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Alex Schechter
March 15, 2017

The Solomon Islands, an archipelago in the South Pacific, is not for the faint-hearted. Stuck halfway between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the former British colony is made up of 992 islands, though only 147 of them are inhabited. Roads are often unpaved, the climate is hot and sticky, and the main city, Honiara, lacks the infrastructure of neighboring tropical resort destinations like Tahiti and Fiji.

That said, it’s entirely worth the trip, for anyone interested in shipwreck dives, multicultural exchange, and breathtaking deep-jungle hikes alongside a 60-foot waterfall. And while it’s not the easiest to get to, a little extra planning is all that’s needed. (You’ll first need to fly into either Fiji or Brisbane, both of which offer direct flights into Honiara International Airport, which sits on the main island of Guadalcanal.)

The Solomon Islands’ best feature? It’s tourist-free — at least, for now. Read on to find out how to plan the perfect vacation here.

War history buffs love it here.

From dumping sites filled with old tanks and guns, to Japanese bomber planes and other submerged vessels, the Solomon Islands boast one of the most fascinating collections of World War II memorabilia in the entire South Pacific. In fact, one local was able to amass enough material — hand grenades, machetes, Japanese dog tags, and countless other relics — to start a World War II museum out of his own home.

2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, a gruesome and historically significant clash between Japanese and U.S. military forces, which ultimately paved the way to victory for the U.S. and Allies. But the victory came at high cost: over 6,000 troops were killed in action or lost at sea.

“Veterans needed to come back here after all those years, and put their ghosts to rest,” says Vicky Reynolds-Middagh, whose company, Valor Tours, leads immersive, highly researched tours through battle sites in Guadalcanal and surrounding islands.

Among the places groups visit is the Guadalcanal American Memorial, which sits high above the capital city of Honiara, gazing down at Iron Bottom Sound, where sunken American and Japanese ships sit 4,000 feet below the surface.

The diving is world-class.

Diving is extremely popular in the western province, particularly around the islands of Gizo and Munda, where you’ll swim through caves, narrow tunnels and reef walls populated by Moray eels, manta rays, sharks, turtles, and any number of dazzling, water-breathing coral dwellers. As for the islands’ unique collection of shipwrecks, not all of them sit deep underwater—some are just a short distance off the coast, making them easily accessible to snorkelers, too.

Hungry for something more? The Solomon Islands archipelago also includes Tetepare, which is known as the largest uninhabited tropical island in the entire Southern Hemisphere, surrounded by perfectly unspoiled reefs.

Hikers find plenty of reasons to stay on land.

While underwater exploration ranks as the top-requested activity for visitors to the Solomon Islands, the on-land trekking is not to be missed. Navigating through the tropical jungle in places like Rennell island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll spot incredible wild birds, as well as forests teeming with orchids, and secluded turquoise beaches and coves. In fact, you’ll find a rich network of trails just waiting to be discovered.

Near Honiara, the islands’ capital, one such trail leads to a 60-foot-high waterfall — one of the biggest in the region — known as Tenaru.

The native culture is fascinating.

Over half a million people live in the Solomon Islands, and almost all of that population is Melanesian, the native Pacific Islanders who have inhabited this territory (as well as parts of Indonesia, Australia, and Fiji) for centuries.

To get a feel for traditional Melanesian life, arrange a visit to one of the villages. Visitors are often welcomed with wreaths of frangipani flowers, and treated to a meal of fresh-caught mackerel or tuna (the ocean is just a few steps away, after all).

At night, settled into your thatch-roof bungalow, you can learn a few words in native Pijin (63 different dialects are spoken throughout the region), or get a tutorial on the native system of “shell money,” a form of traditional currency fashioned out of tiny seashells, and assembled into strings, necklaces, and even headdresses.

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