CHEAPEST PLACES ON EARTH

Fiji

The Fiji archipelago has it all: windsurfing, sailing, ocean kayaking, whitewater rafting, or simple basking in the glorious sun

Ovalau's few beaches are tiny and black-sand (one reason it lacks a tourism infrastructure), but it's surrounded by unspoiled keys and pockmarked with underwater caves and mangrove channels. Sea kayaking is popular, as is mountain biking, through Ovalau Transport and Tours (440-611, fax 440-405, ecotoursfiji.com), which also organizes "Tea and Talanoa" chats with delightfully eccentric locals and expats.

Wrapping up in Nadi

Since return American flights depart at night, you can explore the Nadi area before leaving. Just north is the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, Raymond Burr's astonishing terraced gardens showcasing lily ponds and over 2,000 varieties of orchid from around the world (buses stop there and at Visisei village, reputed landing place of the first Fijians, for roughly 50[cents]). Trekkers can experience the Abaca Village & Koroyanitu National Heritage Park (666-644; $6 includes guide and round-trip transport from Lautoka), a tropical rain forest with glittering 100-foot waterfalls framed by black volcanic mountains and lava outcroppings. Abaca ("am-BAH-tha") is one of a few isolated villages that host a work/stay program. For $15, you hike with a guide, perform typical tasks like tilling fields or beating laundry on rocks in a stream, then eat and sleep with a family. One caveat: the ride up the rutted dirt road in a cushionless safari van alone qualifies as adventure travel.

Many travelers prefer ending (or starting) their trip on the water. The best nearby beach accommodations are at Club Fiji (702-189, fax 702-324), which attracts a youthful international crowd to its 12 acres and 24 traditional thatched bures with hardwood floors, ceiling fans, fridges, verandahs, private baths, and seashell color schemes. Beachfront lodgings cost $44, but identical "oceanview" bures offer a sliver of sea view for $35; dorm rooms ($5.50 per person) are further from the beach. On premises are full water sports (free), a dive shop, and an excellent restaurant - with everything from tacos to pizzas, starting at $4. For a more Robinson Crusoe feel, you can also stay on one of the Mamanucas, flat coral keys tossed casually into the Pacific off Nadi like a luminous strand of pearls. The best value is Ratu Kini's (721-959), owned by the chief of Mana island; its basic thatched bures with bath run $44-$56, bountiful buffet meals included.

If you enjoy your Fijian experience, you can explore the other main islands (Kadavu, Taveuni, Vanua Levu), all remarkably lush, mountainous, with world-famous dive sites, and even less developed for tourism. Indeed, that bundle of kava costs more these days than many basic digs.

Further Fiji facts

Contact the Fiji Visitors Bureau (5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 220, Los Angeles, CA 90045; 800/932-3454, 310/568-1616; bulafiji.com). Another helpful Web site is City.Net Fiji, at city.net.countries.fiji.

Fiji flights

Air Pacific (800/227-4446) offers direct flights from Los Angeles, starting at $699 round-trip. The two domestic airlines, Air Fiji (877/AIR-FIJI, airfiji.net) and Sunflower Airlines (800/294-4864), offer dependable, comprehensive service between Nadi and Suva and most of the islands on various smaller aircraft; tickets start at $25 one-way; ask about special off-peak rates during the week.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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