Facts about Tanna
Tanna is a remote island part of the beautiful country of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. It’s the most populated island in Tafea Province with a population of 29,000 people. The largest settlement is called Lenakel and is located near the airport. The very first settlements in Tanna were in 400 BC by Melanesians from the surrounding islands. Then in August 1774, James Cook visited Tanna for the fist time. He arrived at Port Resolution, named after his boat. In the 19th century traders and missionaries started to come to the island. Tanna people were more resistant to Christianity than on the other islands in Vanuatu. That may be why Tanna retains some of the most fascinating tribes in ‘kastom’ villages that have preserved their cultures to the present day.
Tanna is famous for one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes, Mt Yasur, and their ancient tribes. But there is so much more to explore on this remote island in the Pacific. If you are seeking adventure and one-of-a-kind life experiences, Tanna is the island for you. Its natural wonders and the people here will leave you speechless. In this article we will provide eight reasons why you should visit Tanna.
How to get to Tanna
There are two ways to get to Tanna, by plane and by cargo ship. The flight from Port Vila with Air Vanuatu is 40 minutes. It cost 27,000 VT return per person. If you feel like more of an adventure, copra freighters depart from Port Vila and take you to Lenakel Wharf on Tanna Island. This journey takes around 12 hours depending on the weather.
Where to stay in Tanna
There are a few places to choose from. The best way to get the most authentic experience is to stay with one of the local tribes in a traditional village. If you check Airbnb, there will be lots of accommodation in this style to choose from. We stayed at Jackson’s place which we found on Airbnb. We stayed in a simple bungalow but it was located at the top of a large banyan tree! Jackson organised the transfer from the airport for us for 2,500 VT per person (if you’re a solo traveller, you will pay 5,000 VT).
Our adventure on Tanna began as soon as we were picked up at the airport and taken to our accommodation. We sat in the back of a ute (pick-up truck) and enjoyed the views and surroundings. The wildness of Tanna will be immediately apparent as you notice the huge banyan trees along the road, locals crossing with their big machetes and endless jungle. You will then see vast volcanic plains and black ash fields as you get nearer to Mount Yasur.
Travel tip: It’s best to organise your accommodation and transport in advance when travelling to Tanna to make the journey smoother.
8 reasons why you should travel to Tanna
1. Stay in a banyan tree house
If you visit Tanna, staying in a tree house on top of a banyan tree is a must!
As mentioned above, we stayed at Jackson’s place. His village is located really close to the volcano, so close that you can see the erupting volcano from your balcony.
To get to our banyan tree house, we had to pass Mt Yasur and drive around it. From the airport all the way to the volcano we drove on a very nice paved road. When the road ended, the drive continued on black sand. It felt like you are driving on top of the moon. The black sand, volcanic rocks and the volcano as a backdrop will leave you speechless. It was almost time for golden hour so the light was soft and made the location look very picturesque. We took advantage of this opportunity and asked our driver to make a stop to walk around the volcanic land and take some pictures.
When we arrived at the village, we were greeted by our host and his family with some flowers that they put around our neck. Then they showed us around the village and our accommodation. We were amazed how high up the tree the bungalow was. We had to climb a good amount of stairs before we could could reach our room. But it was so worth it. The bungalow was very simple but it had a balcony overlooking the green jungle and the volcano. That’s right, you could see Mount Yasur and its eruptions up close. The photos below were taken from our balcony.
2. Visit Mt Yasur
Visiting the active volcano Mount Yasur is a must-do on Tanna and when visiting Vanuatu. Mt Yasur is located on the east side of Tanna.
A tour to Mt Yasur is available three times a day:
- The sunrise tour: 3:30- 6:00 am
- Day tour 9:00-1:00 pm
- Sunset tour 4:30 pm-7:00 pm
We recommend to do the sunrise or sunset tour to see the volcano in its full glory. The sunset tour seemed to be the most popular, so we decided to go at sunrise to avoid the crowds.
You have to organise a car to get to Mt Yasur. Transport on Tanna island is quite expensive because the number of cars is limited and the fuel cost is high. However, if you stay at Jackson’s, you can just walk to the entrance.
The entrance fee to Mt Yasur is 10,000 VT which includes a ride in a ute (pick-up truck) from the entrance to the base of the volcano. You are also provided with a safety briefing. Reassuringly, people monitor the volcanic activity and the weather to ensure it’s safe to make the climb up.
The ride to the base only takes 15 minutes. If you choose to do the sunrise tour, you will be driving in the dark. Once you arrive at the base of the volcano, the guide will take you to up using a flashlight to illuminate the way. Its another 10-15 minutes in a steep walk up the stairs. Then the guide will point out a safe place from where you can be mesmerised by the flashing lava. You will stay here for around two hours until after the sun goes up. There is’t much fencing around the volcano which makes the experience a bit dangerous. Just make sure you don’t go too close to the crater.
You can see the lava the best when it’s dark. It’s quite scary to stand so close to it and feel and hear the power of the volcano. The volcano erupts several times in an hour. When it erupts you can see the ash coming out in big clouds after its eruption. At some pint we thought we lost our drone because we couldn’t see anything.
If you want to use a drone at the volcano, you will have to pay another 10,000 VT to your guide. It was quite pricey but we thought it would be worth to see it the lava from above.
