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Mount Yasur, Tanna Island
Vanuatu in its region.svg
Flag of Vanuatu.svg
Quick Facts
Capital Port-Vila
Government parliamentary republic
Currency vatu (VUV)
Area 12,200km²
Population 196,178 (July 2002 est.)
Language English, French, creole (known as Bislama or Bichelama) official; plus 100+ local languages
Religion Presbyterian 36.7%, Anglican 15%, Roman Catholic 15%, indigenous beliefs 7.6%, Seventh-Day Adventist 6.2%, Church of Christ 3.8%, other 15.7% (including Jon Frum Cargo cult)
Country code +678
Internet TLD .vu
Time Zone UTC+11

Vanuatu (previously known as the New Hebrides Islands) is an archipelago nation consisting of 83 islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand and east of Australia.



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).

Helicopter shot of resort island surrounded by yachts and with cruise ship moored in far distance


Map of Vanuatu

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.

Torres Islands and Banks Islands
Sanma (Luganville)
Espiritu Santo, Aore and Malo
Pentecost, Ambae and Maewo
Malakula, Ambrym and Paama
Shefa (Port-Vila)
Shepherd Group and Efate
Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango and Aneityum


Other destinations[edit]

Epi Island




Get in[edit]


Nationals of any European Union state within the Schengen Area may enter Vanuatu visa-free for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Nationals of all other European Union member states, plus Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China (PRC), Cuba, Dominica, Fiji, the Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Zambia and Zimbabwe may enter Vanuatu visa-free for up to 30 days

All visitors must have a passport valid for a further 4 months and an onward/return ticket within the next 30 days (unless you already hold some sort of long-term immigration permit). Airlines checking your passport are strict about this requirement; if planning a long visit you may find yourself having to buy a refundable return ticket and changing or cancelling it later. Permits are 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 this 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, VUV12,000 for up to 7 months and VUV18,000 for up to a year. Further information can be found online.

Unfortunately for non-Western travellers, most cheap flights from Europe and Asia to Vanuatu pass through Australia, which requires visas from almost everyone, even for brief visits. For citizens of Western countries these are easily obtained online and aren't always necessary if you're simply transiting an airport, but everyone else will need to allow a month or so to apply for a transit visa. Alternatively, you can get to Vanuatu via Fiji, from which there are a few direct onward flights to Singapore and Hong Kong, all of which are much more open to visa-less travellers than Australia.

By boat[edit]

  • Expedition company Heritage Expeditions (New Zealand based company) operates Vanuatu cruises aboard its 50-passenger expedition ship 'Spirit of Enderby / Professor Kromov' each October. They navigate waterways using the ship and inflatable zodiacs to visit out-of-the-way islands and communities in expedition-style travel. Daily landings and excursions focus on culture, wildlife, hiking, birdwatching and underwater snorkeling experiences.
  • P&O Cruise lines operate regular cruises through Vanuatu waters.
  • Tall ship Soren Larsen, +64 9 817-8799, sails from Fiji to Port Vila and Santo and explores the northern Banks Islands once a year. Subsequent 11 night cruises explore the Banks Islands, then the isolated islands of central Vanuatu, departing from Port Vila via Tanna island to New Caledonia.
  • Vanuatu Yacht Services (Seal Superyachts Vanuatu) [10] provide exclusive yacht agency services and other VIP travel arrangements for yachts and superyachts visiting Vanuatu.
  • Yacht Charters Vanuatu offer skippered sailing charters year round throughout the archipelago.

By plane[edit]

The main international airport is in Port-Vila with flights to and from:

  • Solomon Islands

Direct flights from both Sydney and Brisbane to Luganville with Air Vanuatu [24].

The shortest and cheapest route to Vanuatu from Europe or Asia is usually via Brisbane (though if Australian visa requirements prove a headache you might consider travelling via Nadi instead). From North America the usual route is via Nadi. Nadi is a grotty place compared with Vanuatu so don't plan a stopover there unless you intend to spend time exploring other parts of Fiji. Australian cities are nice but expensive stopover destinations.

