJD $500 - so it costs a pretty penny.


We did not do this ourselves, but we did take a small propeller commercial flight to Taveuni Island on the other half of our Fiji adventure (see my article about that coming soon) and seeing the reefs and archipelago from above is a memory I’ll never forget, so I am sure a seaplane over the Yasawas would be just as unforgettable.



 


All in All


We loved our time backpacking through the Yasawa Islands, and I think 9 days was the perfect amount of time to get a taste of life in Fiji. We visited in September and it didn't feel too busy, and we ended up bumping into a lot of the same fellow travellers over and over!


There was a nice mix of people visiting the Yasawas, some fellow backpackers and some people on family holidays and honeymoons too! It's worth also saying that Fijian people are the most genuinely happy and kind people I have ever met.



 


Thank you for reading my guide to backpacking the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, if you enjoyed the read, check out my other post: The Ultimate Samoa Backpacking Guide!


If you have any questions about backpacking in the Yasawas, please hit the comments section.



Britani Bryce

GUEST WRITER

NZ & Pacific Expert


smiling girl in red hat and grey jumper


Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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