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Vanuatu

Photo © Sander938

Travel Guide Oceania Melanesia Vanuatu

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Introduction

Making tuluk

Making tuluk

© All Rights Reserved pippamatt

Melanesian Vanuatu lies just south of the Solomon Islands, making it a favourite destination among Australians. It presents a self-confident palette of cultural influences interwoven with traditional island ways. In Port Vila, the French quarter and Chinatown highlight the vibrancy of modern Vanuatu - it's a town firmly locked into the future while retaining the emblems of its past with pride.

The real attraction of Vanuatu, though, is its phenomenal sightseeing. Underwater visibility at its peak hits fifty metres, revealing limitless schools of colourful fish darting around spectacular coral reefs, as well as a formidable array of submerged WWII wreckages. Above sea level, the scenery only gets more amazing. Tall volcanic peaks present a stunning backdrop to any photo, as well as lush ground for an eco-tourist's dream-come-true.

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Brief History

Espiritu Santo was the first island in Vanuatu to be discovered by Europeans, back in 1606 when Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós, saw what he thought to be a southern continent. It was not until 1768 that Europeans returned when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. It was in 1774 that Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence in 1980 at which time it became the Republic of Vanuatu.

In the 1990s Vanuatu experienced political instability which resulted in a more decentralised government. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute amongst allegations of corruption in the government of Maxime Carlot Korman. New elections have been called for a number of times since 1997, the most recent in 2004.

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Geography

Vanuatu is an island archipelago consisting of approximately 82 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited), with about 1,300 kilometres north to south distance between the outermost islands. Two of these islands (Matthew and Hunter) are also claimed by France as part of the French collectivity of New Caledonia. Fourteen of Vanuatu's islands have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometres. The country lies between latitudes 13° and 21°S, and longitudes 166° and 171°E. From largest to smallest, these are Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate, Erromango, Ambrym, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambae or Aoba, Vanua Lava, Gaua, Maewo, Malo, and Anatom or Aneityum. The nation's largest towns are the capital Port Vila, situated on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo. The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1,879 metres, on the island of Espiritu Santo. Vanuatu's total area is (roughly 12,274 square kilometres) of which its land base is very limited (roughly 4,700 square kilometres); most of the islands are steep, with unstable soils, and little permanent freshwater. One estimate (2005) is only 9% of land is used for agriculture (7% permanent crops, 2% arable land). The shoreline is usually rocky with fringing reefs and no continental shelf, dropping rapidly into the ocean depths. There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, as well as several underwater ones. Volcanic activity is common with an ever-present danger of a major eruption; a recent nearby undersea eruption of 6.4 magnitude occurred in November 2008 with no casualties, and an eruption occurred in 1945. Vanuatu is recognised as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rain forests. It is part of the Australasia ecozone, which includes New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.

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Regions/Provinces

Vanuatu consists of 6 provinces.

  • Malampa
  • Penama
  • Sanma
  • Shefa
  • Tafea
  • Torba

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Cities/Towns

  • Port Vila - The capital
  • Luganville
  • Port Olry
  • Isangel
  • Pango
  • Whitesands

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Sights and Activities

Volcanoes

yasur

yasur

© All Rights Reserved debnic

What the Hawaii Islands are for the east of the Pacific, Vanuatu is for the west. The islands have many volcanoes to see and explore as the islands are located right on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Probably the most famous one is Yasur volcano on Tanna Island. This volcanoe is easy to reach and although it's active year round, it is unusual for it to be too active to approach. Therefore, the Yasur volcano has become an extremely popular tourist attraction not to be missed when you are visiting this part of Vanuatu. Apart from Tanna, also the islands of Ambrym, Lopevi, Kuwai, Ambae and Gaua have nice volcanoes, many of which are just beautiful only to look at.

Chief Roi Mata's Domain

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is the first and so far only site in Vanuatu that is on the Unesco World Heritage List. The site consists of three sites on the islands of Efate, Lelepa and Artok dating back to the early 17th century AD. They all refer to the life and death of the last paramount chief, or Roi Mata, of what is now Central Vanuatu.

Vanuatu Waters alive with fish

Vanuatu Waters alive with fish

© All Rights Reserved StephenJen


It includes Roi Mata’s residence, the site of his death and Roi Mata’s mass burial site and is closely connected to the oral traditions surrounding the chief and his moral values. Also, the site is important regarding the convergence between oral tradition and archaeology. It witnesses the persistence of Roi Mata’s social reforms and his resolution to resolve conflicts. Nowadays, this form of life partly still is relevant to the people living on these islands.

Wreck diving

Vanuatu is famous for its diving opportunities and one of the most important diving sites is located on the island of Espiritu Santo. The biggest draw to Espiritu Santo Island is the wreck of the SS President Coolidge. This was a WWII troop carrier sunk by friendly mines in 1942. Most travellers to Espiritu Santo are divers who only come for the purpose of exploring this famous wreck. That said, there are more options on the island, regarding diving, snorkelling or just relaxing on one of the beaches.