The overall experience here is hard to describe - you just have to do it yourself! It’s definitely one of the most special and unique experiences we ever had. Although we couldn’t call it the most accessible due to the difficulty in actually reaching Tanna Island and because we have been to an even more accessible volcano (Masaya) in Nicaragua.
When we arrived back to the entrance, we discovered a big swing attached to the banyan tree. We hadn’t noticed it before in the darkness. We made sure to have a swing on it before leaving!
By the time we got back to our tree house our breakfast was ready. The food in Vanuatu is simple but quite tasty.
3. Visit a local tribe
There is no better way to learn about the country and its culture than to spend time with local tribes. Tanna is home to some of the ancient tribes that have preserved local culture and are willing to share it with foreigners. We visited two tribes while we were in Tanna.
On our second day after watching the lava show at Mt Yasur, our host Jackson organised a visit to a traditional tribe just near by. To visit this village, we had to pay for transport and a 2,000 VT entrance fee to the tribe.
On arrival they performed a welcome dance. Then we were taught how to make a fire and we had some free time to wander around and buy some souvenirs from local women. The locals were happy to take pictures with us. We were not allowed to go inside the village itself and didn’t really have a chance to talk much to anyone or spend time with them. We felt like we wanted to learn more, so we organised to visit another tribe.
On the second day we visited the most famous tribe in Vanuatu, the Yakel tribe. The movie Tanna was based on a true story and filmed inside the village. It's a really great movie beautifully shot. The entrance fee is the same as the previous village.
Visiting the Yakel tribe felt more authentic. From the moment you arrive, you feel like you are in the movie Avatar. There is a big banyan tree with a tree house on top when you enter the village. You start the tour around the village by greeting the chief. Thereafter a man from the village named Charlie took us around the plantations, explaining their simple ways of leaving. You will learn what kind of plants, fruits and vegetable locals grow there and you can ask any questions you have.
Along the way we were met by local kids that were very cheeky and playful. It felt like being in a different world, remote and untouched. We had a chance to go inside the village and see their daily lives from the inside. The traditional huts, pigs running around and some kids playing around. Men and boys in the village were wearing penis sheaths (mambas) as pictured and women and girls were wearing only grass skirts. After the tour around the village, most of the tribe performed their dance for us. The dance was really interesting and mesmerising to watch.
4. Drink Tanna coffee
Tanna is home to an organic coffee produced in a sustainable way in the deep and rich volcanic soils of Tanna. It’s a must-try when you are on the island. You can also get it in any major supermarket in Vanuatu and most likely will be served it by your host when staying in Tanna.
5. Chase Tanna’s hidden waterfalls
If you stay in Tanna for more than two days, we recommend seeking out a cool and refreshing escape at one of the waterfalls on the island. We were recommended to hike to Lenuanatuaiu Waterfall by our host Jackson. The entrance fee is 1,000 VT per person.
It’s a really picturesque hike down. You are most likely to have it all to yourself, unless locals decide to go for a dip. Most tourists that come to Tanna come only for one or two days to see the volcano and miss our opportunities to discover Tanna’s other gems.
The hike is quite easy but may be slippery during the wet season, so make sure to wear hiking shoes. You will start walking trough tall grass before entering the green jungle. At the bottom you will first discover a canyon which then leads to the waterfall. While it may not be the most impressive waterfall we have seen in Vanuatu, it was really special. The water is refreshing and a perfect swimming spot to cool down after the hike.
You can also visit Nazareth Twin waterfalls. The entrance fee is also 1,000 VT per person.
6. Visit Port Resolution
You can swim at a black sand beach, get some face painting and soak in a natural hot springs with an ocean view. Note it’s best to visit the hot springs at low tide. All these activities are in the one location at the waterfront area of Port Resolution. It’s only a 15 minute drive from Mt Yasur, so all these activities can be done in the one day.
7. Visit the Blue Cave
Visiting the Blue Cave is like visiting a dreamland, at least that’s what we have heard. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit it because we stayed on the other side of the island.
The Blue Cave is located on the west side of Tanna around a 40 minute drive north from Lenakel. Allow yourself half a day to enjoy the cave. The way to the blue cave is via a rough 4WD track. Another option is to get there by boat. You can organise the trip there from your accommodation.
The entrance to the cave access is in the ocean at the base of a high sea cliff cave. To get inside the cave you will have to dive in through a short passage. You can also time it with the low tide so you don’t have to dive. Note that if the sea is rough, you won't be able to access the cave.
Once inside, you will find yourself surrounded by the cave and crystal blue waters. It has an appearance of a cenote but with salt water. If you visit when there is sunny weather you will find sun rays coming through the cave opening.
The fee to enter the cave is 2.000 VT per person payable to the landowners. It’s a great place to snorkel and cliff jump outside the cave.
Essentials to bring:
- Snorkle gear
- Reef shoes
- Waterproof camera
8. Watch the sunrise at the base of Mt Yasur
Make sure to set your alarm early enough. Head to the base of the volcano on the west side when it’s still dark and wait for the sun to rise. This was the most relaxing and yet one of our best experiences on Tanna. Because we stayed so close to the volcano, we could just walk to the base. It was really nice to take our time and find the best locations for the shoots. We witnessed a local man and his sun running up the volcano which we didn’t thing we could do. For safety reasons we would not recommend to try climbing the volcano by yourself from the west side but use the official entrance located in the east.
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!)