The beautiful blue holes of Espiritu Santo

January 12, 2024
February 26, 2023

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Table of Contents

What are blue holes?

One of the most popular experiences on the island of Espiritu Santo is to explore naturally-formed blue holes. The ones here are all inland and are formed from fresh underwater springs pushing up through limestone. Their water is a brilliant blue colour due to how deep they are, how clear the water is and the minerals and limestone they contain. There are three main ones to choose from - Matevulu, Riri and Nanda. They are all located on the east coast of the island between Luganville and Hog Harbour. Matevulu and Riri are quite near each other, while Nanda is a bit further out from Luganville. But they are still close enough for them all to be visited in the one day if you have limited time.

How to get to the blue holes

To travel to the blue holes from Luganville, you can negotiate a price with a taxi driver. We were quoted 3,000 VT one way or 5,000 VT return initially to be taken to Nanda, the furthest one from Luganville. But we found a taxi driver willing to take us for 2,000 VT one way. If you like, the taxi driver will wait for you to finish at Nanda and bring you back to Luganville. It’s also possible to have the taxi driver bring you to other blue holes or attractions in the area if you hire them for the day. Expect to pay 5,000 VT or 6,000 VT for the day. In our case, we let our taxi driver go and was able to jump into another taxi that was leaving Nanda with other passengers and return to our accommodation in Luganville for 2,000 VT.

The other option is to try the main road for a bus, but most of them are travelling in the opposite direction in the morning (into Luganville, not out of Luganville towards the blue holes). It would still be worth trying your luck with a bus on the main road first before turning to a taxi if you’re already staying in the town area.

The most interesting way to travel to Matevulu and Riri is via the rivers that feed into the blue holes. You can hire single or twin kayaks from Turtle Bay Lodge. The kayaks cost 3,500 VT to hire. Both Matevulu and Riri can be reached by kayak from there. If you tell them which blue hole(s) you’re visiting, you can pay them the entry fee directly (1,000 VT per person per blue hole). You can also hire single or double kayaks for the same price from Matevulu Lodge. They don’t collect the entry fee though and you’ll have to pay it when you arrive to the blue hole(s).

The most value-for-money and enjoyable way to experience Riri is to take a local-style canoe down the river. The canoes are located on the left-hand side of the road after crossing the bridge on the main road from Luganville. The owner and/or some local men should be around. If not, there is a house opposite that you can enquire about the canoes. Otherwise you can ask your accommodation host if they can contact them to organise it in advance. It costs 1,500 VT per person, which includes the entrance fee to the blue hole. One or two young men will paddle the canoe down to the blue hole and hang around until you’re ready for them to take you back. The owner was crazy enough to let us try ourselves first, but let’s just say it didn’t go well… it’s a lot harder than it looks with a strong current and the size of the canoe!

Travel tip: If you use one of these options to travel to Riri, it’s best to travel in the afternoon when the current is with you as it would be difficult against the current in the morning especially under a bridge near the river entry.

A yellow canoe and red canoe lay on the grass next to a river leading to Riri blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Our experience at Matevulu blue hole

‍We hired a double kayak from Turtle Bay Lodge to travel to Matevulu. The kayak trip across Turtle Bay and up the river to Matevulu was one of the highlights of our trip to Vanuatu. You enter the river under a bridge from the ocean. As we progressed further down the river towards the blue hole, the colour of the water turned lighter and bluer. The jungle surrounding the river made us feel like we were explorers in a new world. We departed Turtle Bay Lodge at about 8:30am. It took about an hour and a half to arrive at Matevulu blue hole. We did stop a few times for photos and drone footage as it was so picturesque it was hard to resist!

A composite image of a canoe pointing towards a bridge and the river view towards Matevulu blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Aerial photos of a kayak on the river leading to Matevulu blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
An aerial photo of a kayak going up the river to Matevulu blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
An aerial view of Jon and Janna in a kayak on the river leading to Matevulu blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Matevulu has a deep blue colour and is known for a large banyan tree on its bank with a giant swing accessed by a metal staircase. Make sure to bring your snorkel gear so that you can enjoy the fish and the way the light pierces the deep blue water.

Travel tip: Leave early morning or late afternoon to have the river to yourselves. To enjoy the banyan tree swing to the fullest, it’s best to come in the afternoon or stay until then when the tide is high.

A giant banyan tree with a rope swing at Matevulu blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

We showered off after returning from our kayak at Turtle Bay Lodge. Just ask the staff for the outdoor shower and they also have restrooms where you can get changed. They held onto our luggage for us at reception as well, and we treated ourselves to a lunch at their restaurant overlooking the bay. If you’re missing Western-style food while in Vanuatu, they do a pretty decent homemade pizza. The grilled veggies were great too!