Other sights and activities

mid air

mid air

© All Rights Reserved pippamatt

  • You simply cannot go to Vanuatu without Scuba-diving or at very least snorkeling in some of the clearest water and surrounded by colourful fish and sea-life. There are numerous dive and snorkel tour operators in Port Vila so be sure to stop in and see what they can offer.
  • Kava drinking - Vanuatu claims to have the strongest in the Pacific!
  • Bungee jumping - originally from Vanuatu, but probably best avoided in the traditional way.

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Events and Festivals

Check the Events and Festivals Website for an overview.

  • Toka ceremony on the island of Tanna - See more on the Tanna Island website.
  • Malvatumauri Arts Festival
  • Vanua Lava Day in the Vanua Lava Island on September
  • Land Diving festival at Pentecost Island between April and June each year. This famous ritual influenced the creation of bungee.
  • Sand Drawing Festival
  • Fête de la Musique
  • Yam and Magic Festival
  • Port-Sandwich Festival
  • Nalawan Festival
  • Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival
  • Culinary Arts Show
  • Nambawan Festival

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Weather

Girl on Vanuatu Beach

Girl on Vanuatu Beach

© All Rights Reserved StephenJen

Vanuatu has a warm and humid tropical climate with breezes bringing some relief of the stiffling heat during the afternoon. Temperatures typically are between 23 °C at night and around 30 °C to 32 °C during the day. The rainy season lasts from November to April with occasionaly typhoons hitting the islands. The water temperature ranges from 22 °C in winter to 28 °C in the summer. Cool between April and September, the days become hotter and more humid starting in October. South easterly trade winds occur from May to October. Vanuatu has a long rainy season, with significant rainfall usually occurring almost every month. The wettest and hottest months are December through to April, which also constitute the cyclone season. The driest months are June through November. Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimetres per year but can be as high as 4,000 millimetres in the northern islands.

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Getting there

Plane

The national carrier of Vanuatu is Air Vanuatu and most flights arrive at Bauerfield International Airport (VLI) in the capital Port Vila. International destinations with Air Vanuatu include Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Nouméa and Sydney. Fiji Airways flies to/from Nadi in Fiji and Honiara in the Solomon Islands. Other airlines serving Port Vila are Aircalin based in New Caledonia and serving Noumea as well, Air New Zealand serving Auckland, and Virgin Australia serving Brisbane. Fiji Airways is the best way to connect to North America and Japan.

There are connections from and to Espiritu Santo: Santo-Pekoa International Airport (SON) serves Brisbane and Sydney with Air Vanuatu.

By Boat

The MV Havannah runs a monthly service out of Noumea in New Caledonia to Port Vila, Malekula and Santo in Vanuatu.
Many cruise ships visit Port Vila and cruises are a very popular way of exploring Vanuatu and the surrounding Islands.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Air Vanuatu, operating under the name Vanair for domestic flights, offers many daily scheduled flight connections. Domestic destinations include Aniwa, Craig Cove, Dillon's Bay, Emae, Ipota, Lamap, Lamen Bay, Longana, Lonorore, Luganville, Norsup, Paama, Sara, Sota, South West Bay, Tanna, Tongoa, Torres, Ulei, Valesdir and Walaha.
Other airlines include Unity Airlines and Air Club Vila, offering charter flights to many islands.

By Car

Rental cars are available at Port Vila and the airport, including normal, 4wd cars and smaller jeeps. Several roads are in good condition, but on the smaller islands, roads are of a lesser quality, being dirt tracks. You need a national driver's licence and traffic drives on the right on the Vanuatu islands.

By Bus

Minibuses travel in and around Port Vila and the island. You can wave one down as there are no scheduled services. Getting of the bus is just as easy, just shout.

By Boat

There are several options of getting around the Vanuatu islands by boat. Some of them are modern catamarans, some of them are nothing more than a sleeping place on a cargo ship. But it's a fun way of getting around and you will meet lots of locals. The options are as followed:

  • The powered catamaran Diepsea, operated by Island Gateway (islandgateway@vanuatu.com.vu), travels to Espiritu Santo via the Shepherds, Epi and Malekula each Friday. The returns trips goes via Ambae, Maewo, Pentecost, Ambrym and Paama on Saturday. Another option with this boat is a loop that travels to Tanna on Monday or Tuesday via Erromango, returning to Port Vila on Tuesday or Wednesday. The catamaran has room for almost 60 people and has comfortable seating, refreshments and onboard entertainment.
  • Pelsaert (adventure@vanuatu.com.vu) travels to Tanna twice-weekly, arriving at Port Resolution on Tuesday and Lenakel on Thursday. Fridays it travels to Litslits on Malekula (14 hours), and on to Luganville on Santo. The return trip to Port Vila is on Sunday and there is room for up to 70 persons.
  • The cargo ship Brisk takes passengers from Port Vila to Santo, Pentecost, Ambrym, Epi and back to Port Vila.
  • The Dinh 1 travels from Port Vila to Tanna, Malekula and Santo.
  • The Sarafenua (baboak@ifira.com.vu) goes from Port Vila to Epi, Paama, Santo, Pentecost, Ambrym, Ambae, Erromango, Tanna, Aneityum, Futuna and Aniwa. Travel on all these three cargo ships is infrequent and generally not comfortable. It is an adventure though!

