Fiji vs Rarotonga vs Samoa? All gorgeous South Pacific Island locations for a holiday but how do you figure out which is the best island for you?
Living in New Zealand I am very fortunate to be so close to the picture-perfect Pacific Islands. When I imagine my dream holiday I can’t help but think of somewhere warm with a beautiful white sand beach and crystal-clear water.
Being able to get this just a few hours’ flight away is pretty special and I’m fortunate enough to have travelled to the Pacific Islands many times over the years.
If you are thinking about travelling to the islands I highly recommend you do! However, deciding which South Pacific Island to visit can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.
Even though they may seem similar, trust me they aren’t. Each island is unique in one way or another and I have my reasons for travelling to each one of them depending on which island holiday you’re after.
- Fiji holiday
- Rarotonga holiday
- Samoa holiday
- FAQ – Fiji vs Rarotonga vs Samoa
- Which is the cheapest Pacific Island to visit?
- What is the currency used in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga, can I use credit cards?
- Do I need a visa to visit Fiji, Samoa or Rarotonga?
- What are the must-try local dishes in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga?
- How's the transportation system in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga?
- Conclusion: Fiji vs Rarotonga vs Samoa
What to expect in Fiji
Fiji is the most touristy of the three islands, which means it gets very busy! If you can, try and avoid the Australia and New Zealand school holidays when planning your trip to Fiji.
Prices for hotels and flights will usually be a bit cheaper outside of the holidays as well. Fiji is quite commercialised, especially the main island where you’ll fly into.
Denarau is located here and is where you’ll find all the flash resorts however if you want a true island holiday on one of the postcard-worthy beaches you’ll need to travel out to one of the more remote islands. Perfect for a romantic getaway and this is where you’ll find the better beaches too.
Due to these islands being more remote, it becomes a bit more expensive to travel to them and of course, it takes a bit more travel time so do keep that in mind while planning your escape.
Travel here if…
You want to keep yourself busy with activities and day trips.
Best things to do in Fiji
Fiji is a beautiful country with so much to offer tourists. One of the best ways to see Fiji is from the water, so a day cruise out to the islands is a must-do, along with a snorkelling experience to see all the tropical fish. Cloud 9 is also a great option for those who want to relax and soak up the sun.
For the more adventurous, a jet boat safari is a great way to see Fiji’s stunning beaches and reefs. There are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained in Fiji, so make sure you check them all out!
- Take a day trip to Cloud 9 (A Fiji must-do!)
- Day Cruise around the Mamanuca Islands (A great option to see some of the islands if you choose to stay in Denarau)
- PJ’s Sailing and Snorkelling Adventure
- Jet Boat Safari Tour
Of course you can always just relax by the beach or the pool if that’s more the vibe you’re after! Many of the resorts offer motorised and non-motorised toys for you to play with (some resorts charge extra).
Where to stay in Fiji
In Fiji there are lots of accommodation options. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to luxury resorts, most of which you will find located in Denarau Island or for a more romantic escape head out to one of the smaller islands.
You will land at Nadi Airport so a boat will need to take you out to these smaller islands. If you are staying on the Coral Coast or Denarau Island these are accessible by car.
Denarau Island Accommodation
- Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa (Great for couples)
- Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa
- Radisson Blu Resort (Great for families)
Coral Coast Accommodation
Outer Island Accommodation
- DoubleTree by Hilton Fiji – Sonaisali Island
- Tokoriki Island Resort – Mamanuca Islands (Has an incredible infinity pool)
- Lomani Island Resort (Adults only)
When is the best time to visit Fiji?
The best time to visit Fiji for most travellers is during the dry season from May to October when the weather is more predictable, and outdoor activities are more enjoyable.
However, the wet season can offer a unique experience for those looking to explore Fiji in a quieter, more budget-friendly setting, with the trade-off of some occasional rain.
Here are some considerations for each season:
- May to October (Dry Season):
- This is the peak tourist season due to the favourable weather, each time I’ve visited Fiji I’ve travelled during the dry season.
- Clear skies and lower humidity make it ideal for outdoor activities and water sports.
- The sea conditions are generally calm and suitable for diving and snorkelling.
