The archipelago of Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands and they all offer fantastic island views, landscapes, rainforests, great diving, lots of fish, and unforgettable Pacific hospitality. Prices here are a lot lower here than the other more well-known Pacific Islands as it’s not yet a “hotspot” to visit. But just because people don’t come here doesn’t mean it isn’t paradise! In fact, it’s probably even more of a paradise because of the fewer people. The best time to visit between April and October. This guide will help you get the most out of your visit.
Accommodation – Vanuatu doesn’t have many hostels — just a couple in the entire country — but the few that there are will charge around 1,700 VUV per night. There are lots of budget hotels available, with most costing between 3,500-10,000 VUV (or more) for a double room. For a room with WiFi and A/C prices start around 5,000 VUV per night. Airbnb is available, though there are very few options available for shared accommodation. For a private room, prices begin at 2,500 VUV per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 5,000 VUV per night (though prices average closer to 20,000 VUV). Camping is not very common as most land is privately owned though some guesthouses and hotels will let you pitch a tent on their property.
Food – Lunch and casual local meals cost around 1,500 VUV, however, meals can be found for as little as 700 VUV. For a meal at a mid-range restaurant or hotel, expect to pay around 4,500 VUV. Beer at a bar will cost around 500 VUV, however, you can buy it at the store for half that price. If you plan on cooking your own food expect to pay between 3,000-6,000 VUV per week on groceries. To keep your grocery bill low, avoid buying chicken or wine because they are incredibly expensive.
Transportation – Bus tickets cost around 165 VUV each way. A few islands offer free ferry rides, such as the ferry to Hideaway Island. There are plenty of taxis in Port Vila, costing just slightly more than a bus ride. Naturally, flying will be your best option for coming/going from Vanuatu. One-way flights to Australia can be found for as little as 25,000 VUV, while a flight to Singapore will be about double.
Activities – Entrance to the Cascades waterfalls costs 2,500 VUV, while snorkel hire will cost around 3,000 VUV per week. Parasailing will cost around 9,000 VUV while kayak rentals are 2,500 VUV for a few hours.
Suggested daily budget – 5,500 VUV / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- See the Cascades by bus – Get the bus to the Cascades for 500 VUV and pay the 2,500 VUV entry price. This will save you huge amounts on a tour cost.
- Exchanging Money – Try to exchange your money in Port Vila as it offers a better return rate than everywhere else in Vanuatu.
- Avoid the resorts – The big resorts overcharge for everything. You can get pampered at a local hotel for a fraction of the cost and your money moves around the local economy more. It’s win-win.
Top Things to See and Do in Vanuatu
- Go scuba diving – There is amazing diving here in Vanuatu with underwater tunnels, caves, grottoes as well as a great diversity. Try to check out the SS “President Coolidge” — the troop ship which sank during World War II as it is the largest wreck dive in the world. A four dive package will cost between 20,000-30,000 VUV, including rentals.
- Watch some Naghol – You might have thought that the bungee jumping is a relatively new pursuit. However, it’s thousands of years old. On Vanuatu’s Pentecost Island you can watch the performance of early bungee-jumping techniques in traditional Naghol (land-diving) ceremonies. Vines are used to tie the legs together as jumpers leap from trees.
- Go on a village tour – The tours of the tribal villages are pretty informative and shed light on the people who live here — from farm life, economy, architecture, and more controversially, cannibalism. On some tours, you will be greeted by the chief of the tribe. I think it’s important to learn about the places you visit so try to consider one of these cultural tours. Prices vary but expect to spend around 8,000 VUV for a day tour.
- Visit Port Vila – In the capital of Vanuatu, you will notice the shared colonial influence of France and Britain. The food seems to be French-influenced while the language is a Pidgin English called Bislama. Along the main street, you will find duty-free shops and shops selling crafts. It is very small for a capital city and is not very crowded or too touristy.
- Hike to the Mele Cascades – These waterfalls are some of the most famous in the whole country. They are easy to get to and the surrounding area is filled with jungles to take a hike in. Many people come here to picnic as well as cool off in the water.
- Visit Chief Roi Mata’s domain – This World Heritage site is half an hour drive north from Port Vila: the area of northwest Efate and the islands of Lelepa and Artok represent the Chief’s immediate area of influence. You can go on the ‘Roi Mata Cultural Tour’ which is a good way to support the local people. On the tour, you’ll visit the National Museum and Cultural Center and then it is off to the Northwest of Efate to check out the domain.
- Fly to Mystery Island – Just off the coast of the island of Tanna lies Mystery Island. This island is largely uninhabited, save for travelers who take the twice-weekly plane here to walk on its golden beaches, hike the jungles, and go snorkeling. It’s a nice and secluded place to visit.
- Go zip lining – The Vanuatu Jungle Zipline will give you an adrenaline rush as you reach speeds of over 100 miles/hour on one of their six lines. Cross suspension bridges over an 80-meter canyon, and give yourself a thrill! Prices start at 9,500 VUV for adults and 4,000 VUV for kids.
- Snorkel at Hideaway Island Marine Reserve – Located near Port Vila, this marine reserve is a great area for snorkeling and diving, or just relaxing on the beach. There’s even an underwater post office in the area which lets you mail waterproof postcards!
- Go boating – Rent a kayak, sailboat, or go on an organized boating tour around the islands. Kayaking tours will take you to a small coral island, which is a beautiful sight to see. An island nation needs to be explored by water! A two-hour kayak rental will cost around 2,500 VUV (single and double kayaks are available).
- Get in some watersports – Whether it’s kitesurfing, paddle boarding, or parasailing, you’ll find something on the beach that will tickle your fancy. Prices will vary depending on the activity. Parasailing, for example, is around 9,000 VUV per person.
- Soak in the hot springs – In the northeast of Efate, you can find some thermal hot springs. A local family runs the springs, but they are open to the public. Beware of the strong sulfur smell.
- Go fishing – Fishing is a popular pastime (and job!) in Vanuatu, and there are many competitions held throughout the year. If you’re just looking for some fun, you can arrange a deep-sea fishing trip. These are not cheap, but they give you the opportunity to reel in catches like swordfish, marlin, Dorado, and Wahoo. Prices will vary depending on how long you go for but expect to pay at least 65,000 VUV.