Vanuatu

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Known for its gorgeously pristine coastline and laid-back feel, the Vanuatu Archipelago is one of the premier vacation destinations in the South Pacific Ocean region. Although Vanuatu is best-known as the destination for the 9th season of the long-running TV series, Survivor back in 2009, its incredible beaches, weather, and secluded islands make it a desirable tropical paradise.

Welcoming and friendly, travellers to the islands always feel instantly at home, regardless of which of the islands that make up Vanuatu they decide to visit. Whether it’s Efate Island, Vanuatu’s busiest and most-vibrant island, or Mavea Island, the least-populated island, there’s a place and pace for all types of travellers. But, of course, most visitors will spend some time in Port Vila, the country’s capital and central hub.

Affordable and emerging as a truly great holiday destination, Vanuatu’s proximity to Australia and New Zealand means that reaching the country is a breeze, and neighbouring Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands are possible day-trip destinations to explore. So experience the great tradition and spirit of the Vanuatu people and enjoy this jewel of the South Pacific.

Vanuatu

Vanuatu Facts

blue lagoon vanuatu
The Blue Lagoon Vanuatu is not far from Port Vila.

Vanuatu, which means ‘our land forever’, is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. It has 13 main islands and a string of smaller islands that stretch for 650 km (400 miles).

Capital: Port Vila

National languages: Bislama, a Melanesian pidgin English, French and English. Other languages spoken include over 100 Melanesian languages.

People: ni-Vanuatu (Melanesian), Polynesian, European, Micronesian, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Islands of Vanuatu: 

vanuatu map
Map of the Vanuatu islands.
  • Torres Islands (Hiu, Loh, Tegua, Linua, Metoma and Toga)
  • Banks Islands (Vanua Lava, Mota, Santa Maria (Gaua), Mota Lava)
  • Espiritu Santo
  • Ambae
  • Maewo (Aurora)
  • Efate (Sandwich)
  • Pentecost
  • Malakula
  • Ambrym
  • Tanna
  • Anatom
  • Erromango

Travel To Vanuatu

vanuatu culture bird in coconut shell
Explore the mysteries of Vanuatu culture. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

Vanuatu is an excellent destination for international travellers. The country allows visa-free travel to citizens of more than 120 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, and the European Union.

Is Vanuatu Safe?

The country has a low level of crime. Petty theft is the most common problem, so it’s best to keep any valuables you might have safe and out of sight.

Always remember to lock your room at night or when you’re out exploring the islands and inform the local authorities if anything goes missing.

As most crimes committed are opportunistic, travellers should be safe as long as they take precautions and stay vigilant while out and about.

Women travelling solo should avoid walking alone at night, particularly in remote areas, as more violent criminal acts still happen even if they are very uncommon.

Vanuatu Currency

Most resorts and hotels accept major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, and you can find ATMs on the main boulevard in Port Vila.

Money exchange services are also available on the main street of Port Vila, with most branches open Monday to Friday.

The National Bank of Vanuatu Airport office is available for all guests arriving by air to make exchanging to Vanuatu’s currency, the Vatu, quick and easy.

Travel Advice

survivor vanuatu beach scene
A scene straight out of ‘Survivor’ Vanuatu. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

One bit of travel advice for international travellers to note is that tipping is frowned upon throughout all of the country’s islands, as it conflicts with the traditional customs of Vanuatu’s inhabitants.

Visitors should also refrain from wearing overly revealing clothes as much as possible since Vanuatu’s social values are quite conservative. This is travel advice that you should not ignore.

Vaccination against dengue fever and other tropical diseases is highly recommended for visiting, especially during the humid rainy season.

You should keep in mind there’s a risk of potentially contracting malaria on some islands and most travel advice says it’s best to ensure you’re covered with comprehensive travel insurance in case of illness, theft, cancellations or injury.

When choosing a travel insurance policy, check if the policy includes adventure activities and volcano and ash cloud cover.

Health services are somewhat limited. Basic medical facilities are available for routine treatments or simple medical services, however, medical treatment may require an immediate cash payment.

So do check that your policy covers medical evacuation to New Zealand or Australia if needed. You may require medical evacuation if you are seriously injured and for Australians, the Australian Government offers 24-hour emergency consular assistance.

If you think you’ll be driving, check that your travel insurance will cover you for driving on the right side of the road and follow the road rules put out by the local authorities.

Getting There

Several airlines fly to Port Vila from overseas, including Air Vanuatu and Virgin Australia. Air Vanuatu flies domestically between islands and is the fastest way to travel around the country other than inter-island boats.

