The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300–1100 BC.
The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was Espiritu Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós working for the Spanish crown, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.
During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of labourers, encouraged a long-term indentured labour trade called "blackbirding". At the height of the labour trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked abroad. Fragmentary evidence indicates that the current population of Vanuatu is greatly reduced compared to pre-contact times.
The British and French agreed in 1906 to an Anglo-French Condominium. Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanour and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a religion and a political party with a member in Parliament.
In 1980, amidst the brief Coconut War, the independent Republic of Vanuatu was created. During the 1990s Vanuatu experienced political instability which eventually resulted in a more decentralised government. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute. New elections have been called for several times since 1997, most recently in 2004.
Saltwater crocodiles are native to Vanuatu, despite anecdotal reports of being released by Europeans in historic times. Along with the Santa Cruz Islands of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu represents the easternmost range of the saltwater crocodile.
With such a large north-south area, Vanuatu has all the tropical variances possible. From hot and humid in the north, to mild and dry in the south. The Capital Port Vila on Efate can expect 27°C in July to 30°C in January. Nights can drop to 12°C. Humidity from December to February is around 82% and 70% around July.
Rainfall from January to April is around 300mm per month - for the rest of the year around 200mm per month. The Banks Islands in the top North can receive above 4,000mm of rain in a year, yet the southern islands may receive less than 2,000mm.
Cyclones are natural phenomena to understand and respect. Mainstream tourism facilities are solidly built and experienced in cyclone management. Cyclones appear (in varying degrees with plenty of warning) on an average every couple of years from December to March. By following instructions given by the local authorities, you will be in no danger.
Tourism peaks in the months of July to December. The months of January to June are the quietest. Experienced travellers take advantage of these tourism troughs to travel, as airlines, accommodation providers and other tourism related businesses discount heavily during this period.
The months of January to June are a little more humid, but cooled by the occasional tropical down pour. The added bonus is that in this period, tourism numbers are low. You have more opportunities to mingle with locals and carelessly do your own thing instead of being rushed by the crowd (except when cruise ships are in Port).
The islands of Vanuatu are grouped into six geographic provinces, the names formed by combining the first syllables or letters of the major islands in each.
A long list of countries are exempted from visas , which includes the USA, EU member countries, and all Commonwealth states. All visitors must have a passport valid for a further 4 months and an onward ticket. On arrival, you will be allowed an initial stay of up to 30 days. The permit is extendable at the immigration offices in Port Vila and Luganville. In Port Vila the process takes up to an hour (there is a lunch break). Processing times may change so don't leave for the last day. You will need to fill out a lengthy application form and explain why you want to stay longer, show an outward ticket, bring a couple of passport photos and pay a fee of VUV6000 for up to 4 months, VUV10,000 for up to 7 months and VUV16,000 for up to a year.
The main international airport is in Port-Vila with flights to and from:
There are a few charter airlines, these are Unity Airlines, Sea Air, AirTaxi and Air Safaries. Call to see if they have seats on standby to Tanna - it is way cheaper than Air Vanuatu. The national airline Air Vanuatu and Belair operate in the domestic network. Air Vanuatu has its schedule and prices published on their website, but most domestic flights are not bookable online. Contact Belair by email (see their website) for schedules and prices. Air Vanuatu is generally more expensive but if you have an international in- or outward ticket with them, they will give 20% discount on domestic flights. Belair are less reliable but cheaper and good for connections between adjacent islands that might otherwise require clumsy stopovers on Air Vanuatu. Domestic flights around Vanuatu generally require a 200 vatu tax to be paid at a separate booth after checking in with your airline.
There are two ferry boats operating regularly on the route Vila - Santo: 1: Vanuatu Ferry and the Big Sista. Both ships are fairly comfortable.
