The Yasawa Islands are a group of islands in north-western Fiji. Approximately 30 resorts are spread through the 12 major islands in the group. Most resorts provide basic accommodation and meals with access to natural and cultural sites.
The quickest and best way to get to the Yasawa Islands is by Seaplane. Pacific Island Air offer flights in their 10 passenger Otter seaplane and a 4 passenger Beaver plane. Both planes are new or near new (2014) and can get you there within 20 - 30 minutes. Flights depart from Nadi airport. Pacific Island Air also offer helicopter transfers.
If you came by the "yellow boat" (Yasawa Flyer) then it will pick you up on its daily run and take you to your next island. If you have a 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 or 21 day, this is included in your fare, otherwise, it can cost between $45 to $70 to go from one island to the next. A local water taxi can provide cheaper means to transfer between islands, especially for shorter trips when the weather is reasonably clear. Some resorts will pick you up from your current resort for free, otherwise rates tend to range from $5-$15. It always pays to ask around before you book, especially with the resort you are travelling to (that wants your business more than the one you've just paid for). Like all prices in Fiji, these charges are often negotiable, especially if you are travelling in a group (since most charges are per head, you can bargain for a group discount). One caveat: Local boats are slower and have been known to run out of fuel and never carry oars, so don't take local boats if such surprises would ruin your holiday (but if slow, reactive responses to problems is going to frustrate you, Fiji is probably not your ideal holiday location - Fiji time!)
The Yasawas are beautiful and unspoilt. The best two natural activities are hiking (many of the islands have high hills that provide great views of all the nearby islands) and snorkeling or diving (most of the islands have some level of reef life).
Snorkeling and diving in the Yasawa Islands are excellent. Some islands even have spectacular snorkeling right off the beach. Diving rates are cheap. You can get certification if you need it. Manta Ray Island Resort and Barefoot Island Resort offers special snorkeling trips to see manta rays when they are passing a shallow passage between islands (May-October). Be sure to stay alert - you have to jump the boat in 5 minutes from "manta ray alarm".
Most islands have good hiking, e.g. Wayalailai or Kuata Natural Resort where you can climb to the top to see the sunrise/sunset, or hike the length of the island and cross the spit to Waya. Guides are available, or you can go alone.
Almost all islands will have someone who can teach basket or bracelet weaving, using palm fronds and banana leaves.
There are regular kava ceremonies on many islands. Guests are invited to join. On smaller and more intimate islands it would be rude to refuse. Kava is traditionally drunk in a welcome ceremony.
Go to church in one of the villages for the Sunday service. The locals are welcoming, and you will be in awe by their beautiful harmonious singing.
Ask the locals to take you through their plantation and show you the bananas, papaya, mangoes, breadfruit, casava and other fruits and vegetables growing for your eating pleasure.
Various day trips are available including the Sawa-I-Lau Caves trip (diving through a tunnel 30cm down and 1.5 metre long to visit several underground caverns), the Blue Lagoon (not the real one, which is privately owned) and local trips such as fishing or snorkeling. You can also do day trips on the island to visit local villages and schools.
Some islands have souvenirs but these are generally cheaper to buy on the mainland (e.g. in the streets and markets of Nadi). The key souvenir you may like to buy is a local sulu for that resort. Otherwise, your money is likely to be spent on drinks (water, beer or cocktails) and snacks (chips, biscuits, etc.).
There are three levels of catering - (i) sparse plates and buffets that run out, (ii) generous serves of high carbohydrate meals and (iii) broad balanced meals with endless buffets to suit all appetites and preferences. If you like fish, please be sure to let the locals (especially the chef) know - they often think people prefer chicken. Beef is quite expensive in Fiji and you are not likely to see it very often. Vegetarianism is generally poorly understood and for strict vegetarians or people with allergies it can be quite difficult to explain that even sauces, spices and flavourings are not suitable. If you have any kind of allergy or strong dietary preference you must talk to the chef as soon as you get on the island (lunch often follows shortly afterward) and explain it in detail (e.g. "must be cooked completely separate from any meat, fish, chicken, oyster sauce, seasoning, etc."). It is often valuable to say what you *can* eat (e.g. "any vegetables or fruit, even raw!") to give them a sense of what they can do.
Most people are reasonably happy with the food provided at resorts, although healthier eaters may miss a balance of non-starchy veggies and salads.
Most resorts provide drinking water at meals, but sell water ($4-$5 for a 1.5 litre bottle) at other times. Water supplies are generally from rain (off corrugated roofs), springs or imported from the mainland. Bottled water is recommended in the Yasawa Islands.
English backpackers will be happy to hear that beer (Fiji Bitter or Fiji Gold F$5-6 per can) is in plentiful supply, and most resorts will also provide other forms of alcohol including cocktails ($F10-18 depending on resort and cocktail). Buy supplies like alcohol or cookies in mainland if you are short on budget but be aware that a lot of resorts don't allow you to drink your own liquor whilst on the island.
Accommodation varies significantly in quality, from vary sparse rooms with open windows through to comfortable, Western-style private rooms with a toilet, hot shower and secure doors and windows. If the bures are not reasonably airtight then a good mosquito net is a real necessity, although a top sheet can also help to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Most beds are not grungy but do vary from vary soft through to firm, as do the pillows.
Sleep is also affected by the nightlife of the resort. Most resorts have a main bure with a bar and some form of night activity (dancing, international night, singing, etc.). Usually this concludes at a reasonable hour and people continue to talk quietly and drink until they go to bed. At some locations, a much more festive spirit is felt, and if the dorm/bures are anywhere near the main bure, sleeping may prove difficult.
Cold/luke warm showers are the norm, which is fine during the days (usually quite warm), and salt water or mixed salt/fresh water showers are not uncommon. Drinking water is a somewhat scarce resource on the islands, but is usually provided free at meals. Some resorts have unlimited water, others require you to buy bottled water outside of meal times (typically $4-$5 a 1.5l bottle).
The final factor in deciding where to stay are the natural surrounds and activities, which is somewhat subjective, although the below table attempts to categorise the reef life. Up until about five years ago, many areas in Fiji dynamited their coral to sell to aquariums, so there are large patches of dead coral with the occasional patch of life. Cyclones and tropical storms have also contributed to a reduction in coral life. However, there are an increasing number of marine sanctuaries and even coral farming that are bringing the coral (and accompanying sea life) back. Barefoot Lodge have a great marine conservation program and act as a base for Vinaka Fiji Marine Research volunteer programs. Some places have a great variety of fish up to one metre in length and some even have sharks and turtles. Marine life is particularly healthy around Drawaqa and Nanuya Balavu Islands.