If the less trodden corners of the world are what you seek, then Vanuatu will deliver.
As far as island paradises go, Vanuatu strikes the ultimate balance between raw, untouched and under-developed adventure, private islands and resort luxury.
Your base for this archipelago of contrasts starts in Port Vila. In this modern hub, you’ll get a feel for Vanuatu’s colonial past with hints of British and French influence that extend into fine dining restaurants and old mansions. If luxury is what you look for in South Pacific travel, Vanuatu’s top resorts are on the outskirts of Port Vila, straddling the borders of lagoons and teetering on the edge of isolated beaches.
Each of Vanuatu’s islands brings something different to the table. No matter where you choose, one thing is for sure, with Vanuatu travel, you are in for an adventure. Live a life of luxury in Santo, where private luxury resorts act as a base for scuba diving junkies. In Tanna, you’ll find yourself on Vanuatu’s ultimate volcano tour, where bubbling magma shoots like fireworks into the sky. No matter where you go, you’ll be immersed in the many cultures of the ni-Vanuatu people.
There’s a groundedness and distinct unpretentiousness to Vanuatu travel. A humble balance between tourist infrastructure and just letting things flow with the island way of life, brought together by the warm and welcoming nature of the people. This guide will introduce what is possible in Vanuatu.
Vanuatu: the Best Time to Visit
The most popular time to visit Vanuatu is between April and October, when the temperatures sit at a comfortable 20-28 degrees Celsius. This is when most travellers choose to visit the island.
Vanuatu’s rainy season is from November to March. The temperatures at this time are very much the same, and the rain only lasts for an hour or two every day, so this could still be a pleasant time to explore. However, this is also the prime typhoon season.
For the best Vanuatu travel deals, you can visit in the transition periods between the seasons, around March and April or October and November. These are the shoulder seasons for Vanuatu when the weather and the prices are at their most favourable.
Places to Visit in Vanuatu
Vanuatu’s capital is the exception to the rule of otherwise small islands, Ni-Vanuatu villages and vast natural vistas. Port Vila is a thriving port town that acts as a gateway to Vanuatu’s rural experience.
Port Vila opens the door to the culture of the archipelago through information centres and museums. The city itself is sandwiched between lagoons and dreamy South Pacific beaches, balanced out on Port Vila tours to the market that welcome you into local life.
If nature is what you are here for, the city is just moments from one of Vanuatu’s most impressive and accessible waterfalls, Mere Cascades, where you can cool down in icy blue pools.
Lose yourself in luxury in Espiritu Santo – Vanuatu’s largest island. Coconut trees, jungle and simple villages chime to the continuous sound of cicadas, only to be interrupted by fine powdered sand beaches that line up diligently next to crystalline teal-coloured waters.
Santo, as it is known to locals, is the most exclusive island of the archipelago; however, it can also be one of the most exhilarating!
Santo is home to some of the best diving experiences in the South Pacific, as you’ll see on this 7-day Vanuatu island hopping tour. Far below the surface, between the coral reefs and tropical fish are WWII machinery and the best wreck diving in the world at SS President Coolidge. If you prefer to stay above the water, Millennium Cave is Vanuatu’s ultimate challenge as you scramble over boulders to be rewarded with a cooling river swim.
Efate Island Adventures
Hot springs, ziplining, and archaeological ruins of a 12th-century chief are just some of Vanuatu’s points of interest on Efate. Outside of the bustling Port Vila, Efate is low-key, local and naturally immersive.
You’ll find all that you came to Vanuatu for on this island as you are quickly introduced to the simplicity of life here – Vanuatu travel is for those who love to go off the beaten track!
Efate is surrounded by smaller islands that will steep you in the balmy atmosphere of remote island life. Grabbing a snorkel is essential when exploring the lagoons – they are filled with vibrantly colourful sea life unlike anywhere else in the world. When you are not underwater, kicking back between the palm trees is the best way to fill your day.
Surfing in Vanuatu
Rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after destinations among the surfing community, Vanuatu is home to the breaks, barrels and hollow waves that surfers grab their boards for.
Often overlooked for famous neighbours such as Fiji, choosing to go surfing while on a Vanuatu island holiday promises the best conditions for catching waves. Among those that are good for beginners are Forari Bay, Black Sand Beach and Epao that offer long intervals to catch waves for the first time.
For those looking to take on a challenge with more experienced waves, Breakas, Devil’s Point and the bays around Tanna are reserved strictly for more advanced surfers.
Iririki Island Holidays
Vanuatu’s luxury experience peaks on Iririki Island. This private plush island is dominated by the heavenly resort of the same name. Remote and exclusive, Iririki Island sits just moments from Port Vila, yet feels worlds away.
The island resort offers an escape into heavenly luxury with its private beach, water sports like kayaking and snorkelling, several swimming pools and bicycle hire, all of which are included in an Iririki island holiday package. Take time to kick back and enjoy island life just moments from the city!
Tanna’s Mount Yasur
Yasur is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is Tanna island’s highest point. Bubbling, spitting, and shooting molten lava from its peak, Yasur volcano is safe to visit most of the time – a unique opportunity to witness the superpower of nature up close.
Finding yourself on Tanna, a volcano tour will take you hiking to see the volcano shoot magma high into the sky. Your hike will follow old lava rivers and a landscape carved by ash. The tours typically go around sunrise or sunset to add to the magic as you look out over Tanna island from Mount Yasur.
This is truly unlike anything you have seen before as you watch the glowing embers peek out from beneath the surface and gas pockets steam.