COVID-19

Vanuatu’s borders are currently closed to non-residents. Air Vanuatu has repatriation flights for Vanuatu citizens but seats on those flights must be approved by Vanuatu authorities. In addition, travellers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and there’s a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days. Further information on passport validity, entry requirements, travel documents, air travel entry rules and border closures can be found on the Vanuatu ministry website here (https://covid19.gov.vu/index.php/travelling-to-vanuatu).

Weather In Vanuatu

vanuatu woman walking through The Summit tropical gardens
A Vanuatu woman walks through the tropical gardens of The Summit. The lovely well-kept gardens is a far cry from the landscape of ‘Survivor’ Vanuatu. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

Blessed with a tropical climate that provides year-round good weather, this is a fantastic travel destination no matter when you decide to visit.

Conditions are at their best between April and October when temperatures typically range anywhere from 18°C to 28°C (64°F to 82°F).

Vanuatu’s rainy season, which takes place between November and March every year, still allows for swimming, surfing and many other activities not severely impacted by wet weather conditions.

The temperature usually ranges anywhere between 22°C and 28°C (72°F to 82°F) during this period.

It brings very humid and considerably warmer weather patterns, which can sometimes feel unbearable to visitors not used to these conditions.

Given Vanuatu’s incredible weather, no trip will be spoiled due to bad conditions, however, it’s still best to plan ahead to make sure no activities you plan on doing are impacted too severely during your trip to the country.

Best Time of Year To Visit Vanuatu

vanuatu beaches
Vanuatu beaches are pristine and idyllic. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

The best time of the year to travel to Vanuatu depends on individual preferences, who you are travelling with, and what activities you plan to do on the islands.

Some people can find the wet and humid conditions overbearing, while others prefer it.

So it’s up to the traveller to decide when they want to visit Vanuatu since the weather won’t impact most activities or transportation arrangements.

As most people prefer to visit Vanuatu’s islands during the milder months between April and October, some of Vanuatu’s islands can get quite busy with tourists.

Visiting during this time of year is an ever-increasing issue on many islands as some are small and cannot accommodate the constantly rising tourism population.

To relax away from crowds, it’s probably best to avoid the Efate tourist trap during holidays and rather venture toward the less-visited outer islands of Vanuatu.

vanuatu island
A lovely Vanuatu island scene on Lelepa Island. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

Vanuatu’s peak season sees many tourists flock to the country, usually during Australian school holidays.

Most international visitors come from nearby Australia and the weather’s best during this time.

Resorts and hotels in Vanuatu often charge more during this time of year.

Many of the most popular places to stay are fully booked well in advance, which means travellers will have to pay significantly more when visiting Vanuatu during the Australian school holidays.

Despite the influx of holiday goers and the steeper prices between April and October, Vanuatu’s islands come to life during the busy months, making it well worth visiting to experience the country’s energy and mingle with travellers from all over the world when Vanuatu’s at its liveliest.

Vanuatu Culture

vanuatu people
The people of Vanuatu are called ‘ni-Vanuatu’. 

The incredible views and world-class resorts are not the only reason to add Vanuatu to your travel list.

Vanuatu’s islands are brimming with rich cultures and traditions for travellers to immerse themselves in and learn more about.

Vanuatu’s population is made up of the Ni-Vanuatu natives as well as communities of Australian, New Zealand, Vietnamese and Chinese ex-pats all living on the islands permanently.

Vanuatu has no official written language; instead, the country’s native inhabitants emphasise storytelling and traditional dances to communicate with each other.

Art also plays a considerable role throughout all pacific island nations, including Vanuatu, where masks and tattoos form a crucial part in rituals and celebrations throughout the country.

vanuatu people culture (firewalking)
Firewalking is a ceremony that’s part of Vanuatu culture. 

The Ni-Vanuatu culture contains many mythical legends similar to the Maori or Aboriginal stories told for centuries throughout New Zealand and Australia, making Vanuatu a haven for those interested in the region’s past.

Vanuatu is probably best known for its famous traditional drink called Kava, a mainstay in Vanuatu native culture for centuries and of incredible importance to the people of Vanuatu.

Kava is made by cutting and chewing the Kava plant, after which it gets spat into a bowl to be squeezed into a liquid.

It has a sleep-inducing, almost hypnotic effect and the mixture is drunk by the Ni-Vanuatu after a hard day’s work to help them relax.

