Vanuatu is the adventurer’s paradise we’ve been searching for. It is a country where you can climb two active volcanoes in one day, swim in the world clearest bluest lagoons, scuba dive incredible coral reefs, then board a cargo ship overnight to a remote island. Of course, there is the option to relax in a natural geothermal hot spring and enjoy a secluded beach all to yourself with a fresh coconut in hand after all the exploring too.
The culture in Vanuatu is diverse. There are over 100 languages spoken, sometimes more than 10 dialects on one island. There are 7 main religions, with many people following more than one. Cannibalism only ended a few decades ago, and many locals still believe in various forms of Black Magic.
There are a total of 83 islands, spread over 900 kilometers. From the Torres Islands in the far north to Angehowhat in the far south. Each island has its own culture, so you can just begin to imagine what a diverse country Vanuatu is.
To see all the islands would take many months. I recommend spending five to ten days on each island. This will give you sufficient time to properly understand the local culture and have the chance to meet the local people.
Table of Contents
Vanuatu Fact File
Currency: Vatu. Check exchange rates here.
Languages; Bislama, English, French, Regional Dialects
International Airports; Port Vila, Luganville
Visa Requirements; for most countries only a departure flight is required. If you don’t want to book a departure flight just yet, you can rent one here for a minimal fee.
Phone services; Digicel, TVL
Where is Vanuatu Located?
Vanuatu is a series of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It is located about 500km North East of New Caledonia, and 1,900km East of Australia. Vanuatu stretches from approximately the latitude of Mackay to Port Douglas in Australia, all of which is referred to as the tropics.
Air Vanuatu connects Vanuatu directly with its neighboring islands including; Fiji, New Caledonia, Soloman Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
Best Time to Visit Vanuatu
The best time to visit Vanuatu is a personal opinion. Are you keen to see a certain festival such as the Naghol Land Diving, do you want to travel the off-season when prices are lower and there are fewer tourists around, or just after beautiful blue skies?
Vanuatu has a distinct wet season and dry season.
- The wet season (monsoon season) runs from November to March. It doesn’t rain all day but the humidity is incredibly high with the ambient temperature above 30 degrees. This can be uncomfortable for some.
- The dry season runs from April to October. There is much less rain and the ambient temperature ranges from 18 degrees to 28 degrees.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Vanuatu is the end of the wet season (February to March). I don’t mind the rain or the humidity in exchange for being one of the only tourists around. Heck, I even got the entire Blue Lagoon in Santo to myself! You can’t complain about that.
Vanuatu Island Guide
With 83 islands, there is plenty to see when you travel Vanuatu. Each island has it’s own unique culture, landscape, and attractions. Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular islands.
Highlights: blue lagoons, diving SS Coolidge, Champagne Beach
Santo Espiritu is commonly referred to as Santo by the locals. This is the largest of Vanuatu’s 83 islands. The east coast is well connected by sealed roads from Luganville in the south to Port Olry (pronounced Port Lory) in the north. You can take a hire car along sealed roads.
Other parts of the island such as the interior, north coast and west coast are unsealed and only accessible by 4WD.
The most popular attractions in Santo Espiritu is to visit one of Vanuatu’s Blue Lagoons. There are actually three popular Blue Lagoons here including the Riri Blue Hole, Nanda Blue Hole, and Matevulu Blue Hole. As the name suggests, the water here is incredibly blue and crystal clear (apart from Matevulu which has recently turned green).
Other popular things to do in Santo include hiking to the Millenium Cave, and SCUBA diving the SS Coolridge, and checking out the old war relics at Million Dollar Point.
Of course, your time on Santo would not be complete without enjoying one of the amazing beaches such as Champagne Beach, Port Olry, and my favorite Lonnoc Beach.
Stay in Espiritu Santo: Lonnoc Beach Bungalows – Lonnoc Beach
Highlights: Small Nambas, Big Nambas, Dugongs
Malekula is the second largest island in Vanuatu, but perhaps the most culturally diverse. There are regular flights and boats from Santo and Port Vila to Malekula.
A flight is less than one hour, while a boat takes four to eight hours from Santo, and overnight from Port Vila.
Popular attractions in Malekula include; Small Nambas Cultural Tour, Big Nambas Cultural Tour, Cannibal sites, Botko Waterfall, Losinwei Waterfall, South West Bay, and the Maskelynes. Malekula is one of the top islands to spot dugongs in the wild, though they can still be quite difficult to find.
Airports in Malekula; Nosrup, Lamap
Stay in Malekula: Nabelchel Guesthouse – Norsup
Highlights: volcanoes, hot springs
Ambrym is home to two active volcanoes each with lava lakes. Lava lakes are a very rare occurrence, there are only five locations where you can find these.
Unlike Tanna where you can drive to the top of the volcano, the volcanoes in Ambrym are more adventurous requiring two to three days of hiking.
A hike to the volcanoes can be arranged departing Craig’s Cove with options to return to Craig’s Cove or hike overland to Olal in the north or Ulei in the east.
The island has two domestic airports including Craig’s Cove and Ulei. Access to the south is via a road in terrible condition, while Olal and Rano in the north as accessed by speedboat.
Airports in Ambrym: Craig’s Cove, Ulei
Stay in Ambrym: Sam’s Guesthouse – Craig’s Cove
Highlights: Naghol Land Diving
Pentecost is one of the easternmost islands in Vanuatu. It is said that it always rains on Pentecost whether wet or dry season.
