Vanuatu Islands – What makes them tourism worthy?

Vanuatu Islands – Have you heard of them? Do you know about the Vanuatu Islands? Do you know where it is? What makes Vanuatu a desirable place to visit and vacation?

Oceanfront walkwayWe were excited to go to Vanuatu, a South Pacific Island nation consisting of approximately 80 islands. Few people who we spoke to had heard of it. The Vanuatu Islands offer scuba diving at coral reefs, underwater caverns, and famous wrecks, such as the WWII-era troopship SS President Coolidge off the Vanuatu Island of Santo.  Harborside Port Vila, the nation’s capital and economic center, is on the island of Efate, where we stayed.  Vanuatu is northeast of Brisbane, Australia and directly west of Fiji.  We headed to the Vanuatu Islands for 1 week after 8 weeks in Australia on our way to Fiji.

Vanuatu Island Notables

A few things make Vanuatu famous and desirable …

  1. WW II American History
    The US built bases in the Pacific to aid the military against Japan. After the war, US military equipment was dumped near their base on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. There are tons of US military relics littering the sea here. Million Dollar Point is named for the estimated value of the equipment that was dumped after the war.
  2. ‘Survivor’ Season 9 was filmed on one of the islands
    The 2004 season of Survivor, filmed in Vanuatu, is known as Survivor: Vanuatu – Islands of Fire.
  3. Pacific island adventure beyond the cruise ships and resorts.
    There are cultural adventures like visiting tribes and fire walking, plus off-road adventures, island safaris, island snorkel and dive destinations, horseback riding, jet boating, hiking to waterfall, jungle ziplining, sailing trips, kayaking, and more.
  4. Sport Fishing in this remote archipelago
    Charter fishing or fishing excursions are a big draw in Vanuatu, especially for Marlin. They also fish for Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Yellowfin Tuna.
  5. World-class Diving and SnorkelingClownfish in anemoneSS President Coolidge was a luxury liner turned into a troop carrier that sunk near Santo.  What many divers miss when visiting Vanuatu is the gorgeous coral reef diving of the Island of Efate. If you love to see the sea life, Port Vila, Efate, is worth the trip.
  6. Colorful local markets

    We visited a Port Vila market; it is a colorful and a cultural experience, and a great place to get a sense of local life. Locals bring their farmed vegetables, fruits, flowers, and also handicrafts – jewelry and wood carvings. Since we had a kitchen, we stocked up on local fresh veggies from the local ladies at the market. Food available depends on the season.

Vanuatu Islands – Why we went …

Most people we talk with are not familiar with the Vanuatu Islands.  I read that Vanuatu has low tourism as compared to other South Pacific Islands. Tom and I love to explore lesser known and lesser traveled places with interesting local cultural experiences. My number one priority for a week in the islands is water activities, and they are plentiful in Vanuatu. Vanuatu Islands has terrific dive reviews, which sealed the deal for us.

It is also important that we have nice accommodations – to US standards with English speaking staff. Vanuatu Islands have some very nice resorts, as well as smaller lodging. I found a nice small Gourmet Homestay with private units, kitchen, and ocean view outside the main areas in quiet Mele. It was perfect for us, and the owners are terrific and quite helpful. Ask me about it in the comments section below if you want information on the homestay.

Some areas of Vanuatu offer very inexpensive places to stay; however, it is not something I explored, as they are not to US standards. Resort prices are similar to bigger resorts in the Caribbean, but you can find some smaller clean, comfortable, safe, air conditioned accommodations at very reasonable prices, as I did. Small resorts, homestays, and BnBs are our preference. The service is personalized, and we love meeting and socializing with locals.

The sea, diving and snorkeling reviews, cultural activities, nice accommodations reasonably priced, and English speaking service providers attracted us to the Vanuatu Islands. Vanuatu was a great stop on our trip home from Australia, and it’s on the way to Fiji, our next stop.