Vanuatu Ferry typically leaves Vila on Tuesday. The passage to Santo takes a bit over 24 hours. Vanuatu Ferry usually stops at Lamap and Litzlitz (near Lakatoro) on Malekula before continuing to Santo, but this changes every week. Check their office on the main road in Vila near Au Bon Marche 2. Usually the return trip from Santo is out on Thursday. Lately Vanuatu Ferry has also been servicing Tanna, so make sure to ask at the office.
Big Sista also usually leaves Vila on Tuesday or Wednesday. Tickets can be purchased on the ship, which is docked in downtown Vila behind the market when not in service. Big Sista runs Vila-Emae-Lamen (Epi)-Litzlitz (Malekula)-Luganville. It has a "business class lounge" with air conditioning on the top level.
There are cargo ships servicing all inhabited islands in Vanuatu. Cargo boats are not as comfortable as the two passenger ferries but vary in cleanliness and comfort, ranging from bad to truly bad. They are, however, by far the cheapest way to get around, and many ships will offer some food to passengers. Just don't rely on them being on time.
Tafea islands are served by MV Tauraken, however, the passage is not advised if you can afford a plane ticket. The passage between Efate and Erromango is very rough, and while Tauraken reliably visits Tanna, it does not usually make it to Aneityum more than a few times in one year. Check for it at Star Wharf, where the cruise ship docks.
In Shefa Province, Emae is serviced by Big Sista (behind the market house). Other islands in the Shepherds are served by a variety of different ships such as Island Claws, Brooklyn, Urata, and Uratariki. Check at Star Wharf. Epi is serviced by Big Sista and by Uratariki and Epi Queen.
From Vila or Santo to Malekula, Big Sista and Vanuatu Ferry are your best bet. However, from Santo to Malekula there are a number of small ships such as Cayanga or Marata. Ask at the wharf. Paama is serviced by Big Sista. Ambrym is mainly serviced by MV Brisk and MV Tina 1. Check out the wharf in Vila behind Fisheries (government wharf). Their head office is in Santo.
Penama province can be reached on boat from Vila, but it's best to go through Santo to save yourself a 3+ day trip.
And to the Banks, ask in Santo!
Getting information about cargo boats is difficult. The tourist information office is useless. On the outer islands locals know best which ship calls in and at what time and will have phone numbers to call and confirm. In Vila and Santo your best bet is to go to the different wharfs and ask again and again. Schedules change without notice due to weather or cargo-related issues. The local radio announces information on cargo ships at 5.30 pm and 7.30 pm in Bislama. Here you can find an list of Vanuatu cargo boat routes partly with phone numbers to companies.
In Port Vila the buses are mini vans seating about 10 people, which largely traverse the main road and go and stop where you would like them to go. You can easily tell and bus as their licence plate starts with a "B"
Wave at them to stop one heading in the direction you want to go. They are plentiful within the city and outside the city you can usually arrange for a bus to meet you at a particular time. If one looks full, just wait for the next one. The buses are used by locals, but are very friendly, cheap, and easy to use by tourists. Fare is usually calculated per person. The cost is usually 150 Vatu (AUD$1.5) per person anywhere around Port Vila. As a general rule of thumb from most resorts into town you will only pay VT150 If you are travelling a longer distance, the fare may rise to 300 - 500 Vatu per person.
Taxis are plentiful within Port Vila. Fare is calculated per taxi. You can easily tell and tax as their licence plate starts with a "T". Within Vila Town, the taxi is 500 vatu for everyone inside, so if you have more than 3 people, it's cheaper than a bus.
In Vila/Efate, around Lugainville and bit on Tanna there are buses. Anywhere else if there is a road, there will be Toyota trucks plying it. However, unless you follow a trip, chartering is the only option and it is expensive. If you decide to walk (most islands are not too big), you can "hitchhike". If a truck picks you up and drops you off somewhere on the way, this is usually free. If they go out of their way to bring you to wherever you want to go, this is considered a charter.
There are three official languages: English, French and Bislama. Bislama is a pidgin language – and now a creole in urban areas – which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the whole population of Vanuatu, generally as a second language.
