Imagine you’re on a beautiful tropical island with crystal clear waters teeming with colourful tropical fish, in the distance you can see the wooden bungalows on white sand beaches under the waving palm fronds. Plunging underwater you immerse yourself in a silent world and underwater tropical paradise.
This isn’t a dream. Welcome to the Solomon Islands, an archipelago of almost 1,000 islands spread out over the seas of the South Pacific situated to the Northeast of Australia has everything you could ever want! Lush forests with hiking trails, vibrant coral atolls which are teeming with life and can be explored with a snorkel or with a scuba tank, wildlife spotting and resorts where you can lie on the virgin beaches and sunbathe.
However, the Solomon Islands are rustic and raw, tourists seeking luxury resorts and facilities would benefit from looking elsewhere. If you want to experience nature and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, immerse yourself in snorkelling, diving, hiking and exploration off the beaten track, then this destination is ideal for you.
Despite its idyllic appearance, the Islands have been torn between various occupations, due to the wealth of the island’s natural resources which included gold. The islands were first discovered by Europeans when Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira, a Spanish navigator on an expedition from Peru, stumbled upon them in 1568.
Later on, the British declared its dominion over the Solomon Islands in 1893 and by 1900 the Islands became completely ruled by the British.
During the Second World War, the islands were under occupation by Japanese troops and some bitter fighting broke out on the islands when the American launched a counter-attack.
Finally in 1976, The Solomon Islands obtained independence, despite remaining a member of the British Commonwealth until this day. For those who are fascinated by history, there is plenty to discover about its turbulent and violent past and the impact of the Second World War including wreckages of ships and aircraft which can be explored.
Here in our Guide to the Solomon Islands we will tell you everything you need, want and have to know about the culture, cuisine and activities on offer, with suggestions to suit every budget!
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How to get to Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands’ Henderson International Airport can be accessed by planes departing from airports in Papua New Guinea, Australia and Fiji. There are also regular flights from major Australian cities such as Sydney and Brisbane and the flight time is only three hours which makes this an ideal holiday destination from this part of the world.
If you’re travelling from other countries, the easiest option is to fly to Brisbane, via major countries such as Thailand, Singapore or Hong Kong.
The new Munda international airport has recently opens, making it easier to access the outer islands without having to go through Honiara. Currently there is one flight a week from Brisbane – usually a saturday.
What to expect in Solomon Islands
Though the Solomon Islanders use English as their official language, there is also a native language called Solomons Pidgin that is widely spoken and is a Creole language. The Islands receives very few visitors and therefore many locals are not accustomed to encountering tourists, annually they receive around 25,000 tourists a year.
The islands are not very well-developed and are more on the rustic side, with hardly any shopping centres, souvenir shops or supermarkets and there are few touts selling you tours and excursions, most of these will have to be organized through your hotel.
This makes a visit to the Solomon Islands an adventure and this destination is best suited to those who love nature, surfing, diving, snorkelling, cultural travel and discovering remote, far flung destinations. For those who are looking for luxury, nightlife and great WIFI connection, this may not be the ideal destination for you!
The local currency is the Solomon Islands Dollar and can be withdrawn at the airport or on ATMs on the main islands. It’s difficult to get hold of in countries outside of the Islands themselves. Credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted but it’s a good idea to bring some cash with you.
Tipping in general is appreciated but not expected. Though the islands may not be very developed, the cost of travelling and visiting the Solomon Islands is quite high, based on the fact that it is remote. The cost of meals and hotels are on par with costs in Australia from 15 – 30 AUD, making it a destination that may be out of reach for some budget backpackers, there are also lower-priced options for hostels and dorms but the daily cost of travel is quite high.
To enter the country you must have a passport with 6 months validity, upon arrival US and EU citizens will be granted a visa, however it’s worth checking prior to booking your trip whether your nationality requires a visa before arrival in the islands.
Consult your doctor before travelling, it is likely that you will need to take malaria pills as there are some areas which are malaria zones. It’s also important to bring insect repellent to avoid any other mosquito borne illnesses.
Finally, bottled water is a must on the islands as tap water is not advisable to drink.
How to get around Solomon Islands
Though the islands are vast and spread out, getting around the islands is easy. There are many forms of transport, however, the most convenient way to island-hop is by travelling with Solomon Airlines, from Honiara Airport there are various flights to get to the most visited tourist sites, such as Seghe to visit the Marovo Lagoon Gizo and Munda. It’s important to confirm your flight a day before your departure to avoid disappointment.
You can also get around by boat, there are dinghies which can be chartered per day, fuel costs are usually additional. The safest way to travel by boat is on the major ferry lines departing from Honiara, there are frequent ferry connections to Auki and Tulagi using the MV 360 Flyer or Discovery ferries. The MV. Express Pelican II offers ferry services to Auki twice a week. Alternatively, large ships such as the MV Fair Glory and MV Anjeanette also can connect you to the Western Province.
There are public buses in Honiara, in other places the main mode of transport are pick-up trucks and trailers, however the most comfortable mode of transport are the meterless taxis which require negotiation of price before starting your journey.
