COVID-19 TRAVEL ADVISORY for Vanuatu #8, issued 20 March 2020: all ports of entry closed until further notice.

As Vanuatu celebrates its 40th Anniversary of Independence, we'd like to celebrate the moments which, over the years, have shaped Vanuatu holidays and the stories visitors tell their family and friends. Ni-Vanuatu are proud of their country and love to share it with visitors.

A holiday in Vanuatu is first and foremost about the Ni-Vanuatu people. As they celebrate independence in full throttle this year, you will see cheekiness, pride, and hope shine through. There will be celebrations of the progress the country has made and the enshrining of the traditional ways and kastom and culture - the way things are done.

The '40 moments' that shape the Vanuatu holiday experience will take you on an adventure. This list is certainly not exhaustive, or in any particular order. Let us know what your favourite moments are.

 

Here are some of our visitors' 'Top Vanuatu moments'

 

1. The moment you leap into Mele Cascades

Just a 15 minute drive outside of Port Vila lies Mele Cascades. Hidden in a lush and tropical rainforest, Mele Cascades are stunning natural waterfalls, famous for the crystal clear waters and breathtaking views. You can spend the day cooling off in the pools, or take a short trek to the base of the falls where you’re met with beautiful tropical gardens. Rent a car and pay a small fee and explore on your own or take a half-day tour with Evergreen Vanuatu.

Discover more of Vanuatu's waterfalls.

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2. The moment you dive into the blue holes

Natural, bright blue and impossibly clear, the east coast of Espiritu Santo boasts more blue holes than anywhere else in the world. With five in total on Espiritu Santo and one on Efate, the natural wonders are nestled in lush jungles, with some only accessible by kayak. The blue holes are formed from freshwater that flows from inside the islands’ mountains. Visitors should pack a picnic and spend the day cooling off in the refreshing, emerald waters.

Explore the blue holes across the islands.

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3. The moment you snorkel with a dugong

While dugongs (sea cows) can be spotted throughout Vanuatu, the protected marine parks dotted around the country are the best place to catch a sighting. If you want to get up, close and personal with a dugong head to the warm, crystal clear waters off the north coast of Efate, near Moso and Lelepa island. These islands are only a short boat ride from the mainland and filled with diverse marine life and colourful coral.

Discover our top snorkelling and swimming spots here.

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4. The moment you swim with horses

With horse ranches on both Efate and Espiritu Santo, trail rides in Vanuatu take you through dense jungle, tropical rainforest, coconut plantations and along white sandy beaches. Once paired up with a horse for the day, you can explore the local villages, spectacular waterfalls and beautiful, palm-fringed beaches. If you want to cool off, you can take a dip while your horse swims alongside you.

Join a tour with Santo Horse Adventures or Club Hippique (near Port Vila).

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5. The moment you soar through the treetops on a zipline

Vanuatu Jungle Zipline is built high up in the trees above Port Vila on Efate island. The zipline course is thrilling for all ages and the park features a 60 metre-high suspension bridge, built into the surrounding jungle canopy, and over one kilometre of ziplines that let you soar (like Tarzan) through the treetops with breathtaking views of Mele Bay below.

Check out a heap of other family adventures in Vanuatu.

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6. The moment the volcanic firework show begins at Mt Yasur

Lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Vanuatu is home to nine active volcanoes, seven on land and two beneath the sea. The most famous and easily accessible, is Mount Yasur, on Tanna. Over the centuries, ash from Mount Yasur has built up and created huge, black sand dunes, forming a stark moonscape at the base on the volcano. After a short, easy climb you’ll find yourself at the top of the volcano where you’ll be treated to a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime fireworks display, sunrise and sunset viewing is best.

Start planning your trip to Tanna to visit the volcano with our 3 day Tanna guide.

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7. The moment you enjoy a glass of Champagne on Champagne Beach

Voted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Champagne Beach on the east coast of Espirtu Santo is a stunning, white sand beach, named after the effervescent water that fills its shores at low tide. The beach is located 45 minutes from the main town of Luganville, the drive will take you through Santo’s coconut plantations and local villages, as the local people smile and wave you on.

Check out our guide to Santo.

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8. The moment you send a postcard from the underwater post office

If you’re looking for a unique way to send a postcard, head to Hideaway island, a short boat ride out of Port Vila. Located in the Hideaway Island Resort’s Marine Park, three metres below the surface, is the world’s first (and only) underwater post office. Dive below the surface and post one of the resort’s waterproof postcards.

Visitors can get away from it all and stay on Hideaway Island. It's a great spot for learning to dive.

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9. The moment you visit a local village

Vanuatu has been recognised as one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries, which isn’t surprising considering its home to over 110 distinct cultures and languages. On any trip you must visit one of the local villages (there’s hundreds to choose from) to discover the village’s unique customs and traditions. Located in rural areas or just outside of the main towns, a tour of one of the cultural villages will give you a glimpse into the local lifestyle.