Pentecost is home of the Naghol land diving festival. Naghol runs every Saturday between April and June, marking the start of the Yam harvest season. Read more about my trip to see Naghol on Pentecost here.
Pentecost’s west coast is accessible by a terrible condition road only passable by 4WD. The east coast has no road and can only be traveled by boat. It is suggested the government will build a road on Pentecost’s east coast, but no one knows when this will happen.
Airports in Naghol: Lonorore, Sara
Stay in Pentecost: Noda Guesthouse – Waterfall Village
Efate is commonly referred to as Port Vila and is Vanuatu’s most populated island. Life in Port Vila is very different from the outer islands. The island is accessible by sealed road, has phone coverage and stable power supply.
For good snorkeling near Port Vila snorkeling head to Hideaway Island. The bay is protected by a marine reserve which means no fishing. If you stay at the Hideaway Island Resort you will get free use of snorkels, kayaks, paddleboards, free boat transfer to the mainland and avoid the 1250 vatu island entry fee.
For good surfing head to Pango beach. It is one of the only surfing spots you will find in all of Vanuatu. Water is otherwise quite flat throughout the country.
Efate is visited by many Australian tourists with direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane. There are plenty of hotels available from dorm rooms to fancy 5-star hotels.
While a trip to Port Vila s an easy way to visit Vanuatu, you will not get a view into the traditional way of life here.
Airports: Port Vila
Stay in Efate: Hideaway Island Resort – Port Vila
Additional Islands in Vanuatu
Have you been to any other islands in Vanuatu and would like to contribute content? I am open to accepting guest content on islands such as; Tanna, Banks Islands, Maewo, etc…
Getting Around Vanuatu
International Flights to Vanuatu
There are a number of international flights to Vanuatu, most departing from either Australia, New Zealand, or the other South Pacific Islands.
- Air Vanuatu is the national airline with flights to Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea
- Virgin Australia and Qantas both operate flights to Vanuatu. Flights from Brisbane are direct, while Sydney and Melbourne require a stopover
- Air New Zealand operates direct flights from Auckland to Vanuatu
Domestic Flights in Vanuatu
Most people arrive in Vanuatu by plane into Santo Espiritu or Port Vila. Domestic flights provide travel routes to most of the larger islands.
- Air Vanuatu is the largest domestic flight provider covering the most islands with the most frequent schedules. Their website is fairly good with lots of domestic flights and direct booking available.
- Bel Airways also has regular flights between many of the outer islands and Port Vila. Their website contains minimal information and actually looks inactive. To check flight schedules and prices you will need to call them directly to tell you route and date.
- Unity Airlines and Air Taxi Vanuatu have chartered flight services. There are many flights between the outer islands and Port Vila which you can try to board. Call them directly to inquire for more information.
It is common for domestic flights to arrive and depart early in Vanuatu. Domestic flights require check-in two hours before the scheduled departure and it is suggested to arrive up to three hours early. I have almost missed a flight from Malekula to Ambrym because of this, so take this warning quite seriously!
Domestic flights in Vanuatu have a standard 200 vatu airport tax. This is paid after check-in, and before departure.
The standard weight allowance for a domestic flight is 10kg check-in, and 5kg carry on. Excess baggage may be rejected, or have an additional charge. If you book your domestic flights in conjunction with an international Air Vanuatu flight, your baggage allowance can be increased to 23kg,
Boats in Vanuatu
Boats are a cheaper way of traveling around Vanuatu. However, use cargo boats and ferries with caution. Schedules change on an hourly basis, and can quite often be canceled due to poor weather. Be sure to follow up on your boat schedule daily to be sure of its arrival and departure.
There are small cargo boats that service the outer islands from Port Vila and Santo Espiritu. Some cargo lines include; Makila, Tinawan, Freedom, Regim and Young Bloodz.
These smaller cargo boats are much more basic than the larger boat services. Expect the main cabin to be outdoors, without seats or any sleeping provisions. Toilets are terrible, best not to have to use them. There will be no food or drinks available onboard, so come prepared. Read my full review on taking a cargo boat in Vanuatu.
The best way to check cargo boat schedules and prices is by going directly to the port and asking for the manager. If the manager is not around, talk to the locals there, but beware of getting conflicting information from different people. They are not trying to trick you, may not actually know the latest schedules either.
Traveling by Road in Vanuatu
Apart from Efate and Santo’s east coast, roads in Vanuatu are typically unsealed, poor quality and only passable by 4WD. Travel is slow, usually no faster than 30km/hr.
The cheapest way to travel is by catching a passing vehicle. You can flag down a vehicle by waving at them or whistling. A standard fare starts from 200 vatu and increases with distance. It is easy to catch vehicles on a weekday. Catching vehicles on a weekend can involve a long wait, up to a few hours, as these are church days, not working days.
If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you can generally charter a vehicle from your guesthouse. A standard fare starts from 2000 vatu and increases with distance.
Drinking in Vanuatu
Drinking kava at a Nakamal is common for many people in Vanuatu. It is more common in rural areas, where it is used as a way to relax after a day of work.
Beer is consumed and available in many places. In rural areas is it common to find that all shops are completely sold out of Tusker over the weekend, with only wine available. Beer is generally warm, not cold, as most people do not have their own refrigerators and rely on a communal one.
There are bars and nightclubs in Port Vila, some smaller hotel bars in Santo, and generally no bars or nightclubs on the outer islands.
Vanuatu Travel Videos
Here are a few travel videos I made while in Vanuatu. Give them a like, a comment, and be sure to subscribe to the channel!