When dreaming of Fiji, my mind goes to sand, sun and perhaps coconuts.
But within hours of landing at Barefoot Manta eco-resort on one of the far-flung Yasawa Islands, I realise this is an island escape with a difference.
Barefoot Manta’s Life Under the Sea laboratory and team of marine biologists are using tourism to help drive positive change for local marine life.
What’s it like at Barefoot Manta, Fiji?
On Drawaqa Island (or Barefoot Manta Island), ‘If you aren’t Barefoot, you’re overdressed!’
This secluded island is hugged by the crystal waters of a protected marine reserve saturated with rainbow-coloured fish, vibrant corals that are some of the best in Fiji and elegant manta rays.
Here you shrug off the stresses of everyday life and leave them at the door with your shoes.
While it may be tempting to find the perfect sunbathing spot and not move, move you must as Barefoot has three tropical white beaches to choose from, which means you are never more than a couple of minutes’ walk from the ocean and a gorgeous Fijian sunset.
However, don’t get so distracted by the beaches that you neglect some of the superb walking trails on the island.
Do the sign-posted summit hike at sunrise or sunset; it’s a 30-minute moderate trek to a lookout giving spectacular views over the lagoon and volcanic peaks of the surrounding islands.
Barefoot Manta has options for every budget; either shared dorms or private safari-style tented ‘bures’ or bungalows.
Accommodation is deliberately ‘non-frills’ to minimise impact on the environment; although with an island this beautiful I didn’t spend much time in my room anyway.
All rooms are merely footsteps from the beach, so regardless of budget all guests wake up to the gentle hush of the ocean.
Bures and bungalows are surrounded by tropical gardens, complete with a private deck with hammock, perfect for relaxing with a book and feeling the salty ocean breeze on your skin.
Essentials are provided including linen, plug sockets and mosquito nets (towels are available to hire).
When I first stepped (bare)foot onto the island I was greeted on the beach by the smiling faces of the resort staff singing the Bula Maleya (a traditional Fijian welcome song).
Expect friendly Fijian hospitality, after only a couple of hours the staff know newcomers by name and I felt part of the family almost immediately.
Staff are also always on hand to help pick from the activities on offer, including snorkelling, kayaking, abseiling, scuba diving and basket weaving.
Meals are paid for as a package upon check-in and include a daily buffet breakfast, lunch and a three-course dinner. Most of the food is fresh, locally sourced and grown by the local villagers alongside plenty of delicious and sustainably farmed seafood.
The sustainable bit
In conjunction with Manta Trust, Barefoot Manta’s marine biology lab is conducting important marine research and running programmes to educate both locals and tourists alike on how to protect the ocean.
Alongside marine education, Barefoot also provides employment to locals; craftsmen do all of their carving, weaving and thatching, plus farmers provide produce for the resort menu.
3 reasons to book Barefoot Manta
- During Manta season (May-Oct) you can join the experts on their Manta Ray snorkel tour to get up close with these gentle giants in the nearby lagoon.
- Barefoot Manta is a certified member of The International Eco-Tourism Society and 3.5% of the island’s gross revenue goes directly to the local village, adding that feel-good factor to your holiday.
- In the Marine-Biology Tour you can visit the marine lab, get hands-on with ocean life in the touch-pool and make friends with long-term resident Lady, a Hawksbill Turtle rescued from the nearby reef with ‘Floater Syndrome’.
How to get to Barefoot Manta
It’s 30 minutes on a seaplane or catch the scenic hop on/hop off ferry Yasawa Flyer from Nadi on the main Fijian island.
Free Wifi? Yes (150mb free wi-fi, given the remote location it can be slow and temperamental)
Dog friendly? No
Child friendly? Yes
Take a closer look at Barefoot Manta here.