Luganville is the main population centre on Espiritu Santo, and Vanuatu's only large town outside Port Vila. It is popular for diving, and as a base for exploring Espiritu Santo.
With a sleepier atmosphere and a big rural hinterland, Espiritu Santo has quite a different atmosphere from the more upmarket Port Vila. Vanuatu's two towns are like Coke and Pepsi - people familiar with both generally have a strong preference for one or the other!
Santo's Pekoa airport is Vanuatu's second international airport. It is serviced by Air Vanuatu (also as a base for the flights in the northern provinces) and has a weekly direct flight to Brisbane. Belair also services Pekoa airport. Unlike most domestic flights, Air Vanuatu services between Vila and Santo are reliable and comfortable.
There is an ATM at the airport, a basic cafe and handcrafts store. Free wifi hotspot was available in June 2016, although it didn't look like an official hotspot.
Your options from the airport are to catch a bus or taxi. For the most part the taxi (T on the license plate) drivers will be able to understand enough English to get you into town, this trip costs 1000 vt (as of June 2016) - though it's not uncommon for drivers to offer discounts - and prices to other parts of the island are posted on the board as you walk out of the terminal. Buses cost 200 vatu but are rare nowadays. Several of the Hotels do offer a pickup service from Pekoa airport.
Two passenger ferries - Vanuatu Ferry and Big Sista run between Vila and Santo stopping at different ports in between. Check the schedule and prices, but as of 2014 the price is 8-9000 vt between Vila and Santo and both ferries seem to depart Vila on Tuesdays (+/- one day) and arrive in Santo 24+ hours later, then leave back towards Vila on the same day or the next day.
Many cargo ships service Santo. Most of them travel between Santo and Vila stopping at various islands on the way. The trip to Vila might be too long to justify it but they are useful for reaching other islands and are cheaper than flying or the passenger ferries. Schedules are not fixed and delays are commong and cleanliness varies but for shorter trips the cargo ships are an option. Cargo ships also stop at different places on each island so you can hop off exactly where you want. There are also ships that leave Santo for the Torba province (Banks and Torres islands). The coconut oil mill in Santo has 8 ships that travel to different islands. Ask around the wharfs in Santo or listen to the local radio at 5.30 pm and 7.30 pm for information in Bislama.
Luganville is not a large town in population terms, but it is sprawling and relentlessly hot, so walking around is not much fun outside the town centre. Compared with Vila, buses are rare in Santo but taxis are cheap and plentiful: expect to pay 200 vatu for a short trip within the town. Don't expect too many tar sealed roads in Luganville (or Santo in general for that matter) and aside from the main road, the road up to the hospital and the road leading up the hill toward the Road to Port Olry, all other roads on the island are dirt or leftover cement roads from the American troops in WWII.
As small as Luganville is there are a few things you'll want to make a point of getting to before you leave. Getting around town can be tricky because often the roads are unnamed but if you know the name of your destination it is small enough that most anyone on the street will know what you're talking about if you ask for directions. The open air market is one of them, its open 24 hours a day except for Sunday nights and it includes fresh fruit, vegetables and various other wares that the people of Santo bring to the markets from their village gardens. You can't beat the quality of their produce as its all organic. While in town you might want to take in Kava at one of the local Nakamals (outdoor seating area covered with palm frond roof). A favorite Nakamal of the local expatriate population is the Greenlight Kava bar opposite the Unity Shell petrol station. The expatriates that frequent the greenlight are usually quite friendly and eager to engage a tourist in conversation and share a little of their insight on life in Santo from a western perspective.
There are several good restaurants and cafe's in Luganville, Hotel Santo has a great bar and friendly staff (its also one of the few places you can get pizza in Luganville for those of you missing a western meal), the Natangora Cafe does wonderful breakfasts and you can get coffee, espresso's and fresh juices there. Coral Quays which is off on the western part of the town's main road is a great resort and a fantastic place to enjoy a good steak (I suggest the eye fillet steak with a peppercorn sauce). The beef is raised on a completely organic diet in Santo, and is some of the best beef you'll ever eat.
A new attraction is the healing water, located on the shore near a wharf right on the main road between the airport and town. A taxi here from town will cost you 150-200 vatu. Since rumours spread that this water could cure cancer and other ailments, hundreds of people have flocked to swim and bathe in it. The water is tidal spring and is better enjoyed at low tide. Even if you're skeptical of the medical benefits, the site has a pleasant atmosphere and is worth checking out. All are welcome, so long as they behave quietly and respectfully. The landowner has declared that since the water is a gift from God, drinking and swimming in it is free (as is filling up a bottle, so long as it's for yourself or a sick relative and not for sale).
The biggest draw to the Island is the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, a WWII troop carrier sunk by friendly mines in 1942. The majority of people traveling to Santo are divers who come for the expressed purpose of exploring this famous wreck. As such, there aren't many things to do in town other than to visit the local dive shops and organize some diving. Aquamarine is on the road opposite of the Unity Shell station and features a friendly and very experienced staff. They can take care of all your equipment needs and boast wide variety of Padi certified scuba courses at very competitive rates. Go to the outdoor produce market in the western end of town and buy some of the organic fruit and vegetables. Take a walk up to the top of the big hill and enjoy the view of Sagond Channel and Aore Island. There are a few great trips day trips you can do from town. Champagne Beach is about an hour long trip from town