That cannibal thing is over. Fiji is a perfectly safe and wonderful place for an island getaway.
Long a vacation site for New Zealanders and Australians, Fiji has been showing up more on Americans' radar. The archipelago offers beauty, ease and a tourist infrastructure that can deliver bare-bones to high-style getaways.
Nevertheless, the country borders on the exotic, and travelers should understand the unique cultural, geographic and human attributes that define the islands.
Here's what you should know before you go:
Geography: The Republic of Fiji stretches through the heart of the South Pacific about 1,100 nautical miles north of New Zealand and 2,765 miles southwest of Hawaii. The 333 islands and islets big enough to count provide a land mass of about 7,054 square miles. Some islands are little more than sandbars supporting a lonely palm. Others wrap beaches around verdant mountains, with rivers and waterfalls and a variety of rare flora and fauna. Only about 100 of the islands are inhabited. The two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, support 87 percent of the population and the greatest number of tourists.
History: About 150 million years ago, volcanic action started spewing up the islands. Then around 3000 B.C., humans arrived. The Europeans caught wind of Fiji in 1643, when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed by, and the islands got increased attention when James Cook landed on Vatoa in 1774. But main credit for discovery goes to William Bligh, who charted the islands when he sailed through in 1789. He was chased by a gang of Fijian warriors after the mutineers on the Bounty set him adrift in a 23-foot launch.
In 1874, Fiji became a British colony and remained so until 1970, when the country gained independence.
International date line: The line dissects Taveuni, the third-largest island. A plaque marks the spot where tourists can stand with one foot in today and the other in tomorrow.
And while on the subject of time, islanders go by "Fiji Time," which means laid-back to the max. Forget your watch; it will be useless.
Cannibalism: The saying goes that until the country turned to Christianity, Fijians were extremely hospitable to any visitor they did not wish to eat.
Not to worry. Fiji became fed up with cannibalism after King Ratu Seru Cakobau turned to Christianity and ceded the country to Britain in 1874.
Bula: When a burly man in a grass skirt and painted face bares his teeth and bellows "bula!" don't worry. Bula is short for "Hi," "Glad to see you" and "Have a nice day." Say "bula" back. And bula those you meet along a road, in a restaurant, on a street.
Kava: Nothing important happens in Fiji without kava, a drink made from dried roots of the piper methysticum plant. Kava is the centerpiece of special ceremonies and the key component to social and diplomatic events in everyday life.
If you attend a kava ceremony, the drink will be offered to you. Kava is nonalcoholic, but it is a narcotic. If that isn't a problem, accept the honor. Despite the drink being passed mouth to mouth from a communal cup, it shouldn't kill you. A few times around, and you won't even have to feign delight.
Dress codes: Blame the missionaries. Fijians went from loincloths and bare breasts to body-covering dress. Among other modest garments, men and women wear sleeved shirts and colorful sarongs called sulus. Follow suit. Sulus tote easily and can be slipped on for village visits, where it is expected that visitors will dress like the locals, with knees and shoulders covered.
Tourist no-nos: Bathing suits are fine on the beach or at the pool but not anywhere else. No nudity allowed. Also, no tank tops, short shorts, miniskirts or tight-fitting, figure-revealing garments.
Do not wear hats, headgear and/or sunglasses in a village. Only the chief has the privilege.
Do not wear shoes into a home or meeting hall.
Cultural specialties: Don't miss typical Fijian entertainment such as Meke, a stylized dance, song and storytelling performance; or the Lovo feast, featuring foods baked in an earth oven.
If you go
Several airlines offer flights from the U.S. to Nadi International Airport on Viti Levu. A check of flights showed the cheapest and shortest durations on Air Pacific, Fiji's international airline. Some nonstop flights are offered between Los Angeles International (LAX) and Nadi International (NAN), with an average of about 10 hours of flying time. Tickets for November round-trip flights in economy are running about $1,600, including tax.
For bare-bones accommodations, try Uprising Beach Resort in Pacific Harbour on Viti Levu. It's $23 per night for a dorm room. 011-679-3452200, uprisingbeachresort.com
For luxury, check out Likuliku Lagoon on Mamanuca archipelago. Rooms start at about $940 a night. 888-946-5458, likulikulagoon.com
Tourists will find high-quality food with an emphasis on fresh seafood and vegetables (some unusual).
Island-hopping can be done in various ways: tours and excursions, ferries, catamarans, local boat hires, helicopter, plane, charter flights and cruise ships.
Pacific Sun, the domestic airline, flies from the gateway cities of Nadi and Suva (both on Viti Levu) to about eight destinations. pacificislands.com/fiji
On the two largest islands, travel by bus, taxi, bike, rental car or scooter (drive on the left).
Visitor info: fijime.tvCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times