Suva is the largest city in the South Pacific and is an important regional centre, capital and a true melting-pot. Colonial-style buildings, Indian curry houses, sari shops, traditional kava bars and quiet suburbs are mashed together in an urban area which is nestled amongst lush tropical hills in south-east Fiji.
Although not as pretty as many other ports of call on a South Pacific cruise, Suva is an interesting place to visit. There is plenty to stimulate the senses in the downtown area, and many choose to forgo a shore excursion for a self-guided walking tour of the highlights. However, the sights don't stop at the city limits. Suva is also a great place to join an excursion to Fiji's interior and remote beaches, where you can get a better feel for the natural beauty of the island nation.
Ships visiting Suva dock right in the thick of the action at King's Wharf, which is directly across from the main bus terminal and municipal market. It is easy to step off the ship and walk or take a short taxi ride to any of Suva's attractions. You will find ATMs, supermarkets, banks and more helpful places within a few minutes of the wharf.
Money and spending
Since 1969, Fiji has used the Fijian Dollar as its official currency. Currently, one Fijian dollar equals around 65 Australian cents. Currency exchange outlets and ATMs can be found close by the cruise dock, and it is a good idea to pick up some cash as many restaurants will charge a credit card fee.
Eating and shopping in Fiji is relatively cheap if you stick to local produce and goods, and with the exchange rate taken into account you will be pleasantly surprised. Bartering is a way of life there, so if you are visiting the markets, sharpen your negotiation skills and grab a bargain. Taxi fares are inexpensive and these can often be haggled.
Get your bearings
Directly across the road from King's Wharf is the city's main bus terminal. Don't expect a regular timetable, as buses leave when they are full. The Suva Municipal Market is a short journey south and you will find all kinds of shops, supermarkets, banks, restaurants and a cinema. There is an internet cafe near McDonalds on Scott street as you continue past the market, and of course you can find free Wi-Fi in Maccas itself.
The Suva Tourist Information Center is on the corner of Scott and Thomson streets. From the cruise dock, head south on Rodwell Road which runs behind the bus terminal. This will lead you straight to the historic colonial house in which it is found.
Language and culture
You are very unlikely to come across someone in Fiji, especially in Suva, who speaks no English. However, the Fijian language is still widely used, so it is nice for visitors to learn a phrase or two, such as "bula" or "nibula" (pronounced "nimbula"), which mean good day. Another handy word is "vinaka", which means thank you. Hindi is also widely spoken by the large Fijian Indian population.
As with all South Pacific nations, a little politeness and friendliness goes a long way when interacting with the locals. In Suva, you are unlikely to be invited into a village, which is where most of the cultural customs come into play - but if you are, wear modest clothing with no hats while in the village and take off your shoes in any home. It is customary to present a gift and take part in any offered kava.
Back in the city, tipping is welcome but not at all mandatory. Be prepared for everything to run on "Fiji Time", which means no timetables and no rush. Many Fijians will ask questions like "how old are you?" or "where are you going?" as part of a greeting, so do not be offended by, or suspicious of, these enquiries.
Suva experiences a tropical climate, with warm to hot temperatures and bearable humidity. The coolest time of year is between May and November, as the south-east trade winds bring a faint remnant of southern hemisphere winter with them. November to April are warmer months but there is more rain - this consists mostly of brief but heavy showers.
Suva: see and do
Dining and drinking
Fijian cuisine is similar to that in other South Pacific countries - delicious, fresh and based on a few key ingredients. These include seafood, tropical fruit, taro, rice and coconut milk with lemon juice, salt and chillies as seasonings. You can find traditional eateries near the markets and around the city. Indian fare is also commonplace all over the country - enjoy authentic and delicious Fijian-Indian dishes in the many curry houses.
The city has a very active nightlife, with bars and pubs of all kinds. Beer is usually reasonably priced, especially the local Fiji Bitter, while wine can be a little more expensive. Of course, when people think of drinking in Fiji, kava springs to mind. Made from the root of the Yaqona bush, it is served from a communal bowl. Despite popular misinformation, it is not an hallucinogenic drug. However, one or two cups could make your face go numb and send you to sleep!
There's plenty of shopping to be done in Suva, you just need to know where to go. Cumming Street near the marketplace is good for gold and jewellery, and Victoria Parade south of the cruise dock boasts numerous tropical clothing stores. For souvenirs, the Government Handicraft Centre is a good place to look, set up like a market with individual stallholders - you should haggle here too! The Jack's of Fiji department store has everything from souvenirs to saris and is a bit of a national institution - the Suva branch is on the corner of Thomson and Pier Streets.
