Why go to Vanuatu?
Vanuatu is located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 kms east of Australia. It's near the other Pacific island nations of New Caledonia and Fiji, making it an ideal destination for those exploring Oceania and island hopping between countries. Vanuatu has over 80 islands to explore. About 65 of them are inhabited, with the biggest populations and towns located on Efate and Espiritu Santo. There are beautiful beaches, stunning swimming holes and waterfalls, active volcanoes and lush rainforests awaiting visitors. You can choose to have a resort-style holiday or do what we did and travel between the islands while staying in local-style bungalows.
People in Vanuatu are some of the happiest people on the planet. Since the end of colonisation in 1980, all land is owned by local people and cannot be bought by foreigners. Most people live in rural areas where they have access to their own land to live and grow their own food and crops such as kava. They are able to sell or exchange what they grow to support their families. Ni-Vanuatu people (or 'ni-Vans') have a strong connection to their land and traditions passed down generations. Vanuatu actually translates to 'our land forever' in many of the local languages. It's possible to see villages that still practise traditional ways of life (known as 'kastom') on some of the outer islands, such as Tanna.
This happiness transfers to their welcoming of visitors to their country. They are proud of what nature provides them and they take pleasure in sharing their knowledge with you. You will often have people stop to check that you're OK and if you need any help. Of course this is sometimes out of self-interest (e.g., taxi drivers), but more often we found local people genuinely want to ensure you're having a good experience in Vanuatu.
English and French along with the national language of Bislama are the official languages of Vanuatu. There are also over 100 local languages spoken around the islands. We found English more prevalent on certain islands (e.g., Efate) and French on others (e.g., Espiritu Santo). Generally everyone working at accommodations, tourist attractions, major shops etc. could understand and help us when needed. Bislama is a creole language combining Melanesian grammar with English vocabulary, so it's possible to understand some of the language. For example, 'tankyu tumas' ('thank you too much') is the Bislama version of 'thank you very much'. Definitely an easy and polite phrase to use while travelling in Vanuatu.
When should I go to Vanuatu?
There is a cyclone season in Vanuatu from November to March. This is also their 'wet season', when the weather is hot, wet and humid. You may find fewer tourists and potentially more availability for booking accommodation and attractions at this time. We did find the time around Christmas and New Year to be an exception to this rule.
Nevertheless, we travelled to Vanuatu from mid-December to mid-January. It was definitely hot and humid, although there was hardly any rain for the first two weeks and it didn't interrupt any of our plans. More rain does fall in the northernmost islands than those in the middle and south. We experienced heavy rain for nearly a week in the new year, which meant we missed out on some planned activities in Gaua. February is the hottest month and March is the wettest, so we recommend avoiding those two months if possible.
For the best weather, we recommend travelling to Vanuatu from April to October. The weather will be drier and more temperate, but still warm enough to enjoy water-based activities. Even in August, the coldest month of the year, the minimum average is 17 degrees celsius and the maximum average is 27 degrees celsius on Efate. It's slightly warmer in the northern islands and slightly cooler in the southern islands.
Do I need a visa?
European Union citizens (except Ireland) and some other non-EU European citizens (e.g., Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein) do not require a visa for any 90-day stay within a 180-day period. Citizens from 89 other countries including Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, China and Japan may visit for up to 30 days without a visa. You must show evidence of a return or onward trip and have sufficient funds for your stay. You must also provide information on the purpose of your stay and your accommodation on arrival. Your passport must also be valid for at least another six months and have at least one blank page.
Transport in Vanuatu
Around the islands
Efate has a good amount of local buses that you can catch to get around the island. Espiriru Santo also has local buses, although not as many or as frequently. These buses are actually mini vans operated by individuals. Look for a red 'B' on the registration plates to identify them. The main bus exchanges are at the market places in Port Vila in Efate and Luganville in Espiritu Santo. Generally there aren't any other bus stops as such - simply keep an eye out for them when standing on the side of the road and flag them down. If they have space, they will stop and you can check with the driver that they are heading where you need to go. They will generally drop you off right in front of your destination or at least at the entrance from the main road. You will be charged the same price as locals. It's the cheapest way to get around.
The second option is to catch a taxi. They cost more than local buses but are more convenient and faster. They are also a lot easier to use if you're carrying a lot of luggage as the local buses may not always have room for it. There are more taxis in Espiritu Santo than on Efate and this competition means they are a bit cheaper. Look for a red 'T' on the registration plate to confirm they're a licensed taxi.
