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Working on your tan in Port Vila is certainly a lovely way to spend the day, but there’s plenty of beauty outside the big Vanuatu hotels. On distant islands scattered throughout the archipelago, you’ll find bubbling volcanoes, sugar-white beaches, coral reefs, remote waterfalls and sweeping volcanic ash plains. Natural attractions are pretty much Vanuatu’s major export, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world. The tricky part is fitting them all into a single itinerary (although we’ve given it a crack here). 


Swim Beneath Waterfalls on Efate

You don’t have to travel far outside Port Vila to find Efate’s best waterfalls. Mele Cascades are the most popular, hiding in the jungle about 10 km from Port Vila’s major resorts. The Mele Cascades is a collection of terraced pools that tumble down a rocky hillside, then plunge 35 metres into a natural swimming hole. Just watch your step on the rope-guided path to the top as it can get a bit slippery. For somewhere less busy, try Lololima Falls. It’s another stepped cascade, equally photogenic, with sloping limestone pools, hidden caves (search behind the upper-tier waterfall) and even a rope swing. For anyone staying on Tanna, make sure to set aside a couple of days for idle waterfall exploration: Louniel, Lenuanatuaiu and Lenuingao Falls are all beautiful spots for an afternoon swim. 


Efate - Mele Cascades


Peer into the Bubbling Depths of Mount Yasur

The legend goes that Captain Cook was drawn to Tanna in 1774, having seen the distant red glow of Mount Yasur. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and surprisingly accessible too. Travellers can catch a four-wheel-drive across the ash fields and up the mountainside, almost to the crater rim. From there it’s a 10-minute hike to the top of the volcano. The best time to visit Mount Yasur is just after sunset, when the lava bubbles and spits into the evening sky. Just be careful on your way up, there are no fences or viewing platforms around the crater (although there are some guide rails along the climbing route). If you’re planning a Tanna volcano tour, it’s best to go in the company of a local guide


VT Volcano


Walk Over Black Volcanic Sand

Tanna is known for its picture-postcard surf coast, particularly around Port Resolution and Yewao Point on the island’s eastern peninsula. It’s here you’ll find some of Vanuatu’s best bungalow accommodation (if you’re looking for larger resorts, like Rockwater or Evergreen, most of them are on the west coast). But thanks to the smoking Mount Yasur, Tanna is also home to several black sand volcanic beaches. Louniel Beach is our favourite. It sweeps along the northeast coast of Tanna, and the inky black sands make for some fantastic photographs. You can also explore Lowakels Cove, which comes with nearby Friendly Beach bungalow accommodation or Iwaru Beach, just south of Lenakel, Tanna’s major port town.  


Iwaru Beach 1


Catch Some Sun on Champagne Beach and Port Olry

Champagne Beach on Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo, can easily sit alongside Navagio or Wineglass Bay as one of the best beaches in the world. It features regularly on international Top 50 lists. And Champagne has something no other beach does, along with sugary white sand, electric blue water and a rainforest backdrop, Champagne Beach is the site of underwater volcanic activity, which causes the ocean to froth, fizzle and effervesce at low tide (hence the name). Sea turtles and parrotfish swarm over the offshore reef and you can hire snorkels from nearby resorts. If you’re visiting Champagne Beach, make sure to also check out Port Olry. It’s another coastal village, with the whitest, chalkiest sand known to science, just 20 minutes’ drive north of Champagne. 


VTO0049 Catch sun Champagne Beach


Venture into Millennium Cave 

If the idea of setting off into the jungle, hurdling river boulders and venturing beneath the earth sounds appealing, you need to explore Millennium Cave on Espiritu Santo. It’s the largest cave in Vanuatu and you can book cave tours from nearby Luganville. After a bumpy 45-minute ride to the village of Funaspef, it’s a challenging 1.5-hour hike through the forest to Millennium Cave, so you’ll need a decent level of fitness. But the scenery is some of the best in the archipelago. You’ll hike through the jungle, explore an underground cave system (with nothing but strong shoes and a torch), then cool off in forest pools surrounded by cascading waterfalls. If you’re after something a little less Indiana Jones, take a day trip on Havannah Harbour and visit the World Heritage-listed Roi Mata’s Domain


