*Please note that this article was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic so some information may have changed.
Fiji is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and its people, despite not being wealthy by Western standards, are some of the happiest on earth. But beyond the luxury resorts and cheerful smiles is a country that is still in need of so much.
Tourism is extremely beneficial to Fiji's economy but there are some less than ideal consequences. Many resorts cause damage to the environment just by being built. Overtourism can also have a negative impact on the environment, and more often than not, the money that expat-owned businesses make doesn't stay in the country.
However, this shouldn't discourage you from taking a holiday to Fiji. In fact, there are several things you can do during your time here that can make a positive impact.
Tip #1: Pack Some Needed Supplies
Though most Fijian villagers are very happy and don't consider themselves to be living in poverty, it is not a wealthy country by western standards and many villages have a shortage of things like medical and school supplies. The wonderful organization Pack For A Purpose works with several hotels around Fiji to provide needed items to nearby villages - check out their website for lists of the things they're most in need of.
You can also contact your hotel or tour company in advance to see if they help support any local villages. Some activities, like the Ecotrax railway tour in Sigatoka, encourage guests to bring items for the children in the villages they pass through.
If you're in Nadi, the Treasure House Children's Home is always in need of supplies to help care for their orphaned kids. Items such as school supplies, food, toiletries and clothing can be donated directly to the organization.
Homes of Hope is an organization near Suva that cares for mothers and young girls who were victims of abuse. They're also happy to receive donations of food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and financial assistance.
Keep in mind that donations of candy are discouraged due to Fiji's high level of diabetes and the lack of access to good dental care.
Tip #2: Help the animals
Sadly, a lot of the many stray animals in Fiji get mistreated. It's common for dogs to be hit by cars and left to suffer at the side of the road; the SPCA has recorded that they respond to an average of 15 animal hit-and-run cases per month in Suva.
Other acts of violence are not uncommon - a friend of ours found her cat violently butchered near their home; another friend took in a dog who had boiling water thrown on his face. Poisoning also happens frequently by people who see stray animals as a pest, causing animals to suffer for about a week before they die - this created such a widespread problem that the weed-killer Paraquat is now banned from being brought into the country because it's been so commonly linked to intentional animal poisonings.
There are several shelters in Fiji that try to help by taking in stray animals and putting them up for adoption, as well as providing veterinary services like de-sexing and vaccinations. However, these organizations don't have nearly enough resources and are always in desperate need of support.
Rascal & Flatts, two malnourished puppies we found on the road. Both are now healthy and have been adopted by loving families thanks to the efforts of PASH. | Image © ExpatAlli
If you'd like to help, you can make a monetary donation or contact the organizations listed below to find out if they need any specific items. Most are always happy to receive pet food, towels, pet bowls and cleaning supplies.
• The Greater Good Foundation is an animal sanctuary located near Lautoka. This non-profit organization takes in every animal that gets brought into them, which means they're always in need of support to help take care of their 150+ dogs and numerous cats.
• Animals Fiji is a shelter and clinic located near the Nadi Airport. They have several ways you can help, including sponsoring an animal, donating veterinary supplies, and purchasing their own branded merchandise. They also offer tours of the shelter on Wednesdays, which gives you a chance to play with the animals. We fostered – and fell in love with – several cats through Animals Fiji, and they're always looking for more foster parents due to a lack of space at the shelter.
• The Pacific Animal Shelter & Hospital (aka PASH) is also located in Nadi and works towards a "no-kill" goal. Opened in April 2018, PASH is a relatively new organization in Fiji, and they have a beautiful building with modern facilities and lots of room for the animals to play. Despite this, they always need financial help to keep things running, as well as items like pet food, blankets and dog toys.
• SPCA Fiji is located in Suva and has been operating since 1955. The organization always accepts monetary donations to help them continue their operations, and they're happy to receive items such as pet food, linens and cleaning supplies.
Most of these charities also provide opportunities to volunteer, however, it's a good idea to make sure that helping in this way doesn't violate the conditions of your visa.
Tip #3: Show Your Gratitude When the Service is Good
We took a day tour with a couple friends last year and a girl in our group asked our bubbly tour guide how much he would make for his 12 hours of work that day. He cheerfully told us he would usually bring home about $30 a day, which was a higher rate than he started at. Just to put it into perspective, we paid more than $400 each for the tour.
Though expats are paid relatively well, the locals unfortunately are not. Fiji's minimum wage rate is only $2.32 FJD ($1.06 USD) per hour. These low wages may explain why customer service in Fiji is often pretty bad. There are, however, some incredibly hard-working people in the country, so if you get good service, try to give a bit extra. Though tipping is not expected in Fiji, it is always appreciated.
Tip #4: Buy Fijian-made products
While the country's main source of income is through tourism, many businesses in the tourism industry are owned by foreigners, and though many of these companies still make an effort to give back to the local economy, it's good to directly invest in Fijian products and services wherever you can.
When buying souvenirs, try to look for the "Fijian Made" symbol, which can only be used if businesses fit a certain criteria. Local markets, like the once-monthly Vuda Beach Market, are also great places to look for unique local gifts to bring home.
You can also browse the Projects Collective for some ethical & high-quality Fijian-made stuff like swimwear and skincare items - they have a shop on the Coral Coast, or you can order products through their website. My Fiji Store also has locally-made products available for purchase online.