The final option is to catch a ride with a local. It's a common practice in Vanuatu and is safe, with the usual warning to still be aware of your surroundings and that there's always the risk of choosing someone who is not a good driver (or worse). You'll see a lot of people in the back of utes (pick-up trucks) or trucks. You might notice a red 'C' on the registration plate that indicates they are cargo operators. This cargo often includes humans! Usually some payment would still be expected for taking you. But you never know your luck - we had a lovely family take us for a short trip in the back of their ute when we were staying in Luganville without any payment required.
Between the islands
Air Vanuatu operates routes between all the major islands of Vanuatu. Depending on the route, services may be multiple times a week (e.g., Efate to Espiritu Santo) or just once a week (e.g., Espiritu Santo to Gaua). Prices are reasonable and have been fixed due to the locals relying on their services. It must be said that they aren't the most reliable operators. We had multiple flights cancelled on us and are still waiting for refunds (as of writing this, it's been nearly two months). Although they blamed the weather, we discovered that they had major operational issues with their planes and pilots quitting the company. Our strong recommendation is to allow additional time when travelling with Air Vanuatu to allow for possible delays.
Another option to travel between the major islands is to go on a copra freighter. Copra is the dried-out white flesh of coconuts from which coconut oil is derived. If you go to the main wharves of each island, you can speak to the harbour master to check what freighters are travelling to your destination. You can then speak to the captain(s) to see if they're willing to have you on board. The copra freighters normally travel slowly along the coast of the islands, so would be more suitable to backpackers who are flexible with their schedules. It won't be the most comfortable journey and we'd recommend going with a partner for safety reasons. We tried to catch one to travel to Gaua when our Air Vanuatu flight was cancelled, but they were staying in port due to an approaching low system.
Smaller islands are reachable by boats operated by locals or in some cases by the resorts. For example, you can reach Nguna Island and Pele Island from Efate by banana boats operated by locals on those islands. You can also reach Aore Island by using a free boat service operated by Aore Island Resort.
Money and connectivity
The local currency is the vatu (VT). It's still very much a cash society in Vanuatu and you need to ensure you are always carrying some with you for shopping and paying for attractions. ATM access is good in the bigger cities of Port Vila in Efate and Luganville in Espiritu Santo. ATMs may be available in some of the bigger villages at markets or shops, but can't be guaranteed.
We found an ATM from ANZ (Australia and New Zealand) bank to withdraw some money when arriving at the airport in Port Vila. After staying in Vanuatu for longer, we discovered that either National Bank of Vanuatu or BSP (Bank South Pacific) have lower fees and higher withdrawal limits.
Wi-fi is a luxury in Vanuatu. Some of the resorts and restaurants may offer it, but it's the exception rather than the rule. The couple of times we did find it, the quality was OK. We highly recommend that you have access to a local 4G mobile network if you need to be online during your trip.
We bought a SIM card on arrival at the airport in Port Vila. The two providers are Digicel and Vodafane. They have small kiosks at the airport in the arrivals hall as soon as you get through customs. They both offer a tourist SIM on the 4G network to get started. They only have physical SIMs - we didn't notice the option for e-SIMs anywhere in Vanuatu. You can top up your balance at both bigger stores in the main towns and in small stores in villages across Vanuatu. The reception can be problematic on the smaller outer islands. In hindsight, we probably should have gone with a SIM card from Vodafone as their 4G coverage seemed better than Digicel's.
Our itinerary for travelling in Vanuatu for two weeks
Day one - arrival
We flew into Port Vila from Melbourne, Australia. Most international flights arrive in Port Vila although there are also some now that go to Luganville in Espiritu Santo. We arrived at Port Vila after the plane was delayed by a couple of hours, which meant it was quite late at night. After grabbing our luggage, we got stuck in a logjam of luggage trolleys with locals waiting for what we assumed was the line for customs. It turns out they were actually queueing up to exchange money. Luckily a customs officer realised what was happening and asked the locals to move aside for us.
There were more locals than tourists going through customs. It looked like a lot of them had completed a working visa in Australia as they were loaded up with sneakers, speakers, and other Western goods not easily available in Vanuatu.
For unique accommodation near Port Vila, we'd recommend Hideaway Island Resort. They have bungalows and villas catering to different budget levels. There is a ferry that you can catch for free to get to the resort from Port Vila. (If you decide just to visit for the day, you will need to pay a 1,500 VT fee to the resort.) Snorkelling and diving are great at Hideaway Island as they have a marine sanctuary. They also offer various PADI courses for those who want to learn how to dive.