How to Get Around Vanuatu’s Destinations
The easiest way to get between the islands of Vanuatu is to fly. When booked in advance, you can get some great deals for domestic flights with Air Vanuatu. Flying between Vanuatu’s most accessible islands, Efate and Tanna, will take around an hour.
If you plan to stay on the main island of Efate, hiring a car will cost US$75 a day. This is the best way to see all that the island has to offer in your own time. When hiring a car, you will need to present your international driver’s license.
Taxis and Buses
Islands such as Efate and Tanna have taxi and bus services that operate throughout the day. To catch a bus, keep an eye out for one going the direction you want to go; stop and hail it by raising your hand. Taxis operate in a very similar way to buses. You’ll even find that taxis will take you with others already inside – this is a great way to meet locals!
If you wish to travel between islands, it’s best to plan ahead with one of our Local Designers in Vanuatu. The ferry services in Vanuatu operate as little as once a week between islands, depending on which island you wish to travel to.
Where to Stay on Your Getaway in Vanuatu
As Vanuatu’s most popular and largest island, Efate has a selection of towns to stay in, including Port Vila. Vanuatu’s down-to-Earth approach to tourism is evident wherever you go in the archipelago. Efate holiday choices start in Port Vila, where low-key nightlife and wholesome activities will be perfectly suited to families and couples.
If you are still looking for calm and quiet, Erakor and Eratap are just a short distance from the city, where lagoons and beachfront resorts connect to the city through minibus services.
The stunning, rugged island of Tanna is home to just a handful of accommodation options in the main town of Lenakel. Other options in Tanna take you deep into the jungle and to isolated beaches that are only accessible by boat for a more intimate experience that the more adventurous honeymooners often favour.
Home to a truly authentic Vanuatu experience, Espiritu Santo holiday packages will take you to isolated resorts within reaching distance of the main town, Luganville. With very little development on the island, accommodation options on Santo are all-inclusive and are often focused on the amazing diving and snorkelling experiences that are found offshore.
What to Eat When You Visit Vanuatu
Vanuatu’s food embraces the staples of Ni-Vanuatu, Polynesian and Melanesian cuisine and mixes it up with the cultural tapestry of the island and all the dishes that come with it;
As Vanuatu’s national dish, you can’t leave the archipelago without sharing laplap. This creamy side is made of yams, banana, and cassava pounded and soaked in coconut cream and cooked underground. When it’s finished, it has a consistency that is similar to creamy mashed potato.
Vanuatu is famous for its beef. The cows reared in Espiritu Santo are known for having a vitamin-rich diet that results in high-quality meat. You’ll see Santio beef in many of the restaurants in Port Vila, ranging from fine dining experiences to small steakhouses. As Vanuatu is a former French colony, you’ll find many restaurants preparing this in the French way. This is a must if you love steak!
Exploring the markets of Port Vila is a foodie haven where you’ll find the cheapest and best local food. Tuluk is a great street snack and a must-try when at the market or in the village of Mele.
Tuluk is a cassava bun that is filled with shredded pork. It gets its distinctive flavour from being wrapped in banana leaves before it is steamed. This hearty snack shows a connection to Vanuatu’s Asian influence.
If you understand a little French, you’ll know that poulet means chicken. This snapper fish got its name for its chicken-like texture and taste that brings about some diversity among locals. You can enjoy it in various ways that touch on the South Pacific and French styles; you’re guaranteed to find one that will suit your palette!
Festivals in Vanuatu
John Frum Day
On Tanna, islanders come together on 16th February to pay tribute to the mythical person that is John Frum, in the hope that one day he will deliver riches to the island. This cultish celebration rooted in World War II when American troops would come through the islands.
Locals in Vanuatu believe that wealth from foreign people is magic. By praying to the figure of John Frum, there is a chance that he will come back with goods.
Land Diving Nagol Festival
To celebrate the start of the yam harvest, tall towers made from sticks are erected to stage the original bungee jump. Local men climb to the top of the towers to do the most daring activity to secure their yam harvest’s success.
With a vine tied around their ankle, the men throw themselves off of the top of the tower. The vines are long enough to retract the jump before they hit the ground and strong enough to act like a bungee cord. The event takes place every Saturday from April into June.
Lamap Arts and Cultural Festival
Should you be lucky enough to be invited to the village of Lamap, you’ll get to know an ancient South Pacific culture. If you are there in August, the culture and arts festival will teach you even more about the people.
Storytelling, dancing and traditional feasts bring everyone together to celebrate the Ni-Vanuatu culture and tradition. The main event is the pig ceremony, when the animals are exchanged as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
Things to Know Before You Go to Vanuatu
Visa: Vanuatu has visa exemption for 30 and 90 days for 120 countries. Check to see if your country is on the list before you go. When you check in for your flight, you’ll be asked to provide evidence of purchasing a return flight, make sure you have this prepared.
Language: There are over 100 languages spread out across the islands of Vanuatu. The languages that connect people are Bislama, English and French. Bislama is a form of pigeon English that you’ll understand a little of. You’ll pick up some words as you travel.
Currency: Vanuatu’s currency is the ni-Vanuatu vatu. At the time of writing, May 2021, 1 USD is equal to 108.24 VUV.
Culture: Despite being a British and French colony for many years, parts of Vanuatu remain far removed from modernity – there are still many different tribes here. If you do visit, listen to your guides and come with respect, an open heart and mind.
ATMs: The main cities of Port Vila and Luganville have many ATMs available, however, in smaller towns and in resorts, you may struggle to find one. Prepare your money before leaving main towns, alternatively, you’ll find that most resorts have the option to pay by card.