Get around[edit]

By air[edit]

The national airline, Air Vanuatu, operates domestic flights throughout the islands. Comfortable daily flights in the 72 seater ATR aircraft connect Port Vila with Santo and Tanna, but elsewhere, domestic flights are a very different experience from flying internationally with Air Vanuatu. You're likely to be on a tiny plane with no assigned seating, airports are bush airstrips with no facilities, schedules change continuously and at short notice, and nobody much minds what your hand luggage looks like or contains so long as it fits on board. There is theoretically a 10kg baggage limit on domestic flights, but for foreign tourists with a suitcase slightly heavier than this, the limit is often ignored.

Domestic flights can now be booked online, or you can book them at Air Vanuatu's offices in town or by phone. You can reserve seats in advance and pay later (you'll lose your reservation if you haven't paid up two days before departure). Availability is usually not a problem if you book more than couple of weeks in advance, but if trying to fly at short notice you may find the plane full. Currently, fares are more-or-less proportional to distance, and flights can be changed quite freely at no extra cost, but Air Vanuatu are reportedly looking into introducing cheap advance fares.

If flying from Vila to northern islands you may find yourself transiting Santo. If you have a long stopover in Santo, there's nothing to stop you getting a taxi into town (1000VT each way) and having a look around.

There are a few charter airlines, these are Unity Airlines, Sea Air, AirTaxi and Air Safaris. Call to see if they have seats on standby to Tanna - it is cheaper than Air Vanuatu.

Recently a charter company, BelAir, has also begun offering regular scheduled flights. Contact them 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 generally require a 200 vatu provincial departure tax to be paid at a separate booth after checking in at the airport. You do not need to pay this if you are in transit.

Domestic flights in Vanuatu are extremely unreliable and prone to change for all kinds of reasons (ranging from cyclones to lawnmower breakdowns at the airstrips), and you should bear this in mind when planning your itinerary. If travelling from remoter islands, allow a number of days to get back to Port Vila before your international flight home.

By boat[edit]

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 Monday. The passage to Santo takes a bit over 24 hours. Vanuatu Ferry usually stops at Litzlitz (near Lakatoro) on Malekula before continuing to Santo, but they might stop at other ports on the way if they have enough cargo to drop off or pick up. Check their office on the main road in Vila near Au Bon Marche 2. Usually, the return trip from Santo is out on Wednesday. Lately, Vanuatu Ferry has also been servicing Tanna, so make sure to ask at the office.

Big Sista also usually leaves Vila on Monday. They have a ticket office at Government Wharf in Vila, which is down a steep road off the main road at Paray (Nambatu) before the roundabout where buses turn right to go to Star Wharf (cruise ship wharf). This is 5 minutes walk out from ABM Nambatu. Big Sista runs Vila-Emae-Lamen (Epi)-Maskelynes-Lamap-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.

By bus[edit]

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 identify a 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.

Luganville has comparatively few buses but taxis are plentiful and cheap (VT200 around town).


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.

If you're not in a big group and not in a serious hurry, there is no need to use taxis, as buses are everywhere and will take you anywhere you want to go.

By truck[edit]

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.


Vanuatu has the highest density of languages per capita in the world - over 100 native languages are spoken throughout the archipelago. The official languages, however, are English, French and Bislama.

English and French are taught in schools, but badly. Most ni-Vanautu can make use of one or both of these languages if they're forced to, and those working in tourism speak them well, but visitors should make an effort to speak clearly, and remember that ni-Vanuatu are often too embarrassed to admit when they don't understand you.

The glue that binds Vanuatu's people and languages together - English, French, and the many local language groups - is Bislama. Though you may hear ignorant comments about Bislama being unstructured or limited, in fact it's a sophisticated yet easy-to-learn language that does its job of bridging Vanuatu's many linguistic divisions fantastically well. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by nearly everyone in Vanuatu, generally as a second language but with a large number of native speakers in Port Vila and Luganville. Bislama is a creole language which combines a typically Melanesian grammar with an English-based vocabulary, making it easy to learn by speakers of either, and mixes flexibly with its parent languages (or, as some put it, 'corrupts' them). A Bislama dictionary is available - 'A New Bislama Dictionary,' by the late Terry Crowley - but it's expensive and somewhat out of date.