Hideaway Island is also known for 'the world's only underwater post office'. Vanuatu Post has opened an offical post office three metres under water in the marine sanctuary. You can purchase special waterproof postcards to post them at the post office. Vanuatu Post guarantees that the post card will be sent to the local or international destination you've written on the post card.
We had decided to travel further out from Port Vila straight away, so we had booked a bungalow in Emua Village located one hour north of Port Vila. We were told it would cost about 8,000 - 10,000 VT depending on the driver to reach Emua Village. We thought finding a local bus already heading that way would be more economical on our budget, so we declined that offer and started asking locals about transport options.
Travel tip: If you arrive at Port Vila earlier in the day, it’s more likely you’d be able to find a local bus to take you where you need to go. You may need to take a short walk towards town to where the local buses stop.
After 15 minutes or so, we found someone who had been organising a bus for several people travelling to the same area. However, they would be heading in the opposite direction to where we needed to go on the main ring road that circles Efate. This means it would take around two and a half hours instead of one hour to arrive at Emua Village. But this would only cost 5,000 VT, and since it was too late to do anything else in the day anyway, we were happy to take this offer.
We booked the bungalow via Airbnb. Search for ‘Coral Sands Beach Bungalows’. Locally, they’re simply known as Kenneth’s bungalow. If you want to try booking with him directly, contact Kenneth on +678 5462052. We booked two nights via Airbnb and then arranged with our host Kenneth directly to stay for another two nights. It cost us about 5,000 VT per night via Airbnb, and about 3,000 VT per night directly.
Kenneth’s bungalow is situated metres from the ocean. You can see the ocean when you wake up in the morning. There is an enclosed porch that serves as an eating area, and a separate outdoor kitchen that you can use to cook your own food if you like. There is also an outdoor shower and toilet block, but we preferred the outdoor shower closer to the beach nestled in a grotto. It even has hot water during the day if needed!
There is great swimming and snorkelling in the ocean in front of the bungalow. There are a number of reefs to explore, with the water being fairly shallow for the most part. We saw several different types of fish and the coral itself was beautiful too. There are apparently a lot of turtles in the area as well, but we didn’t have any luck seeing any ourselves. The nearby islands of Nguna and Pele form beautiful background scenery.
There is a store located in the village where you can buy fresh bread in the morning and basic packaged and canned goods. There is also a roadside market where women from the village sell their fruits and vegetables from their gardens, as well as homemade meals. Both locals and those passing by on the main road stop here for a meal, snack or drink.
You can try the local dish lap lap (grated breadfruit, banana, taro, and yam with coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves) at this market. This is a perfect meal for vegans or vegetarians and is available widely. However, it often comes with fish or meat, so make sure to check what is in the lap lap before buying it. You can also purchase coconuts to drink (ask them to cut out the top for you) and stock up on fresh fruit for your breakfast. For a snack, dried taro or banana chips are a treat. You will pay from 20 VT for small fruit up to 250 VT for a meal.
Voyage Green tip: Eating at a local market is a great way to support local communities and experience their culture (as well as helping your budget).
It's also possible for Kenneth and his wife Anita to prepare local food for dinner. We had this option one night and were served rice, noodles, lap lap, cucumber and papaya for dessert. This cost 500 VT per person.
Day two - Nguna Island
There are two extinct volcanoes on the island of Nguna and it is possible to hike up one of them. You have two options to travel there. The easiest way is to book a guided tour here. They will pick you up from your accommodation, transport you to Nguna and guide you up Mount Taputoara to see inside the crater.
Alternatively, you can ask a local to transport you across by boat at Emua Wharf. The wharf is a five-minute walk from the roadside market at Emua Village.
If it’s just you in the boat, the rate can be about 1,500 VT per person one-way (the locals will call this a ‘charter’ rate). If you wait for someone who’s already going across, either with goods or other passengers, the rate can be a lot lower. We managed to find someone willing to take 500 VT per person one-way. So it ended up costing us 2,000 VT instead of 6,000 VT. Please note on Sundays and public holidays, there will be far fewer or perhaps no locals travelling between the islands so you’ll most likely have to pay the ‘charter’ rate.
It takes about 15 minutes to travel across by boat between Emua Wharf and Nguna Island. If you haven't arranged a tour, you can walk from the beach to the base of Mount Garet and then up to the top.
Day three - Pele Island
Another best thing to do while on Efate is to visit Pele Island. It's a very picturesque volcanic island with sandy beaches and turquoise waters. It's a favoured place for snorkelling and diving within and near the Nguna-Pele Marine Protected Area. There are only around 200 ni-Vans living on the island in four villages. It's possible to stay on the island or it's easily reached for a day trip.