- November to April (Wet Season):
- While this period is considered the off-peak season, it can still be a good time to visit, especially for budget travellers.
- The landscape is lush and green, and you may encounter fewer crowds.
- Be aware of the higher likelihood of rain, especially in the form of heavy, short-lived showers.
Is Fiji part of the Cook Islands?
No Fiji is no part of the Cook Islands. Fiji is located 2,000 km west of the Cook Islands so they are pretty different.
The Cook Islands consists of 15 small islands, the biggest and most well-known being Rarotonga, followed by Aitutaki. They are politically linked to New Zealand and have a close relationship with the larger nation.
Don’t be surprised on your visit there if you only bump into Kiwis!
Fiji vs Rarotonga – Which is bigger?
Fiji is MUCH bigger. Rarotonga is a pretty small island nation, with no traffic lights and a bus service that either goes clockwise or anticlockwise, you can drive around the whole island in about 45 minutes.
The population of Rarotonga is about 20,000 whereas Fiji’s population is about 900,000.
In terms of land mass, Rarotonga is approximately 236 sq km and Fiji is approximately 18,274 sq km so that’s quite a bit bigger! Fiji also has a total of 300 islands so there is a ton to explore.
Why travel to Rarotonga
IMO Rarotonga is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The Island is situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by pristine white beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush green mountains.
Rarotonga is also home to a vibrant culture, with Polynesian dance, music, and food all playing a big part in island life. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind, Rarotonga is the perfect destination.
With its stunning natural scenery and friendly locals, Rarotonga is an unforgettable place that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
Despite its small size (you can drive around the island in about 45min), Rarotonga is very well established and there are plenty of accommodation options.
I’ve been to Rarotonga three times already and would happily travel here again in future. There’s something about this island and the lovely locals that keeps you coming back!
Travel here if…
You love to relax by the beach and just want to chill out.
There isn’t a lot to see and do in Rarotonga, there aren’t a lot of natural attractions like Samoa or as many tourist activities like Fiji. Travel here if you really want to relax and are in need of a good break.
One of my favourite things to do is pop into the different hotels during happy hour, it’s a great way to explore the island.
You will really be on island time in Rarotonga!
Best things to do in Rarotonga
1. Cross Island Walk
Of course you’re going to be doing a lot of swimming, a lot of sunbathing and a LOT of relaxing but if you feel like being a bit more adventurous you can take part in the Cross Island walk.
The walk will take you about 3-4 hours depending on breaks. It involves a steep climb up to what is called ‘The Needle’ and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty spectacular view.
Go from North to South so that you get to reward yourself with a swim in the water at the end to cool off.
2. Go snorkelling
It wouldn’t be an island holiday without doing a bit of snorkelling. If you haven’t got your own snorkel gear you can hire some at Fruits of Rarotonga from Chantel’s Concierge. Don’t worry if it looks like nobody is there, an honesty box will be out for you to leave some cash in.
The top spots for snorkelling around the island are:
- Fruits of Rarotonga
- Black Rock
- The Rarotongan (public beach access is available to the right of the hotel)
3. Book an Island Night show
Another must do when visiting Rarotonga! Going along to an island night is a great way to experience the culture and delicious local food.
Often these experiences come with a buffet dinner so it makes for a great night out. I would recommend Highland Paradise, it’s set in the hills and the view is breathtaking if you get a chance to see it during the day.
4. Swim with the turtles
Hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Rarotonga is swimming with the turtles. Charlotte Piho tours are amazing and take great care of you while out in the water.
Rarotonga is surrounded by a lagoon that is mostly shallow, however, there is a passage that plunges to some pretty great depths and this is where the turtles are found.
The currents in this passage can get strong at times so it’s important you only swim here with a guided tour. There are signs warning you of this as you need to be with experienced locals who know this part of the lagoon well.
A bit of snorkelling is recommended as then you can make the most of diving down to see the turtles. Make sure you book in advance because this tour is super popular, particularly in high season!
