When it comes to tropical island paradises, you can’t get much better than Fiji or the Maldives. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the right decision between Maldives or Fiji for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their stunning beaches, these islands are very different. Having spent time in both, we compare Fiji vs Maldives below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to visit.
Fiji vs Maldives: Stunning paradise islands
If you want gorgeous white sand beaches, and superb swimming and snorkeling, then Fiji and the Maldives will both be perfect. Each has an unbelievable coastline, although the Maldives probably has the better beaches (but only just!). However other than that, these nations offer very different vacations.
The Maldives has over 1000 islands, but many are privately owned by a resort complex, therefore activities on the island revolve around the resort and what it offers. That also means that many of the beaches in the Maldives are not public.
Fiji has a few islands that are privately owned too, albeit there are still many public beaches to enjoy. In fact Fiji tends to be a more local experience where you can explore the country, go on excursions away from your hotel, and interact within the community. In contrast the Maldives – which focuses almost exclusively on luxury holidays in secluded resorts – has far less integration between the community and tourists.
Therefore think of the Maldives as a holiday destination which revolves around relaxing on a spectacular beach or island that a hotel resort owns. A Fiji holiday can be like that too, but it also offers opportunities to hike lush mountains and explore the local community and culture. It’s also less commercialized than the Maldives and more budget friendly thanks to a variety of accommodation options.
For an idea of just how different the geography is in each country, Fiji’s highest point is 1324 meters. The highest point in the Maldives is just 2.4 meters!
However in terms of underwater action, the Maldives has much better snorkeling. But Fiji, as we explain next, is a culture-packed island that has a lot more to offer than just the beach. So if you want to do more than sunbathe and swim, Fiji is probably the island for you.
As a general rule, the more remote you go in Fiji, the more spectacular the beach. Some of our favorite beaches are on the dreamy Mamanuca Islands. This group of 20 outlying islands has a real castaway feel to them, and no wonder – it’s here that the U.S. television series Castaway was filmed. Just be careful, as seven of the islands are covered by water at high tide!
There are beautiful beaches on the main island too, like the one at Natadola Bay. The crystal clear water here lapping against the sun-kissed sand makes it the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a beer. That’s something that sets Fiji apart from the Maldives too – while you’re free to drink alcohol in a private resort in the Maldives, it’s forbidden to drink alcohol on public beaches as the Maldives is a majority Muslim nation. In Fiji, drinking alcohol is accepted throughout the island.
The snorkeling is fantastic in Fiji too. However unlike the Maldives – which is good for swimming practically 24/7 due to its calm water – Fiji is a tidal island. Therefore don’t expect to be able to snorkel and swim all the time.
One of our favorite snorkeling spots is Rainbow Reef at Taveuni though. As the name suggests, expect multi-colored coral to go with the multi-colored fish you will see! Just make sure you take a great underwater camera with you – like this one.
However Fiji is also a vacation destination where there are many things to do away from the beach too. This volcanic island nation has a lush mountainous interior that has to be explored. (Recommended: Are There Snakes in Fiji).
On Taveuni, hike through the rainforest at Bouma National Park and head to the towering Tavoro Falls. This group of three waterfalls have pools that are perfect for swimming, all within a spectacular forest backdrop. While there keep an eye on the trees – Fiji is home to many colorful species of parrot.
Feeling energetic after a few days resting on the beach? Then tackle Fiji’s highest peak Mount Tomanivi on Viti Levu. The hike can be tough going, but the panoramic views across Fiji and the Pacific from the top are just breathtaking.
Ever seen pictures of crystal clear turquoise water, with those stunning wooden hotel huts sitting over it? That’s what you should expect throughout the Maldives, a country that specializes in up-market resorts and honeymoon vacations.
Some of the world’s best beaches happen to be in this nation too. One of our favorites is the powder white coastline at Lhaviyani Atoll where the palm tree lined beaches look like a computer screensaver. We’ve found that the west side of the atoll has wider beaches and softer sand, so is perfect for a day’s sunbathing.
As many of the islands are privately owned by resorts, you may be limited as to where you can go on each island in the Maldives. In general, that’s not such a big issue in Fiji.
However what this means is that if you’re staying at a Maldives resort you are pretty much guaranteed to have a spectacular beach, and a coral reef for snorkeling, right beside your room. When it comes to high-end beach vacations, this country really does excel.
It also excels when it comes to snorkeling, with a spectacular colorful underwater life that can be seen easily thanks to the gin-clear water. However most snorkeling is done with a resort, due to the privately owned nature of many islands in the Maldives.
One of the best snorkeling spots is Manta Point, which is home to Manta Rays! Also known as Emas Thila, this is probably one of the best places in the world to swim alongside these gentle giants.