It may be possible to book a tour if you speak to your accomodation provider, but it will cost you around 10,000 VT per person.
The other option is to again find a local willing to take you by boat from Emua Wharf, as Pele island is located about ten minutes away. We unfortunately timed our visit on a Sunday, and as mentioned above, few locals normally operate their boats on Sundays or public holidays. However, we managed to find someone who was able to take us for 2,000 VT per person return.
Days four to seven - Tanna Island
Tanna Island can be reached by plane with Air Vanuatu. It's the most populated southern island in Vanuatu. Locals have kept to the traditional way of life more than in other parts of Vanuatu. It's one of the most famous islands in Vanuatu due to Mout Yasur, an active volcano that you can see up close. There are also several unique cultural experiences and natural wonders that we recommend you seek out. We'd recommend three or four days to allow enough time to see all of the attractions. It also gives you flexibility with seeing Mount Yasur in case the tour is cancelled due to bad weather.
Read this article to learn more about our visit to the amazing Tanna Island.
Day eight - Port Vila
We travelled back to Port Vila with a local bus from Emua Village. We visited the Air Vanuatu office to buy tickets to the next islands on our itinerary. The tickets to Espiritu Santo from Port Vila cost us about 35,000 VT for two people. If you have an extra week to travel, we'd recommend to also visit the island of Gaua. The tickets from Espiritu Santo to Gaua cost us about 20,000 VT for two people. It may be possible to get the tickets for cheaper online via the Air Vanuatu website. However, they hadn't released any tickets when we checked and decided to purchase them at the office.
Markets and waterfront
We headed to the Port Vila Market for lunch. Consisting of a large hall with stall holders from the local region, you can find fresh fruit, vegetables, take-away meals, a cafe, and even the odd bat. There is also a restaurant section where you can have meals freshly made. You can check with the cooks what is available. As a vegan or vegetarian, you can request just rice and vegetables. You can request a mix of ‘island food’ to receive some taro or other local foods. We'd recommend grabbing a couple of coconuts from the market to have with your lunch.
Travel tip: There is an information office in Port Vila that can assist with finding you accommodation, booking transport or tours and looking after your luggage while exploring the town.
It's also nice to walk along the waterfront in the evening if you get the chance. There are various cafes and restaurants that you can stop to get something to eat or drink and admire the scenery across the harbour. There is also the Port Vila Handicraft Market with locals selling various hand-made goods. There are over 50 vendors selling goods they hand made themselves or imported from the outer islands for sale.
Rarru Rentapao River Cascades
There are a few natural attractions to explore near Port Vila before flying to Espiritu Santo. The first is Rarru Rentapao River Cascades. They are about a 20-minute drive from Port Vila and a short walk from the main road. There will be buses from the market place at Port Vila or further along the main road heading east towards Enam. You can also catch a local bus back to Port Vila from the main road.
You need to pay an entrance fee of 1,500 VT per adult. Children 6 - 12 years old are 700 VT, while those under 6 years old are free. We’d recommend arriving early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds, especially the day tours from any cruise ships in the area. It’s usually open from 9:30AM until 5:00PM.
We had a small boy act as our guide along the river to the main waterfall. But you can easily make your own way along the path. Just keep going until the end.
There are a change room and restroom just after the entrance. There are also several picnic benches set up along the way along the beginning of the river. Make sure to take your lunch with you, as there aren’t any stores or places to eat there. If you do forget, there is a small store with a limited number of goods on the main road.
Voyage Green tip: Stay hydrated with a reusable bottle that has a strong filter. This way you minimise the use of plastic and other resources, while also saving money (it costs about 150 VT for a 1.5L bottle). We have used our LifeStraw bottle constantly in Vanuatu. We’ll save approximately 9,000 VT by using the LifeStraw bottle during this trip.
You will pass several cascades with beautiful blue pools before reaching the main waterfall. There are four places where you can jump into the water. There is a small platform on the right side that you can use to take a running jump from. There is also a rope swing from a second platform. If you keep walking up, there is an even higher platform just before the waterfall that you can jump from. Finally, you can stand on top of the waterfall itself and jump into the water below. Ask your guide for safety tips before jumping!
You can easily spend half a day here, exploring the different blue pools and jumping from the various platforms. It’s surrounded by jungle on either side of the river, so there’s plenty of shade and cool air. It’s been well maintained and definitely a must-do for anyone visiting Port Vila.
Book one of our recommended sustainable tours in Vanuatu now
Another option while in Port Vila is to visit Mele Cascades, perhaps the more popular destination in Efate. They are a series of limestone cascading waterfalls with the tallest one being over 30 metres. They are located about 20 minutes by car north-west of Port Vila. There are change rooms near the car park. Entrance costs 2,000 VT per person. You need to climb a series of relatively steep steps at the start of the trail.
