Imagine an island archipelago that immediately takes you back in time to a simpler, more nature-based way of living and being, where tradition, culture, and landscape remain central to its identity. Consider what Hawaii would have been like 50 years ago, and add 196 more pristine islands, take away big urbanized cities with high rise hotels, with cultural influence from Polynesia and India, and one of the best rugby teams in the world, and there you have Fiji. Traveling to Fiji is an unparalleled experience. Here are seven facts to capture your imagination.

1. Fiji hosts one of the most colorful and abundant underwater playgrounds in the world

Known as the Soft Coral Capital of the World, Fiji has around 390 coral species in its over 10,000 square kilometers of coral reefs. All of our Putney programs have the opportunity to snorkel and/or SCUBA dive these pristine waters.

2. There are 322 islands in Fiji, and only 106 of them are inhabited

If you do the math, that leaves 216 completely uninhabited and untouched islands. 90% of Fiji’s territory is water and Putney students get the opportunity to travel by boat to visit some of these perfect island paradises.

3. Fiji is a true cultural melting pot

About 40% of Fiji’s population is of Indian descent. Referred to as Indo-Fijians, this rich cultural mix has influenced the language, religion, and the food in Fiji. Our programs get to visit the largest Hindu Temple in the Southern Hemisphere and taste the dancing flavors of Indian curry using fresh local ingredients.

4. Kava is the national drink of Fiji

Known to most westerners as kava, in Fiji this root crop is mostly referred to as yaquona (pronounced yan-go-na) and is always drunk ceremonially. Any time you enter a new village, have a celebration, or even an important meeting, guests sit in a circle around the Tanoa bowl, where the leader mixes the pounded root with water and serves it in coconut shells to all the guests. Our Putney village stays and visits will include partaking in this traditional ceremony and tasting what they call “kava gold.”

5. Rugby is the most popular sport in Fiji

Per capita, Fiji has more rugby players than anywhere in the world and its most recent claim to fame is winning the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal. Played among kids and adults alike, it’s common to catch a game or even witness a regional team training at a nearby rugby field during our Putney programs.

6. The best way to say “I love you” is by gifting a sperm whale tooth

Fiji is a gift-giving culture, whether at a funeral, marriage, important ritual, or holiday, the tabua (pronounced tam-boo-ah) is a sacred offering that’s associated with good luck. If you’re lucky and ask the right person, you might get the chance to hold one, learn about its 150-year-old history, and reap the benefits of this good luck charm.

7. Drinking water is the #1 export in Fiji

We all know the iconic Fiji Water bottles, and have maybe even tasted the mineral- and natural electrolyte-rich water. Harvested from an artesian aquifer in the Yaqara Valley, a remote part of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, Fiji Water employs many of the folks we work with in our village stays. Our Putney Service programs even have the opportunity to tour the main Fiji Water plant, just up the road from where we stay, to learn about the country’s dedication to sustainability.

Fiji is a country bustling with culture, history, and world-class adventures, and our Service Fiji program for high school students is an amazing way to experience the richness of this incredible island paradise. Join us this summer!