Other fun things to do in Rarotonga
- Kayak in Muri Lagoon
- Go on a Sea Scooter Safari (Tip: Book this activity at the start of your holiday in case the tour company needs to reschedule due to bad conditions)
- Relax on a half-day Muri Lagoon BBQ Lunch Cruise
Where to stay in Rarotonga
I travelled here with my family and we rented a house which is perfect if you want to escape the busy resorts. If you pick a place with kitchen facilities you also have the flexibility to cook some of your own meals.
However if a resort is more your style there are definitely plenty of options and these are scattered all round the island. From small luxury villas to large resort style hotels you can definitely find something to suit all budgets.
I would recommend staying in Muri beach. It’s quite central so you can walk along the beach and choose different places to go eat. You can also snorkel straight off the beach and if you feel more active there are kayaks to rent.
Muri Beach Accommodation
Other Popular Resorts
When is the best time to visit Rarotonga?
Similar to Fiji, the dry season from April to October is considered the best time to visit Rarotonga, offering favourable weather conditions for outdoor activities.
However, the wet season can still be a viable option for budget travellers and those who don’t mind occasional rain, as the landscapes are lush and vibrant during this period.
It’s also worth noting that air con in Rarotonga isn’t that great, usually, it’s non-existent due to power being so expensive. If sleeping in the heat is going to bother you then travelling to Rarotonga in June or July where the nighttime temperature is a bit cooler might be ideal for you.
- April to October (Dry Season):
- This is the peak tourist season, attracting visitors with its dry and pleasant weather.
- Clear skies and lower humidity make it ideal for outdoor activities, water sports, and beach vacations.
- It’s also a popular time for weddings and special events.
- November to March (Wet Season):
- This period is considered the off-peak season, and you may find better deals on accommodation.
- While there’s a higher chance of rain, showers are usually short-lived.
- The landscape is lush and green during this time.
Why travel to Samoa
There is no denying that Samoa is simply beautiful.
The country is made up of two main islands, Upolu and Savai’i, as well as several smaller ones. Samoa is famous for its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and friendly people.
The beaches are some of the best I have ever seen and there is so much to explore. Out of the three islands Samoa is the least established which can be really nice if you are looking to escape reality.
Don’t expect big flash resorts like you get in Fiji. Yes there are nice resorts but they are very expensive and there isn’t too many of them so a holiday in Samoa may look a little different to a holiday in Fiji from this perspective.
Best things to do in Samoa
There are plenty of things to do in Samoa, whether you want to spend your days lounging on the beach or exploring the island’s many sights and attractions.
You’ll want to make sure you explore the islands natural attractions such as the To Sua Trench, Papetee Sliding Rocks and stunning waterfalls. The beautiful beaches will also take your breath away.
Samoa is stunning, there is so much beauty to be seen both in Savaii and Upolu. I loved this island and renting out a car most days allowed me to see as much of it as I possibly could in the time I was there. The highlight of this trip was seeing the famous To Sua Trench.
Other fun things to do in Samoa
- Volcanic Lake Hike to Lake Lanoto’o
- Take a day tour to visit Piula Cave Pool, Sauniatu Waterfall, Lalomanu Beach, To Sua Ocean Trench and Togitogiga Waterfall
Where to stay in Samoa
During my Samoa holiday we spent half of our time staying in a beach fale. We wanted cheap accommodation and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go back to basics and see how the locals live. You can stay in anything from very basic with no fan to a more ‘non-traditional’ beach fale.
Then the other have of the trip was spent in a resort, Saletoga Sands which was lovely. Buffet breakfasts are always my fave about resorts! It was in a gorgeous location, complete with a swimming pool.
The two places I stayed during my trip were:
When is the best time to visit Samoa?
If you’re planning a trip to Samoa, the sweet spot is from May to October – that’s when the weather is showing off its best side.
Think clear skies, comfy temperatures, and perfect conditions for all your island adventures. Whether you’re into water sports, hiking, or just lounging on the beach, this is the time to go.
But hey, if you’re a budget-savvy traveller (aka me when I last visited Samoa) or you fancy the idea of Samoa in its lushest green attire, the wet season from November to April might be your jam.
Sure, you might catch a bit of rain, but it’s usually just a passing shower. The upside? The landscapes are extra vibrant, the waterfalls are at their most spectacular, and you might snag some great deals on accommodation.
