Vanuatu was one of the key countries in my world tour since I saw a great report on TV. Everything seemed so great that I absolutely had to include it in my trip!
Vanuatu is a country of 80 islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is part of what is called Melanesia.
We chose to visit the following places: Port Vila (Capital) on Efate Island, Espiritu Santo Island, Banks Islands with Gaua and Torres Islands, Ambrym and Tanna. We had almost a month and left in October 2019.
The provocative outfits are to be avoided. Clothes too short for girls are to be avoided too and the “top less” to banish; respect the population, you are not home there.
Vanuatu is expensive. If you do not have a budget, forget about this destination right away. There is no point in coming to “zone” and do no activity. Find out about accommodation rates and activities before you take your plane tickets.
There are distributors on Santo and Efate and in big cities. On the other hand think to take a lot of cash if you go on the other islands.
Camping and “zoning” homestay to sleep in his garden are not the custom here. Avoid doing this so that people are not embarrassed. There are however some campsites but not everywhere. Inquire well.
Internet & Tel
You can buy a local SIM card with internet and phone communication, both of which are separable from each other. For example for 1000 vts (almost 8 euros) you with about 30min of communication; and for 3000 vts you have 6GB of internet for 30 days.
Do not be surprised if the people you live with do not dine with you. It’s their way of showing you that they respect you. They will wait until you have finished and you have left the table to clear and dine in turn.
Watch out for the fish!
Do not eat fish unless you’re sure it’s fish that has been caught in the open sea. The coral is infected with a parasite that will give you what they call in the Pacific, the “scratch”. You will have, at best itching, at worst, in addition to that, vomiting vomiting and diarrhea. All this will be accompanied by an intolerance for a good year to all fish and alcohol! Be careful !
Kava is the local drink made from the root of a pepper tree, the Piper methysticum. The roots are crushed and pressed to extract the juice. It is appreciated for its euphoric and relaxing effects, which is observed after several glasses. It has even become very “trendy” abroad, in countries where alcohol consumption is very problematic.
It was and is still used during rituals (I advise you to read this article: https://journals.openedition.org/jso/6483).
It is drunk in a place called the “Nakamal”. It is a specialized bar. There are more than 300 in Vanuatu and not all serve the same Kava. Tradition has it that after toasting in bishman, people drink the kava dry and rinse their mouths and spit out the water. The Nakamals are bars that open in the evening, where there is not much light and no music, so that the effects are felt better and faster. In other words nothing comes to disturb your mind.
It was considered by the missionaries as the “drink of the devil” in the twentieth century. It was even banned by the British and French colonizers. Since Vanuatu’s independence in 1980, kava has been officially rehabilitated as a symbol of traditionalism, a lucrative alternative and harmless alternative to alcohol.
Tips to organize your stay
After having a chat with locals, do not trust your paper guides! In general they are not up to date and in Vanuatu the hotels and restaurants open and close at all costs. Same for excursions.
We were put in contact with an expatriate organizer: Isabelle. She and her former partner have created the company “Espiritu Santo” which offers assistance to travelers staying in Vanuatu. She also has a Facebook group on which many travelers ask questions for their trip. You tell her what you would like to see and do and she will tell you where to go. She will take care of everything to book for you and will offer accommodation and activities that fit your budget. She knows everyone on Espiritu Santo and many other islands. She just takes a fee of 1000 vts per person (7.8 euros) and the rest is between her and the providers (but she does not take much and it allows her to live in Vanuatu). She is really nice and very good advice.
As it is not easy to plan your stay in Vanuatu (little information available), do not hesitate to go through her.
Air connections are with Air Vanuatu. Most flights depart from Santo Island; there are no flights to all islands every day. You can see the schedule of flights on the site of Air Vanuatu. The flights usually last less than two hours.
For travelers on domestic flights departing from Port Vila, a provincial tax of 200 vts per person will be payable after check-in.
Pay attention to the weight of domestic flights. You are allowed only 10 kilos in hold and 5 kilos in hand luggage. At last news the supplement was 159 vts per kilo (not very expensive).
There is local public transport which takes about 200 per person. As in many places in the Pacific, there are no bus schedules and even though there are a few bus stops, the driver stops anywhere. You will have to wait and stop the bus at your convenience.