It is a mixture of phonetic English woven in a loose French sentence structure spoken with ‘local sound' producing some comical outcomes e.g., ladies brassieres or bathing top is called "Basket blong titi"; no offense intended. An excellent Bislama dictionary is available from good book shops: 'A New Bislama Dictionary,' by the late Terry Crowley. Some common Bislama words/phrases include:
In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu. The density of languages per capita is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language. All of these vernacular languages belong to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.
Bislama English A - Z Quick reference — Ol stamba wod http://vanulife.com/index.php/the-voice/bislama-english-a-z-quick-reference-ol-stamba-wod.html
The Vanuatu people are a delight to photograph, friendly, co-operative and photogenic especially the children who are simply gorgeous. Yes, they love to be photographed but please do not offer to pay to photograph local people as this will quickly discourage spontaneity and encourage commercialisation. Always ask before taking photos of local people.
In some cases, some people may be reluctant to be photographed for reasons that you may never know. It is prudent to enquire as to the fee for photographing cultural festivities as they are sometimes very high. The reasoning behind this is they put on the show, people take photos and make money selling these photos of their show - so they want to be paid accordingly (makes sense). Shooting an exploding volcano at night calls for min 800 asa setting and a tripod is essential for good images.
If you want a relaxing time and the usual comforts of a tropical holiday, stay in Port Vila. If you want adventure and something really different, get out of Port Vila.
The local currency is the Vatu (VT). For purposes of very rough calculation, there are a hundred vatu to the dollar. The exact rate varies and depends on whether your dollars are Australian, New Zealand or American. There are notes for 200 VT, 500 VT, 1000 VT, 2000 VT, 5000 VT and 10,000 VT, while coins include 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 VT pieces (the tiny 1 VT and 2 VT coins were withdrawn from circulation some years ago). Some of the coin and note designs were changed in 2015. As of 29 February 2016, the older versions will no longer be legal tender.
Credit and debit cards on the major networks (Cirrus, Maestro, etc) are accepted by many businesses in town, but by nobody in rural areas. High-end tourist businesses in town also accept Australian dollars, but elsewhere you'll need local currency. It's best not to try paying at the market or on a bus with anything larger than 500 VT otherwise the seller/driver may have to go to a lot of hassle to find change.
ATMs are available in Port Vila and Luganville, and include the Australian banks ANZ and Westpac. Some ATMs accept VISA cards. The National Bank of Vanuatu has a branch at the airport and is open for all flight arrivals. Otherwise, banking hours are from 8:30AM to 3PM. Goodies, which has various branches in town, usually offers the best rates in Port Vila for currency exchange.
There are no banking facilities at all outside Port Vila and Luganville (other than a few old-fashioned rural branches of the National Bank of Vanuatu, which aren't very useful to tourists), and nobody in villages accepts dollars or cards. Take vatu in cash.
Tipping is not expected in Vanuatu, nor is haggling or bargaining; it is not the custom. Prices are fixed (a small shell of kava costs 50 vatu in every bar, and has done since before independence in 1980), and if prices seem high, that's usually just because Vanuatu is expensive. However, gifts are very much appreciated and the exchange of gifts for services rendered fits well into the local traditions. Make sure gifts are appropriate, though, and given to those to whom you are genuinely grateful for help. If travelling in rural areas you will be constantly indebted to people for small acts of kindness.
The main market in Port Vila, by the waterfront, sells local fruit and vegetables, handicrafts (since Cyclone Pam's destruction of the handicraft market further along the waterfront), and cheap meals. It's fun to wander round and see all the local produce. There is a supermarket across the car park from it, and a bigger supermarket a kilometre away at Nambatu.
If buying souvenirs to take home, keep Australian and New Zealand quarantine regulations in mind. Woven mats and baskets and wooden carvings from Vanuatu are generally fine so long as they're new and clean. If they contain wormholes, or dirt and bugs drop out when the quarantine officer shakes the item, then you're in trouble. Items made of coral and other animal products are likely to get confiscated. Exporting tree fern carvings requires certification.