19 Espiritu Santo - Millenium Cave


Trek to Gaua’s Famous Crater Lake  

Gaua is the unofficial adventure capital of Torba province, hiding way off the tourist trail up in the northern archipelago. Lake Letas is the island’s centrepiece, a giant horseshoe-shaped caldera lake beneath the summit of Mount Gharat, an active Vanuatu volcano. Letas is the biggest source of fresh water in all of Vanuatu. It stretches for 19 square kilometres, emptying via a series of waterfalls and rapids that tumble down towards the sea. Siri Falls on the eastern edge of the lake is particularly photogenic, plunging 120 metres into a deep swimming hole. Travellers can hike around the caldera rim, swim in the freshwater lake, or trek up to the smoking rim of Mount Gharat. A must-see for hardcore adventure junkies. 


LakeLetasmtGaret2 1


Explore the Black Magic island of Ambrym  

If Vanuatu has a mysterious and mystical heart, it’s probably Ambrym, the so-called ‘Black Island’, rising from the ocean in Vanuatu’s Malampa province. Spiritualism and kastom are still alive and well here, with sculpted tam-tams adorning almost every village. It’s also where you’ll find two lava lakes belonging to Mount Benbow and Mount Marum. Both of these volcanoes play a big role in the mythical history of Ambrym, and these days you can hike right up to the smoking craters, passing through dense jungle and across ash-covered plains along the way. Just be aware, most of Ambrym’s volcano tours are two or three-day adventures over some pretty rough terrain, so you’ll need a guide to properly explore the island’s hinterland. There are no hotels on Ambrym, but it does have some fantastic bungalow accommodation


Ambrym Island- Crater Edge - Credit pics. Hoas Blong Volcano - Thomas Boyer


Swim with dugongs  

Vanuatu is one of the few places where you can swim with dugongs in their natural seagrass habitat. Traditionally, dugongs were hunted for their meat, but conservation efforts have stepped up in recent years (thanks to not-for-profit groups like the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project). Although some travellers report seeing dugong near Port Vila, sightings there are quite rare. The best places to spot them are the outer islands, especially the seagrass meadows off Malakula, and Lamen Bay on Epi. They take a little more work to reach, but it’s worth it. Canoe tours run from Malekula’s Lamap Point to Gaspard Bay (there’s a small airport in Lamap, and Air Vanuatu run flights direct from Port Vila). You can spend the morning swimming alongside wild dugongs, then hunt crabs with local guides and picnic on a private beach. Pure bliss. 


Snorkel in Tanna’s Blue Cave   

One of Tanna’s most famous natural drawcards is the Blue Cave. It’s a secret grotto carved into the cliffs on the western edge of the island, only accessible through a narrow sea channel. Approaching from the ocean, visitors can dive down, swim a short way, then bob up inside a natural rock cavern (if you’re nervous about going underwater, just wait for low tide). Sunlight pierces the roof in the Blue Cave, refracting and bouncing around, illuminating the water and turning it an electric shade of cobalt. Spend the day snorkelling, cliff-diving into the sea nearby, napping in the hammocks around the grotto…and possibly pinching yourself. 


VTO0049 Snokel in Tanna Blue Cave


Dive into Vanuatu’s Blue Holes

Blue holes are freshwater lagoons, almost custom-built for swimming. Vanuatu is lucky enough to have dozens of them, scattered through the jungle on the archipelago’s major islands. Pure water flows underground, down from the peaks, then bubbles up unexpectedly, creating these secluded natural plunge pools. There are more blue holes along the eastern edge of Espiritu Santo than any other place in the world. You can find some of the best here. Many Blue Holes (like the Blue Lagoon on Efate) get quite popular, and villagers have built simple infrastructure to make swimming easy, including dive platforms, bathrooms and change rooms. Don’t forget to carry cash to pay the small entrance fee. You can check out our blue hole guide here

 VTO0049 Blue-holes