Vanuatu (previously New Hebrides Islands) is an archipelago nation consisting of 83 islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The islands are north of New Zealand and east of Australia. The capital city is Port-Vila. These islands consist of six geographic provinces.
The prehistory of Vanuatu is largely unknown. Although, archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that people speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands 4,000 years ago.
Vanuatu sustained extensive damage due to Cyclone Pam on March 14, 2015. The island of Espiritu Santo was unscathed, and most Port-Vila venues have reopened. However, destruction on many outer islands was severe, and reconstruction efforts continue as of January 2016.
Places to See in Vanuatu
Vanuatu offers its visitors some of the best deep-sea fishing opportunities in the Pacific Ocean. You can fish for tuna, marlin, swordfish, and wahoo. Game fishing tournaments are held throughout the year. For the best inshore fishing trips, go to Espiritu Santo.
The Secret Garden, located in Mele, offers its visitors an opportunity to learn about the local flora, fauna, explore thatched huts, and watch iguanas, pythons and flying foxes. You will learn about missionaries, cannibalism, blackbirding, Second World War, and traditions of the country.
Hideaway Island is a resort, located just off Mele Bay, and offers travelers excellent offshore snorkeling, the world’s only underwater post office with waterproof postcards and a great underwater restaurant. If you come or a day-trip here, you will also be able to enjoy snorkel safari and scuba diving.
The harbor-front markets in Port Vila will offer you a wonderful choice of fruit, vegetables, flowers, and other goods. It is the best place on the island to buy national dish lap lap. It consists of cooked yam roots, prepared with coconut cream and meat). And on the handicraft market, you can buy carvings, sarongs, traditional clothing, and souvenirs.
Ekasup Cultural Village
Located 10 minutes away from Port Vila, Ekasup Cultural Village shows Vanuatu’s traditional village life, medicine, food, dancing and hunting rituals (such as catching fish with a spider’s web). Tours to the village are held twice a day, except for Sundays. Also, Friday night is Melanesian Feast night.
The world’s most accessible active volcano, Yasur, is situated on Tanna Island and open for visits. Peering into a crater and seeing the mass of bubbling lava is definitely worth a visit!
Things to Do in Vanuatu
You have a unique opportunity to sail aboard the Coongoola and watch the dolphins. Or take a lovely timber ketch in Havannah Harbour, which will take you to the turtle sanctuary on Tranquillity Island, where you can have a beach barbecue or go snorkeling.
The Mele Cascade waterfall, situated just 15 minutes away from Port Vila, offers a great bathing in the waterfall opportunities. If you come, you won’t regret it!
Take a seaplane or a helicopter flight over the country. Options are multiple and vary from short scenic flyovers to Robinson Crusoe picnic on a private island. It is also a great opportunity for aerial photography.
You can take a tour in Port Vila from numerous tour operators and ride a dune buggy off-road. If you are very adventurous, go after the rain. Try it, and you will get very muddy!
When to Go
Summer in Vanuatu is from November until March. It can be hot and humid. While in winter, the average temperature is 23oC. However, the sea temperature varies from 22 to 28 degrees all year round, which makes swimming very enjoyable. Rainfalls are frequent between December and April, so keep that in mind.
What to Wear
Take light breathing clothes of natural fabrics, if you are coming in summer. On the other hand, in winter you may need a light jacket and, occasionally, even a raincoat.
There are three official languages in Vanuatu: English, French, and Bislama (Pidgin English). Bislama is a mixture of French and English languages and is the most widely used day-to-day language in the country. There are also over 115 different dialects used here. Of course, people involved in the tourist industry, speak English freely. And most people in Vanuatu speak four or more languages.
The official currency is Vatu. The approximate exchange rate is VUV110 for US$1. Exchange facilities are available at the airport and trade banks. It is better to exchange foreign currency right after arrival. Resorts also exchange money, but the rates are worse than in banks. Also, in major towns, you can pay with Australian Dollars in most shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Credit cards are acceptable, though mostly MasterCard and Visa. Also, additional charges are often applied, when paying with a credit card. There are ATMs available at the airport, outside the Westpac and ANZ Banks and supermarkets. Traveler’s cheques are also acceptable. However, cash and credit cards would be more convenient.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Vanuatu is on GSM digital, so you can use local SIM cards with unlocked European and Australian phones. If you want to buy a local SIM card, you can do it at the post office or retail outlets. Two main mobile companies are Digicel and TVL. The cost of a SIM card usually comes with the same amount of pre-paid phone credit. The coverage, service and fares of the two providers are quite similar. Most islanders have both.
Most resorts offer free Wi-Fi access for the guests. So do the multiple cafes and bars of Port Vila and Luganville. Also, there are Internet cafes available in these cities. And sometimes, internet facilities are available at post offices.