Some common Bislama words/phrases include:

  • I / me - mi
  • Him / her / it - hem (neither masculine nor feminine)
  • This here - hemia
  • Us / we - yumi (including the person you're talking to), mifala (not including the person you're talking to)
  • You / you (plural) - yu / yufala
  • I do not know/understand - mi no save (pronounced savvy)
  • See you later / ta ta - Lukim yu/ tata
  • I am going now - ale (French derivation of allez) mi go
  • One / two / three - wan / tu / tri
  • How much (is that) - hamas (long hem)
  • Plenty or many - plante
  • Filled to capacity / overfilled - fulap / fulap tumas (too much)
  • Day / evening / night - dei / sava (literally supper) / naet
  • Hot / cold - hot / kolkol
  • What / what is that - wanem / wanem ia
  • Why - from wanem
  • How - olsem wanem
  • Please / thank you / sorry (very sorry) - plis / tangkyu / sori (sori tumas) - sorry too much
  • Do you know - yu save (pronounced savee)

Bislama  English A - Z Quick reference — Ol stamba wod

See[edit][add listing]


The Vanuatu people are a delight to photograph, friendly, co-operative and photogenic. 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.

Do[edit][add listing]

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 most well known attractions are the Yasur Volcano on Tanna, Land diving in Pentecost and the Coolidge dive in Santo. All are awesome but can be a bit expensive to get to.

Buy[edit][add listing]


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 Bank of South Pacific (BSP). 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.

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. It's also unclear whether blanket bans on 'legal highs', such as the UK's, apply to kava. Singapore regulates kava as a 'poison' and restricts its import.

Eat[edit][add listing]

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 main markets in Port Vila and Luganville have sections selling cheap rice meals. Elsewhere food is generally expensive: self-catering is best if you're on a relatively tight budget. Some upmarket restaurants do 'lunch specials' for 1000-1500 vatu. Some examples of prices:

  • sandwiches, around 450-600 VT
  • bacon and eggs, 750 VT
  • burger with fries or salad, around 1000 VT
  • main meal, eg steak or seafood, 1200-2000 VT
  • large, fresh-squeezed juice, around 500VT

In rural areas, there are village stores selling basics, and occasionally small markets, but generally self-catering is not an option, so you'll find yourself eating at guesthouses or with host families.

Vanuatu is one of the few countries in the world without McDonald's or Starbucks. A couple of greasy takeaways in the centre of Port Vila substitute for the former; at Seaview takeaway near the market you can have fun throwing your leftovers to the fish. There is not a culture of grabbing a takeaway coffee, but Jungle Cafe in Port Vila will serve you one if you're desperate. Hot meals are very difficult to find after about 9.30 in the evening, but the Sportsman's Bar by the Cultural Centre is open 24 hours. In Luganville you'll find many cafes shut at weekends.

On Friday and Saturday nights, 'fundraising' events at kava bars sell cheap takeaway food to support local groups or families struggling with school fees.


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. They are also one of the few things in Vanuatu that's cheap and good value by Western standards.

Fruit and nuts[edit]

As well as the more familiar tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples, you may encounter local varieties including:

  • nakavika - small pink apples that taste like granny's bathroom soap (but in a good way)
  • nakatambol - flavourless round fruits that grow in bunches on huge trees
  • naus - like a small mango with a spiky stone
  • pamplemousse - huge sweet grapefruits, known by the French name to distinguish them from the acid stuff you get in tins back home
  • corosol (soursop) - giant spiky fruits with sweet white flesh, which turns sorbet-like if you put one in the freezer
  • nangae and natavoa - native almonds
  • namambe - native chestnuts, often roasted on sticks
  • navele - nuts that grow in strings from trees and have to be cut or hammered open
  • navara - the foamy gel from inside a germinating coconut, mostly used as pig food
  • kakao - cocoa pods, which have sweet white flesh when fresh (spit out the beans), nothing like chocolate

