Guide to Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu’s Unspoken Paradise
Espiritu Santo is the largest island in Vanuatu. It is also the second most populated island after Efate (Port Vila).
Santo’s island is a wild jungle with unsealed and at times unpassable roads. The coasts are lined with white and black sandy beaches.
There are plenty of things to do both in and around the island, yet it receives nowhere near as much attention as the flash resorts of Efate (Port Vila).
Before you read on, watch this video first!
Towns in Espiritu Santo
The largest town on Espiritu Santo is Luganville which locals generally refer to as just Santo. This is the entry point to the island. Most people end up staying somewhere in Santo as it offers the widest range of utilities for tourists.
Hog Harbour is a village located 45km north of Luganville. There aren’t really any tourist attractions in the town, but the interesting point for me is being able to sit down and chat with a few locals. The people out here are very friendly and welcoming of a story (especially if you’re Aussie and like Rugby).
There are a couple of beaches around Hog Harbour which are amazing such as Lonnoc Beach and Champagne Beach.
Beaches in Espiritu Santo
Espiritu Santo has lots of nice beaches around the north, west and south coasts. However, some more remote parts of the island are only accessible by 4WD.
Here are a few nice beaches which you can easily access with a hire a car or taxi. These beaches are reached via sealed road (well… mostly sealed road).
Lonnoc Beach is a beautiful secluded beach located 45km north of Luganville. The beach is great for swimming and kayaking, or just chilling out totally escaping from everything.
Take a right where the sign indicated Champagne Beach, 1km before reaching Hog Harbour. Follow a dirt road for about 5 minutes through farming land until you reach the Lonnoc Beach Bungalows.
Lonnoc Beach Bungalows are a great place to spend a few nights. Check out my full review of my three nights spent there.
Champagne Beach is located just down the road from Lonnoc Beach. It is a nice, white sandy beach back by jungle with a few wild cows roaming around. Champagne Beach is most well-known as a popular location for large cruise ships to stop at.
Make sure there is not a cruise arriving on the day you plan to visit; otherwise, your secluded beach will be filled with over one thousand photo-snapping tourists.
There is a 500 VTU entry fee to access Champagne Beach.
Port Olry is the northernmost town on the east coast of Espiritu Santo which is accessible by sealed roads. Port Olry has a long sandy beach with the clearest ocean water that you will find around the island. The local kids play out on the beach after school and are more than happy to socialize with foreigners.
There are four resorts lined along the beachfront at Port Olry, all offer food and drinks for day visitors. Expect to pay between 2000 and 4000 VTU for a meal, and 500 VTU for a beer. It is expensive for food in Vanuatu, but the view is well worth it.
Port Olry is located about 50 kilometers north of Luganville, about a one hour drive.
Blue Holes in Espiritu Santo
One of the most amazing things to do in Espiritu Santo is to visit a Blue Hole. A Blue Hole is a freshwater swimming hole located in the jungle. The water is a deep blue color due to the limestone which surrounds the water. The following three blue holes are the most popular to visit in Espiritu Santo. Check out my guide to Vanuatu’s Blue Lagoons for even more.
Nanda Blue Hole
Nanda Blue hole is a little more developed than Riri and Matevulu. Concrete and wooden boardwalks are built around the edge of the pool where you can relax. Nanda has the clearest and bluest water. The visibility is easily over 20 meters. The Nanda Blue hole is surrounded by thick jungle so that you are still in the natural surroundings.
Entry to Nanda Blue Hole is 1000 VTU. You can drive right down to the water.
Riri Blue Hole
Riri Blue hole can be accessed either by car or by canoe. I highly recommend taking the canoe option for an amazing 15-minute jungle river cruise. At the end of the river, the Riri Blue hole is surrounded by a few small huts, a diving platform and a swing rope.
Entry to Riri Blue Hole is 500 VTU, the canoe is another 500 VTU per person.
Matevulu Blue Hole
According to locals, the Matevulu Blue Hole has apparently turned green after too much rain fell into it. I am not sure that this is the real cause, but we decided to pass on this waterhole. Entry to Matevulu Blue Hole is 500 VTU. It is the closest blue hole to Luganville.
Getting Around Espiritu Santo
Transport options for tourists are very limited across most of Vanuatu. That also goes for Espiritu Santo.
And then, even once you figure out how transport works, it doesn’t come by very frequently.
Taxis are the quickest way of getting to your destination but are quite expensive. Expect a one-way fare from Luganville to Lonnoc Beach or Port Olry to cost between 4000 and 8000 vatu (USD 30-60). Taxis can be recognized by the red T or PT on the number plate.
There is a public bus, which runs from Port Olry to Luganville each day. The bus starts its southbound journey from Port Olry at about 6.30am. It returns north from Luganville at about 3.30pm.
There is only one trip per day each way, so don’t miss it! The standard fare for the public is 300 VTU.
Pick Up Truck
The most common transport option is a pick-up truck. This is essentially any random local already driving from Port Olry to Luganville.
To hop on a pick-up truck, stand by the side of the road and wave a car down as it passes. Some stop, others do not. A standard trip ranges between 300 and 500 VTU for which you will get to sit in the back in the sun and wind.
Pick-ups normally head south in the morning before midday and return north in the afternoon after midday. You will not have much luck trying to do it the other way around. If catching a ride north from Luganville your best chance is to wait at the main petrol station opposite the unity store.
There are very limited vehicles after dark, so plan to get around in daylight hours.
Hire cars are available at the Espiritu Hotel in Luganville for 10,000 Vatu (USD 80) per day. With a hire car, you can access the sealed roads from Luganville to Port Olry, but cannot take these cars off-road. If you break the rules, there is a 75,000 Vatu penalty.
A hire car is the best option if you have a group of people that want to explore the east coast for a day.
How to Get to Espiritu Santo
Plane – Air Vanuatu flies from Port Vila to Espiritu Santo daily. Flights are about one hour, which is definitely the quickest option. Check out the latest flights here on their website.
Ferry – There are two passenger ferries that run between Port Vila and Espiritu Santo; Vanuatu Ferry and Big Sista Ferry. The trip takes about 24 hours, which is OK if you have plenty of time to spare.
Cargo Boat – There are a few small cargo boats that run between Port Vila and Espiritu Santo. Timetables are pretty much non-existant. You just have to head down to the port and hope there is a boat around. Locals may say a boat is leaving on a certain day at a certain time but it rarely holds that timetable. You can read about my cargo boat journey from Santo to Malekula here.
Where to Next in Vanuatu?
Vanuatu is a stunning country
Be sure to check out Vanuatu’s other islands in my comprehensive Vanuatu travel guide.