Our experience at Nanda blue hole

Nanda has been the most recommended blue hole when we’ve asked locals which one is best. We were also curious about a couple of other smaller blue holes showing on Google Maps - Jackie’s, which some people informed us is actually part of Nanda, and Thar Secret.

When entering the driveway to Nanda in our taxi, we noticed the sign actually said ‘Jackie’s Blue Hole’ with ‘Nanda’ in parentheses. So Nanda and Jackie’s are the one and the same, with ‘Jackie’ referring to the family who own Nanda. The taxi driver also pointed out the entrance to Thar Secret Blue Hole just before the entrance to Nanda. We kept that in mind and thought we’d walk up to see that one after Nanda.

There was a table with two young boys on the side of the driveway to Nanda collecting the entrance fee. It costs 1,000 VT per person to enter the blue hole. There’s a decent car park where taxi drivers can wait for you at the end of the driveway.

Walking down to the blue hole, you can see a change room and restroom available to the side. There was also a bar where we could buy drinks, but no food. Around the blue hole there are some platforms on either side that you can use to jump from or relax on. However, unlike other swimming spots we’ve visited, there aren’t any ropes to swing from. The blue hole itself is also smaller than Matevulu.

But we could see why this blue hole was recommended by the locals. The water was unbelievably clear and had a beautiful blue colour to it. There are also many fish swimming around the water and particularly around the platforms. Make sure to bring some snorkelling gear because the views under the water are equally as stunning, with the limestone formations along the edges of the hole.

A composite image of Jon and Janna sitting on the deck surrounding Nanda blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu and Janna diving underwater in the blue hole
An aerial photo of Jon and Janna sitting on the deck surrounding Nanda blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
A composite image of Jon standing on the decking and Janna sitting on the decking surrounding Nanda blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

If you swim to the right of Nanda, you can pass a shallow area filled with sand and moss onto another smaller blue hole. There were plants on the water’s surface and it felt very serene. This blue hole has a similar setup to Nanda with platforms around it.

We mentioned that the taxi driver pointed out the entrance to Thar’s Secret Blue Hole before the one for Nanda. It turns out that this smaller blue hole was Thar’s Secret. There wasn’t anyone around when we were there and it looked like it wasn’t being maintained by anyone. We’re not sure how they could monitor who’s swimming from one blue hole to the other, but we’d assume if Thar’s Secret was operational you’d have to pay them an entrance fee too.

An aerial photo of Nanda and Thar's Secret blue holes in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Overall, Nanda blue hole is definitely worth checking out. It felt very peaceful and relaxing to be there. Being able to swim to another smaller but equally charming blue hole was a bonus too. However, we probably enjoyed Matevulu more due to its rope swings and the effect of the tide rising while we were there. We spent more time at Matevulu than we did at Nanda and would say it’s more of a fun place to visit.

Our experience at Riri blue hole

We definitely recommend taking a kayak or do what we did and opt to be taken there in a local-style canoe. You’ll be amazed by the colour of the water as you start the journey down the river. Unlike Matevulu, the water is very clear and has a green tinge straight away before becoming bluer. It was very relaxing and peaceful winding down the river and we didn’t encounter many others on the way. As the water became a deeper blue and we arrived at the blue hole itself, we were the only ones there.

A composite image of Janna sitting on the end of a canoe and her legs at the front of the canoe while travelling to Riri blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

The blue hole is surrounded by jungle. There was a concrete platform where the canoe docked that was damaged and there was a fallen tree that had torn away part of the structure. There was also a concrete path running to a wooden platform with a swing rope. Another section had a wooden pavilion. However, this was all fairly damaged as well. It appeared the cyclone from a few years back had wrought quite a bit of damage that hadn’t been repaired yet, likely due to the lack of tourists recently.  

We found this blue hole somewhat similar to Matevulu with the river journey and swing rope to have some fun. It was smaller though and the state of disrepair means you have to pay more attention to where you’re stepping. Remember to bring your snorkel gear to check out what’s happening underwater. Overall we found the blueness of the water was better than Matevulu, but underwater was not as interesting.

Jon and Janna embracing in the water in front of pieces of concrete and the concrete path to the swing rope in the tree at Riri blue hole in Espiritu Santo. Vanuatu
A composite image of Janna in the water and on a vine swing at Riri blue hole in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Travel itinerary for Vanuatu

Read this article to discover our recommended 14-day travel itinerary of Vanuatu. (With 21-day and 7-day options also included!)

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