Vanuatu is an archipelago nation that has 83 islands. It is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand and east of Australia. It’s also home to many amazing experiences and is a diving mecca. You can visit the world’s most accessible active volcano, which is on the island of Tanna, or you can hike to cascading waterfalls, experience extraordinary and interesting cultural ceremonies and dances on Malekula, travel to primitive villages where and witness a living culture that seems lost in time. Of course you can always visit the beaches, which are picture-perfect and secluded. Nobody is around but you and your snorkel gear.
Capital: Porta Villa
Size: 12,189 square km.
Power Outlets: 220-240V
Official Languages: Bislama, English, French
Currency: Vanuatu Vatu
Time Zone: UTC +11
Calling Code: +678
Weather: The climate in Vanuatu is sub-tropical with hot, rainy weather and the possibility of cyclones from December through April. June through November has cooler, drier weather, with temperature ranges from 68 °F (20 °C) to 90 °F (32 °C). Vanuatu sees significant rainfall during almost every month.
Cost and Budgeting
For this island, $30-$40/day is doable in Vanuatu for basic accommodations and local meals. Flights between islands are going to explode your budget, and if you’re going to Vanuatu for the diving, plan to spend quite a bit more. The diving is some of the best in the world, so it’s going to cost you.
Archaeologists place Vanuatu’s first inhabitants at close to 4000 years ago. In 1774, Captain Cook landed on Vanuatu and named the islands the New Hebrides, which is what Vanuatu was called until it gained its independence in 1980. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived on the islands in the 19th century along with settlers who came looking for land for cotton plantations. These settlers eventually switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and coconuts. Both British and French settled on New Hebrides, but the French double the British in number by the early 1900’s.
France and England agreed to govern the islands together in 1906, with separate systems only working together in a joint court. People started to challenge this government in the early 1940s, mainly due to American influence as they arrived during WWII. The New Hebrides National Party was the first political party developed in New Hebrides in the early 1970s. Father Walter Lini was the founder and eventually became Prime Minister. The New Hebrides pushed for independence, ultimately receiving it in 1980 during the Coconut War. After, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.
A big part of the culture in Vanuatu has young men participating in different coming-of-age ceremonies and rituals that serves as an initiation into manhood. Most villages have a meeting place for men to drink kava, a traditional and potent South Pacific Island drink. Music plays a big part in Vanuatu’s culture, particularly in rural areas. Drums of various sizes and shapes, gongs, rattles, guitars, and ukulele’s are all important instruments in popular Vanuatu music. Christianity is the main religion in Vanuatu, with many sectors being practiced. There are also many cults still practicing on the islands, particularly in rural areas.
Things to See and Do in Vanuatu:
- Diving/Snorkeling: The Adventure Capital, Espirito Santo is a diver’s mecca that offers spectacular dive sites amongst many other activities. Trek through the jungle to tiny villages, swing from rope swings into picturesque lagoons, or check out the wreck of the USS Coolidge. Espirito Santo also has the country’s four highest peaks.
- Tanna: If volcanoes are your thing, then Tanna is the place to visit in Vanuatu. Visit the world’s most accessible volcano, Mount Yasur, and witness one of the world’s greatest natural phenomenon’s. Tanna also has some superb diving and snorkeling sites, along with trekking, horseback riding, coffee plantations, waterfalls, hot springs, and the world’s largest living organism, a giant banyan tree. Travelers can also hike the coast of Tanna and observe Sharks Bay.
- Epi: A small island near Efate, Epi offers whale and dolphin watching amongst a variety of watersports. This is also the place if you want to try the local drink, kava.
- Port Vila: Vanuatu’s main tourist destination, is the capital and is on the island of Efate. It provides great restaurants and great accommodations where you can sleep directly over the water on its many lagoons.
- Ambae: Visit the cloud forest in Ambae and hike to and swim in the many of the colorful crater lakes.
Vanuatu is an island archipelago which has about 82 small islands, all of volcanic origin. About 65 of the islands are inhabited. There is about 800 miles (1,300 km) distance (north to south) between the outermost islands. Vanuatu’s highest point is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1,879 meters (6,165 ft), and is located on the island of Espiritu Santo. The total area of Vanuatu is about 12,274 square kilometers (4,739 sq mi). Most of the islands are very steep and contain unstable soils and very little permanent freshwater. Volcanic activity is quite common on the islands, and there is always the danger of a major eruption.