Vanuatu Food

vanuatu kava
Kava culture in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu’s culinary scene is much like everything else, extremely diverse and incredibly significant culturally.

Vanuatu’s traditional cuisine, called ‘aelan kakae’ in Bislama, typically includes fish, fruit and vegetables such as taro and yams in the majority of its dishes.

Most island families grow their food in their gardens, making sure to harvest enough food for their whole family.

Fruit such as papayas, pineapples and mangoes are abundant throughout the islands, and many of the country’s traditional dishes use coconut milk and cream as key ingredients.

The majority of the country’s traditional dishes are either boiled, steamed, or cooked on hot stones and has been done so for generations.

Incredibly diverse thanks to the many outside influences Vanuatu’s had throughout the country’s history, Vanuatu’s food stands out among other South Pacific nations as both traditional and cosmopolitan.

vanuatu food
Get the taste of traditional Vanuatu food. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

The country’s national dish, lap lap, is a pudding-like meal consisting of yams, bananas, taro or manioc, coconut milk and salt, covered in banana leaves and baked underneath piping hot volcanic rocks.

Every island throughout Vanuatu has its method of making lap lap, with each adding different ingredients to their dish, making no two islands’ lap lap the same.

Simboro is also a very popular dish in Vanuatu, a combination of bananas, yam, taro, manioc or flour and coconut milk rolled up in banana leaves and steamed similarly to lap lap.

Naturally, seafood has always been a staple throughout Vanuatu’s history since virtually all inhabitants live near the coast or a river.

Shellfish and both freshwater and seawater fish make up a large portion of a typical Vanuatu diet.

Vanuatu Hotels

vanuatu beaches eton beach efate
Efate Island has some amazing beaches, such as Eton Beach.

Choosing where to stay in Vanuatu can be a tough choice as there are many islands to choose from, all unique from each other.

Some are more geared toward families, while some cater toward honeymooners, so choosing where to stay in Vanuatu depends on personal preference and the nature of your visit to Vanuatu.

With world-class resorts littered all over the country’s many islands, there’s no shortage of luxurious amenities and million-dollar views on offer for guests to indulge in and relax if they’re willing to look past the steep prices during peak season.

For a more authentic and traditional Vanuatu experience, try one of the many guesthouses and Airbnb’s run by Vanuatu locals that offer excellent accommodation and the opportunity to truly immerse yourself into typical Vanuatu life for a fraction of the price of a typical five-star resort.

Vanuatu’s islands are all just a short hop away, thanks to the reasonably priced transportation services operating between the islands.

Holiday goers can quickly travel to and from any of the country’s islands even if they’re not staying there during their trip.

This allows travellers to stay wherever they want during their trip to Vanuatu and not be limited to overpriced resorts on the busier islands.

Where To Stay

a pontoon at one of the top vanuatu hotels - The Havannah
A pontoon at one of the most luxurious Vanuatu hotels, The Havannah. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

Vanuatu’s small and compact capital, Port Vila, overlooks a scenic bay littered with islands and atolls varying in size and offers a very diverse range of places to stay.

Fresh produce and craft markets and the majority of Vanuatu’s tourist attractions, including Vanuatu’s only mall, are located along Port Vila’s main street and the picturesque seaside pathway with its gorgeous ocean views.

You can find many friendly villages and excellent beaches near Port Vila around the main island of Efate, including a few resorts in places like Pango, Eratap, Erakor, and Havannah.

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu’s largest island and one of the country’s least-developed islands, is located northwest of Efate.

The island mainly attracts thrill-seekers and those looking to escape into nature.

It’s a fantastic destination for those seeking a little bit of seclusion since Espiritu Santo doesn’t get that many visitors as nearby Efate Island does and is one of the few islands in Vanuatu still relatively untouched by large-scale developments.

Just south of Espiritu Santo Island, Tanna Island is home to a fully accessible active volcano, sublime hot springs, rainforests, and enchanting waterfalls that astounds visitors with its raw beauty. Other islands with active volcanoes on Ambae, Gaua, Ambrym, Vanua Lava and Lopevi.

The island is a haven for those looking for a more rugged adventure exploring the volcano as part of a tour or for anyone wanting to stroll along the island’s endless amounts of idyllic beaches all fit to called paradise.

Tanna Island perfectly blends the remoteness of Espiritu Santo with the resorts and activities found on some of the more developed islands, making it ideal for those wanting a bit of both worlds.