Vanuatu Islands – Things to do

  1. Dive – Scuba Diving opportunities are plentiful in the Vanuatu Islands on pristine coral reefs and multiple ship wrecks – scuba dive at coral reefs off of Efate, Santo, and Tanna, plus underwater caverns, and wrecks such as the WWII-era troopship SS President Coolidge at Million Dollar Point, Santo.
  2. Snorkel at Hideaway Island or go on a Snorkel Safari in Mele Bay, or take a glass bottom boat tour and snorkel. Hideaway Island is great for a day trip for snorkeling, diving or a beach day. (Be careful not to overpay for water taxi transport to Hideaway. Check around for the best price. In 2017, the lowest prices range from $5 US to $15 US per person each way.
  3. Sail from various places on the Vanuatu islands.
  4. Fish – It is a big draw to Vanuatu, attracting fisherman interested in sport and game fishing. Charter a boat, go with a group or stay in a dedicated fishing resort.
  5. Live Volcano – Visit Mt Yasur on Tanna Island; it is the most well known and most active volcano in Vanuatu, at 361 meters above sea level. Visiting Mt. Yasur to get up close to the live volcano is the main reason most tourists go to Tanna.
  6. Island Tours – Take a day trip; explore Port Vila or other Vanuatu islands.
  7. Vanuatu’s National Museum – See Port Vila’s Vanuatu museum, which explores the nation’s Melanesian culture.
  8. Overnight trips – Go to local villages for overnight culture experiences.

We dove with Big Blue Dive.

While we were invited by Big Blue Dive, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.

Big Blue Dive

Big Blue offers snorkeling, diving, and dive training. They came highly recommended to us by our Homestay owners and had great reviews. From the time the owner/operator picked us up until we returned to our accommodations, we were so pleased with the professionalism, courtesy, and attention provided by Big Blue Dive and the staff.

Big Blue Vanuatu's dive equipment areaIn spite of their big boat out of the water for service, they were able to accommodate our every need on the small dive boat. They have a couple of small boats in addition to their larger boat. We wanted to dive only reefs; they accommodated us. Our boat ride to the coral reefs was fairly close. The staff makes sure your equipment is all set up; dive masters know the reefs and wrecks well. Corals and fish are gorgeous below 45 feet, much better than what we saw at the Great Barrier Reef. We loved diving with Big Blue, and were excited about the fantastic underwater life on the Vanuatu reefs.

Big Blue Vanuatu's shop frontBig Blue Dive shop has a window front to the harbor where the dive boats are docked.  Around the side of the building is dive equipment storage, and showers.

The dive masters are locals and have been working there for years. Big Blue dive masters are competent, safety conscious, and provide good dive briefings. My rental BC was great.  They provide dive computers with their rental regulators.  The staff is customer-centric. We would gladly dive with them again, and highly recommend Big Blue Dive.

Conclusion

We only spent 3 days in Vanuatu on Efate and needed to evacuate early due to an approaching Category 5 Cyclone. We only got to dove one day and loved diving the coral reefs in Port Vila with Big Blue Dive. There are so many things we wanted to do in the Vanuatu Islands. We had planned to sail off of north Efate with Pete Whitelaw of Sailaway Cruises, hike to Mele Cascades and play in the pools below, visit Hideaway Island to snorkel and dive, as well as additional diving with Blue Dive, and possibly visit Mt Yasur on Tanna Island.  It was unfortunate that we had to leave and miss the rest of the diving and the great activities due to the impending storm.  We did have great diving in many places on this trip.

If you are traveling for adventure, culture, beaches, and the ocean with primitive to modern experiences, check out Vanuatu.

35 thoughts on “Vanuatu Islands – What makes them tourism worthy?

  1. How hard is it to get to Vanuatu? Once you are there, is a good place to sail between islands, or are they very spread out? It’s one of those places that I’ve thought about, but never looked into at all. You make it sound very enticing, with lots of interesting things on land and under water!

    • It depends on where you are coming from. From Australia and New Zealand, Vanuatu is easy to get to on Fiji Airways (nice airline). From the US, you would fly Fiji Airways from LA and connect through Fiji. Since we didn’t look into sailing between island, I can’t answer, but use the link for Pete Whitelaw and ask him. He’s the sailor and very nice guy. He’ll tell you. Let me know if you go.

  2. I’ve been close in Fiji where the diving was wonderful but Port Vila sounds intriguing and I share your travel style. Thanks for the tips and I hope you return when storms aren’t in the forecast.

  3. This sounds like an idyllic vacation for water lovers. Looks like you had an amazing time. My husband would love this especially. I don’t swim but l would love floating in the beautiful waters. I’d heard of the islands but didn’t know much about it. Thanks for this.

