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There is more to Vanuatu than sitting in a resort sipping cocktails (though that's nice too!). To get a real taste of the diverse landscapes and cultures of this south pacific archipelago you need to venture out of the tourist centres of Port Vila and Luganville.  It can take more time to organise and a willingness to go off the grid. But you will be rewarded with a unique insight into Melanesian life.


All About Vanuatu

2000km east of Australia, somewhere between Solomon Islands and Fiji, is the island nation of Vanuatu. A Melanesian archipelago of ancient customs, forest adventures and warm coral seas.  


Vanuatu's 83 islands have long been a place of intrigue and myth. There are the Cargo Cults of Tanna, the trippy blue holes of Santo and the grisly evidence of a cannibalistic past on Malekula. On Ambrym, the volcanos conjure up black magic as grass-covered men perform ritual dances.  While every April at the land diving festival on Pentecost Island, men prove their bravery by tying vines to their ankles and leaping from 30m towers - an activity that inspired the Bungy jump.

Vanuatu's tourism is centred around resort stays and the visiting cruise ship industry in its two main towns Port Vila and Santo. Getting off the beaten track can be an exercise in organisational skill as you juggle contacting very limited local accommodations with even more limited local telecommunications and a sporadic inter-island flight service. But it's neither impossible nor prohibitively expensive and is incredibly worth it.  


There are very few places on earth that leave you with the feeling of intrepid satisfaction and even fewer with such extraordinary cultural diversity accessible to 'ordinary' OTBT travellers.


Melanesian people have been living in Vanuatu's islands for some 3500 years.  In the late 18th Century, the British and French established colonies across the island group they called the "New Hebrides". In 1906, the two countries agreed to jointly manage the archipelago. In 1980, following a decade-long independence movement, Vanuatu became a republic. Today, Vanuatu maintains elements of its Anglo-Franco past in its education, legal and political systems and its official languages.


Vanuatu's Melanesian community is diverse culturally and linguistically. The islands are grouped into 6 provinces: Torba, Sanma, Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tefea. Though the islands are geographically close, those that inhabit them have distinctly different identities. Amongst the 250,000 people on the 65 inhabited islands are over 100 indigenous languages. Common to all is Bislama, a 19th Century creole language of Melanesian-English.


Traditional Ni-Vanuatu culture remains prominent, particularly in the villages where there are fewer modern influences.  In addition to the elected members of parliament, there is a National Council of Chiefs "Malvatumauri" who advises the government on Ni-Vanuatu culture and language matters.


Stretching over a distance of 1300km are the 82 islands that make up Vanuatu. The lush, forested islands sit on coral reefs teeming with colourful tropical fish and ringed by the deep dark blue of the ocean depths. Yet Vanuatu also sits in a region prone to natural disasters. Its island and undersea volcanoes regularly erupt and seismic activity is even more common than the summer cyclones.  


That the locals seem to take this in their stride is a testament to their resilience. In recent years, there have been a number of regional disaster risk management initiatives that assist vulnerable pacific nations to prepare for and recover from natural disasters.  Particularly, remote communities facing a lack of fresh water, food sources and health care. With an economy heavily reliant on tourism, getting back to business is also a priority. After Cyclone Pam in 2015, the Vanuatu Tourism Office ran the #yourholidayhelps campaign encouraging people to book holidays to the many unaffected or mildly affected areas. 



Tourism is a major source of employment and income in Vanuatu. Over 40%* of the nation's total employment comes directly and indirectly from tourism, making it one of the most tourism-reliant nations in the Pacific. 


Beyond the main tourism and resort hubs of Port Vila and Santo, the sector is far less developed and almost exclusively locally owned. Don't expect 5-star resorts, glamping or modern conveniences. There are few shops, limited internet coverage and many outer islands do not have electricity or running water. For the intrepid, this is an opportunity to immerse yourself in eco-adventures and local culture while directly supporting local businesses. Villagers provide basic guesthouse accommodation with simple meals and can arrange guided activities such as trekking, canoeing or cultural shows.   


To find out more about Vanuatu's community-based tourism contact the individual provincial tourism offices.  



Vanuatu's tropical location makes it a year-round destination, although November to April is hotter and wetter with potential for cyclones in January-March. Peak seasons coincide with the school holidays in Australia and New Zealand where the majority of Vanuatu's tourists come from. The land-diving festival on Pentecost Island runs from April - June.



The capital, Port Vila (Bauerfield Airport) has international connections to Australia, NZ, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Noumea & PNG. Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo also has flights to Brisbane (Australia) and Noumea.


Air Vanuatu runs inter-island flights throughout the archipelago. Note that flights further afield than Santo and Tanna will be less frequent and have luggage restrictions. An alternate to the small island-hopping aircraft is the cargo-passenger vessels (Big Sista and Vanuatu Ferry). Though slower and less comfortable, they are cheaper and popular with locals.


*Source: WTTC

History & Culture
Sustainable Tourism
When to Go
Getting There & Around

Each island has its own unique culture and identity. Why not skip the resorts and learn about it from the locals?

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