Coconut crab[edit]

These giant land crustaceans are delicious but are becoming highly endangered as a result. Claims about sustainable harvesting should not be trusted: for every crab that is collected and sold in accordance with fisheries regulations, the harvesters will probably pick up half a dozen underage crabs for unofficial local consumption. Depending on your attitude to conservation, either avoid eating coconut crabs in order to help ensure the survival of the species, or eat them while you still can.

Drink[edit][add listing]


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.) 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.

Important Advice:

  • Kava is great, but drink slowly! If you drink shells too quickly one after another, or if you drink too much, it can also be nauseating. This is normal. Slow down!
  • Unlike alcohol, kava is best drunk before food. This is important: drinking kava straight soon after a heavy meal is a sure way to make yourself sick. Go to the nakamal, go home or back to the hotel, have some dinner and you'll be ready for bed. Don't be surprised if the effect becomes more intense after you have eaten. Kava suppresses the appetite so you may not want to eat much, but skipping meals altogether after kava is not healthy.
  • Kava promotes relaxation and kava bars and nakamals are generally quiet places. Friendly conversation is expected in a nakamal, but do not be loud. Do not shine lights in your fellow drinkers' faces either: kava makes your eyes sensitive to light.
  • Beware of "two-day" kava, varieties with unpleasant after-effects that are sometimes unscrupulously planted and sold because they are quick growing and hard to distinguish from good varieties. As the price of kava has gone up and availability has gone down, two-day kava has become an increasing problem at small bars in Vila. Only drink in reputable kava bars, and if the first shell comes on unexpectedly powerfully and leaves you with a real 'drugged' feeling, do NOT have another. If you do, you can forget about doing anything the next day.
  • Kava is bitter, but contrary to popular belief it shouldn't taste outright muddy or have bits in it. If the kava has the actual taste and texture of mud, this is probably because the roots haven't been cleaned well and the kava does in fact contain mud. If you experience this move on to a different bar.
  • Hygiene in some kava bars is a concern: shells are not always washed well between customers, and contrary to popular belief, bacteria thrive in kava, so there is a risk of waterborne disease. A few people take their own shells to bars to avoid this. In rural areas, it's also worth checking where the kava bar has got its water. Urban tapwater is fine though it doesn't necessarily produce the best kava.
  • Kava may make first-time users feel the need to go to the toilet. Most bars have toilets, though they vary in quality! If there's no toilet paper ask the barman for some.
  • It's fairly common to drink a single beer after two shells or so of kava. This is known as kale (kal-ay) and some users claim it helps them to get up feeling fresher the next morning. However, mixing kava and alcohol in any other way is usually unpleasant and best avoided.

Kava bars that are easy for a tourist to find and serve clean, though not necessarily the strongest, kava:

  • Chief's Nakamal and surrounding nakamals (Jay's, Ronnie's, etc) near Saralana Park.
  • Bamboo in Namba 2
  • John Tari in Fres Wota
  • Vanua Kava doesn't have the best kava but it has a great view.


The drinking age in Vanuatu is 18.

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.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

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.


