In my quest to see the world, I figured that while I was living down in the South Pacific in beautiful New Zealand, I should take the opportunity to island-hop as many of the nearby islands and neighbouring countries as possible. Flights are short and relatively cheap in comparison to traveling from Europe or North America.
On this current jaunt, I began in Indonesia for a month after which I ventured to Fiji and am currently in Vanuatu. I've got New Caledonia next, then it's back to New Zealand to find work for the rest of the year so I can continue to travel and island-hop in the new year!
With the week I am wrapping up in Vanuatu across two islands, I've compiled all the information I've gathered, learnt and witnessed here for you should you one day find yourself in this tropical spot!
How to Get to Vanuatu
Vanuatu's main international airport is Bauerfield Airport just north of Port Vila on the main island of Efate. The main airline in Vanuatu is Air Vanuatu which provides domestic flights to the surrounding islands as well as internationally. You can fly direct to Port Vila, Vanuatu from Fiji (Nadi), Australia (Brisbane & Sydney), Solomon Islands (Honiara), New Caledonia (Noumea) and New Zealand (Auckland).
I book most of my flights on StudentUniverse.com which allows travellers under 26 or students to get cheap deals. Alternate sites I love to use for flights include FlightHub.com, Google Flights and Skyscanner.
The immigration process in Vanuatu is easy; you will complete a boarding card on your plane before arriving. This will be handed to an officer at the immigration desk who will stamp your passport for a 30-day visa if you meet conditions. As a Canadian, I did not need to get a visa in advance. Check for your own country's latest visa requirements before arriving.
The currency here is the Vanuatu Vatu. At the time of writing, $1 CAD was 88.50 VUV. I paid for everything in cash while traveling around Vanuatu as it's the preferred method. You can take cash out at one of two ATMs in the airport. For a week in Vanuatu, I budgeted $700 CAD to cover food, transport, accommodation, activities and an internal return flight between islands - this amount does not include my flight to Vanuatu or travel insurance. I am traveling on a backpacker's budget and stayed in dorm-style accommodation.
Vanuatu has a generally great climate all year round. The best time of year to visit is the dry, warm season from April to October. Outside these months is the wet season although locals tell me it is not intense nor does it bother most day-to-day activities. I was comfortable in September in thin, loose clothing. Remember to always apply plenty of sunscreen when exposed to the kind of sun they get in the South Pacific - and I also highly recommend bug spray!
Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands! The best way of getting around between them is by island-hopper flights serviced by Air Vanuatu. On Efate, the main island where you'll fly into Port Vila, buses (look like minivans) are cheap and easy; just flag one down and tell them where you need to go. On Espiritu Santo, you'll need to get a driver from your accommodations or take a taxi to where you wish to go; most tourist attractions have set transfer rates.
I highly recommend getting yourself a SIM card for while you're traveling in Vanuatu as wifi is often spotty and only available at certain restaurants or accommodation. The two main networks are TVL and Digicel, both of which you can buy SIM cards and basic data/calling plans from at the airport upon arrival. I bought 2.5 GB plus some calling for 2000 VUV (about $23 CAD) from Digicel which was the cheapest deal at the time.
I stayed in budget dorm-style accommodation during my time in Vanuatu which went for $17 CAD in Port Vila and $20 CAD on Espiritu Santo. When booking accommodation on Santo you'll need to do so well in advance as it's via email and pre-authorized credit card payments. There are plenty of places to stay in Vanuatu from the budget up to private islands!
FOOD & WATER
In Port Vila, the food is relatively cheap at grocery stores and there's a massive 24-hour public fruit + veg market to get fresh things. I cooked for myself in Port Vila to save money. My lodge on Espiritu Santo offered free breakfast and cheap lunch/dinner so I was catered to there. Ensure you're drinking plenty of water but only from a bottle as tap water is not super safe to drink (although rain water seemed to be okay!).
A Guide to Efate
ARRIVE: fly into Bauerfield International Airport just outside Port Vila. Taxis into town go for 1500 VUV ($17.10 CAD) or to Pango for 3000 VUV but I recommend taking the public bus (look like minivans - just hail one down and tell them where you need to go) as it's just 150 VUV ($1.70 CAD) for a ride anywhere in the Port Vila or Pango region.
GET AROUND: take public buses! See the details above.
STAY: I stayed just outside town on the Pango peninsula at Bluepango Motel which was a good budget accommodation option on the beach with a cafe and small shops nearby.
DO: go swimming at the gorgeous Mele Cascade Waterfalls and then spot the world's only operating underwater post office!
A Guide to Espiritu Santo
ARRIVE: fly into Santo Pekoa International Airport just outside Luganville; island-hopping flights are serviced by Air Vanuatu. Your best bet for getting out is to book an airport transfer with your accommodation.
GET AROUND: you'll need to book a driver through your accommodations or hire a taxi to get around to attractions on Santo.
STAY: I stayed just outside town at Pui Lodge which was a nice homely place. I felt a bit lonely (no cell service and no other guests) and felt a bit pressured to spend money, but I did feel welcomed and the staff were very accommodating and kind to my requests.
DO: visit the renowned blue holes and then go snorkeling with World War 2 wrecks at Million Dollar Point!