Vanuatu – Trip Report


Vanuatu Trip Report

Vanuatu, meaning “Our Land Forever” in most Melanesian languages, is a small independent nation of 83 islands, 67 of them are inhabited. With a lot of tourists coming from Fiji, Australia and French territory of New Caledonia, Vanuatu was one of the six countries in my trip around the South Pacific countries.

Vanuatu story highlights on InstagramVanuatu story highlights on Instagram

This trip report can also be seen on our story highlights on Instagram account @travelonthedollar.

Click the image on left to go directly to Vanuatu Highlights, or visit our page and under ‘Highlights’, scroll to the right and click on ‘Vanuatu’.

 

Planning and Arrival

Flight

Having booked as a part of the Fiji Airways “hopper” flight to other South Pacific nations, the flight from Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Port Vila, Vanuatu (VLI) was served by Air Vanuatu, the country’s national carrier. The almost 2-hour flight from Nadi reached around 7pm, earlier than its scheduled landing time!

Rental Car in Vanuatu

I had an advance booking of rental car from Hertz at Port Vila airport that costs 30,000 VUV (approx $255) through carrentals.com. The Hertz outlet at VLI airport time their opening time based on the reservations and flight arrivals. After picking up my car, I headed to my hotel that was a 10-min drive.

Other option for rental car in Port Vila is World Car Rentals.
Here are the details for reservations – website: vanuaturentalcars.com; phone: +678-26515 or +678-35152; email: bookings@vanuaturentalcars.com; social media: worldcarrentalsvanuatu (on Facebook and Instagram); address: Kumul Highway, Nambatu, Port Vila; hours: 07:30-17:00 daily. Click here for an image of the rates.

SIM Card in Vanuatu

Both Digicell and Vodafone has outlets at Port Vila airport and they are usually open during arriving flights. I got a Vodafone SIM card that had 7GB of data and 100 local calls for 14 days. It costs 1,000 VUV (approx $8), no ID required and activated instantly by the person at the counter. Payment in cash only.

Currency exchange at Port Vila, Vanuatu

There are two currency exchange counters at Port Vila airport – one next to the duty-free shop before exiting arrivals, and one after exiting the arrivals, next to rental car counters. Note that, similar to other counters, these are open during international flight arrivals only (although they were not open when flight arrived from New Caledonia!). The exchange rates are much lower than official rates, but that is the case with all the exchange centers around Port Vila.

Exchange centers are available around the center and at Bank of South Pacific branches. Apart from hotels and some restaurants that accept credit cards, it’s best to carry cash for all other purchases.

Arrivals area of Port Vila airport, Vanuatu
Arrivals area of Port Vila airport, Vanuatu

Hotel

Located right on the waterfront, and a few meters away from the bustling center, Moorings Hotel is an absolutely great hotel having tiny ‘villas’ as room that open up to the swimming pool. Reservation was done through booking.com and it costs $100 per night for a ‘Standard Queen Room’.

Moorings Hotel, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Moorings Hotel, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Moorings Hotel, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Moorings Hotel, Port Vila, Vanuatu

Efate Island

There are a lot of islands to explore in Vanuatu, especially Pentecost island famous for the land diving (bungee) ceremonies in June-July every year. I spent the day driving around some of the sights on Efate island.

Mele Cascade Waterfalls

Well-known as Evergreen Cascades these are a series of travertine or limestone cascades with the tallest drop of more than 30 meters. Unfortunately, the land owners have sold their land to Chinese investors that makes it very expensive! The entrance fee is 2000 VUV (approx $17) charged by the locals for their land, followed by 5000 VUV (approx $43) charged for the waterfalls by the Chinese owners. You get a free guide (who’s essentially useless), and after a walk of about 10-mins through the cascades you reach the highest falls.

Mele Waterfalls – worth it?

Pro-tip: It’s not worth the amount charged ($59) to visit the waterfalls. Skip this!

 

Mele Cascades, Vanuatu
Entrance to Mele Cascades, Vanuatu
Mele Cascades, Vanuatu
Limestone cascades leading to the main waterfall.
Mele Cascades, Vanuatu
The walk involves crossing ‘river’ leading to the main waterfall.
Mele Cascades, Vanuatu
Main waterfall at Mele Cascades, Vanuatu

 

Vanuatu Sky Bridge

Close to the Mele Cascades is one of the star attractions of Port Vila – Sky Bridge and Zipline. This 120-meter suspension bridge gives a spectacular view of the gorge below and the surrounding mountains, including a view to the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, there’s a zipline covering about 1.3kms.