For a burst of color, Banana Reef is another great spot to snorkel and dive. Here you’ll see rays, sharks, and many different types of reef fish including Royal Blue Tangs. You might not have heard that name before, but you will recognize the fish if you’ve seen ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Dory’ was a Blue Tang!
Fiji vs Maldives: Explore the sights and experience the island
As the Maldives is more focused on resort-based holidays, interaction with the local community and culture tends to be limited. That’s unless you make a trip away from the private island resorts, and into the population centers.
The service at resorts and hotels in the Maldives is exceptional though – it’s their specialty after all.
Expect good service in Fiji too, but ‘Fiji time‘ does exist. This is a laid back nation, and things can move a bit slow. Expect waiters to take their time, and buses to arrive late. It’s all part of this country’s charm.
Fiji has its fair share of upmarket resorts too, as well as more budget friendly options. However a Fiji vacation often has more of a ‘local’ feel than one in the Maldives as hotels and guest houses are more integrated into the community. That also opens up opportunities for excursions away from the hotel, or to try out the great street food.
Multi-ethnic and multi-religious Fiji has a fascinating culture, some of it stretching back many centuries. One of their ancient traditions is fire walking, which originated on the island of Beqa. The locals on this island still ceremoniously walk across hot coals, making Beqa a must visit for culture aficionados. (Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Fiji Culture).
This culture rich country is a place where many superstitions still exist – such as believing that coconuts choose who to fall on! But it’s also an incredibly friendly and warm nation, where tourists are encouraged to intermingle with locals.
Some girls are still taught from a young age to weave baskets and bags, and boys are taught to make bowls, spears and even ‘cannibal forks’ – a fork that was used to eat the flesh of enemies! Thankfully they’re just made as tourist items now, and you can buy them and many other crafts at the Handicraft Market in Nadi.
Fiji is home to a sizable population of Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. The largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere, Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, can also be found in Nadi. This ornate colorful building should be on your list of places to visit as you temple hop around the island.
As a majority Muslim country, the Maldives is a conservative nation, although within resort complexes you are free to act as you would in any liberal Western country. However if you plan to make any excursions into population centers – like the capital Malé or public beaches – then be sure to dress conservatively, and avoid things such as alcohol.
The culture in the Maldives is vibrant, interesting, and definitely worth discovering though.
Bodu Beru is a traditional rhythmic dance performed by upwards of 15-20 people, and was introduced to the Maldives around 1000 years ago. It’s been a tradition ever since, and many resorts have cultural nights where dancers perform.
If venturing into Malé, a visit to the Maldives National Museum is a must. Not only does it give an insight into the history of this nation, but it also has a great collection of historical artifacts from the region, some several centuries old.
Fiji vs Maldives: A taste of island life
With both being tropical island paradises, expect an abundance of fruit, coconuts and fresh fish. Below we pit Fiji vs Maldives as we look at the cuisine on offer.
Fiji’s cuisine has been formed though a mix of indigenous and Indian influences due to a sizable population with Indian roots.
Freshly caught seafood is popular throughout Fiji, and fish curry – made with coconut milk – is often on the menu. Another fish dish to try is kokoda -this is a raw fish salad that is commonly served in a coconut shell!
If you get invited to a lovo say yes straight away! This traditional Fijian banquet involves cooking a large amount of meat (chicken or pork), fish and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and then baking it in an oven dug in the ground. It’s a real community affair, and the food’s delicious.
Considering the first settlers to the Maldives came from India and Sri Lanka, a lot of the food here has an Indian twist too.
Curry is therefore one of the most popular dishes. We recommend trying Mas Riha. Made with freshly caught tuna, coconut, and a good number of chilies, this is a truly unique and delicious Maldivian dish.
Seafood is also popular and traditional dishes include Garudhiya (a type of fish soup) and Kulhi boakiba, which is a fish cake made from smoked tuna, coconut, ginger and rice.
As for what to drink, resorts in the Maldives have countless number of cocktails to try. However the coconut water in the Maldives is delicious and refreshing – especially when drunk direct with a straw.
Fiji vs Maldives: Which should you visit?
If time and money weren’t limited, then we would recommend visiting both of these island paradises. However if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand, but also a bit of adventure and culture than Fiji is the right choice. This Pacific island offers more than just turquoise lagoons, is brimming with culture, and is more budget friendly than the Maldives.
If you have an image in your head of a tropical island getaway that includes sipping cocktails from a coconut, and spending more time sunbathing at a high-end resort than anything else, then the Maldives may be better.
This Indian Ocean paradise – which almost exclusively centers its tourist trade on upmarket resorts – can be very expensive though. However the beaches are world class, as is the snorkeling.
Recommended for your trip to Fiji or Maldives
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