Vanuatu Travel Guide

Vanuatu is made up of over 80 islands and is renowned for its fantastic underwater world of coral reef formations and colourful tropical fish. It is less than four hours flying time from Australia's east coast.

The Vanuatu people are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality. The quality of the resorts available are the equivalent of resorts anywhere in the Pacific, although there are a limited number that cater well for families. This page contains information on Vanuatu that may be of value to families. There is a list of facts about Vanuatu and some tips for families planning holidays in Vanuatu.


Vanuatu, known as New Hebrides until their independence in 1980, is a collection of ten large islands and many smaller islands in the South West Pacific. The Melanesian inhabitants live an extremely traditional lifestyle. Efate is the main island of Vanuatu, where the capital Port Vila is situated and where the majority of commerce and tourism activities take place. Vanuatu has an area of 12,189 square kilometres. There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, as well as several underwater ones.

Vanuatu's main airport is Bauerfield International Airport (VLI), only 10 mins from Port Vila.

The population of Vanuatu is around 227,000 people. About 94% of the population are Melanesian by origin, made up of about 100 different cultural groups. A further 4% is French, and there are small but significant populations of Vietnamese and Chinese.

Vanuatu's cuisine combines fish, root vegetables (taro, yams, sweet potatoes), and a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Vanuatu's national dish is a root vegetable cake called 'laplap'. The coconut crab served with garlic, chilli, curry or coconut sauces is another delight. Vanuatu has strong French influence and it shows in their cuisine. Kava is the national drink and Vanuatu's kava is reputed to be the most potent in the Pacific.

Divers come from all over the world to dive in the waters off Vanuatu. The underwater world offers plunging cliffs, grottoes and overhangs plus huge caves and intricate tunnels and life abundant over all this making for a visual feast. Divers can be surrounded by sea fans, soft and plate corals, sponges and thousands of fish. Probably the main drawcard for diving in Vanuatu is the SS "President Coolidge" - the largest wreck dive in the world.

Air Vanuatu domestic flights can get you around the islands. The service is reliable but some islands have only one or two flights a week and grass airstrips are common. Within Vanuatu, several companies provide a boating service between the islands.
P&O Cruise lines operate regular cruises through Vanuatu waters.

When visiting villages, women should dress modestly, wearing clothes that cover the shoulders and knees. Vanuatu is regarded as one of the happiest place in the world and it's the sense of community that makes this a truly happy place.

Vanuatu Facts

Population: Around 227,000 people live in Vanuatu.

Capital: Port Vila

Location: Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is situated 1,750 km east of northern Australia, 500 km northeast of New Caledonia, and west of Fiji.

Economy: The four mainstays of the economy are agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services, and raising cattle. Exports include copra, kava, beef, cocoa, and timber.

Language: Bislama (Pidgin English) is the native tongue, but English and French are widely spoken.

Religion: Approximately 31.4% Presbyterian, 13.4% Anglican, 13.1% Roman Catholic, 10.8% Seventh-Day Adventist, 13.8% other Christian, 5.6% indigenous beliefs, 9.6% other, 1% none.

Climate: The average summer temperature from November to March is 28 degrees and the winter average from April to October is 23 degrees. It can get a bit cool at night during the winter months.

Currency: The local currency unit is the Vatu (VT). You will need to exchange money into Vanuatu currency on arrival. All banks and resorts will exchange for you. Australian dollars are accepted at many places like supermarkets, restaurants and shops but the exchange rate will be poor. Most credit cards are accepted. Banks in Port Vila are open Monday to Friday 8.00am-3.00pm.

Time Zone: Vanuatu is 1 hour ahead of Australian Eastern Standard Time. There is no daylight saving time in Vanuatu.

Driving: If you're thinking of driving yourself in Vanuatu, be careful. Cars travel on the right side of the road (as in the US) but give way to traffic on their right (as in Australia). It can be very confusing (just being a passenger). Local law permits visitors to drive in Vanuatu on an Australian driving licence for up to 3 months.

Taxis: Taxi's are everywhere and you will have no trouble finding one at the front door of your resort or anywhere in Port Vila. Buses (small vans seating about 10) are a little bit cheaper, but you may not go directly to where you want.

Flying Times To Vanuatu: Just under 4 hours from Sydney & Melbourne, under 3 hours from Brisbane.

Passports: All visitors to Vanuatu must have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity beyond the date of arrival.

VISAS: Australian tourists travelling to Vanuatu for up to 30 days do not need to obtain a visa in advance.

Departure tax: Departure taxes from Vanuatu are included in the cost of your ticket. Kids under 12 are exempt.

Health: No vaccinations are required. Vanuatu is situated in the malarial belt so anti-malarial medication is recommended, especially if you intend to visit the outer islands. Be sure you have good travel insurance. Drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea. There are hospitals in Port Vila and Luganville as well as medical centres.

Electricity: Electricity in Vanuatu is supplied at 220-240 volts/50 Hz. Electrical sockets are of the three flat pin type, as used in Australia.

Flights & Connections

Try to get from the plane to customs quickly. The customs process can take a while and the airport is not air-conditioned. Have some water handy. Once through customs there is a small duty free shop - any duty free you buy after this you can't access until you fly out. There is also a money exchange between customs and immigration and a couple more in the airport after you pass through immigration. Buses are available night and day, and though there is no public transport as such, there are a number of privately owned mini buses and taxis which operate throughout Port Vila and to the airport. Most resorts and hotels also provide their guests with transfers. Car hire desks are located inside the terminal. Air Vanuatu and Virgin fly regularly from Australia to Vanuatu.