Rise Beyond the Reef is another great initiative which helps provide employment to skilled women in remote villages. Their products can be found in many shops around Fiji, as well as in their online shop.
There are many amazing Fijian-made products that help support the local economy. | Image © ExpatAlli
There are many local companies that offer products which not only support local businesses, but also help the efforts of agricultural industries within the country, such as cacao and coffee farming. Some of my favourites are listed below:
• Vanua Chocolate is an artisan chocolate company which manufactures several different types of delicious small-batch chocolate bars, including flavours like sea salt, chili and kava. Read about my tour of the Vanua Chocolate factory.
• Fonu Jewelry has a beautiful line of necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings designed by a Fijian artist. Many of the designs are inspired by legends from around Fiji and the South Pacific. Their jewelry can be found in Prouds department stores, as well as many boutiques and resorts around Fiji, but they also have an online shop that ships worldwide.
• Bula Coffee is an ethical coffee company uses beans that were farmed, packed and roasted in Fiji. In addition to selling bags of fragrant coffee beans, they also make chocolate-covered coffee beans, compostable coffee capsules and even soap and lip balm.
• Little Village Girl designs gorgeous wooden products like cutting boards and serving platters with native Fijian and Indo-Fijian patterns. Products are bio-security safe so they make great souvenirs. You can see some of her amazing work via Instagram and items can be ordered through the Projects Collective.
Jack's of Fiji, as well as the local department store Tappoos, have many locations around the country where you can find some of the products listed above and other great local brands. I also recommend visiting one of the fruit markets to pick up some fresh tropical fruit and help support local farmers.
Tip #5: Visit a local village
When I first arrived in Fiji, I was wary of doing a village tour because I was worried they were too exploitative. But the Fijians are extremely welcoming people and many villages rely on the tourism industry.
If you're booking a village visit through a tour company, make sure you ask them how often they visit that particular village. Most tour operators will rotate between several different villages so the residents can have a break from the tourists.
When you visit, you can bring gifts for the children, or donate needed supplies to the village if you wish to do so. It's a good idea to contact your tour operator in advance to see what they recommend bringing. Also make sure to bring cash in Fijian dollars if you want to purchase any local handicrafts, which are great for authentic souvenirs and gifts!
A village visit is an enjoyable way to experience Fijian life and culture, and can be humbling to those of us from wealthier countries.
Our Fijian friends putting food into a hand-woven palm leaf basket during a traditional Lovo. | Image © ExpatAlli
Tip #6: Be Conscious of Waste
There is so much natural beauty in Fiji. Whether you're exploring the lush rainforests or relaxing on the beach, remember to take everything back that you bring with you. If you want to make an even more positive impact, bring a bag with you to collect trash - you might be surprised how much garbage you find on the beach.
Remember as well that Fiji is still a developing nation, and has limited resources compared to many other parts of the world. Recycling isn't very common, and many locals still burn trash in their yards. Consider this when you're packing for your trip, as well as after you arrive.
In January 2020, Fiji started banning distribution of single-use plastic bags throughout the country, so I recommend bringing at least one reusable shopping bag that you can use while buying things like groceries or souvenirs.
I also recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with you to avoid buying bottles of water, especially on hot days when it's important to stay hydrated.
Tip #7: Respect the reefs
Fiji has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, and you should absolutely take the chance to go out and enjoy it, but remember to keep some distance. Touching, and especially stepping on the coral reefs can destroy them, as well as injure you. The same goes for fish, turtles and any other sea life you encounter. Taking shells and coral from the beach can disrupt the ecosystem and may also be illegal, so it’s best to avoid doing it.
The sun is strong in Fiji and you'll likely be reapplying sunblock a lot, so try to invest in a good reef-safe/coral-safe sunscreen. Leleuvia Island has already banned chemical sunscreens since 2018 and it's likely more of the country will eventually follow their lead.
It might be easier and cheaper to buy sunscreen before your trip, though there are more and more eco-friendly sunscreen brands becoming available in Fiji. If you're not sure what to look for in a reef-safe lotion, here are the ingredients you want to avoid:
- Oxybenzone (also knownas Benzophenone-3 or BP-3)
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
These chemicals have been linked to coral bleaching, which has a negative impact on the reef ecosystem, causing the coral to lose their colour and eventually die. Even if a sunscreen claims to be reef safe or coral safe, it's a good idea to check the ingredient list so you can be sure it's free of harmful chemicals.
You may also want to invest in a rash guard, especially if you're going to be enjoying water sports. The more you cover your skin, the less sunscreen you'll need to wear.
Ready for Your Trip?
You can download my free printable packing list via my Fiji packing guide, which includes outfit suggestions for exploring Fiji's cities, resorts, villages and more. It also tells you what non-clothing items you'll need on your trip.
It's always a good idea to get travel insurance to cover you if things go wrong. I use World Nomads, which provides plans for long and short trips. Get a quote for your Fiji trip here!
You can also check out my Fiji visa guide that will help you find out which documents you'll need to prepare for your trip, even if you're eligible for a visa waiver.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
- The Eco-Friendly Resort You Shouldn't Miss on Your Trip to Fiji
- Learning to Cook Fijian Food in Nadi
- How to Speak Fijian: A Simple Fiji Language Guide
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