7 stops to make on an island-hopping adventure through Fiji’s authentic Yasawa Islands

These isles are paradise at its purest, with snorkelling, hiking, and culture on the cards – if you can tear yourself away from the beach, that is…

Team Wanderlust
14 December 2022
Promoted by
Discover Fiji

One tiny glimpse of the Yasawa Islands, and it’s easy to see why the name translates to ‘heaven’ in Fijian. With its limestone caverns, turquoise waters and a plethora of marine life, this postcard-perfect archipelago has unending potential for the ultimate nature lover’s getaway – best experienced on a small-ship voyage with Captain Cook Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises. After all, who doesn’t love an all-inclusive, island-hopping cruise? Where all your food and travel are taken care of, and all you need worry about is seeking out your next adventure… Here we look at seven stops to make along on the way.

1. Swim with manta rays

Olivia Ponniah, managing director at Liv&Travel

Despite being a vulnerable species around the globe, manta rays are omnipresent throughout the Yasawa Islands. Sightings of these mysterious creatures are most common between May and October.

Best of all, you don’t really need to be that patient, or that dedicated, to find them. A visit to Drawaqa, where the mantas feed in a small, shallow channel between two islands, promises a real up-close encounter. And, crucially, the locals will do all the legwork for you. With their eyes firmly fixed on the water, dedicated watchers wait for the mantas to appear each day and, as soon as they’re spotted, you’ll hear a wave of rhythmic drumbeats erupting from the shore. This is your signal to grab your swimwear, head for the high tide, and get in the water. Swimming with these gentle giants is a truly humbling and rare experience, one that’s sure to create unforgettable memories.

2. Explore the caves of Sawa-I-Lau

Sawa-I-Lau is one of those Fiji must-sees. Nestled to the north of the archipelago, in the belly of the mountainous island of the same moniker, these caves host a plethora of underwater tunnels – think cenote-style but peppered along the coast.

These saltwater swimming pools and their surrounding limestone formations – one of the Yasawa Islsnds’ few non-volcanic spots – are easily accessible by boat. This fact, along with the caverns’ starring role in Hollywood flick Blue Lagoon, is a major contributor to its well-deserved fame. For that reason, it’s best to arrive early to really soak up the beauty without the hordes of day-trippers.

Alarm set, you’ll be rewarded with some truly wanderlust-inducing scenes, particularly when sunlight floods through the pocked ceilings, illuminating the clear waters and natural, wave-sculpted walls within. Indeed, spend a few hours here, and it’s easy to see why it’s the subject of much local mystery and legend.

3. Plant corals on a conservation dive

Milly Gill, Product Manager at Travel Nation

With global warming ever-present in the headlines, we’ve all heard the grim tales around rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching. Indeed, some of you may have witnessed it first hand while snorkelling or diving in places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Mesoamerican Reef, which hugs the coastline of Mexico and Belize. But it’s a slightly different story in the untouched Yasawa Islands, where the local community has been ramping up its conservation efforts in recent years – so much so they’re even getting tourists involved.

Barefoot Collection resorts at Kuata and Manta are offering the opportunity to head out on dedicated dives to see corals up-close, and even pay it forward by planting your own. As a result, you’ll find this to be one of the healthiest, most thriving coral reefs you’ll ever be lucky enough to swim over – brimming with marine life, a mix of hard and soft corals, and some impressive giant clams.

4. Hike at Waya Lailai

The island of Waya Lailai is a wild one, thanks, in the main, to the rocky, volcanic mountain at its heart. The southernmost of Yasawa’s Islands, this authentic, untouched landmass is the South Pacific you see in the brochures, and is beloved for its lofty Vatuvula Peak – otherwise known as ‘Big White Rock’. From here you can gain an aerial view of the archipelago and beyond. We’re talking sweeping views of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, as well as fellow southern Yasawa Islands and the neighbouring Mamanuca Islands, which pop culture fans will recognise as the spot where Tom Hanks and Wilson were Cast Away.

Summit hikes are best planned for sunrise or sunset to make the most of those golden-hour views, which promise a 360-degree panorama of palm trees, jungle-fringed beaches, seemingly miniature huts, and abundant corals and atolls, lapped by gentle turquoise waves.

5. Go snorkelling

Thea Wilson, regional destination manager at Travelbag

The Yasawa Islands has some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world. Don your mask and flippers pretty much anywhere, and you’ll be blessed with beautiful corals and plentiful marine life beneath the waves.

Blue Lagoon on hilly Nacula island is touted as being one of Fiji’s best, with clear waters and a good diversity of marine life, accessible straight from the beach. Or if it’s large schools of fish you’re after, head for the sands at Octopus Resort, on Waya Island. Stingrays, damselfish, parrotfish, groupers, and snappers – to name just a few – meander through vast coral gardens here, kept well-preserved by the shelter and tranquillity of the bay. And for substantial, pristine reefs, don’t miss Naviti Island. The entire western side of the island is clad by coral, making it an underwater playground bursting with sea life. To see the best of it, head out at high tide.

6. Meet the locals at Naviti Island

Head inland on Naviti and discover there’s so much more beyond snorkelling here. As the largest island in the Yasawa chain, it’s full of fishing villages and small communities, but somehow has remained relatively untouched by resorts and tourism. Instead, you’ll mostly find cheaper accommodation in the form of bures (wood and straw huts) here, well-integrated within the communities that have settled here their entire lives.

To really get a feel for the local culture, take the opportunity to visit the island’s schools, attend Sunday church services, stroll through the communities and – in doing so – meet an abundance of friendly (and of course, happy!) Fijians. If it’s a homestay you’re after, there are plenty of guesthouse options available, all just a stone’s throw from squeaky white sands, so you can combine ultimate relaxation with a big dose of culture and, perhaps most importantly, some delicious home-cooked cuisine.

7. Stay the night

Looking for somewhere to drop anchor? A stay on one of Yasawa’s islands offers just the ticket:

Yasawa Island Resort & Spa, 5 stars

With 10 private beaches, an oceanfront spa, and a handful of palm-fringed bungalows, this all-inclusive, five-star resort is nothing short of perfection. Its enviable location helps too, being a short boat ride away from the Sawa-I-Lau caves and abundant snorkelling spots.

Paradise Cove, 4 stars

Nestled on Naukacuvu Island, this secluded resort boasts private villas, three swimming pools, and miles of soft, sandy coastline. Most importantly, though, this coastline shares a channel with neighbouring Drawaqa Island, where you can swim with mantas.

Coconut Beach Resort, 3 stars

This boutique resort has just 11 bures, and is all about that laid-back Fijian lifestyle. From here you can snorkel, SUP, kayak or simply stroll until your heart’s content, not missing, of course, a trip to Blue Lagoon beach.

Explore More

More Articles