  4. I really enjoyed your recent post in Adventurous Retirement about the Vanuatu Islands in the South Pacific. Your vivid description of the islands and the photos of the local markets, coral reef, and exotic fish are wonderful.
    I also admire: 1) your approach to travelling–visiting and exploring lesser known and lesser traveled places; and 2) your boldness/courage to do scuba diving!
    so sorry you had to shorten your stay due to an approaching Category 5 Cyclone!—very scary!
    thanks again for letting us know about this marvelous part of the world and many happy travels in the future!

  5. What a fascinating background and history and GORGEOUS place! We’d love to make it to this part of the world and give Vanuatu a visit!

    • I am happy to bring awareness of these islands! If you go and meet anyone I mentioned, please let them know how you learned of them. Thanks! Happy Travels!

    • Yes, true! And for those who want an authentic cultural experience, and also for those who like remote beaches, sailing, kayaking, and hiking.

  6. I admit it; I had never heard of Vanuatu Islands until reading your post. I too am a fan of lesser know destinations with fewer crowds. And there’s so much to do!! Your underwater photos are excellent. I don’t scuba dive or snorkel, so I especially enjoyed reading about your adventures!

  7. My wife and I were in Vanuatu a couple of seasons ago while on our South Pacific Cruise out of Sydney, Australia. Loved it!
    We actually visited the Survivor site and did some snorkeling at Million Dollar Point. Loved our Cruise and stopping here. 🙂

  8. I must admit Wendy, I have never heard of the Vanuatu Islands before. What a treat to scuba dive here, it was a shame you had to be evacuated early. I hope the island people were ok. I find when I visit lesser known places, the experience is often infinitely richer than going on the well-worn tourist path. There are also fewer tourists! The homestay sounded amazing too.

    • Melissa, The island and people were fine. At least that’s what a few of the folks I checked in with after the storm told me. It was better to be off the island before the storm.

  9. The diving and snorkelling in Vanuatu isi amazing and Vanuatu’s WWII history is intriguing. But what I love most about Vanuatu is the gentle people and languid lifestyle.

  10. I have in fact heard of Vanuatu Islands because I met someone from there a long time ago when I was visiting Indonesia. I was really intrigued to hear about it then. I am sure that the diving and snorkeling there must be amazing, considering it is in the Pacific Ocean and is extremely remote. I did not know about the US having a base there during WW II and also that there’s a live volcano! Sounds pretty awesome.

  11. I grew up in NZ and some of my best friends were from Vanuatu, so I know it well! So glad you go to do some diving before the storm, although such a shame you missed the rest of the activities. Your pictures of fish from the Big Blue Dive are amazing – so clear and beautiful.

  12. Vanuatu is a wonderful place to visit. Being an Aussie, I’m very familiar with the islands. I particularly love the markets in Port Vila. What I find really interesting about these markets is that they never close, they are open 24/7.

    Seems like you had a wonderful time with your diving, it really is a great place for that and snorkelling.

  13. Ya, heard about Vanuatu but actually haven’t read any posts yet about it until I read yours. It’s interesting; they also have an active volcano or the live Volcano – Mt Yasur on Tanna Island. Recently, my partner and I also had got to visit an active Volcano in the Philippines and we got a chance to see it up close! So, Mt Yasur is also one of the big attractions in Vanuatu, right? Plus, I’m a beach and island lover, I like snorkeling, but diving is a bit terrifying for me since I can’t swim well! Sure you did have a blast tho!

    • Yes, many people visit Tanna to see the live volcano in Vanuatu. We have seen several live volcanoes in other parts of the world so we did not plan to go to Mt. Yasur. The volcano is a big draw.

  14. What a shame that you had to leave early! But definitely better to be safe than sorry with a cyclone approaching. I’d heard of the Vanuatu Islands before but this has given me a much better idea of what’s on offer there. All of the water activities sound incredible. I’d love to visit one day.

  15. I remember watching a few episodes of the Survivor season that were filmed there and thinking how gorgeous it looked. I’d love to take a glass bottom boat tour and lay out on the beach. Thanks for the warning about not over paying for the water taxis!

    • There was a Survivor show there. That was the first time i heard of it. Since we visited New Zealand, I found that New Zealand divers know Vanuatu since it isn’t far from there.

  16. Looks like a lovely laid-back place to spend a couple of days in peace and quiet. The under water pictures are wonderful and full of so much color. I bet you enjoyed your time exploring all of it.

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