As the roads are in poor condition, hiring a rental car and driving is not recommended.
The best time to visit Solomon islands
The Solomon Islands, like most tropical destinations has both a wet season and a dry season. Dry season starts from April and ends in October and the humid wet season occurs during the rest of the months of the year. The most popular time for tourists to travel to the islands are between the months of December and February and then again in June and July, during this peak period, prices are higher with regards to hotels and flights.
Temperatures all year round are close to 27 degrees Celsius, making it a pleasant destination to visit. It’s best to avoid the wet season when the islands are buffeted by typhoons and monsoon storms, this can make it difficult to do many of the activities on the islands.
Things to do in Solomon islands
Visit Tenaru Falls
Despite its remote location in Honiara, a visit to the Tenaru falls is well worth it. A guided tour is a must as hikers require permission to access the falls and they can only be found by local guides. Visit the Solomon Islands Visitors bureau, which organises daily trips and tour guides. The 4 km hike to the falls is relatively easy and flat and passes through lush jungles, hikers are rewarded at the end of the journey with a cool and refreshing dip at the falls. Prices for a guided tour start from S$150 per person.
Take a plunge in Lake Tegano
Lake Tegano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which consists of a sprawling 215,000 acres of raised coral reef, covering a third of the island’s territory and surrounded by lush forests. It hosts a wealth of diverse species of wildlife and the 200 islets offer superb scuba diving and close encounters with wildlife as well as the possibility to visit underwater wrecks of sunken sea planes from World War Two. The journey to Lake Tegano takes around 2 or 3 hours by car and costs around S$3000 for the return journey.
Booking accommodation in the lakeside lodges is highly recommended and the lodges will usually organise pick up from the airport to take you there. Some of the lodges are accessed only by boat and accommodation is usually basic, and one of the best eco-friendly accommodation providers at Lake Tegano is Malove Corporation which has eco lodges and also organise local food experiences, hiking, boat rides, canoeing and more.
Swim with the fishes
Scuba diving and snorkelling are unmissable in Gizo, despite damage caused by the tsunami. Here you can marvel at the incredible marine diversity that will make you feel as if you’ve dived into an aquarium. Encounters with manta rays and turtles are common and diving in the Solomon Islands should be on every divers’ wishlist!
Kayak around Kennedy island
Kennedy Island was where President Kennedy and his crew sought refuge when their ship, the PT 109 was destroyed by Japanese bombing during the Second World War. The island is often visited between scuba dives as a place to stop for lunch and you will often see local fishermen cooking fish over the barbeque on this small island.
From Fatboys resort in Gizo you can easily kayak to the neighbouring Kennedy Island. This activity is recommended to fit kayakers as there are often difficult currents. On the island you can enjoy a typical South Pacific lunch of barbequed fish cooked up by the local fishermen on the island and also enjoy some snorkelling around its shores.
Immerse yourself in history
Visit the Vilu Open Air Museum if you’re a history buff to learn more about World War Two in the Solomon Islands, here you will see everything from tanks to fighter plane wrecks from both the Japanese and American military tangled amidst overgrown vegetation. It is best explored with a guide to explain the artefacts and give some background to this impressive site.
Visit Central Market
For a taste of local lifestyle, head to the colourful Central Market situated on the waterfront of Iron Bottom Sound in Honiara where you can rub shoulders with the locals and marvel at the different fruits and vegetables on offer, here you will find fishermen with the freshest catch and also buy the odd wood carving as a souvenir or even purchase strings of polished beads made from seashells which are considered currency on the Islands (called shell money).
Hit the waves
Around the Solomon Islands you’ll find world-class surfing beaches on the Northern shore. The best time to visit the Solomon Islands for surfing is between the months of October and April, here you will find wide swells and fantastic waves that range from around two to six feet in height.
For a memorable surf experience, head to Surf Solomons and explore the islands either with their surfing tours or surf camps where you can experience the rustic lifestyle of beach huts and amazing waves every day. An 11 day surf camp costs around €1,660 euros including transport, accommodation and food. They also organise other expeditions to the Island of Ysabel and also to the Tasman and Coral Sea of the Southern shores.
Visit the lush botanical gardens of Honaira
Once a former base for American and Japanese troops during the Second World War, this site is now a charming garden where you can enjoy a stroll amidst the tropical plants and wildflowers, there is even a restored Orchid House where you can marvel at the diverse variety of species that thrive on the islands. There is also plenty to learn about the history of Honaira and a guided tour through the botanical gardens is a must.
What to eat in Solomon islands
Due to the different influences and occupations throughout its past, local food has been influenced by Australian, British, German and even Spanish cuisine! Though the staple diet still features local fruits and vegetables such as breadfruit, coconut, yams and taro which are almost always accompanied with rice.
Dishes are on the simple side and there is also plenty of fresh seafood on offer. The most typical local dishes is Cassava Pudding, made with sweet potato, coconut milk and cassava which is a savoury dish common on the islands. Canned tuna is also a solid favourite and is served with chillies and served up with noodles or rice.