You will then come out to the open rainforest and walk across the limestone paths. Depending on when you visit, water from the stream may be running across the path. After walking for a bit you will come across the pools formed at the lower level of the cascades. The water was very refreshing and it was relaxing to spend time in the pools. You can go further up to see the main waterfall. If you want, you can also climb up the limestone to see the upper levels of the cascades. There are ropes and footholds dug out of the limestone to help your climb up.
Before heading to our hotel in Port Vila, we visited a kava bar. Kava is a crop found across the Pacific. It's prepared for consumption in Vanuatu by grinding the roots of the plant and mixing it with some fresh water before drinking it. Kava bars are very popular and can be identified by red and green lights outside their door. We stopped in to see if they had anything for dinner. We were able to select a few vegetarian dishes, including a very nice banana tart and a coconut sponge cake. The prices were very reasonable - much lower than in a comparable restaurant in town. Usually locals have this food as bar snacks with their kava. So depending on the kava bar, you can find a good feed for a reasonable price. Note that mostly men drink the kava (although women are now starting to drink it too) and they will be rinsing their mouths out, clearing their throats and spitting out the remnants of the kava while you're eating.
Days nine to thirteen - Espiritu Santo
We arrived at Port Vila Airport for our flight to Espiritu Santo. It’s advisable to arrive at least two hours before your flight for check-in. Flights are often late, but if it is on time and you haven’t checked in, they’re not going to wait around for you!
Travel tip: Domestic flights with Air Vanuatu have a low checked baggage limit of 10kg per person. We repacked our suitcases for the rest of our trip and left one suitcase in Port Vila at our accommodation so that we could have one suitcase weighing 20kg between the two of us. If you exceed this limit, you’ll need to pay around 200 VT per kilogram.
Accommodation in Luganville
There were taxis available at the airport when we arrived in Espiritu Santo. It cost us 2,000 VT to be transported to our hotel in Luganville. We first stayed at Hotel le Hibiscus (or Hibiscus Attraction Centre) while in Luganville. It’s located a short walk from the main street. The hosts Louis and Marie are very welcoming and even provided us with some noodles and tea as we’d arrived too late on the first day to find anything to eat. Their rooms are simple but have everything you need for your stay, with a bathroom, kitchenette, decent wi-fi and a strong fan. At 5,000 VT per night, they are one of the best value-for-money motels in Luganville. They are knowledgable about things to do around town and across Espiritu Santo. They were also kind enough to call different locations to confirm bookings for us. They can be contacted directly on +678 595 0052.
The other place we stayed was at Pui Lodge located in Show Ground, a village on the outskirts of town. You can also find them on Airbnb under the name of Chez Rachel. Our hosts Rachel and Malakai had to arrange a private room for us as the bungalow we had booked originally become unavailable. The bungalow was going to cost 5,000 VT per night via Airbnb. The private room ended up costing us only 3,000 VT directly (although the bathroom is shared). You can contact them directly on +678 7729012 to see what’s available or book via Airbnb. Breakfast is included with whichever room you stay in. You can also ask them to make lunch or dinner for you. If you’d like fish or meat, it costs 1,500 VT per person. For vegetarians/vegans, it costs 1,000 VT per person. They’re also happy to add more ingredients to the meal if you pick up something from the local market.
It’s not the most convenient location if you need to be within walking distance of town (it takes about one hour if you do want to walk). There are local buses that cost 150 VT per person, or you can catch a taxi for 400 VT. However, it is very close to the airport, so it’s a great choice if you have a flight booked. One callout is that we found mobile reception to be very poor (with Digicel). So bear this in mind if you need to be online during your stay. If you’re looking for peace and quiet and a more authentic homestay experience, we can definitely recommend this accommodation. You’re also supporting a local family by choosing to stay here.
Eating in Luganville
Luganville has a well-established market located at one end of town. You can support the local community by shopping there and buying fresh fruit, vegetables or other goods. We bought some bananas, papaya and cucumber for 150 VT. We also bought a large coconut to drink for 150 VT.
There are also some stalls where you can purchase hot meals. We asked for two vegetarian meals and they provided us with rice and some steamed vegetables mixed with egg. We had to pay the ‘expat or tourist’ price of 500 VT (other non-vegetarian meals are 1,000 VT), which was still very reasonable. It was probably one of the more disappointing meals we’ve had in Vanuatu, particularly compared to the market place in Port Vila. We did notice they made a fish curry that looked pretty good though if you eat fish.