The skybridge costs AUD 15 ($9), and the zipline costs AUD 125 ($80). I just did the skybridge walk and skipped the zipline.

Vanuatu Sky Bridge
Vanuatu Sky Bridge
Vanuatu Sky Bridge
View of pacific ocean from Vanuatu Sky Bridge
Vanuatu Sky Bridge
Gorge below the Vanuatu Sky Bridge

83 Islands Distillery

Named after the 83 islands comprising Vanuatu, they produce premium quality rums using locally sourced heirloom sugarcane, distilled in small batches using traditional methods. The lobby area is free to visit and the actual distillery including tasting costs 2000 VUV ($17).

83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
83 Distillery, Vanuatu
Selection at 83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu
Selection at 83 Distillery, Vanuatu
Selection at 83 Islands Distillery, Vanuatu

 

Underwater Post Office

On the coast of Port Vila lies a tiny island called Hideaway Island owned by a resort of the same name. The star attraction of this place is the Underwater Post Office. One of its kind in the world, this is a functioning post office operated by Vanuatu Postal Service where you can send a waterproof postcard anywhere in the world!

A small boat shuttles between the ‘mainland’ Port Vila and Hideaway Island. Upon landing at the island, you have to pay an entrance fee of 2000 VUV ($17) to the resort-island. To access the underwater post office, you must pay additional 2000 VUV, which is a 10-minute snorkel from the beach, and a 3-meter dive to the postbox.

You can carry your own snorkel, or hire one (mask and fins) for 1000 VUV ($8). Make sure to get your waterproof postcards (stamps included), write your message with a pencil and you’re set!

Swim to the pontoon and dive right next to it to access the post office. Deposit the postcards in the mailbox underwater.

Underwater Post Office – When to go?

Pro-tip: If you’re not comfortable diving 3-meters without your snorkel gear, then make sure to visit the PO during low tide when the depth is reduced to an easy dive.

 

Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
About to mail the postcards at Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
About to mail the postcards at Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
About to mail the postcards at Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu

Blue Lagoon

Most of the tourists arriving by cruise ships head to the Blue Lagoon to swim in its warm and blue water. Located about a one-hour drive from Port Vila town center on the south-east end of the island, it costs 2000 VUV ($17) to access the lagoon.

Getting transport to the lagoon can be challenging, and the cheapest way is to hitchhike a vehicle heading in the right direction or negotiate with one of those small van drivers.

Equipped with some rope swings hanging from the mangroves, and some wooden ladders to help you get in and out of the water, there are some small and short wooden “patios” where you can jump into the water. The Blue Lagoon is a very popular spot for tourists as well as locals, so it is usually packed anytime of the day!

Blue Lagoon, Vanuatu
Blue Lagoon, Vanuatu
Blue Lagoon, Vanuatu
Blue Lagoon, Vanuatu

 

Other sights in Port Vila

After heading back to the city center, I visited some of the lesser visited sites:

Australian High Commission, Vanuatu
Australian High Commission, Vanuatu
Local Market, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Local Market, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Street Art in Port Vila, Vanuatu
Street Art in Port Vila, Vanuatu
Vanuatu Parliament, Port Vila
Vanuatu Parliament, Port Vila

Stonegrill Restaurant

Ended the day with an early dinner at the Stonegrill restaurant in Port Vila. Delicious food and great view was all I needed to call it a busy day!

Stonegrill Restaurant, Vanuatu
Stonegrill Restaurant, Vanuatu

 

Tanna Island

The next morning I took a domestic flight to Tanna Island (TAH). The Air Vanuatu domestic flight is operated by a propeller plane and lasts 45 minutes. It costs about $250 return flight from Port Vila to Tanna.

Air Taxi Vanuatu operates a scenic flight over Tanna Island and return to Port Vila the same day, and it’s quite expensive. They also provide charter flights that costs around $650 with meals, accommodation and tours included.

Note that for domestic flights in Vanuatu you have a departure tax of 200 VUV one day. Upon receiving your boarding pass, head to the departure tax counter, pay the 200 VUV and get your boarding pass stamped.

