Fiji was once known, as the 'Cannibal Isles' and its people were believed to be fierce and hostile; a recent history of coups has done nothing to dispel this notion in the minds of some travellers. Despite this, Fiji is beautiful, it has a pleasant tropical climate, the diving and snorkelling are superb and it has excellent facilities for tourists, whether they are on a tight budget or indulging in the luxuries of a plush resort.

Fiji has a unique history in the Pacific and today it is an interesting blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian, Chinese and European influences. For nearly 50 years, until the military coup of 1987, the indigenous people of Fiji represented an ethnic minority in their own land. Fiji was the trade centre for the South Pacific during the 19th century, and the British claimed it as a colony in 1874.

During the century or so that Fiji remained under British colonial rule, tens of thousands of indentured Indian labourers were imported to work on sugar plantations. Indigenous Fijians, however, managed to hold onto their traditional rites and practices - mekes (narrative dances), bure (house) construction, kava ceremonies, tapa-cloth making and pottery.

Suva, Fiji’s capital is on the southeastern coast of the big island of Viti Levu. While Nadi, in the west of this island, is the tourism centre of the country, Suva is interesting as the country’s political and administrative centre as well as the major port. Suva and its urban surrounds are home to half of Fiji’s urban population, and it is one of the South Pacific’s largest and most sophisticated cities, housing the University of the South Pacific, the fascinating Fiji Museum and many interesting colonial-era buildings. It’s a multicultural city with many mosques, temples, churches and cultural centres. The Roman Catholic Cathedral (1902) is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.

The waterfront area is very interesting, and the Suva Municipal Market is a must-see for visitors for its exotic fruits and vegetables, kava, fish and seafood, and spices. It has an exciting multicultural flavour, with vendors selling brightly coloured Indian sweets and savouries, and fruit drinks from glass tanks.

Fiji’s third-biggest town is set against a mountainous backdrop on the west coast of Viti Levu. The local economy of Nadi relies almost totally on tourism, and although it’s not the most attractive part of the country it is a good place to organise your travels around the Viti Levu island. There is a plethora of tourist services from dirt-cheap accommodation and places to eat to luxury resorts like the Sheraton and the Regent. There’s a high proportion of Fiji Indians in Nadi, mostly fourth-generation descendants of the indentured labourers brought to Fiji to work in the canefields.

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple at the southern end of the main street is interesting and visitors are welcome (but asked not to have consumed either alcohol or non-vegetarian food that day). There’s a good market offering the usual eclectic mix of Melanesian, Chinese and Indian produce. The main strip is littered with restaurants and shops selling clothes, souvenirs and duty-free goods. Nadi is also a good place to organise activities - anything from diving, golf, and horse riding and rafting to joy riding in a jet boat or light plane.

The Mamanucas are a bunch of tiny islands just off the western coast of Viti Levu, and they are easily accessible by boat from Nadi, either as a day trip or to stay in one of the many flashy resorts or backpacker spots. The islands are popular with divers, snorkellers, surfers and people who just want to lay about on open stretches of white-sand beach. The lovely reefs and colourful fish make snorkelling around these islands a highlight for many travellers. Only a few of the islands, like Monu and Monuriki, have significant areas of native forest left. These places are home to many birds and reptiles.

Sigatoka is a small town on the southern coast of Viti Levu, It’s principally a farming community, but acts also as a service town for the Coral Coast resorts. There’s a produce market, a large mosque and a few cheap places to stay and eat. The most striking thing about the town is the sight of the weird fantasy-style mansion on the hill behind the town.

Sigatoka is a good base for exploring the huge Sigatoka sand dunes nearby, the southern coast, and the Sigatoka Valley. The Sigatoka Valley is a highly fertile strip containing almost 200 cultural and archaeological sites, including the Tavuni Hill Fort, a series of defensive earth works built by the Tongan cheif Maile Latemai in the 18th century. The valley is also home to some of Fiji’s best potters.

Due east from Nadi, in the interior of the Viti Levu island, are the fantastic landscapes and remote villages of the Nausori Highlands. The village of Navala is perhaps the most picturesque in all Fiji. While most Fijian villages now have a preference for prefab concrete and corrugated iron, almost all of Navala’s homes and buildings are traditional bures arranged around avenues with a central promenade leading down to a river.

They don’t get too many visitors here, and it’s polite to ask to see the village chief, and then ask him if it’s OK to hang around and take some photos. Sunday is not a good time to come, as it’s the day of worship and for spending time with the family. Bukuya village is further west and it too is a worthwhile excursion. There’s simple accommodation available in the villages, but you have to mind your manners.