Always be prepared to arrive at least two hours before international departures or 80 minutes before domestic departures. The aiport is quite small, facilities include bathrooms, cafes, a currency exchange and a couple of shops. The airport is open 24 hours however the shops will not necessarily be.

Travel Tips

Most resorts provide children's meals. Generally the quality and choice of food in Vanuatu is excellent. Seafood is in abundant supply as well as fresh vegetables and fruit. The restaurants in Port Vila are first class and many cater for children with set children's menus. Restaurants include seafood, French, Indian, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese and Japanese. The seafood in particular was superb. Some of the good family friendly restaurants include the Beach Bar at Mele beach, Cafe Vila Restaurant & Bar, Waterfront Bar and Grill, Stonegrill Restaurant, Jills Cafe and K2 Cafe. There are also plenty of cafes in Port Vila where you can get a hamburger and chips for the kids.

Money Exchange
Major banks like ANZ, Westpac, and the National Bank of Vanuatu (NBV) offer money changing services. There are money exchanges at the airport that also offer good rates.

Water in Vanuatu is generally safe to drink, however all resorts stock plenty of bottled water. When travelling to the outer islands stick to bottled water.

Shopping in Vanuatu is good with Port Vila offering plenty of shops to pick from. These include high class duty free shops to cheap clothing and souvenir shops.
You'll find the shopping a much more pleasant experience than places like Bali or Fiji, as there is no pressure placed on you to enter shops or buy something that you don't want.
The sidewalks in Port Vila are reasonably narrow and any attempt to cross over to the other side of the road, especially with a couple of kids in tow, is a hair raising experience.
Supermarket food is a lot cheaper than you'll pay at the resorts. Things like soft drinks, chips, bottled water, beer are well worth stocking up on.
The markets in Port Vila provide an opportunity to buy local crafts and fresh fruit and vegetables as well as shells, beads, necklaces and clothing. It's colourful and busy.
One thing we were told was that every time a ship was in (a passenger cruise ship), the prices in Port Vila go up. We were unable to prove or disprove this theory as we weren't in town when the ship arrived, but just keep this in mind.

Things To Do

There are many activities available for families in Vanuatu. Here is a list of the most popular ones:

Mele Cascades
Located about 10km from Port Vila, there is a walk up to the falls (can get slippery), you can swim in the pools and under the waterfall. Organised tours of the waterfall are available through most resorts. There are toilets and picnic facilities.

Tanna Island
On this remote island in the southern part of Vanuatu you will discover a fascinating culture, amazing mountain scenery, an active volcano, hot springs, waterfalls and more. Tanna Island is about a 1 hours flight from Port Vila, day tours are available.

Iarofa Cultural Village
The village showcases the different aspects of daily life of the ni-Vanuatu people as their forefathers did in the past. It is the home of fire walking. You will be welcomed by the chanting warriors. Demonstrations of traditional fishing and hunting methods are presented then a fire walking ceremony is performed by a brave warrior while the rest of the warriors continue to cheer on in rhythmic custom dancing.

Hideaway Island
Not far from Port Vila is the tiny Hideaway Island. You can catch a taxi from your resort or take a family package (about 10000 VT or AU$125). A boat will ferry you from the mainland to the island (the ferry is free, but you pay a small charge when you arrive at the island.) The island has a restaurant and bar and the main activity is snorkelling. The island is a marine sanctuary. The coral is magnificent and the fish are truly unbelievable. You can buy some fish food and feed the fish (they will take the food from your hand). There is a pontoon situated about 50m from the shore where the kids could see and feed the fish.
Certainly not an experience to be missed and one of the highlights of the trip to Vanuatu. The beach at Hideaway is made up completely of coral, so you will need adequate foot ware. You can hire snorkeling equipment at the island, but it's always better if you have your own gear, especially for the kids. Take some bread with you. Even though the fish food available is only a dollar a bag, the bread is much better for hand feeding the fish.

Round Island Tour
A good way to see the sights of Efate. You can book through your resort (around 6000vt for adults and 3000vt for kids). You will get to stop at most of the local attractions and points of interest including Eton Beach and Cascades Waterfall.

Espiritu Santo
Espiritu Santo is about 1 hours flight north of Efate. This is regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific. Scuba diving is popular with world famous wrecks like the 'President Coolidge' in Santo Harbour, and the spectacular marine life. Vanair fly to Espiritu Santo three times daily.

Horse Riding
Only 10 minutes from Port Vila, Club Hippique offers rides through rainforest and coconut plantations. There are gentle beach walks or sunset trails, on acres of forest and beach.

Healthy Travel

The major issues facing travellers to Vanuatu are those associated with safe water & food and diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. While tap water in the major urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville is safe to drink, outside of these centres it is recommended all drinking water be boiled or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes. You should also avoid raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea. Be sure to pack a medical kit when traveling with children.

No vaccinations are required, but you should ensure your routine immunisations are up to date. Malaria occurs throughout the year in most areas, particularly the north, so anti-malarial medication is recommended. Diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Check with your doctor one month prior to departure. Take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof. There is only one hyperbaric chamber in Vanuatu, located in Port Vila, Efate. Rescue and emergency services are much less comprehensive than in Australia.

There are hospitals in Port Vila and Luganville as well as medical centres. It is recommended to have comprehensive travel insurance organised before you leave.

The Language

Vanuatu has three official languages, English, French, and Bislama. Bislama (Pidgin English) is the native tongue. Some of the more common words and phrases are:

There are some key words that are used in most sentences:

wan, tu, tri - one, two, three.
dei - day.
naet - night.
hamas (long hem) - how much (is that).
lukim yu - see you later.
plis - please.
tangkyu - thank you.
sori - sorry.
kol - cold.
mi harem no gud - I am ill.
mi no save - I do not know/understand.

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