Due to the fact that agriculture appeared in the Solomon Islands at a later stage, little is farmed here and the dishes tend to be quite simple. The Solomon Islands does not yet rival the levels of gourmet cuisine but you can find options such as Japanese restaurants, Indian restaurants and standard western cuisine such as pizzas.
A highly-recommended restaurant is the Island Hideaway, situated just by the water and offering New American cuisine and is worth dropping into if you want to savour some local seafood as well as western dishes.
Where to stay in Solomon islands
Heritage Park Hotel – Once a Governor’s mansion in Honiara, this highly-ranked sprawling hotel on the waterfront is situated a short stroll away from the National Museum. The beautiful rooms have balconies which look over the garden or the ocean, if you opt for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment, aside from ocean and pool views you will also have your own personal kitchen and washing machines and dryers. The hotel has three restaurants serving international cuisine, swimming pool, gym and poolside bar. The hotel is situated in the city centre yet is also within easy reach of the Mataniko Falls (1 mile away) which makes this an ideal base for exploration. Prices start at €287 per night.
Coral Sea Resort and Casino – This three-star resort looking over a beautiful beach is only a short nine-minute stroll to the National Museum in Central Honiara. Rooms are simple and airy and are decorated in contemporary style. All rooms is equipped with TVs, WIFI, fridges, kitchenettes and terraces or balconies. Hotel facilities include a swimming pool and bar, two international restaurants including a steakhouse and Asian street food restaurant and a casino. Rooms start at €186 per night with breakfast included.
Imagination Island – Situated off Gizo and accessed by motor canoe on a 10 minute trip, enjoy the experience of staying in an eco-friendly, over-water bungalow equipped with private bathroom, bamboo cane furniture and queen sized bed right on the local reef. From the deck of your bungalow you will be able to observe the colourful tropical fish flitting beneath the surface. Rooms and facilities are basic but this is an ideal hotel for those who are looking to disconnect from the busy world and connect with nature. Activities such as diving and fishing can be organised through the hotel as well as a free shuttle to the airport, surrounding villages and the nearby Kolomobangara volcano.
Agnes Gateway Hotel – For travellers on a tight budget, Agnes Lodge is the solution to your problems. From Munda, the lodge is situated only a short three-minute stroll from the landing point and is a property looking over Roviana Lagoon. This hotel has 38 rooms catering to travellers of different budgets and its proximity to local villages means that you can experience local culture and lifestyle of the Solomon Islanders. This is an excellent base to explore the local reefs and enjoy some stunning scuba diving and snorkelling. Prices start from €37 per night for a basic room.
Tours to do in Solomon islands
There are not many formal tour operators in the Solomon Islands and all tours and guides can also be organised via your accommodation, however, here are some organised tours which highlight the fascinating culture and history as well as the stunning natural beauty of the Islands:
This three-hour tour departs from Honiara and is a must for history lovers, on this tour you will be able to visit the backdrop of the Guadalcanal Battles and relive the recapture of Henderson Field which was under the control of the Japanese Imperial forces through the tales of your guide.
You will also visit some local villages such as Kakabona and also see the Bonegi Wreck as well as visit the outdoor Vilu War Museum. Along the way you can enjoy the scenery of lush plantations and forests and the tour ends at Bonegi Beach where you can go snorkelling and encounter the resident marine life that thrive around the Bonegi shipwreck from World War Two. All transportation is included in the price of S$900 per person. Snorkelling equipement is not provided.
The Matanikau Waterfall tour takes approximately four hours, you will be picked up at your hotel and brought to the Lelei Village situated at Tuvaruhu, where you will begin your adventure by crossing the Matanikau River. From the other shore, there is a two and a half hour walk uphill to the stunning falls where you can bathe in the cool and refreshing waters and opt to float back along the river or return by hiking.
This tour is suited to those in good physical shape and water or hiking shoes are a must! The price of S$614 per person includes transportation to the waterfall and back to the hotel however, you must bring your own lunch and water.
For chocolate lovers, this tour is a dream come true! Learn about Solomon Island Cocoa Beans and the process of making chocolate in the Guadalcanal Cocoa Plantation, here you will be able to learn about how delicious chocolate is sourced and created and even sample some of local products at Honiara’s chocolate shop. The three-hour tour costs S$495 per person.
Day trips from Solomon islands
For a comprehensive five-hour tour of the history and culture of the Solomon Islands, this is a tour for you! Visit the gorgeous Vonaovona lagoon on a 30 minute boat trip and enjoy the panoramic views before visiting Noro town after travelling through the Arundel Coastline. Lunch is organised on Lola Island at the Zipolo Habu Resort at your own expense, followed by a visit to Skull Island in New Georgia, considered one of the most sacred sites in the Solomon Islands as it is home to a number of shrines and skulls of brave warriors and Rendovan chiefs.
The tour also ends with the opportunity to snorkel the reefs of Nusa Aghana nearby. Snorkelling equipment is not provided and it’s advisable to bring swimming clothes as well as excellent shoes for walking, or water shoes as you are most likely to get wet!
The price of the tour is S$3,000 per person and includes transportation and an experienced guide.