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Red Tape

Most people do not need a visa. A valid passport (at least 4 months after leaving the country) and proof of onward or return transport is enough.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The local currency is the Vatu (VT). Coins include 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 VT pieces.
There are notes of 200 VT, 500 VT, 1,000 VT, and 5,000 VT.

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Language

The main languages spoken in Vanuatu are Bislama, French and English though, like most of the pacific islands, there are dialects and variations in different regions. Bislama is a pidgin language – and now a creole in urban areas – which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the whole population of Vanuatu, generally as a second language.

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Eat

Lap Lap

The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this is either manioc (cassava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake.

Tuluk

Tuluk is a variation of lap lap with the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.

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Drink

Kava

Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travellers have experienced a hangover from its consumption. Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travellers to try. Kava is served in a "shell" or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It's handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterwards, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant. It is worth noting that the kava available in Vanuatu is generally a much stronger variety than the kava found in other Pacific islands such as Fiji, where it is comparatively mild. Four or five large shells in a typical kava bar will leave the inexperienced drinker reeling (or worse) after a couple of hours, and it can take a day to recover. Good advice to experience kava as pleasantly as possible is to go with an experienced drinker and follow their lead, take the small shells, and stop after an hour and a half. It's quite easy to find a local kava drinking buddy, just ask around your hotel and you'll find volunteers - maybe at the cost of a shell or two.
Kava bars (or Nakamals) are normally dark places with very dim or no lighting at all. This is because bright lights and kava intoxication do not go together well - so be careful with flash photography, which may not be received very well in such venues.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Vanuatu. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Vanuatu. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

Hepatitis B and Tuberculosis exist throughout the islands but should be of no concern to travellers provided they take normal precautions. If you travel for more than 3 months, it might be wise to get your vaccinations though.

Malaria is prevalent and most travel agents and travel doctors will recommend you take preventative medication. Also use mosquito repellent (50% DEET), sleep under a mosquito net and wear long sleeves when it's dark. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations though.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

The sun is hot and sunblock a must in Vanuatu - even in winter. Remember to re-apply after swimming or you may end up as red as a beetroot after a relaxing day of snorkeling. It is not unheard of for tourists to have required MedEvac after sustaining serious sunburn and heatstroke. Keep in mind, too, that many anti-malarial tablets increase the likleihood of sunburn significantly.

There is one hospital in Port Vila, another in Luganville. There are small clinics also throughout the islands. There are several English and French GP's on the Islands, speak to your staff at your accommodation and they can get you in contact with one should you need it.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Vanuatu is, on the whole, a safe and friendly environment. You are unlikely to encounter any trouble unless you do something extremely provocative, though crime rates are said to be increasing, particularly in Port Vila at night. Take the same precautions you would anywhere else. There are no seriously poisonous snakes, spiders, or insects on Vanuatu. However, there are various poisonous aquatic animals that you should beware of if you are swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the area. The most dangerous of these is the stonefish. Saltwater crocodiles are present, but the likelihood of an attack is minimal.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Vanuatu flag

Map of Vanuatu

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Capital
Port Vila
Population
199,000
Government
Parliamentary republic
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic), Traditional Religion
Languages
Bislama, English, French
Calling Code
+678
Nationality
Vanuatuan

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Vanuatu Travel Helpers

  • zeak_vuv

    i run a adventure comapny and i know alot about backpacking in vanautu and the best places to go out to eat, drink and party also know the best tours and the best adventures you can have ib vanuatu

    Ask zeak_vuv a question about Vanuatu
  • SLOAN

    Can give advice on several of it's 83 islands. A very primitive country, it is gorgeous and safe to travelers. Learning the universal language there is not that hard, most can be understood to an English speaker. I spent lots of time with the locals, can give advice on their unique customs and lovely nature.

    Ask SLOAN a question about Vanuatu
  • RASPUTIN

    I live in Port Vila so I know my way roundthis place and around Vanuatu very well. If yu need any local knowledge then send me an email. I guess for a traveller arriving in Vanuatu for the first time, it would be helpful to have someone to call upon for help, information or just a friendly chat

    If you feel inclined, send me an email

    lukim yu

    rod

    Ask RASPUTIN a question about Vanuatu

Accommodation in Vanuatu

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