Duty free is common in Fiji. Popular with cruise passengers is Tappoo City in Thomson Street, a four-storey department store offering tax-free purchases to visitors.
Walk or take a short taxi ride to these.
- Suva Municipal Market is the heart of the city and a great spot to try the local produce, including colourful and delicious tropical fruit.
- Fiji Museum is the national museum, only 20 minutes' walk south of the cruise port. It tells the story of the country in-depth, touching on natural, political and cultural history as well as archaeology and linguistics. See war clubs, canoes, artifacts of cannibalised missionaries and beautiful traditional art in many forms.
- One of the city's landmarks is the Sacred Heart Cathedral on the corner of Murray and Pratt streets. It was built in 1902 with imported sandstone and is a nice photo opportunity.
Tours from Suva
Tour or go it alone?
In Suva, to see anything beyond walking distance or a short taxi ride we recommend you use the tours offered by your cruise line, simply for the fact that they guarantee you won't miss the boat. Fiji time is relaxing, but not so much when you're trying to get back to the ship on schedule! Line-organised excursions take the stress out of sightseeing and there are some great options. However, if you're in the mood for some urbanity (this is certainly not a beach destination), Suva with its cheap taxis and centralised shopping and entertainment is somewhere you can wander and explore to the beat of your own drum.
Explore on your own
If you have decided to travel independently, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Here are our suggestions for your day in Fiji's tropical capital.
- Have a leisurely breakfast onboard as you're in no rush today! Once you have disembarked, turn right as you face the bus stop and walk the few minutes to Suva Municipal Market which is open from 6am every day except Sunday. Even if you don't buy any fruit (why wouldn't you?), the colours, flavours and bustle of the market are a great way to get into the Fiji mindset.
- From there, head along to nearby Cummings Street and down to Victoria Parade to peruse the shops - or just for some central city people-watching! Don't forget to visit the Handicraft Centre and take a look at Sacred Heart chapel.
- Continue south along Victoria Parade and you will come to the Fiji Museum, a must-see.
- From the museum, the Suva sea wall promenade extends right around the end of the peninsula to the University of the South Pacific campus. It is around 5km long, perfect for a brisk walk and recently upgraded with picnic huts and seating along the way - very popular with local joggers and families.
- The eastern side of the peninsula is largely devoted to the university, but Damodar City shopping centre, which opened in 2013, is another opportunity for shopping. It also has a cinema in case you want to catch a movie. Haven't had lunch yet? Why not grab some takeaways at Dan's Fish and Chips (Laucala Bay Road) and enjoy a meal alfresco before you return to the ship's dining room.
- Catch a taxi back across to central Suva and find somewhere to while away the rest of the afternoon with a cocktail or glass of wine. Traps on Victoria Parade is a favourite, with six bars in one complex offering something for everyone.
City and culture
A guided trip to some of the city's cultural highlights is on the list of shore excursions by all the major lines. From "Fiji Museum and Thurston Gardens" by Princess to "Pure Fiji and City Drive" by Royal Caribbean, you can see the sights of Suva with the addition of a knowledgeable guide. Don't forget to bring a camera!
Firewalking at the Arts Village
Offered as a tour by Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, P&O and other cruise lines, the Arts Village of Fiji at Pacific Harbour is a cultural display set amongst tropical gardens. The highlight is the performance by Fijian firewalkers who make their way across white-hot stones to open the ceremony. This is followed by singing, dancing and acrobatics which interpret the legends of the country.
Joining an organised tour to visit an actual village might seem a little contrived and commercial, and it is - but thanks to public transport running on Fiji time, it is really the only workable way to do it. All the lines visiting Suva include a village visit, with P&O and Carnival operating in Sawani Village and Royal Caribbean and Princess in Rewa Village. Passengers are greeted by locals, serenaded and escorted by warriors in traditional dress to participate in a kava ceremony and art and craft demonstrations.
A South Pacific cruise should offer plenty in the way of sun and sand, but if you can't get enough of beaches, there is a tour from Suva for you. A trip to the Pearl South Pacific Resort is on the menu for cruisers on a number of lines visiting the city. Board a bus for the 45-minute drive and enjoy the calm oasis of the resort and its facilities, which include a swimming beach, pool, bars, kayaks and more. A BBQ lunch is laid on for tour guests, along with live music and entertainment.
Get amongst it
Those who can't sit still won't be disappointed with the shore excursions available in Suva. They vary, but include hikes in the Colo-I-Suva rainforest, a longboat cruise on the Navua River and a flying fox adventure where you will zip from tree to tree in Fiji's lush greenery.