I travelled to Samoa in November and I definitely saw my fair share of rain, we even got a little unlucky and had a cyclone hit the island but it was still a great holiday however if I was to travel here again I would go in dry season.
- May to October (Dry Season):
- This is the peak tourist season in Samoa, attracting visitors with its dry and comfortable weather.
- Clear skies and lower humidity make it ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the natural beauty of the islands, there’s a lot to see too!
- The dry season is also the best time for weddings and special events.
- November to April (Wet Season):
- This period is considered the off-peak season, and you may find better deals on accommodation.
- While there’s a higher chance of rain, the showers are typically short-lived.
- The landscape is lush and green during this time, and waterfalls are more spectacular. Samoa has some great waterfalls too!
FAQ – Fiji vs Rarotonga vs Samoa
Which is the cheapest Pacific Island to visit?
Determining the cheapest Pacific Island to visit can vary based on factors such as your location, travel dates, and individual preferences.
However, in general, Fiji is often considered one of the more budget-friendly options among the Pacific Islands thanks to more competition and good hotel deals if you book during a sale.
Fiji offers a wide range of accommodation, from budget-friendly guesthouses to more luxurious resorts, catering to a diverse range of travellers. Additionally, the availability of local markets and affordable dining options can contribute to a more economical travel experience in Fiji.
If you plan to stay out on one of the remote islands however, this can get significantly more expensive so again your final costs will come down to your preferences.
What is the currency used in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga, can I use credit cards?
The currency in Fiji is the Fijian Dollar (FJD), in Samoa is the Samoan Tala (WST), and in Rarotonga is the Cook Islands Dollar but they also widely accept New Zealand Dollar (NZD) – another reason why it’s such a popular destination for us Kiwis.
Credit cards are widely accepted in tourist areas too and you shouldn’t have too much trouble, but it’s advisable to carry some local currency for smaller establishments and local markets.
Do I need a visa to visit Fiji, Samoa or Rarotonga?
Many visitors can enter these islands without a visa for a certain period (usually 30 days or more), but it depends on your nationality. As a Kiwi, I don’t need a visa for any of these destinations but make sure you check the visa requirements for your country before your trip.
What are the must-try local dishes in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga?
Each destination has its unique culinary delights. In Fiji, try “kokoda” (marinated fish salad), in Samoa, savor “palusami” (coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves), and in Rarotonga, indulge in “ika mata” (raw fish marinated in lime and coconut) – one of my personal favourites and certainly a must try!
How’s the transportation system in Fiji, Samoa and Rarotonga?
Public transportation, taxis, and rental cars are available but because these are islands, expect limited options. For ultimate flexibility I would recommend hiring a car in Rarotonga and Samoa, however in Fiji you can getaway without one.
In Rarotonga, I always hire a rental car or a scooter because this is by far the easiest way to get around. Although the island is small, you’re likely going to need a way to get around. Unless you’re staying in a place like Muri Beach which is very walkable.
For Samoa I would also recommend hiring a rental car. I only had a car for half of my trip and when I did have access to the rental car I was able to see soo much more. Samoa is incredibly beautiful and there are a lot of natural attractions to explore so even though it’s possible to hire a taxi to drive you from place to place, this option does get expensive.
Then in Fiji, if you’re staying out on one of the islands these are usually pretty secluded and you will mainly hang out at your resort the whole time. If you stay somewhere like Denerrau Island, there is a tourist bus that will take you into town so you don’t really need a rental car here.
Conclusion: Fiji vs Rarotonga vs Samoa
All of the islands are gorgeous and no matter which one you choose you aren’t really going to go wrong. It just depends on what you want out of your holiday.
Whether you’re lazing on the pristine beaches, exploring vibrant coral reefs, or savouring the rich local cuisines, the South Pacific promises an escape into a realm of beauty and tranquillity.
For pure relaxation plan a Rarotonga holiday, for adventure and luxury accommodation plan a Fiji holiday and for amazing natural attractions plan a Samoa holiday.
Hope you consider the islands for your next trip! They are certainly one of my favourite places to travel to!