Here are our top eight ways to experience local culture.

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10. The moment the fireshow starts at Mele Beach Bar

The fireshow at Mele Beach Bar in Port Vila, started back in 2011, as a way for the youth performers at the local Wan Smol Bag Theatre to show off their skills and provide some Friday night entertainment. Today, the group has grown in popularity, performing at the resorts in and around Port Vila. A mix of choreographed fire dancing and poi, the original show began at Mele Beach Bar and the venue remains one of the best places to catch the performance.

Many resorts, including Warwick Le Lagon and Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu all have their own fireshow nights, but the most popular with locals is the fire show at the Beach Bar.

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Best ways to experience the 'real' Vanuatu

Vanuatu offers the chance to connect with real people, to connect with the environment, and to connect with yourself. Visitors always feel part of it, you won't be participants or spectators, but we promise moments where you will be immersed with the locals and their way of life.

11. The moment you catch a bus with the locals

Used by locals and travellers alike, the public minibuses in Port Vila are the best way to travel around the capital city and nearby hotspots such as waterfalls, markets and beaches. Emblazoned with a ‘B’ on the numberplates, you can jump on a minibus along the main streets in Port Vila and Luganville in Espiritu Santo. No bus stop? Flag one down and you’re good to go. 

Jumping on a local "B" bus is so much fun, just ask the driver to drop you at your location. Find out more here.

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12. The moment you find the perfect souvenir at the local markets

Found throughout the islands, the handicraft markets offer a range of arts and crafts that incorporate both contemporary and traditional designs. Travellers can buy handmade bags, mats, purses or carvings direct from the sellers; chat to them about their creations and the stories behind them.The largest of the markets is on the seafront in Port Vila.

The arts and crafts differ around the islands. Find out more about the crafts in the islands you are planning to visit. 

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13. The moment you taste the local cuisine

If you love food, you’ll love Vanuatu’s fresh food markets, which are packed to the rafters with organic fruit, vegetables and flowers. Visitors at the markets can taste local delicacies like lap lap and roasted coconut, as well as fresh fruits like paw paw and raspberries, all bursting with flavour.

The team at Papaya Loco run cooking classes using the best of the islands' produce, or if you want to let someone else do all the hard work, try K2 Kitchen near the airport for inventive dishes using local produce (they also cater for those staying in private villas).

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14. The moment you hike into the unknown on an outer island

Vanuatu’s outer islands offer incredible hikes for outdoor lovers, from three-day volcano treks taking in otherworldly landscapes to whole island expeditions through local villages and along jagged coastlines. To help navigate the islands, travellers are paired with local guides, who know everything there is to know about the islands’ history, traditions and local dishes. 

Discover the great hikes of Vanuatu here.

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15. The moment you the kids make new friends

Families can enjoy an active holiday and experience real island life in Vanuatu. The kids will enjoy making friends with the local pikininis (meaning kids in local Bislama); they’ll be dancing on the beach and diving head first into the waves together by the end of the holiday.

Check out our six day itinerary perfect for families.

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16. The moment you learn the local language

While there are over 110 languages and distinct dialects in Vanuatu, there are three official languages: English, French and Bislama. The word ‘Bislama’ derives from ‘beche-de-mer’ the ubiquitous sea slug found in Vanuatu's waters. Traders of beche-de-mer created the language as a form of pidgin English when the Europeans arrived. As with all languages, Bislama soon took on a life of its own; borrowing and incorporating new words and evolving over time.

Learn Bislama for yourself before your next trip.

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17. The moment you attend a Sunday church service

As a predominantly Christian country, the Ni-Vanuatu take Sunday best to a new level, with women wearing colourful, printed mamas dresses and men wearing smart shirts and slacks. At a traditional church service, you’ll find the locals singing in harmony and expressing friendship and warmth. Bear in mind though, that the Seventh-day Adventist communities found in some parts of the country, hold their weekly church services on Saturdays.

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18. The moment you first try kava

Kava, Vanuatu’s national beverage, is readily available throughout the islands. 80 of the 118 species of kava are grown in Vanuatu, and are used in both historical and contemporary ceremonies. Kava is made from the roots of the kava plant, the juices are used to produce a drink with euphoric, sedative and anesthetic effects. Today, people drink it to relax after a busy day at work or to kick back with friends on a Friday night. Kava bars are dotted throughout the main towns, so you can join the locals for a few shells to relax after a long day in the sun.

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19. The moment you catch your dinner

With a wide variety of fish in its waters, countless fishing operators and charters to undertake, Vanuatu has a plethora of fishing options for amature and professional fisherman. Fishing tours can be customised to your preferences, so one day you can go deep-sea fishing in remote waters and reel in a 50kg Wahoo and the next day, discover secret fishing spots with picture perfect views out to sea. With the salty air and the sun on your skin and fresh fish for dinner and an ice cold beer, it’s a fantastic way to spend the day.