  • Le Lagon [25] is the most popular and largest of the resorts. It has been operating for over 30 years. It offers substantial discounts for children, as as a result there are lots of kids here during the Australian school holidays.
  • Tropicana Resort [26] is set on the shores of Second Lagoon and provides wonderful self-contained accommodation. The beautiful over water restaurant is well known under the locals.
  • Iririki Island is an exclusive resort situated in Port Vila's harbour. It used to be "adults only" but since 2006 it has areas that allow children. A ferry runs back and forth to the main downtown area.
  • Erakor Island Resort is situated on an island in the lagoon, close to Le Lagon. A free ferry takes you to and from the island.
  • CoCo Beach Resort [27] is one of Port Vila's nicest boutique resorts. Nestled in a quiet area of Paradise Cove on the island of Efate, far enough but not too far, from Port Vila town.
  • Poppys on the Lagoon [28] is set on the shores of Erakor Lagoon and provides superior self-contained accommodation. The resort is designed to take advantage of the cooling breeze of the South Pacific trade winds.
  • MeleMagic [29] is a 2 acre property in Vanuatu located on the Island of Efate and is for travellers looking for luxurious private accommodation that is close to the airport & town.
  • Holiday Inn Vanuatu [30] is located in the Erakor Lagoon on the Island of Efate. All 148 rooms come with a private balcony or patio.
  • Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu, Port Vila, +, [1]. Overlooking the calm waters of Erakor Lagoon, Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu features a day spa, 2 outdoor swimming pools and direct beach access. Each room has a private balcony with garden or lagoon views.  edit
  • Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa, Vanuatu, Port Vila, +, [2]. Situated on 75 acres of tropical gardens on the edge of Erakor Lagoon, this luxury resort features 3 restaurants, 2 bars, 2 swimming pools, plus a 12-hole golf course and a day spa.  edit
  • Iririki Island Resort & Spa, Port Vila, +, [3]. Located just a 3-minute ferry ride from Port Vila on 69 acres of tropical landscapes, Iririki Island Resort & Spa boasts 2 outdoor swimming pools, free WiFi, a private beach and the luxurious Iririki Day Spa and Jewel Casino.  edit
  • Ramada Resort Port Vila, Port Vila, +, [4]. Nestled on the cliffs of Erakor Lagoon, 6 minutes' drive from the centre of Port Vila, this beachfront resort boasts an outdoor swimming pool, an over-water restaurant, pool bar and a fitness centre.  edit
  • Breakas Beach Resort, Port Vila, +, [5]. Showcasing a private beach area and water sports facilities, Breakas Beach Resort is located in Port Vila in the region of Efate, just 5 miles from Konanda Reef. The resort has an outdoor pool and sun terrace, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. Free private parking is available on site.  edit
  • Coconut Palms Resort Vanuatu, Port Vila, +, [6]. Featuring an outdoor swimming pool, award-winning restaurant and a cocktail bar, Coconut Palms Resort offers free Wi-Fi access and a 24-hour internet cafe. It is just a 5-minute walk to Port Vila town centre and a 10-minute walk to the beach.  edit
  • Hideaway Island Resort, Port Vila, + +678 22963, [7]. Located on a private island, this beach front resort features a freshwater swimming pool, restaurant and bar. Guests have free use of all non-motorised water sports equipment, including snorkelling gear.  edit
  • Mangoes Resort, Port Vila, + +678 24923, [8]. Mangoes Resort and Restaurant in Port Vila offers 29 beautifully appointed boutique bungalows. The property is set high on a clifftop, surrounded by palm trees, tropical fruit, and flowers, and features stunning views of the sparkling waters of the South Pacific lagoon.  edit
  • Nasama Resort, Port Vila, +, [9]. Nasama Resort boasts a private sandy beach, an infinity swimming pool, free WiFi access and free kayaking and snorkelling equipment rental. A private balcony with lovely ocean views and designer hardwood furniture are standard in all apartments. Opened in December, 2014 the on site Cafe Vila Restaurant & Bar is well known for it's food and cocktails.  edit


  • Seachange Lodge [31] in the Nambatu area has reasonably-priced rooms and self-contained units with all mod cons for self-catering travellers. It's only 20 minutes walk from the centre of Port Vila but is in a lovely peaceful spot down by the lagoon.


  • Tranquility Island Eco Dive Lodge [32] Located on Moso Island and is not just for divers, many enjoy the bush walks to the deserted beaches or caves, snorkelling at the pristine coral reefs and kayaking to spot some turtles or a Dugong. The resort also runs a conservational Hawkbill Rookery for tagged and release.

