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With beaming smiles and jovial personalities, Vanuatu's people (known as Ni-Vanuatu) are always there to lend a hand, share kastom stories and show you the jaw-dropping wonders of their 83 islands. Here are eight of the best ways you can meet the locals on your next Vanuatu adventure.

1. Locally Run Tours
By supporting locally-run tours, you’re not only gifted with a unique insight into Vanuatu culture, but you’re providing employment to the communities who are opening up their islands to you. These tours are rich in local knowledge, with plenty of stories handed down from generation to generation that’ll delight and shock you. From stories of cannibalism and ancient sorcerers, to the gods that put the moon in the sky – these tours will be sure to expand your understanding of Vanuatu and its culture.

2. Local Markets
Get ready to spend some vatu! The local markets across this network of islands bring you face-to-face with local farmers and artisans. They deliver everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to hand-made carvings and shells for both locals and tourists alike. This is a great opportunity to meet the people behind the industries that sustain Vanuatu, and provide employment to communities from all corners of the islands. If you don’t get a chance to make it out to the smaller, more remote islands in Vanuatu, make sure you visit the 100% local handicraft market in Port Vila on the waterfront. Check it out here for more information: 

Keep in mind, haggling isn’t an accepted practice in Vanuatu. The prices are fair and it’s considered rude if you suggest otherwise. If something is out of your budget, just smile, nod and move along.

3. Guesthouses
There’s no better way to experience the traditional customs of Vanuatu, than to stay in the guesthouses of local villages. From beachfront bungalows, to rooms built in the treetops of banyan trees, these hand built traditional homes, while without the modern luxuries of hotels, will provide you with extraordinary insight into real island living.

You’ll be welcomed with open arms by the Chief and often fed by his wife and other local women. Make sure you sit down with the local community after your meal and have a chat. The kids will be dragging you away to play games before you know it.

4. Village Experiences

You can’t go to Vanuatu without spending some time in the villages. Traditional village experiences generally involve kastom welcome dances with masks and shells, flowers and woven sheaths. They tell elaborate stories about the battles and customs of each community through song and dance.

Often you’ll be encouraged to participate in the dances, to hold the hands of children and stamp and spin and jump. After the dances, you’ll enjoy refreshments and get the opportunity to meet the Chief of the community who often coordinates these performances. These more organised tours are fee paying and are a great way to see and experience ancient traditions while supporting new tourism businesses in the more remote islands.

If you are staying in a local bungalow, you will be welcome to wander around the village and chat to locals. Of course, depending on the village, there may be a number of other experiences to participate in and many are less structured. For example, on Lelepa Island, you’ll be treated to snorkelling and kayaking off the beach, surrounded by thousands of tropical fish. Every village experience is unique, so make sure to make time to include a few in your itinerary!

5. Local School Tours
The kids love visitors, and a local school tour will bring a huge smile to their faces as you appreciate their artwork and listen to what they’re learning. You can often chat to them in English which is often their 2nd or 3rd language. Many hotels can organise this for you, and we recommend the tour offered by Holiday Inn Resort on Port Vila. 

6. Drinking Kava
Kava is a drink made from a plant first domesticated in Vanuatu. You’ll find coconut shells full of kava on every island, but be wary, it has a superior effect and too much will leave you stumbling your way out of kava bars and into bed.

Kava is usually drunk around sunset and before you eat dinner. Every village on each island has a different approach to kava. The local kava practice is rooted in tradition, and the way that you make, drink and spit (or not) is different everywhere you go. So listen intently to the way the kava experience is described in each village you visit. Make sure to sit around and pay close attention to the stories shared by the village men while you drink kava together. You can find some great info about kava on this page and if you’d like a kava tour or to take some home as a souvenir, we recommend you visit Julia and her team at the Kava House in Port Vila.  

7. Hikes With Local Guides
From the Manbush Trail in Malekula to the Mt Garet hike in Gaua, the Mount Yasur trek in Tanna and the Nguna Full Day Adventure on Nguna. Wherever you hike in Vanuatu, the local guides and Chiefs who lead you will share stories about their villages and culture.

Every piece of land is owned by someone in Vanuatu, so when you’re trekking across the islands or arriving at a beach, you’ll have to pay a small fee to the land owner. Your guides will do their best to introduce you to landowners, which invites another welcome conversation with the locals.

Many of the hikes also pass through remote outer island villages, where you’ll be treated to refreshments and warmly welcomed. These village experiences may not involve dances and cultural shows, but instead will allow you to meet the families that live in these remote areas.

8. On The Beach
As you’re kicking back on the sand or swimming in the remote beach coves, you’ll likely come across a couple of locals or a small group of children. They’ll probably come up and say hello – they want to welcome you and celebrate the fact that you’ve come to visit their place. Make sure you offer them a seat and have a yarn, you never know what stories they may share. 

If you’re really wanting to have some fun, when you see a traditional outrigger canoe on the beach (this is quite common!) ask a local if you can borrow it. You’ll be surprised at how much skill it takes to paddle in a straight line. And we’re pretty sure you’ll make some friends along the way.