Located in the South Pacific, Vanuatu is an archipelago made up of 83 islands. Home to a number of active volcanoes, the islands have a predominately mountainous terrain but also boast lush jungles, white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
Positioned between New Caledonia and Fiji, Vanuatu is approximately a 3.5 hour flight from Sydney, Australia. It is also a popular cruise destination, with many cruise lines including Carnival, P&O and Royal Carribean sailing to the islands.
Which island should I go to?
With approximately 65 inhabited islands, there are many incredible places to visit in Vanuatu. However, there are 3 main islands that attract the most visitors, Efate, Santo and Tanna.
Efate is the main island of Vanuatu and home to the capital, Port Vila. Surrounded by a magnificent natural harbour, Port Vila is the international gateway to Vanuatu offering numerous restaurants, bars, markets and an amazing coastline. Efate has some truly incredible sites such as the waterfalls of Mele Cascades, Eton Beach and Hideaway Island.
The island has no shortage of activities to keep you entertained during your holiday. There are numerous local touring companies that offer day tours to some of Efate’s best sites, fishing charters out to the reef, hikes through the rainforest and horseriding along the beach.
For the food lovers, Port Villa has endless restaurant choices offering everything from Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mediterranean, French, seafood and tapas. For the Aussies out there, you can even buy meat pies from many local stores.
Top activities in Efate
- Hire an off-road buggy and explore the local villages and lush jungles
- Take to the water and go scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking or fishing.
- Zipline through the trees, or if you’re not a fan of heights, hire a segway to explore the jungle tracks
- Take a tour around the island and check out the must-see sites of Efate.
- Visit the Ekasup Village and learn about local customs whilst enjoying native dance, music and food.
Santo is the largest island in Vanuatu and is less than an hour’s flight from Port Vila. Known for its world-class diving and white sand beaches, Santo is a nature lovers paradise. Scuba divers and snorkellers can explore incredible sites such as SS President Coolidge, a 20,000 tonne troop ship that has been submerged since WWII.
For the non-divers, Santo offers picturesque white (and black) sand beaches, coconut plantations and secret waterfalls that are perfect for the explorers at heart. For the adventure lovers, Santo is ideal for trekking through dense bushland or climbing Mount Tabwemansana, Vanuatu’s highest mountain.
The West Coast of the island is a lot quieter in terms of visitors. In fact, there aren’t even any roads on this side of the island. The people who live there maintain a traditional way of life and continue to use some of the oldest Vanuatu customs. I highly recommend visiting one of the Kastom villages if you want to learn about the rich cultural traditions of the Vanuatu people.
Top activities in Santo
- Take a trek through the rainforest to Vanuatu’s largest cave, Millenium Cave (note: this is definitely not for the faint-hearted, there are many steep inclines and huge boulders to climb).
- Explore one of Santo’s fresh water Blue Holes. These natural wonders are limestone holes filled with cobalt blue water and are not to be missed!
- Visit Champange Beach, one of the most pristine beaches in the whole of Vanuatu. With its powdery white sand and coral fringed lagoon, it is the perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon.
Tanna is home to one of Vanuatu’s most popular tourist attractions, the Mount Yasur volcano. In fact, it is one of the world’s biggest and most accessible active volcanoes. A night viewing of the volcano (in my opinion) is best as the locals put on an incredible fireworks display for visitors.
If you love all things adventure, Tanna is the island for you. Not only can you hike up an active volcano, but you can also swim in underwater caves, scuba dive amongst some of the best coral in the South Pacific and witness the island’s gorgeous wild horses.
A notable feature of Tanna is the feeling of stepping back in time. Visitors to the island can take a tour to a Yakel Custom Village to experience a culture that remains largely unchanged. In fact some villages are so devoted to traditonal ways of living that Western practices are strongly discouraged.
Must do activities in Tanna
- Take a tour to the crater of Mount Yasur and trek the rim of an active volcano
- For the brave at heart, why not go scuba diving in one of Tanna’s many underwater caves
- Trek through the jungle trails past hidden villages to the largest Banyan tree in the world (locals describe it “as large as a soccer field”)
- Spend the day at one of the islands traditional villages and take a black magic tour to uncover the mystery and said magic of Tanna
Efate, Santo and Tanna are definitely the most popular islands, but if you want to truly experience the beauty of Vanuatu, these islands below are relatively untouched by tourism, offering a rich, authentic Vanuatu experience.
This island is known for its twin volcanoes, the second most popular volcanoes after Mount Yasur. Ambrym actually made it into the top ten for the world’s most active volcanoes. It is one of the only places on earth where you can see active lava lakes. Ambrym is sometimes referred to as the black island due to the thick layer of volcanic ash covering the centre of the island. Day trips volcano walks are offered by the local touring companies. Staying overnight at the twin volcanoes is also an option if you wanted to spend more time exploring.
Renowned for its customs dances and ancient traditions, Malekula offers a true insight into the history of Vanuatu. It is the second largest and most culturally diverse island in Vanuatu with over 30 languages spoken. Malekula actually has an intriguiging history of cannibalism and still has old cannibal sites hidden in the jungle at the north part of the island. The centre of Malekula has a mountainous terrain with thick vegetation but is one of the best locations on the island for bird watching.
Pentecost is famous for Naghol, the daring ritual that inspired bungee jumping. Naghol, or land diving is performed by the men of Pentecost and involves jumping from towers around 30 metres high with tree vines wrapped around the ankles. There is no other safety equipment involved (aside from the vines if you count that as a safety mechanism). The ritual has now become a tourist attraction, drawing in visitors from all over the world.
Have you been to Vanuatu before? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your travel stories and top tips for visiting the islands. I’ll definitely be going back soon.
Until next time,