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Dog-shaped Malekula is Vanuatu’s second-biggest island. A rugged mountain land, where kastom and cannibalism once ruled the jungle.    


What to Expect

  • Swim with dugong at Nosrup beach.

  • Explore Malekula’s cannibal sites. 

  • Swim beneath Losinwei waterfall. 

  • Hike the seldom conquered Dog’s Head Trail.

  • Meet the Small Namba and Big Namba tribes.

  • Snorkel on remote Uripiv Island.


Fast Facts

  • Time: 5 days

  • Transport: 4WD

  • Nearest major city: Port Vila, Efate

  • Price: $


Malekula isn’t far from popular islands like Santo or Efate, but it feels like another world. There are few sealed roads here, no flashy resorts and many backpackers still arrive in Litz Litz on the back of a rusty cargo boat and explore the island by four-wheel-drive or on foot. Malekula is an old land, rugged and mysterious, home to the most ethnically diverse population in the archipelago. In fact, there are over thirty different languages spoken on the island. For the adventurous traveller, this is a chance to see a more traditional side of Vanuatu. A jungle-covered world of kastom and cannibalism, far removed from Port Vila’s glitz and crowds but still just a short flight away from the capital.   


Day One: The Journey Begins 



After flying into Norsup Airport, a four-wheel-drive will take you by road and bumpy track to the village of Atchin on the northern coast, about 45 minutes away (make sure you arrange this pick up in advance with Santo travel centre or your guesthouse). Atchin is your starting point for the famous Dog’s Head Trail. Have a quick walk along the black, volcanic beach, meet your porters and guides, then pack your bags and set off.  


Malekula Airport



After stopping at Botco for lunch, keep walking through the hills to Kalele village, where you’ll be greeted by the warm smiles of the local children. This will be your first stop. Spend the afternoon exploring the surrounding jungle and sipping kava with the Chief beneath the mango trees, before enjoying a dinner of taro and freshwater prawns. Then get some rest in a thatched bungalow. Sheets will be provided, but there’s no running water in Kalele. Brace yourself for a ‘traditional’ bucket shower. 


Food 1 1


Day Two: Hiking the Kastom Trails 



Today is a big day of hiking, about seven or eight hours across the ‘Dog’s Neck’ of Malekula. Set off from Kalele and climb along a beautiful highland track rich with the aroma of cocoa plantations. You’ll pass fast-running rivers, deep plunge pools (good for a quick dip) and ancient banyan trees that loom over the forest. Stop for a break in a local village, where the smell of roasting cocoa beans fills the air, or crack open a coconut and drink the sweet liquid inside.


Malekula Village 1 1



Along the trail, you’ll pass through the territory of the Small Nambas and the Big Nambas, Malekula’s two most powerful tribes. Wave to the village kids, stop and say hello to the locals, and pick up some handmade craft goods. Eventually you’ll reach Pialo Kastom Village on the island’s west coast, where your guide will drop you off at your bungalow accommodation. Finish the day with a swim in the nearby rock pools. 


Day Three: Snorkelling on Uripiv



When you reach the end of the Dog’s Head Trail a 4WD will pick you up from Pialo Village and drop you at your accommodation. Dram-Dram bungalow is a good place to stay on the west coast, but if you want to drive to Uri Island this afternoon, pick an east coast bungalow like Nabelchel or Lakatoro. Spend the morning soaking up the sea views, or taking a walk along the island’s black sand beaches.  


Malekula welkam 1 1



Uripiv (or ‘Uri’ as it’s sometimes known) is a tiny island off the north-west coast of Malekula, free from electricity, running water and crowds. Ask your bungalow or guesthouse owners about organising a day trip. You can spend the afternoon snorkelling Uri’s marine conservation area, a stunning fringe reef, home to turtles, tropical fish, dugongs, colourful clam gardens and even pods of spotted dolphin. If you want to stay on Uripiv, you can book a night in Nawov Freswind Bungalows (the island’s only accommodation). One of the owners of the bungalows will come and pick you up.


Uripiv 1 1


Day Four: The Land of the Nambas



Wake up with a morning swim and watch the sunrise over hinterland mountains. This morning you can explore Big Nambas culture in a little more depth, with a guided tour of Mae village. A namba is the traditional penis sheath worn by the local men and Malekula’s two tribes are named after the size of their nambas. Chief Jean-Marc will walk you through the village school, church and cocoa plantations, explaining some of the island’s tribal history. Bookings are essential for this one, but you should be able to book through your bungalow or guesthouse. 



You met the Big Nambas this morning, but this afternoon you’re heading north, into Small Nambas territory. Cannibalism was practised here up until the 1960s, when missionaries first arrived. There’s no better place for a guided tour of Malekula’s traditional cannibal sites. Join a 90-minute tour of the Amelbati Cannibal Site, and keep a lookout for skulls, bones and the ancient nasara (tribal meeting ground). Return to your bungalow for a vegetarian dinner. 


Day Five: Waterfalls and Dugongs



It’s an early start today. Enjoy some fresh local fruit and a coffee on your balcony, then head out for a half-day walk to Losinwei Falls. Losinwei is a series of cascading pools and waterfalls, flowing over limestone cliffs and surrounded by orchids and flowering irises. It’s one of Vanuatu’s most beautiful waterfalls. Spend the morning splashing from pool to pool, then catch a four-wheel-drive back to your bungalow for lunch. 



If you have an extra few days in Malekula, try to organise a tour to Maskelyne Island, floating off the southern coast. It’s one of the few spots in Vanuatu that you can swim with dugong in the wild. Having said that, Maskelyne is a bit far for your last afternoon – so just relax. Spend the day lounging around your bungalow sipping fruity drinks, or head out on one last adventure. Your flight leaves from Nosrup airport.