There's a new store on the main street called Pandanus which sells nice locally made handicraft along with art and a selection of trendy imported giftware. It's worth a visit
The legal status of kava in other countries varies and is sometimes vague, but in general it's OK to take a small amount of powdered kava home to share with your friends. (Be warned though that this isn't the same experience as drinking it fresh.) At the time of writing, it was legal for tourists to take up to 2 kg of kava products into Australia or New Zealand for personal consumption, although it's now illegal to sell kava in Australia. In the United States kava is perfectly legal. A ban on kava sales in Canada and some European countries, which followed a (now debunked) health scare in the early 2000s, was never well enforced and there have been recent moves to overturn it. It's unclear whether importing kava for personal use was ever forbidden in these countries. Singapore regulates kava as a 'poison' and restricts its import.
There are many restaurants and eateries in Port Vila, ranging from up-market places catering to tourists and expats, to more low-key establishments. The approximate cost of lunch would be around the 1000-1500 vatu range, depending on where and what you eat. Some examples of prices:
The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this either manioc (kasava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake. The best place to pick up some of this is at the food market in the town centre and should cost you about 100 vatu.
This is a variation of lap lap with the the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.
Vanuatu's meat is renowned in the region. At the airports you will see signs reminding you to pack the 25kg of meat permitted to other nearby island nations. The reason the meat's so good is that it's all naturally grown, with no feedlots or other problems of westernised mass production. The result of this is that the steaks are very good indeed.
Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. If you drink good quality kava, don't overdo it, and don't mix it with alcohol, the only after-effect will be a slight 'slackness' the next morning. If the kava was good quality, this after-effect fades quickly (though beware of 'two-day' kava varieties with longer-lasting and more unpleasant effects).
The kava served in Vanuatu is typically much stronger than in neighbouring Fiji. Do not be put off trying kava in Vanuatu because you drank it once in Fiji and it seemed like nothing more than "dishwater".
In rural Vanuatu, kava is drunk communally in village meeting huts (nakamals). In town and in larger villages, kava is sold in bars, sometimes also referred to as nakamals, of which Port Vila has literally hundreds. You can socialise in the nakamal as you drink kava, or fill up a bottle ("plastic") to go and drink at home. You can find your local nakamal by asking anyone on the street, by asking a bus driver to take you to his favorite one, or by wandering the streets after about 4:30 or 5 p.m. Kava bars are recognizable by coloured lights on the roads. When the kava is done for the evening, the light is switched off. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travellers to try, though this is likely to be fairly watered down.
If staying in rural villages, you may be invited to watch traditional kava preparation. On Pentecost and other northern islands this is done with hand-grinders (pasis') made of coral stone. On Tanna and elsewhere in the south the drink is mashed by being communally chewed and spat out onto a leaf or into a bowl. Stone-ground or chewed kava is far stronger than kava made by modern preparation methods such as meat-grinders.
Kava-drinking was traditionally a strictly male activity, although in urban areas, an increasing number of women also drink it. As a general rule, women are welcome in commercial kava bars, but not in traditional village nakamals, though an exception is often made for foreign visitors. Like anywhere in Vanuatu outside tourist resorts, women should dress modestly at the nakamal.
Kava is served in a "shell" - traditionally a coconut shell, but in urban bars usually a small bowl. The price (at least in town) is always 50 vatu for a small shell, 100 vatu for a bigger one. In Bislama ask for wan blong 50 (one for 50) or wan blong handred. (Hard-core drinkers can also get larger amounts such as 150 if they really want, but this is rare.) Drink the whole shell in one go - the taste is too unpleasant to be allowed to linger - then seek something to wash the taste out of your mouth. Many bars sell small snacks called wasemaot ("mouth wash") especially for this. Feel free to spit too.