The license plates of the buses start with a B.
You can take taxis everywhere.
Taxis cost 100 vts / km. The trip to and from Port Villa Airport officially costs 2000vts.
Taxis license plates start with a T.
Another type of transport that you will see. The license plates of the pick-up trucks start with PT (Public Transport).
Port Olry – Luganville
To return to Luganville from Port Olry there are three solutions: take a bus (if you see it), leave with taxis that go on Luganville very early in the morning (around 6h 1000 vts the race per person) or order a taxi more late in the morning or in the day but as it comes to get you empty it will be more expensive (5000 vts the race). Beware on Sunday it will provide a taxi to 5000 vts.
Avoid staying in “resorts” and expensive hotels. The majority is held by Australians. Try instead to live the premises that are invaded by foreigners and who need more money. This is also why you should not hesitate to contact Isabelle who works with everyone including a lot of local and she will satisfy all budgets! She will give you a list with all the possibilities.
* Cafe Arte in Luganville
Hotel-restaurant in Luganville. The restaurant opens when the owner wants it. Baila is super nice; he is an expatriate half Senegalese half French.
It is 10-15min walk from the market.
The room is clean and spacious and there is a private bathroom.
The hotel faces the sea.
Price: 4500 per night.
* Bungalow Chez Mauricen on Port Olry
On Port Olry and I do not regret my choice. There are three types of bungalows in Port Olry: 5000 vts the bungalow with cold shower and breakfast / 4000-4500 vts the bungalow with cold shower, breakfast and to share with strangers / 6000 vts the bungalow with hot water. The bungalows are basic but on the beach with a great view. The staff is super nice. There is electricity in the morning from 5 am-12pm and then from 5pm until 10pm. There is a wifi connection. The restaurant serves very good home-cooked food for around 1200 vts.
Note: To return to Luganville from Port Olry there are three solutions: take a bus (if you see it), leave with taxis that go on Luganville very early in the morning (around 6h 1000 vts the race per person) or order a Taxi later in the morning or in the day but as it will pick you up empty it will be more expensive (5000 vts the race).
* Room at Jocelyne’s place
Jocelyne rents a house with two bedrooms. One with a double bed and another with two single beds. It’s 2500 vts per person at night. The bathroom is shared and there is a functional kitchen. There is possibility of doing the laundry. It’s next to the main street and mini markets (and kava bars!).
There are small restaurants not very expensive.
You can order or buy sandwiches at the convenience stores.
There are cheap fruits and vegetables at the market.
Behind the market there are small houses where you can eat cheap local dishes.
Warning: I repeat it here, do not eat fish unless you’re sure it’s fish that was caught in the open sea. The coral is infected with a parasite that will give you what they call in the Pacific , the “scratch”. You will have, at best itching, at worst, in addition to that, vomiting and diarrhea. All this will be accompanied by an intolerance for a good year to all fish and alcohol!
There is really a lot to do on Santo. I’ll give you the main ones but do not hesitate to ask people who are staying there if there is more to do if you stay on the island for a very long time. But already with what I put below you will have something to occupy a few days!
What:Departure in the morning at 8am to explore the east coast of Santo. Damascus our guide explained a lot about the fauna and flora. We will make a first stop at a blue hole (Jackie’s Blue Hole). It is a source of fresh water in a large hole whose depth and surrounding vegetation give its superb color to the water. It is really awesome.
We stopped at three beautiful beaches: “Champagne Beach” (the Americans used to drink champagne on the beach where the name), and Port Olry.
Price:With guide, 5000 vts per person. You can also rent a car but it may cost you more.
Accommodations: There are accommodations with restaurants on the three beaches. I stayed on Port Olry and I do not regret my choice. There are three types of bungalows in Port Olry: 5000 vts with cold shower and breakfast / 4000-4500 vts bungalow with cold shower, breakfast and to share with strangers / 6000 bungalow with hot water. The bungalows are basic but on the beach with a great view. The staff is super nice. To return to Luganville from Port Olry there are three solutions: take a bus (if you see it), leave with taxis that go on Luganville very early in the morning (around 6h 1000 vts the race per person) or order a taxi more late in the morning or in the day but as it comes to get you empty it will be more expensive (5000 vts the race). Beware on Sunday it will provide a taxi to 5000 vts.