If you prefer, there is also a bakery cafe called Attar that serves decent coffee and Western-style meals. Their pancakes served with fresh fruit were delicious and our recommendation for breakfast or brunch (suitable for octo-lovo vegetarians). There are also several supermarkets in Luganville that you can shop at to stock up for your upcoming travels. The main one in town has a pretty wide selection of imported goods, including some vegan/vegetarian options.
Blue holes of Espiritu Santo
One of the most popular experiences in Espiritu Santo is to explore naturally-formed blue swimming holes. There are three main ones - Matevulu, Riri and Nanda. Matevulu and Riri are near each other, while Nanda is a little further apart and closer to Luganville. But they are all located in the north-east of the island and could be visited in the one day if you like.
Our next stop was Port Orly further north, and we knew that buses should be heading that way after spending the day in Luganville. So we dragged our luggage to the main road and waited to see who would be coming by. A couple of utes passed us, but they were full of people. In about ten minutes, we got lucky as a bus did come by that had room for us and were happy to take us to Port Orly for 600 VT per person. Talking to a passenger, we discovered the bus is from a village before Port Orly but they didn’t mind taking us further to drop us off first. We ended up paying the driver 1,000 VT each as a gesture of our gratitude.
Travel tip: We didn’t see any ATMs in the area, so make sure you have enough cash with you before traveling up the coast from Luganville.
There are a few options for beachside bungalows in Port Olry. There are even some treetop bungalows, but unfortunately they’d been damaged in a previous cyclone and hadn’t been repaired yet. Covid had also delayed the start of their repairs. This left us with two options remaining - Chez Louis and Sunrise Bungalows.
We stayed at Sunrise for 5,000 VT per night when booked directly. The host Tarcisius can be contacted on +678 5424893 or email@example.com. They are also called ‘Little Paradise’ on Airbnb and Facebook. They are self-contained with their own shower (including hot water if needed) and toilet, with a front porch overlooking a lawned area and trees in front of the beach.
They are also in the middle of repairing their bungalows, so although we had water and electricity, it’s still a basic bungalow. The bed was also short for Jon’s 6’ 3” frame, so something to bear in mind if you’re also tall. The village is very close to the bungalows too, so it can be a bit noisy late at night when there are celebrations in town and also very early in the morning when the roosters are crowing.
Daily breakfast was included in the price. We had fresh fruit, a baguette, spreads, tea and coffee provided on our porch at around 6am. Sunrise also had a restaurant where they can make lunch and dinner for you on request. This included vegan or vegetarian meals. Prices were from 800 VT for vegetarian and 1,500 VT for fish or beef. A more sustainable local Port Olry beef meal is also available for 1,000 VT. We had their vegetarian option a few times, which included rice and various green and root veggies. There is a small store close by that stocks reasonably-priced beer, wine and small food items.
Voyage Green tip: If you visit the local market or one of the stores in the village, you can purchase additional ingredients that they’d be happy to add to your cooked meals for you. This also provides further economic support to the local people in the village.
There is also a restaurant at Chez Louis with various options, although they were pricier. We did try out their vegetarian option for lunch. We paid 3,000 VT for our lunch, which included a coconut to drink and two meals consisting of a small portion of hot chips, one and a half boiled eggs and some non-seasoned grated carrot (we think, not entirely sure what it was). Needless to say, we didn’t go back again…
Sunrise offers a number of cultural activities. There is a nature hike up the nearby mountain for 1,500 VT in which Tarcisius will describe local medicines and edible foods in the jungle. You may also take out a local fishing canoe to explore nearby islands for 500 VT.
We’d planned to take out a canoe to explore Malmas island, but we ended up snorkelling around Malet island instead. This island is to the left of Sunrise in front of Dolphin island. At low tide, there is a sandbar connecting Malet island to the main island. Check with your host when low tide is due to begin. Once you’ve walked across, you can snorkel to the left and around the island to see beautifully formed coral reefs teeming with colourful fish. This was the best snorkelling experience we’ve had in Vanuatu so far and is definitely recommended when staying in Port Olry. We recommended this experience to another guest at the island, and he fully agreed.
The best reefs are a bit further out on the left but then are closer to the island as you swim around it. We ended up swimming right around back to the same side of the island we started on, but you can also stop halfway on the other side and walk back across if you prefer. Just keep an eye on the tides and you should be a strong swimmer to make it all the way around. When high tide is in, the water is around waist or chest height (depending on your height) to walk back across. If you have them, reef shoes would be handy as it’s quite rough with stones and soft coral littering the sandbar and more shallow areas before reaching the reefs.
