With its 83 islands, Vanuatu is nowadays an independent island state between Australia and Fiji. In the past it was a colony of Britain and France. That’s why everyone speaks at least three languages: Bislama (the official language of Vanuatu), English (from first grade) and their own island language where you even have different dialects in each village and sometimes French from the earlier days. Read more about the lifestyle in my travel post here.
- When to go: The best time to go is the European summer between June to September. I went end of May and it was still low season and therefore lower prices but quite good weather. From December to March it is very hot and afterwards very rainy but Vanuatu is anyway affected by cyclones from the Pacific so the weather can change quickly and is different from island to island.
- Getting there: It is only 2 hours away from Australia plus 1 hour time change. There are frequent flights from Brisbane and Sydney by Virgin Air or Air Vanuatu or from Auckland or Fiji starting from US $200
- How much time needed: in two weeks you can already see a lot like three or four islands, three weeks would be better but you might look on your budget as well. Always plan extra time for flight and transport delays as the clock in Vanuatu is going slower you know… 😉
- Money & budget: The curreny is Vatu (110 Vatu = US $1). Vanuatu is not cheap like Asia because it is an island state like Fiji and everything what is not growing there has to be shipped from Australia or China. That’s why the supermarket is not always a cheaper option. Meals at the market start from US $3 but in the restaurant $8-10 is normal, beer costs around $3-4 and the prices in the shops are mostly fixed (not much bargaining). As a daily budget I calculated $50-70.
- People & religion: the Vanuatu people have very dark skin if they are not mixed with Samoa or Fiji. The lifestyle remembers on a chilled paradise like Jamaica, lots of reggae music, bars and beaches. Most of the people are Christians so the public holidays are like that, too.
HOW TO GET AROUND
- …on the islands: On the main island Efate you have cheap buses (mini vans) for $1,20 (130 Vatu) in the capital Port Vila, as soon as you drive further out of the city it can get more expensive and scams are possible. To rent a car is very complicated and expensive: cheapest car for $55/day, scooter for $40/day. The best is to book a tour and share with others. On the smaller island there are trucks to transport tourists from one place to another because there are no proper roads – these can be expensive ($10 for 20min ride)
- …between the islands: The flights by Air Vanuatu are convenient and worth the money. In 60min you hop from Efate to Tanna or Santo in a small plane, recommendable is the flight between Port Vila and Craig Cove on Ambrym island in a 6-seater-machine. There is a ferry from Port Vila via Epi (Lamen Bay), Paama, Malekula to Santo (Luganville) departing each Monday 11 a.m. and arriving on Santo Island Tuesday evening but the 8 hours trip to Epi is already 5600 Vatu (US $50). Because it is quite exhausting it is just worth the adventure with the locals. Here are the prices:
WHERE TO GO
- Efate: Everyone will start or stop on Efate because of the capital Port Vila and the best flight connections. The best and cheapest hostel I found is the “Paray Lodge” close to the city center and a supermarket for $17 (1800 Vatu). But you should definitely get out of town for a day or two to explore the island. One round trip takes 4 hours without stops – so start early to explore the untouched nature of rain forests and waterfalls! You can visit a turtle reserve, the blue lagoon and many little islands around. Most of the attractions take fees around 1000 Vatu p.P. (US $8) which is a bit too much in my opinion and kind of a touristy rip-off – try to bargain!
- Tanna: This island is famous for its unique volcano “Mt. Yasur”. It is the most accessible volcano of the world which spits out red lava continuously. As a tourist you have to pay an entrance fee for the national park of 10.000 Vatu ($95) but there for you get really close to the volcano crater to watch the spectacle. The entrance is only allowed twice a day in the morning for sunrise and evening for sunset. In Tanna you can experience the traditional dances in the custom villages well. Diving and snorkelling is recommendable, too. Flights from Port Vila are about $100 one-way.
- Epi: Famous for the dugongs (sea cows) in Lamen Bay to snorkel or dive with, this little island has black and white beaches to offer and the untouched life of the people in their villages. Flights or ferry from Port Vila from $50.
- Ambrym: North of Epi and Efate, the two volcanoes “Benbow” and “Marum” can be found on Ambrym. A lot harder to climb but more various in nature these vulcanoes offer a massive lava landscape on the top and beautiful views over the island. The hike takes around 5 hours to the forest camps and another 1,5h to the crater of the volcano. Only with very good weather conditions the hike to the red lava lake in the Benbow crater is possible. That’s why a lot of people visit this volcano more for the hike and not necessarily because of the lava. At the moment the access to Marum is closed due to past dangerous eruptions. Be careful that it can get really cold (5-10 degrees) in the night. Back on the bottom of the volcano you can see red clouds from the villages Lalinda or Port Vato when it is dark because of the eruptions. Tours in one (exhausting), two or three days start from Craig Cove or Ulei (airports).
- Pentecost: This island is famous for the Land Diving. It’s like a bungee-jump from a huge wooden statue built by the village people to watch (no jumps possible for tourists, to dangerous!) as a celebration for the harvest of Yam, a big black root vegetable like a potato but white inside. Flights from Santo or Port Vila from $60.
- Santo: As the biggest island of Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo has beaches and snorkelling to offer as well as caves and imposant rock formation to explore. Flights from Port Vila or other islands to Luganville from $40.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Vanuatu is a region of Dengue fever. It is an incurable disease and transmitted by mosquitoes. There are four kinds of Dengue, the fourth one is almost deadly but not as common, if you survived one kind you are immune against it. Symptoms are high fever and dizzy spell because it affects the whole immune system. The treatment with medicine and antibiotics takes about a week. But don’t panic, if you use mosquito repellent regularly you are safe.
- To get money from the ATM is no problem, sometimes there are limits like 44.000 Vatu ($420) but mind that there are only ATM’s on Efate, Tanna and Santo, not on the smaller islands – take enough cash with you
- In the restaurants a tip of 5-10% is given