What:A blue hole is a source of fresh water in a large hole whose depth and surrounding vegetation give its beautiful color to the water.
Where:On the east coast the clearest is the Jackie’s blue hole. The coolest is the “Matevulu blue hole”; he is tall and there are lianas to jump into the water. There are many others.
How:You can take a taxi to go there, rent a car or try to find a bus. Otherwise the tours on the east coast make you stop at the Jackie’s blue hole. For the “Matevulu”, you can get to the Turtle Bay Resort by taxi and rent a kayak for 1500-2500 vts if single or double, and then paddle for well 45min. You will sail on the river, it’s beautiful. Otherwise you can take a driver to drop you off.
*Champagne Beach & Lonnoc
* Champagne Beach & Lonnoc
What:Vanuatu’s most beautiful beach (according to Vanuatu). White sand that almost hurts the eyes with the sun. Turquoise and blue water of which I can not say exactly the type; in any case it’s really beautiful! The beach is surrounded by green vegetation, maybe that’s what gives it its color too. The beach of Lonnoc is 5min drive. There is a way to kayak and snorkel.
Price:Included in the towers or less than 1000vts.
Other:There is a restaurant on the beach and sanitary facilities (shower and toilet).
* Port Olry
What:Located in one of the largest villages of Vanuatu, this beach offers a great panorama. The colors are beautiful! It’s truly pleasent. There is enough to stay and eat on site. There is a way to kayak and snorkel. At low tide it is possible to walk to an island opposite.
What: It’s a private island within 30min of the Turtle Bay resort on the east coast. The sand is beautiful. There are many corals on the beach. It is one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots in Vanuatu.
Where:The boat can pick you up at different places. We combined this trip with the “Matevulu blue hole”. We had to pay 4000 vts taxi return trip to the Turtle Bay lodge (which is very nice and we had lunch after the kayak trip).
Rate:1000 vts per person, payable to the owner of the island. 2000 vts return per person to pay the captain of the boat.
What: The coolest thing you can do on Santo! The driver picks you up at your accommodation and first brings you to the office where you will meet the son of the village chief from where the excursion will begin. He will explain your day and you will learn that this tour allows the children of the village to have a school. There are 45min of 4×4 on a really horrible road (try to be in the vehicle), then 20min walk to the village. There you will leave business to change you back (take all the necessary spares because you will be soaked). Then you will have a little less than two hours of walking on a muddy path (there will be wobbly wooden ladders to go down) before arriving at the entrance of the cave. Your guide will lend you a waterproof flashlight and you will walk 400 meters into the cave. You will see bats and swallows. The cave is beautiful, take the time to look at its geology. At the exit you will have your lunch then the canyoning part will begin. You will be equipped with a lifejacket that will allow you to relax in the water and admire the beautiful landscape in which you will be swimming. The last part will take you back to the original village in 30 minutes walk.
Price:7500 vts day + 2000 vts round trip transportation, all per adult and 5500 vts + 2000 vts per child.
Note:Plan your picnic and spares. Do not take anything electronic that is not waterproof where you can not protect. For shoes … take sneakers that hold well to the feet because the mud can be very deep in places and you will slip. I had water shoes, it was good in the water but I went all the way barefoot (it’s not a problem).
Accommodation:It is possible to spend the night there and enjoy the next day to do activities. In the evening people show you how to prepare “Kava”.
Another option: There is also the Water Cave which costs less. It is 5500 vts the day with transportation and without lunch. For 500 vts more they show you how to prepare the “Kava”.
What: Diving day and night. You can also pass your level 1. The Vanuatu sites are very rich and recognized. You will see many shipwrecks and flash fish night that can only be seen here.
Where:CORAL QUAYS Club
Rates:Rates include home collection + transfer to the starting site of the dive + snack (for any double dive only) + equipment rental (it’s 1000 the day)
– 1 dive: 7000 vts / 8000 vts for the night
– 2 dives: 12500 vts / or 14000 for a day and night
– 3 dives: 18500 vts with the one at night
– 1 baptism: 2300 vts