Voyage Green tips: Use only reef-friendly sunscreens to avoid damaging the reefs with chemicals and use a rashie to reduce the amount of sunscreen required. Also watch that you don’t damage any of the coral with your feet or fins when snorkelling.
We called Lonnoc Ocean View Bungalows and the owner was able to transport us there from Port Olry for 1,500 VT. The bungalows here also cost 5,000 VT per night. They are fairly large with an indoor shower and toilet. You can see the ocean from your bed and it’s a quick stroll to the beach. The ocean breeze is strong here too, which made the room nice and cool without needing a fan.
We were amazed at how beautiful Lonnoc Beach is. The beach itself is made of white sand which continues in patches into the ocean. It was a nice break from the beaches we’d experienced so far which had been more full of stones and soft coral when entering the ocean. We actually prefer this beach to the one at Port Olry. The area feels more tranquil and is surrounded by denser jungle. It is also located further from the village here than where we stayed at Port Olry, which makes it quieter and easier to sleep at night.
The reefs directly in front of the beach aren’t suitable for snorkelling, but further to the left against the coast there were some better spots. There are also kayaks that you can use free of charge to explore the surrounding waters. We spotted some decent reefs further out in the ocean while using them.
The whole beach area is owned by three brothers from the same family. So there are two other beachfront bungalow options for you to stay at Lonnoc Beach. There are three restaurants in the area to choose from as well, with all having plant-based options. The restaurant at Lonnoc Ocean View Bungalows charge 1,000 VT for vegetarian meals, while there are fish and beef meals for around 1,500 VT.
There is a bigger restaurant at the neighbouring bungalows which charged 1,200 VT for their vegetarian meals and also charge higher amounts for their other fish and meat-based dishes. However, the portions were bigger and we felt we were eating at a nice restaurant with perhaps more care put into creating the meals. We asked for two different vegetarian plates and they were probably the best meals we’ve had to date in Vanuatu.
There is a third restaurant further along the beach that we went to once. They made us a vegetarian plate but honestly it was pretty bland. With the other two restaurants in the area, we didn't bother going back there again.
You can use the free kayaks when staying at Lonnoc Ocean View Bungalows to travel to Champagne Beach, which is just around the corner to the right. It takes about 20 minutes to paddle there by kayak. You can also walk there in ten to fifteen minutes if you prefer.
The beach is backdropped by a tall mountain range full of jungle. It makes for an awesome vista if you choose to kayak there. Once you land, make your way to the restaurant in the middle of the beach to pay the landowners for entry, which costs 500 VT per person.
If you're visiting the area, it's about a one-hour drive from Port Vila. You can easily make a day trip out of visiting Port Olry, Lonnoc Beach and Champagne Beach if you prefer. The entrance fee per car is 2000 VT.
The beach is bigger than the one at Lonnoc and has more pure white sand when entering the ocean. It’s also a bigger drop-off when entering, meaning you get into deeper water quicker and can swim more easily. There is a small structure to the right side of the beach which can be used to jump into the water. It was full of local children when we were there and looked like fun, but we only noticed it as we were leaving.
The restaurant has a limited food menu with some drinks. We’d already eaten at our accommodation, so can’t comment on the quality of their meals. There is also a separate bar with the usual drink selection in Vanuatu if you need to quench your thirst further.
Million Dollar Point
The United States had thousands of troops stationed on Espiritu Santo as part of their Pacific forces during WWII. After the Japanese surrendered, they had tonnes of equipment that was no longer needed. They offered to sell it to the French as the colonial power in Vanuatu at the time. The story goes that they offered it for around 10 cents in the dollar, but the French declined the offer. Some of the equipment would have required repairs and maintenance, making it a less attractive offer. The French may have also been thinking that they’d pick out what they wanted once the United States dumped the equipment and left.
But the United States had other ideas. They located a trench about 60 metres deep near Luganville. A number of their forces stayed behind to dump all of the equipment into this trench. It took them around two years to finish the job (from 1945 to 1947). The location’s name comes from the rough value of the equipment (at that time) that was dumped into the trench.
The mineral-rich equipment turned out to be a gift to the coral and sea life in the area over the last 75 years. You can now snorkel or scuba dive to discover some of the equipment the United States disposed of. The highlights include a jeep, a crane, and the wreckage of a large ship. You can also find bits and pieces such as an engine, a cabinet, ropes and pulleys, and various other detritus of war machinery.