The island nation retains diversity through local and regional variants. Plus, the nation has elements of foreign influence. In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away. Pigs, particularly those with rounded tusks, are considered a symbol of wealth throughout the archipelago. More traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate in the central region. The predominant religion is Christianity.
For most occasions, the informal wear will do. Although in the cities, there is a huge modern influence felt, rural areas still stick to age-old customs and traditions. You should remember this when visiting the country. Also, when you explore the outdoors, don’t forget about the private property, which people in Vanuatu are very strict and careful about.
The Vanuatu cuisine is a mixture of different cultural influences: French, Mediterranean, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Asian Fusion, tapas, and seafood. Local beef is considered to be the best in the world, although, some people may disagree. Also, the fruit are very good. The most popular of the local specialties are Lap Lap and Coconut crab. The chefs in Vanuatu are really great. Tipping, however, is against the local traditions.
Imported alcohol can be rather expensive. On the other hand, local beer, Tusker, is very good and has a reasonable price. A Rather popular regional drink is kava, which is a legal “opiate” and comes from grating, grinding or chewing the root of the plant. There are many varieties of this drink. Some are even strong enough to induce a two-day sleep, so be careful.
The drinking age in Vanuatu is hard to define. Some people say, it is 21, some – that it is 18, some even guess 15, based on the age, when travelers can legally arrive in the country with duty-free alcohol. However, this question means very little in Vanuatu, as tourists are never asked for ID when buying or ordering alcohol.
The national Airline Air Vanuatu operates flights from Port Vila to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Auckland. There are also flights to New Caledonia and Fiji.
Inter-island ferries run very often from and to Port Vila. However, this way of transportation is not recommended for tourists.
Roads are in reasonable condition.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
There are a lot of local buses operating in towns and cities of Vanuatu. Also, taxis are plentiful and have meters. However, if you want to hire a car, you can do it from numerous car hire operators in Port-Vila. Some resorts also offer pushbikes and scooters for rent.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Vanuatu uses type I sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
Air Vanuatu flies from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Auckland. Virgin Australia also flies from Brisbane. And there are also flights from New Caledonia and Fiji. It takes 3, 5 hours to fly from Sydney and 3 hours 15 minutes to get from Auckland.
Vanuatu is a popular cruise destination. Ships stop at Port Vila, Santo, Wala, Mystery Island, and Pentecost. Yachting is also a popular activity here. The authorized ports of entry for touring yachts are Port Vila, Luganville, Lenakel, and Sola.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of international resorts in Vanuatu for every taste and budget. Here, you will find large family-oriented resorts with numerous facilities, boutique adult-only resorts, aiming the romantic couples, as well as self-contained apartments and different budget accommodations. Due to the huge competition between different resorts, you can often find excellent proposals and discounts.
On Santo, there is also a wide variety of accommodations for couples, divers, and families. On other islands, accommodations are more basic. Those are mainly guesthouses. Keep in mind, there is a tourism levy of 100 vatu per night.
Camping in the country is not encouraged, so there are no camping grounds. If you are still up for a camping experience, choose a village on Nguna Island, to the north of the main island of Efate.
How Safe is Vanuatu
The crime rates in Vanuatu are currently low, although increasing. Burglaries are frequent and are usually accompanied by violence. You need to make sure to lock doors and windows at night. Street crimes rate is also increasing, so be aware of yourself, especially at night. Don’t make yourself an easy target. There were also attacks on tourists at nightclubs and bars in Port Vila.
As for health, tourist insurance is highly advised. There are a hospital and a medical center in Port Vila. “On-call” doctors visit resorts, when necessary. On the outer islands, there are small clinics and medical dispensaries. Before coming to Vanuatu, you need to have the following vaccinations: tetanus, malaria, hepatitis A, and sometimes typhoid, malaria, and diphtheria. You should be careful, not to get a cut on the coral reef. If this happens, treat it with hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic, and keep it covered.
Mains water is safe to drink, although, some visitors can get a mild abdominal upset from it. Don’t worry about white specks in tea and coffee. This is due to a high calcium level in the water. If you are still not sure, get bottled water, it is inexpensive and widely available. Keep in mind, you should stay well-hydrated in the tropics. Most milk in Vanuatu is UHT or long-life milk and is safe to drink. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables are safe to eat. Also, the local beef is considered excellent.
This country is not for an average traveler. However, if you love scuba diving, exploring world cultures, and quiet and remote places then this is an ideal destination for you. The islands are a colorful mix of traditional Melanesian culture, friendly people, beautiful tropical beaches, and active volcanoes. Also, the islands have all the modern day facilities you’ll need to have a great time. There are many perfect sandy beaches here that offer a lovely Pacific view.
July 12, 2016 12:00 am Leave your thoughts