What's behind the recent turmoil in the Solomon Islands?
What difficulties will I face?
What do most tourists do here?
What's the best time to visit Solomon Islands?
Is there any special reason why I should visit?
In 1998 a conflict developed between local tribespeople on Guadalcanal and a large number of Malaita people who resettled there after 1942. Beginning in early 1999 as many as 20,000 Malaitans were driven off the oil palm plantations of northern Guadalcanal by the so-called 'Isatabu Freedom Movement' and forced to seek refuge in the capital Honiara or to return to their native island.
In June, 2000, a militia called the 'Malaita Eagle Force' and disaffected Malaitans in the police force brought the fighting to Honiara itself, and the elected government of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu was overthrown. Over 100 people were killed in clashes between the militias. The economy was destroyed, and large 'compensation' payments to gunmen and other forms of corruption have almost bankrupted the country.
In July, 2003, Australia intervened in the conflict at the request of the Solomon Islands Government, and several thousand weapons were collected from the various factions.
In April, 2006, just when it looked like peace had returned, fresh fighting broke out amid allegations of bribery and corruption in the election of the prime minister and Honiara's picturesque Chinatown was destroyed. For the foreseeable future, Solomon Islands must be considered an adventure destination for the experienced traveler.
Many Chinese-owned shops, hotels, and restaurants in Honiara have been burned, although enough remain open that you'll find somewhere to eat and sleep. Your biggest challenge could be actually getting out of Honiara as Solomon Airlines' domestic flights are usually booked solid a week in advance and even passengers with reservations are routinely "bumped." Many of the ships serving the outer islands are unseaworthy. If you start getting the run around, ask Solomon Airlines to put you on the waiting list for the first flight to Munda or Gizo the next morning, then arrive at the airport early and try going standby. There's a good chance someone won't turn up in time and you'll get their seat.
The largest group of visitors to the Solomon Islands are Australian scuba divers who dive with operators in Munda and Gizo or off one of the liveaboard dive boats. Few tourists get beyond the hotels of Honiara, Gizo, and perhaps Munda, although Solomon Airlines flies to airstrips all around the country, indicating that there's much more to see and do than only this. Recommended destinations include Tavanipupu Island Resort on Marau Sound and The Wilderness Lodge on Gatokae. The Lake Te Nggano World Heritage Area on Rennell and the Cave Resort on Bellona are very special places to visit, if you can manage to book a flight.
As one of the more northerly of the main South Pacific island groups, the Solomon Islands is that much hotter and humider. This makes it worth coming from April to November when the southeast trade winds fan the islands and less rain falls. The best weather of all is from July to September.
The gentle people, unhurried lifestyle, unspoiled environment, low prices, and undiscovered charms are great attractions, and the Solomon Islands offers more possibilities to escape the predictable patterns of contemporary tourism than any other South Pacific country. Both the islanders and the islands are still quite natural, and the truly adventurous traveler with sufficient time will discover that South Seas paradise the brochures often promise but seldom deliver. This was true before the crisis and it is still true now.