The coral itself that has grown around all the equipment is quite stunning. It was some of the best coral we’ve seen in Vanuatu and was teeming with fish. Seeing how it’s grown on and around the equipment is a unique experience. As you swim out further into the trench and see the wreckage of the ship far below you, it becomes quite surreal. Snorkelling was an amazing experience, but if you like scuba diving this would be a fantastic place to do it.
If you decide to go to Million Dollar Point itself, there is a 500 VT entry fee payable at the bar. This does provide the most direct access to view all the dumped equipment. However, there is no restaurant here and is not your only option.
We’d recommend turning off at Million Dollar View instead. The entrance is before Million Dollar Point when coming from Luganville. There are bungalows here if you’d like to stay in the area for longer. Prices start from 2,000 VT for one person or 3,500 VT for two.
The beach is rocky but otherwise a safe point to enter the water. It would definitely be a good idea to wear reef shoes if you have them. You can then swim to the left and do a circuit around the Million Dollar Point area to see all the dumped equipment.
Travel tip: Make sure to bring your own snorkelling gear to Vanuatu. There aren’t many opportunities to rent or use some unless you’re staying at the bigger resorts.
There’s also a restaurant where you can enjoy the hospitality of the site manager Gilbert and order food and drinks. We had plates full of vegan food that was the most delicious of our trip so far. We also found Gilbert to be very experienced and a great guide to travelling in Vanuatu.
SS President Coolidge
If you're a dive enthusiast, there is another WWII shipwreck nearby well worth visiting. It boasts around 50 dive sites and the wreckage is over 200 metres long. The depth of the various dive sites are between 68 and 240 feet. It's said to be the largest and most accessible wreck to dive in the world.
The Coolidge was originally a luxury steamship built in 1931 to carry 1,000 passengers. It was built in art deco style with various facilities for the well-heeled passengers on board. It was drafted into the war effort in 1940, first evacuating Americans from Asia and then converted into a troop carrier in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbour. In October of that year, it was transporting over 5,000 troops and equipment to Vanuatu when it ran into mines (laid by the Americans) in the Segond Channel just offshore from Luganville.
Day fourteen - Port Vila
Unless you're flying out of Vanuatu from Espiritu Santo, you'll need to travel back to Port Vila for your flight. We'd recommend allowing additional time for any delays with Air Vanuatu when flying domestically. Use your last day or two in Port Vila to relax and explore some of the places we mentioned above if you haven't already - Port Vila Market, waterfront, Port Vila Handicraft Market, Rarru Rentapao River Cascades, Mele Cascades, a local kava bar or the other shops located in Port Vila for some last minute souvenir hunting
If you have three weeks to travel in Vanuatu
If you have additional time and can extend your travel to three weeks, we recommend travelling to one of the other outer islands. There are a few to choose from including Ambrym, Gaua, Maewo and Malakula. Because flights only run sporadically, we recommend allowing a week to allow you to get to one of these islands and back again in time for your flight out of Vanuatu.
We chose to travel to Gaua as it's famous for its natural attractions and traditional culture. There is an active volcano (Mount Garet), a lake in front of it (Lake Letus), and the tallest waterfall in Vanuatu (Siri Waterfall). If you get the chance, it's also possible to see a traditional water dance performed by locals.
There are various bungalows available to stay in, but we recommend Weul Bungalows. They are the closest to the natural attractions. We paid 5,000 VT per night which included three meals a day.
It takes about three hours from Weul Bungalows to hike to the shore of Lake Letas. The hike is through jungle and requires a guide to take you there. You will find Victor’s Camp at the shore of Lake Letas. From here, you can organise to canoe across Lake Letas to the base of Mount Garet. It takes about an hour to then hike to the top of Mount Garet to view the six different craters.
After hiking back down and canoeing back to Victor’s Camp, we decided to rest there overnight. You can use Lake Letas to bathe and refresh after your journey. It costs 3,500 VT per person to stay in a bungalow, with breakfast included. You can also camp there if you have your own tent.
If you have one week to travel in Vanuatu
It's not something we'd recommend, but if you're short on time it's possible to squeeze in the highlights of Vanuatu in one week. We'd recommend Tanna Island as an outer island experience and doing that first to lessen potential issues with travelling domestically and missing your return flight. We've listed a sample itinerary below. If you prefer the attractions on Espiritu Santo, we'd recommend going there instead of Tanna Island. It would be too hectic to do both in one week.
- Day 1 - Arrival at Port Vila
- Days 2 to 4 - Tanna Island (or Espiritu Santo if preferred)
- Days 5 and 6- Explore Efate's attractions (including Nguna Island and/or Pele Island)
- Day 7 - Depart from Port Vila