The Yasawa Islands are a chain of islands in north-western Fiji. Formed from volcanic activity, the islands are mountainous and filled with greenery. Picture perfect beaches with palm trees complete the image that most visitors envision of Fiji.
The Yasawa Islands are dotted with small resorts and position themselves as the choice for backpackers and flashpackers. That being said, there are some excellent resorts that offer a romantic retreat or a more luxurious feel. There are an increasing number of visitors to the Yasawas as they are one of the more accessible chain of islands that offer a remote getaway from civilisation.
Although the ubiquitous "Bula!" is used as a greeting everywhere along the Yasawa chain and in Fiji itself, you may bring a smile to the locals' faces if you greet them Hello in the Western-Fijian dialect - "Cola!" (th-ola).
From the Southernmost island to the Northernmost island:
Local Seaplane operators such as Turtle Airways , Pacific Island Air  or Island Hoppers  offer the quickest and most convenient way to get to the Yasawa Islands from Nadi. These fares include a pickup from your hotel in Nadi.
For the more economical option, Awesome Adventures Fiji  runs the Yasawa Flyer catamaran service, featuring a three-floor boat. Tickets may be purchased online, through the Awesome Adventures' offices (including Nadi Airport arrivals hall), or through many travel desks around Nadi or at hotel tour desks. A northbound boat departs Denarau at 08:45, and arrives back at 18:00 daily. Unless travelling in the peak tourist season, its very unlikely you'll need to make plans in advance. Awesome Adventures offer island-hopping passes with accommodation (Bula Combo Pass), without accommodation (regular Bula Pass), or organized individual transfers from one island to another.
Many stops are listed by resort names, and not by their islands (which themselves are usually listed in English and not Fijian). Pay attention to announcements, as there may be multiple stops for one island to visit different resorts.
There is no need for motorised transport on the islands, as walking will be your primary mode of transport.
To travel in between islands, you have the option of seaplanes or the popular Yasawa Flyer as detailed above. A small boat owned by a resort will meet you at the Yasawa Flyer / seaplane and take you to shore for free. Many coves have walls of corals preventing larger boats from entering.
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. Always 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).
You can also charter a small boat, especially if you are near a village, to any of the islands or the mainland. Prices vary on distance, but fuel can be incredibly costly for islanders. 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!)
There are no major attractions on the islands besides the awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets. Snorkelling and Diving are among the best in the world, and remain the activities of choice on these islands. Boats can be chartered at any resort, and different locations feature various sights (manta rays, sunken ships, sharks). Hiking any of the islands to beautiful lookout points will often provide great views of all the nearby islands, though guides are often necessary and the terrain is often challenging.
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 and little electricity, to comfortable, Western-style private rooms with a toilet, hot shower and air conditioning. If the bures are not reasonably airtight then a good mosquito net may be a 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 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 (many resorts tend to wind down by 10 or 11pm). 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 at many places, which is fine during the days (usually quite warm). Saltwater or mixed salt/fresh water showers are not uncommon, though many areas are now supplied by springs or filtered rainwater. 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.
Homestays are becoming more popular in recent years, especially for longer stays by visitors seeking to avoid resorts. Many are located in small villages that share the same islands as resorts, and offer an extremely slow-paced, genuine taste of Fijian life, with villagers often approachable and happy to show glimpses of their life. Accomodations may be extremely bare, but are certainly authentic and very much bearable.