Camping 2,400vt with own pitch/3,500vt with twin hire pitch, Dorm 2,400vt per bed, Fare with outside bathroom 9,900vt, En-suit Fare 12,900vt suitable for travellers who enjoy lots of nature surrounding them and with a taste for adventure.

  • Pacific Paradise [33] behind Tebakor Shopping Center is between 3,600 and 5,000 vatu per night for a room, with an extra 1,000 vatu/night for air conditioning. It's dingy and basic but cheap and convenient. The same family operates City Motel on top of Jill's cafe in downtown Vila.
  • Hibiscus Motel [34] has similar rates, and a nicer garden. They are located close to Georges Pompidou area on the outskirts of downtown.
  • Travellers' Budget Motel by the Stade (Stadium) has double and twin rooms and a dorm around a small courtyard with a nice pool. Rooms are tiny but the place is nicely decorated, well-equipped, convenient and friendly.
  • Trinity Orchard Lodge in Nambatu has good quality self-contained accommodation.
  • Coconut Palms Resort [] in Seaside has dorm rooms available.
  • Hideaway Island Resort [35] also has dorms. They're out in Mele but it's good if you want to dive. Breakfast is included.

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.

Other islands[edit]

  • Friendly Bungalows [36] on Tanna Island is located 6km away from Mt Yasur Volcano right on the quiet secluded sand beach of Lowelkas Cove, on the other side of the island from the airport.
  • Yasur View Bungalows on Tanna is a perfect Tropical Retreat away from tourists and a great base for hiking around - the volcano, creeks, forests, hot springs, beaches, and a couple of local villages are all in vicinity. Watch natural fireworks from your dining table! Affordable, neat and secluded. Phone +678 5640197
  • Lapita Lodge [37] is a simple and charming accommodation in the centre of Luganville. Set in a secure and quiet lush topical garden, is a 5-minute trip to the central business district.
  • Noda Guesthouse on Pentecost, a short vehicle journey from Lonorore Airport, has basic rooms and bungalows opposite a beach and 10 minutes walk from a big waterfall and natural swimming hole. It's a popular base for visitors who go to Pentecost for the land-diving but there's plenty to do outside the land-diving season too.




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:

  • VSA - Volunteer Services Abroad [38]
  • AVID - Australian Volunteers for International Development [39]
  • Peace Corps [40]
  • VSO [41]
  • Oxfam Australia [42]
  • Vanuatu College Open E-Learning Project [43]

Other work[edit]

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. [44]

Stay safe[edit]

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 venomous 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.

Stay healthy[edit]

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:

  • In Vanuatu, the display of anger, displeasure or irritability at a person or situation will reduce the recipient to a stony silence with a lack of co-operation or empathy to your point of view. Please be patient as it is a waste of time complaining. It will have no bearing on the outcome. And if you are verbally abusive, you will generate one of three responses: Smiling, subdued laughter, or a fist in your face.
  • Don't ask a question with the answer built into it. Locals will always agree in order not to contradict you. "Is this the road to X?" will generate a Yes. Try: "Where is the road to X..?", and you might get a different answer.
  • Be aware that in the islands, direct eye contact or raised voice level contact may be interpreted as intimidation. A local person's voice level combined with body language may be directly opposite to Europeans. He or she may nod agreement with everything you say in order not to offend you but may not have understood a word you have said!
  • If you're in a bus and people on the footpath are turning their backs to you, don't be offended: They're simply letting the driver know that they don't require him to stop. There are few bus stops in Vanuatu, and those that exist don't get much use.
  • If you see men or women holding hands, it's not what you think. Men hold hands with other men, or women with women, because there is no sexual connotation attached to it. However, you will very rarely see a man holding a woman's hand in public because this would be considered as a public exhibition of sexual relations.


Contact the Vanuatu Tourism Authority for all travel and tourist related information. Visit []


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 TVL [45], 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 protected]

Or with the new player's Digicel, giving TVL 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.

Since 2015 there is fiber-optic cable available in Vanuatu. This made the internet in Vanuatu faster and cheaper.

Postal services[edit]

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.

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