Kava bars that are easy for a tourist to find and serve clean, though not necessarily the strongest, kava:
Alcoholic beverages are also widely available. You can buy a bottle from the grocery store or from one of the duty-free stores. Resorts, bars, and restaurants serving tourists have a wide range of drinks available. In general, a glass of wine is between 500-900 vatu, and a cocktail should be approximately 1200-1400 vatu. The local beers are called "Tusker" and "Vanuatu Bitter". From the grocery store, Chinese stores, or nakamals, they are about 215 to 260 vatu, but at restaurants a beer will be about 400-600 vatu. Alcohol sales are closed because of the Sabbath from 11:30 a.m. on Saturday until Monday at 7:30 a.m. Take this into account when planning. You can still purchase alcohol from tourist bars and restaurants, though.
Around Port Vila and Luganville there is a range of accommodation, from dorm beds to luxury resorts. Prices are not super cheap by developing-country standards but there's a reasonable amount of moderately-priced accommodation. Eating out is expensive in Port Vila so self-catering is a good option for those on a budget. In Port Vila, you can pay as little as 2000 VT a night if you're prepared to slum it; for something reasonably nice you'll be looking at 5-10,000 VT. Luxury options are considerably more.
On rural islands, accommodation is provided mostly by small family-run guest bungalows. These are usually friendly and charming but very basic in terms of facilities (though Tanna has a couple of better-developed accommodation options). Some church missions also have guestrooms. Prices for basic rural accommodation typically range from 1,000 to 3,000VT per person per night. Rural bungalows usually also provide meals, as there are generally no alternative eating options other than breakfast crackers and tinned spam from the village store.
Many of the motels in Port Vila and Luganville also fall into the budget category, with prices around 2000 VT per night. There are a number of websites which list such motels.
There are many charitable organisations and NGOs operating in Vanuatu, and a strong community of volunteers in the area. If you are interested in volunteering in Vanuatu, the following organisations place volunteers there:
Many people from overseas work in Vanuatu, either running their own businesses or employed by others.
Generally speaking, work permits are only available for positions where there are not enough ni-Vanuatu to meet demand.
Vanulife provides a Free Jobseeker service for ni-Vanuatu and foreigners. 
Vanuatu is, on the whole, a safe and friendly environment. You are unlikely to encounter any trouble unless you do something extremely provocative, though crime rates are said to be increasing, particularly in Port Vila at night. Take the same precautions you would anywhere else.
If wandering the back streets of Vila and Luganville, beware of dogs and (at weekends) obnoxious drunks, but nearly everyone else you meet on the streets in Vanuatu is astonishingly friendly and hospitable.
In rural Vanuatu, men and women do not socialise freely together, and gender relations are extremely old-fashioned. Whilst the status of women is improving, and female visitors are often treated with respect not accorded to local women, there are still a few men who know no better way of getting to know women than sexually assaulting them at random. Rates of sexual violence are high in Vanuatu, like elsewhere in Melanesia, and although local women are the main victims, female visitors occasionally find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Women should therefore never wander alone.
There are no seriously poisonous snakes, spiders, or insects on Vanuatu. However, there are various poisonous aquatic animals that you should beware of if you are swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the area. The most dangerous of these is the stonefish.
The large centipedes found in urban areas are not deadly but their bite is painful enough to ruin your holiday. Beware too of the tiny red 'fire ant', an imported pest now spreading through some areas.
It is advisable to be immunised against Hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever before visiting Vanuatu.
Malaria is endemic within some areas of Vanuatu, but not Port-Vila. If you are venturing outside the resort areas, check with your doctor before you travel.
Tap water in Port Vila is clean and potable, but is best avoided elsewhere. Doctors used to treating common traveller problems are available in Port-Vila. Any more serious problems may require some form of medical evacuation.
Be careful of any small cuts, scratches, or other sores you receive while travelling in Vanuatu. As in most tropical areas, small sores can easily become infected if you don't practice proper hygiene. Most of these things require common sense.
