As our boat wove between underwater coral cliffs toward Caqelai, I knew this island would never be a household name. Unlike Jamaica or the Bahamas, you could easily miss this little speck of jungle surrounded by turquoise water. I half expected our boat to pass it by, but then we hit the white-sand shore and our fishing boat was pulled in by a group of friendly, singing Fijian women.
This paradise lies 30 minutes by boat off the east coast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. The exotic island-feel of jungle brushed white-sand beaches is enhanced by the simplicity of the Caqelai Resort. The resort has only one dorm with 11 beds ($35 Fijian/US$21 per day, including meals) and a handful of individual bungalows built for two ($45 Fijian/US$27 per day, per person, meals included.). Only recently has electricity been installed, and bathing is little more than a bucket of water and your own soap.
After being shown to our room we decided to take a tour of the island. Fifteen minutes later we had walked around the entire perimeter, picking up shells and climbing over tree limbs that dipped into the water. Later that first night we were treated to a traditional Fijian feast and music. After dinner everyone headed back down to the beach for a bonfire, dancing, singing, and kava drinking under the stars. (Kava is the traditional drink of Fiji, typically called "muddy water" by tourists and locals alike, and may numb your mouth or make you sleepy.)
Days on Caqelai proved to be just as rewarding as our nighttime celebration. At low tide, visitors can walk to neighboring Snake Island, which borders the coral reef that protects Caqelai's shores from storms and high waves. Snorkelers and divers will find all kinds of treasures at the reef, from fish to dolphin and even the occasional shark or octopus. Those without their own snorkeling gear can rent it for $5 per day, and dive trips can be arranged on Moturiki Island. Fishing tours or treks to nearby Moturiki are also provided for a fee, and the warm, calm, crystal-clear waters prove perfect for daily swims. For anyone interested in a little bit of exercise on land, a volleyball court sits in the center of the island, and many travelers will start a game after afternoon tea.
Of course, there is also always the option of doing nothing. As I sat under the shade of the palms during our time at Caqelai, a good book and a towel were all I really needed.
For International Living