11 Things To Do In Vanuatu

fishing in vanuatu
Fishing in Vanuatu is an activity you must experience. Try it with Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

From Port Vila to the remote parts of the country, there’s no shortage of exciting activities and excursions for travellers to enjoy on Vanuatu’s islands. Each island offers something unique, whether a guided tour of an active volcano or diving among the wreckage of a US Navy ship dating back to World War II that was accidentally sunk in 1942.

Not in the mood for working up a sweat during your vacation? No problem. Vanuatu’s beaches are some of the best in the world and, scattered all over the country’s islands, finding a great beach with pristine white sand, and turquoise water isn’t hard to find.

If you’re finished lounging around on Vanuatu’s beaches, prepare to be entertained by the incredible collection of restaurants throughout Vanuatu serving up all sorts of unique flavours and delicacies. Port Vila is where you’ll find shops and local markets that sell all sorts of knickknacks and souvenirs, as well as intricately crafted items made by hand to remember your trip to the country.

There certainly is something for everyone to do and see in Vanuatu. Here are some of the most exciting sights, events, activities and tours on offer throughout Vanuatu’s islands that are sure to make your stay here unforgettable.

1- Visit A Vanuatu Volcano

Vanuatu volcano
Mount Yasur is a volcano in Vanuatu to see.

Mount Yasur, located on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island, is one of Vanuatu’s most iconic landmarks and one of the most famous of several active volcanoes.

The active volcano reaching 361 m in height is on the southeast part of the island and runs along the coast close to Sulphur Bay.

Mount Yasur has been erupting pretty much non-stop ever since Captain Cook first spotted the volcano back in 1774.

Despite this, Mount Yasur is safe to approach, with guided tours of the volcano available to travellers brave enough to hike the 15-minute trail to the volcano’s 400m (1312 ft) wide summit.

Mount Yasur is an awe-inspiring sight to see and regularly erupts with tiny, powerful explosions from its peak.

It’s one of Vanuatu’s must-visit sites and the country’s most accessible active volcano, so it should not be missed during any trip to the country. Make sure to follow the advice of local authorities when visiting an active volcano.

2- Explore Nanda and Matevulu Blue Holes

vanuatu blue hole
The Blue Hole in Vanuatu on Espiritu Santo.

The Nanda and Matevulu Blue Holes are popular natural attractions on Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo Island.

Part of an extensive collection of similar pools located in holes in the ground, these striking natural swimming ponds are formed by freshwater springs that rise through the holes’ limestone bottom, filling the holes with bright blue water so vivid it looks like it’s glowing.

The holes are only accessible thanks to the generous native families, whose land the holes are located on, allowing visitors to access these incredible natural attractions.

It’s also these families after which the Nanda Blue Hole was named, as a sign of gratitude to the owners.

It’s well worth a visit as it’s a location unlike anywhere else in the world and one that must be seen up close to believe.

3- Discover Mele Cascades Waterfalls

Mele Cascades Waterfall in Vanuatu
The Mele Cascades waterfall is worth spending time in Vanuatu when visiting Port Vila.

The Mele Cascades Waterfalls are a spectacular natural attraction best-known for their vivid blue waters and gorgeous vistas.

The falls are on the main island of Efate, roughly 10km (6.2 mi) or a 10 to 15-minute drive from Port Vila.

Guided tours are available but guests can also explore the waterfalls independently.

Easily accessible and very close to Vanuatu’s capital, Mele Cascades Waterfalls is a great place to visit without travelling far to reach it.

4- Go Surfing

kayaking vanuatu
Kayaking is another popular outdoor aquatic activity. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

Vanuatu’s surfing scene is not quite on par with famous sites in nearby Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga.

Still, with considerably fewer crowds and at a much lower cost, Vanuatu is an excellent place for surfing in a more relaxed, laid-back setting.

Vanuatu’s surf, like the Maldives, does not draw huge waves, but it does provide some outstanding surf places right on your doorstep in a lovely paradise atmosphere.

Surfing is one of the best-kept secrets in the South Pacific, with decent swells that pound the shallow reefs around Vanuatu’s islands, creating ideal surfing conditions for beginners and experienced surfers alike.

5- Go Diving

espiritu santo vanuatu
Espiritu Santo Vanuatu is home to incredible shipwrecks.

The country has incredible diving spots, crystal clear blue waters and stunning natural reefs provide dive spots and attractions for divers of all ability levels.

There are many diving activities run by experienced operators no more than a 30-minute drive from Port Vila.

One of the most popular of Vanuatu’s diving sites is the President Coolidge dive, located off the island of Espiritu Santo.