Within their own small communities, ni-Vanuatu uphold very conservative values, but they are used to diversity and tend not to openly criticise other people's cultural practices (Western openness towards homosexuality, for example), although they may be curious or uncomprehending. They expect visitors to show similar respect towards their own cultures.
Throughout Vanuatu, and especially outside of Port Vila in the villages, life is strongly influenced by kastom -- a set of traditional customs and taboos that apply to all kinds of matters. Be aware of this, and respect locals' requests with regard to "kastom".
Christian religion is very strong. If staying with a local family you may be invited to attend church services, or expected to say grace before meals.
When visiting villages, women should dress modestly, wearing clothes that cover the shoulders and knees. Revealing and sexy clothing is not advisable, as over 100 years of missionary work has had its effect on the perception of what is considered as respectable attire in the islands. Don't walk around in beach wear outside tourist resorts.
As Vanuatu is not a ‘fashion conscious' place no-one will notice or care if you were wearing the latest from 'the Paris Collection' or not. You are best off bringing a practical tropical wardrobe such as light cotton summer clothes that are easy to hand wash, a ‘sloppy joe' pullover and a lightweight waterproof wind jacket. If planning to go to the outer islands, bring a good flashlight (with spare batteries, you will use them!), lightweight, walking shoes, sandals or good thongs (flip flops/croks) for wet weather and old clothes.
Tip: When exploring the outer islands take all the older clothes you can carry, wear them and give them away to the islanders when you are finished wearing them. You and your children will be aptly rewarded in other ways. Instead of dumping your worn clothes in a charity collection bin at your local shopping centre and never knowing who really receives these (if they ever do...), your children will interact with the very people who would be the recipients of those clothes (most NiVanuatu people buy these second hand clothes from shops in Port Vila).
Sharing and giving is a natural course of daily life in Vanuatu. The T-shirt you give to one person will be worn by all his friends as well. Three T-shirts on top of each other will be their winter outfit.... You will provide them things that are hard for them to obtain, save them the expense of buying clothes (basic wages are quite low in Vanuatu) and you will depart with priceless memories, plus have more room in your luggage for purchased local arts and crafts
Communicating With NiVanuatu people:
Contact the Vanuatu Tourism Authority for all travel and tourist related information. Visit [www.vanuatu.travel]
The international country code for Vanuatu is +678. To dial overseas from within Vanuatu dial 00 followed by the relevant country code and phone number.
Emergency phone numbers: Ambulance (22-100); Fire (22-333); and Police (22-222).
Vanuatu has GSM mobile coverage in Port-Vila and most GSM mobile phones roam seamlessly. You can buy special visitor SIM cards from TVI , which offer considerable discounts over roaming charges. Available at any post office.
International Roaming from New Zealand and Australia is available. Telecom Vanuatu has a package called ‘Smile Visitor' which consists of a sim card with a pre-purchased credit. This can be purchased at the Vanuatu Telecom Office in town. Telephone: +678 081111. Email: email@example.com
Or with the new player's Digicel, giving Telecom some overdue competition. Digicel have made themselves very visible, and can be found everywhere. They have a bunch of different cheap plans for you.
Internet cafes can be found in Luganville & Port-Vila. You may also find that some post offices will also provide some kind of Internet facilities, and can be found on the main streets in Port-Vila and Luganville as well as on Espiritu Santo.
Mobile data (3G, GSM) packages and SIM cards for visitors are available to purchase from Digicel and TVL. There is also a wifi provider, Telsat broadband with city wide coverage, at present only in Port Vila and surrounding areas. Most resorts provide wifi or wifi hotspots for their guests.
Postal services to mainland Europe can take up to 7 days from Port Vila, and weeks or months (if mail arrives at all) from the outer islands. You can send letters and postcards from mailboxes in the streets, however the incoming postal service can be patchy, especially for parcels, so don't rely on people sending you things while you're staying in Vanuatu.