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20. The moment you stay in a local bungalow

Owned and operated by locals, Vanuatu’s island bungalows or guesthouses are an authentic accommodation option for travellers to get a taste of the real Vanuatu. Bungalows are usually located outside of the main towns in rural areas and range from simple to luxurious, with most offering home cooked meals paired with idyllic natural surroundings. Some bungalows are hidden away in jungles, built on the beachfront, or perched high in the treetops, and  while they often vary in the services and facilities they provide, the hospitality is always second to none.

Discover the range of bungalows found across the islands.

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Significant Vanuatu moments

These are moments that are significant in the history of Vanuatu, and for its people

21. The moment Air Vanuatu commenced international and domestic flights

Launched in 1981, just after Vanuatu’s independence, Air Vanuatu is the national airline connecting Vanuatu with Australia, New Zealand and neighbouring South Pacific nations.

Have we inspired you with the first 20 moments? Check out Air Vanuatu's latest deals here.

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22. The moment you take a tour of Mt Yasur, Tanna

You feel the rumble of the volcano under your feet, as you climb up and peer in over the edge to watch the natural fireworks display. The locals have been allowing tourists to climb the volcano and witness this spectacular sight. Today, visitors can join in a cultural ceremony prior to hiking the volcano.

Start planning your trip to the famous Mt Yasur volcano.

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23. The moment the SS President Coolidge sank off Espiritu Santo

A few metres offshore the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu’s north, lies one of the world’s most popular wreck dives: the SS Coolidge. The ship sank when it hit two US mines on 26 October 1942, carrying over 5,000 troops and 12,000 tonnes of cargo. All but two people were able to evacuate the ship before it sank to the bottom of the lagoon, to its current position. This enormous wreck is almost completely intact with 50 different dive sites to explore. As you swim through this underwater playground, you can see the remains of the ship’s glory days as a cruise liner and the remnants of her days as a troopship.

Find out how to dive the Coolidge.

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24. The moment Vanuatu banned single use plastics

To keep Vanuatu beautiful, in 2019, it introduced one of the world's strictest plastic bans. The introduced law saw all single-use plastics banned, from plastic bags to straws to curtail ocean pollution and keep the country pristine for generations to come.

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25. The moment you decide to roadtrip around Efate

With tropical forest and picturesque coastline waiting around every corner, there’s a lot more to Efate than the resorts situated around the capital city, Port Vila. The attractions are all connected by a sealed ring road, completed in 2011, that reaches every corner of the island. You only need a day to explore the whole island or you can make the most of it with a night in a bungalow in the North of Efate.

We suggest stops at Mele Cascades, the Top Rock Lookout, Eton Beach and the Blue Lagoon. Check out our itinerary for a round-island Efate road trip.

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26. The moment the Ni-Vanuatu people were voted happiest in the world

Vanuatu’s people have twice been voted the happiest in the world. When you visit, the first thing you’ll notice are the locals’ smiling, laughing and their cheeky sense of humour. After a few days soaking up the laid-back lifestyle, you’ll find yourself grinning from ear-to-ear, as you slip deeper and deeper into the relaxed pace of life.

Check out our local insider's guides to the islands and their favourite happy places.

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27. The moment Vanuatu became independent

Prior to independence in 1980, Vanuatu was a joint English-French colony. The independence movement saw Vanuatu forge its identity with the creation of a new flag. The Vanuatu flag represents the people (black), the richness of the soil (green), the blood of man (red), the light of the gospel (yellow stripe), prosperity (boar tusk) and peace (cyad fronds). You’ll see this flag proudly flying throughout the country, and painted on buildings, boats and everything in between.

To learn more about independence, make a stop at the Cultural Centre in Port Vila on your next visit.

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28. The moment Vanuatu made it to the Academy Awards

The movie Tanna is the most successful film to be shot in Vanuatu, earning a nomination at the Academy Awards, and winning prizes at the Venice International Film Festival. The film is set in and around Yakel (on the island of Tanna), the film was directed by Sam Neill and tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers. Watch the movie, and then come check out the scenery for yourself!

Make sure you stop by the Yakel village where the film was set on your next Tanna adventure.

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29. The moment(s) famous people visited Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s had its fair share of VIP visitors (don’t worry, all our visitors are treated like royalty!), and the locals love it when a famous face appears in their part of the world. The most revered, some would say, is Prince Philip, who is now regarded as sacred by a small community, deep in the rainforests on the southwestern part of the island of Tanna. And after Will Smith surprised the people of Tanna in early 2020, images of the American film star started appearing on the sides of buildings and huts around the island.

