If you think that the thousands of tiny islands sprinkled across the South Pacific are all basically the same you’re way off base. It’s true that most of them contain a certain tropical quality embodied by beautiful scenery, white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, but that’s just the natural side of the South Pacific.

Most of the islands in the South Pacific are populated by people of Polynesian descent, but even this varies widely from island to island. The impossibly dark skin of the locals on the Solomon Islands is quite different from that of the islanders on Pulau. Fiji has its distinct kava-drinking culture which helps a relaxing environment become even more chilled, and Vanuatu and Samoa have some of the largest and friendliest men on earth.

Many of the islands in the South Pacific were colonized by European or Asian powers over the centuries, leaving another distinct impression on the indigenous fabric of each society. During WWII, this watery region was a major component in the fight against the Japanese and Axis powers, and remnants remain in Guam and Midway.

But it’s the dream of finding a postcard perfect paradise that lures the majority of travelers to this far-flung part of the globe. The image of Tahiti’s Bora Bora comes to mind, and there’s no airbrushing needed to maintain its surreal beauty. Major destinations like Tahiti have a thriving tourism industry based around luxurious resorts. It won’t be cheap to spend a couple of weeks on Bora Bora, but it will be worth it.

Fiji could be an even better destination if they would stop having military coups, but fortunately this kind of political tension is rarely found in the South Pacific. The scuba diving in Pulau, Micronesia and most of the other islands in this region is superlative. Few people make the effort to get here, so the coral gardens are healthy and teeming with sea life.

There is little else to sustain these islands except tourism, so expect your arrival to have a bit of economic impetus behind it. It’s not that they see visitors as money, but everyone needs to eat.

The South Pacific islands are divided into three main groups: Melanesia which lies mostly to the south of the Equator; Micronesia which lies mainly to the north of the Equator and Polynesia which covers a much larger area to the east.