The site houses a WWII troop ship once used as a luxury ocean liner which was sunk accidentally by a mine in 1942.

The ship’s remnants now provide a unique diving spot to explore with clean, tranquil seas perfect for observing fish and coral.

With a maximum depth anywhere between 20 and 70 m (66 and 230 ft), it’s certainly not a dive for beginners, but it makes for a truly memorable experience for those skilled enough to dive to the bottom.

6- Traverse the Treetop Canopy Zipline

Those not scared of heights will enjoy the Treetop Canopy Zipline, an adrenaline-fueled, 1km (0.62 mi) circuit that winds through the jungle landscape of Efate Island.

The Treetop Canopy Zipline Tour includes six ziplines and two suspension bridges across the circuit, which takes approximately three hours to complete.

All riders wear a safety harness during the trip, and the wire ropes will securely transport riders from platform to platform directly through the forest canopy.

With panoramic views of Mele Bay and some of the other beautiful islands, gliding along the Treetop Canopy Zipline promises to be the highlight of any trip to Efate and well worth a visit when on the island.

7- See The Naghol Land Diving

Vanuatu Naghol Land Diving
Naghol land diving is part of Vanuatu culture on Pentecost island.

Travel to Vanuatu’s Pentecost Island between April and May, and you might have the opportunity of a lifetime.

Every year during this time, residents on Pentecost Island build enormous wooden towers, climb to the top of the tower and leap off with nothing more than two vines tied to their ankles to keep them from hitting the ground.

The goal of this harrowing event is to get as close to the ground as possible without hitting it, which means that even the slightest miscalculation in determining the length of the vines could result in serious injuries.

The reason tourists rarely see this event is that only a small number of visitors are allowed to observe the spectacle every year.

This traditional event has become one of the most sought after attractions and, if you’re allowed to witness it, will no doubt leave you speechless.

8- Visit Hideaway Island

Hideaway Island, situated roughly 100m (328 ft) off the coast from Mele Beach, Hideaway Island is anything but hidden.

It’s one of Port Vila’s most popular sites for diving, snorkelling, or simply stopping for lunch at the island’s popular resort (access to the resort’s marine park is open for non-guests until 4 pm).

A free ferry departs for the island from Mele Beach regularly, and once on the island, plenty of activities are available to enjoy without needing to book in at the resort.

Guests can swim and snorkel in the island’s protected marine sanctuary, participate in a diving tour, or mail a waterproof postcard from the world’s first underwater post office.

9- Visit The National Museum of Vanuatu

ambrym island tam tams vanuatu
Tam Tams on Ambrym Island in Vanuatu.

This splendid museum, housed in a tall traditional building opposite the Vanuatu parliament, offers an incredibly well-detailed collection of traditional artefacts such as a tamtam (a slit drum or gong), outrigger canoes, ceremonial headdresses, and Lapita and Wusi ceramics on display.

An amazing photography exhibit covers the discovery of Chief Roi Mata’s burial place, a mighty 17th-century Melanesian chief.

Demonstrations of traditional Vanuatu instruments and sand drawings are also included in the one-hour guided tours of the museum.

The National Museum of Vanuatu is a great place for travellers to discover and explore the rich history of the country and the South Pacific region as a whole.

10- Explore Port Vila’s Market

port vila vanuatu market
Port Vila is the capital and the hub of activity. Pictured here is the colourful local market in the centre of town. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer. 

From Monday morning through to Saturday afternoon, visitors can stroll around Port Vila’s colourful and vibrant waterfront market.

The covered market, also known as the Mama’s Market, is open all day long, with women from all over the country selling their fruits and vegetables in traditional island clothes.

There’s also a slick fish market nearby selling fresh fish caught daily from all over the islands.

The outdoor market is a great place to hunt for all sorts of unique and delicious fruits and vegetables native to Vanuatu’s islands.

11- Relax on Vanuatu’s Champagne Beach

champagne beach (vanuatu) aeriel view
An aerial view of the famous Champagne Beach (Vanuatu).

Perhaps the best attractions in Vanuatu are the country’s countless amounts of beaches, all incredible and pristine, scattered in all corners of the island nation.

Champagne Beach, one of the South Pacific’s best and most iconic beaches, is located on Espiritu Santo Island’s southern tip.

Flanked by palm trees and beachside cafes, this pearly white beach with its turquoise water perfectly embodies what paradise must be, and a visit to Vanuatu is not complete without relaxing on the country’s best beach.

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Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.