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30. The moment Port Vila's seafront got a makeover

Since 2017, visitors to Port Vila have been enjoying the revamped seafront walkways. The walkway goes past an array of local favourites, including the popular Haos Blong Handikraft market, Nambawan Cafe and Chantillys on the Bay - a popular hotel and restaurant. It's also the jump off point for many tours and trips. Our top tip is to head down early and enjoy the flower markets followed by a Tanna Coffee at Nambawan Cafe.

Check out our guide to Port Vila and it’s surrounds here.

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Vanuatu off the beaten track

Travellers aren’t trapped in their resorts, with the same people, the same food and the same beach. Instead you are unshackled and free to explore, to get out there, discover, to let go and untangle from the modern stresses of life and experience a place where things slow down and you can’t help but be present in the moment. These are our top moments to truly go off the beaten path and let go.

 

31. The moment you witness Naghol on Pentecost Island

Naghol (a land diving ritual) is the rite of passage for the men of Pentecost Island, which requires them to jump off man-made wooden towers with vines attached to their legs. The ancient tradition is the inspiration for modern-day bungee jumping, and is open for visitors to watch from April to June every year.

Click here to read more about Naghol and see videos of the tradition.

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32. The moment you hike Ambrym's twin volcanoes

Ambrym’s terrain is well-defined by its twin volcanic peaks: Mount Marum and Mount Benbow. Visiting the volcanoes requires a multi-day hike, which will take you across black ash plains, through lush rainforests and bring you face-to-face with fuming craters.

To plan your Ambrym adventure, check out our guide and three-day itinerary.

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33. The moment you witness a cultural festival

With 83 islands and hundreds of languages spoken throughout the country, there’s no shortage of cultural festivals for you to enjoy. Each festival allows you a different insight into the kastom (local culture), whether it be the St Andrews and Leaf Fishing Festival on Vanua Lava, the Fanla Festival on Ambrym or the Naghol land diving festival on Pentecost.

Check out more festivals throughout Vanuatu.

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34. The moment you attend the South Pacific's biggest free music festival

If you love music, you’ll love Fest’Napuan Festival: Vanuatu’s annual celebration of Pacific music and art. The festival takes place in August-September each year (check dates before booking) and features a wide range of genres, including reggae, Melanesian fusion, string band, roots and pacific pop. The festival brings together a range of local and international acts for three days of free performances.

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35. The moment you ash board down the side of an active volcano

Sure, you can climb up and down Tanna’s Mount Yasur, but if that feels a little slow for you, do as some of the locals do, and ash board down the side of it! You’ll feel the rush of fresh Tanna air as you hurtle down the side of the volcano. If you’re not sure how to do it, keep an eye out for the local kids, as they’ve got it down to a fine art.

For more information on how to have an adventurous trip to Tanna, check out our three-day itinerary.

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36. The moment you explore Chief Roi Mata's Domain

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is just off the Havannah Coast, and is a dramatic natural memorial to Chief Roi Mata, a high-ranked chief, who reigned in the 1500s, and is believed to have mystical powers.

For more information on the Havannah Coast, where you can take the Chief Roi Mata Domain tour, click here.

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37. The moment you learn sand drawing

Traditionally, sand drawing was used as a means to convey a story or message, with Ni-Vanuatu etching messages into sand, soil or ash in one continuous movement. You’ll see it practiced throughout the country now, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn this UNESCO World Heritage-listed practice.

Ask your accommodation provider, and they'll be able to point you in the right direction. Check out our 5 must see cultural experiences in Vanuatu.

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38. The moment you witness the ocean become a giant drum and listen to water music

The women of Gaua are world-renowned for their ability to use the calm ocean waters to create striking melodies. Using their hands, they create a series of notes that, together with the splash emanated from striking the ocean, used to invite passing ships to stop at their island. These days, the women perform for visitors, and it’s truly a sight (and sound) to behold.

For more information about the water ladies, see here and also check out our four-day itinerary for Gaua.

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39. The moment you encounter the Big and Small Nambas of Malekula

During any visit to Malekula, you’ll come across two dominant tribes: the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas (a nambas is a sheath that males wear). You can visit both the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas on Malekula, differentiated by the type of penis sheath the men use in their cultural dress. Take some time to explore Malekula with a five-day itinerary and get to know the local tribes; you’ll encounter warm hospitality and see centuries-old cultural practices.

Discover more about Malekula with our island guide.

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40. The moment you find hidden waterfalls on Maewo

Maewo in the north-east of the country is a hidden gem, with verdant mountains, ocean caves and stunning waterfalls. Naone Waterfall in the centre of the island is truly spectacular. Naone is a must-visit alongside the stunning Moon Cave.

See our three-day itinerary for Maewo to help you plan your trip, as well as some hot tips for visiting the outer islands.

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