Air Taxi Vanuatu
Air Taxi Vanuatu
Air Vanuatu - the national carrier
Air Vanuatu – the national carrier

Accommodation in Tanna Island

One of Vanuatu’s biggest attraction is Mount Yasur that is an active volcano and one of very few volcanoes in the world with a lava lake.

You have two options for accommodation on Tanna Island – resorts on the west coast near the airport or a bungalow or tree house near the volcano. I stayed at Tanna Volcano View Treehouse in front of the entrance of volcano. And has great view of the volcano-glow in the night.

Weather at the volcano can determine your visit. Reports about travelers not able to see anything due to rain or fog are common, and thankfully I had a clear day during my stay there!

My accommodation was a bungalow for 1600 VUV a night. The lodge has a treehouse with three small rooms and three bungalows that are pretty basic, but totally okay for one night. Restrooms and bathrooms (no hot water) are shared between all. Breakfast is included in the cost and dinner is provided at 1000 VUV. There are no stores, restaurants or any other facilities near the lodge.

Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge – Bungalows
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge – Treehouse
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge – Room in treehouse
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge – Room in bungalow

Mount Yasur Volcano

The tour to the volcano costs 8000 VUV and another 1000 VUV for transportation. You can avoid that fee by walking up and down, which is not feasible on unpaved, muddy roads especially returning during night time.

Cash or card?

Pro-tip: The accommodation lodge and the volcano tour accepts only cash. So make sure to bring lots of cash. There are no exchange counters or banks at the airport. The only option is to stop at the town’s ATM to withdraw cash. The best option is bring cash on your way from Port Vila.

 

You are expected to gather at 4:30pm, and after a briefing, we started at 5pm in two pickup trucks of around 20 people. It’s a super bumpy ride of about 10-15 minutes to the base of the volcano. And you walk up to the crater for last ten minutes. In contrast to other comparable volcanoes, for example Nyiragongo in DR Congo or Erta Ale in Ethiopia, Mount Yasur is quite easy to access and does not require a long hike. However, you will be accompanied by tour guides and a security guard, who will show you where to go at the top of the crater. This is dependent on the direction in which the smoke and steam is blowing.

Mount Yasur Volcano entrance
Mount Yasur Volcano entrance

You arrive at the top before sunset and the lava lake several hundred meters away looks interesting but not very spectacular. It looks much more like a small, red-glowing dot in the far distance. But when darkness falls, the lava glows bright red that will amaze you! Every few minutes, the lava erupts with a thundering sound making it amazing!

What to bring to Mount Yasur?

The winds at the crater of the volcano can be insane, and the temperatures drop just before sunset, so make sure to carry a jacket with a hoodie. And when the winds blows, the ash and sulphur can be bothersome, so bring a mask.

 

Mount Yasur Volcano base
Mount Yasur Volcano base
Mount Yasur Volcano
Mount Yasur Volcano before sunset
Mount Yasur Volcano
Mount Yasur Volcano after sunset

 

 

There is no barrier at the top of the crater. Only the security guard occasionally tells you to take a step back. Apart from that, it’s a volcano and they erupt sometimes.

Shortly after dark, you head back down to the base, get in the cars and head back to the entrance.

There are two more tours every day – one at sunrise for 4,000 VUV, half the price of the sunset tour. There is also one at noon for only 2,000 VUV. It’s not worth seeing the volcano during daylight!

The next morning after breakfast, the owner of the accommodation arranged for taxi pickup that drove us back to the airport. The airport transfer to the lodge and back costs 5000 VUV (two-way). And it’s not a personal transfer but the driver will pickup and dropoff other passengers on the way, taking it longer than usual 45 minutes.

My flight back to Port Vila was delayed by an hour, and after paying another 200 VUV as departure tax, I headed back to Port Vila, and a connecting flight out of Vanuatu.

 

Expenses

Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult. The exchange rate at the time of publishing is assumed to be USD 1 = VUV 120. This does not include international flights to/from Vanuatu.
 

What Cost Notes
Rental Car $255 30,000 VUV; Company: Hertz; Compact small car; auto drive; for 2 days.
Sim Card $8 Vodafone, 7GB for 14days.
Port Vila Hotel $330 For 3 nights, double room. Breakfast included.
Mele Cascades $60 Entrance fees and other fees 7000 VUV.
Meals in Hotel $39 Three dinners at Moorings Hotel
Vanuatu Skybridge $8 Entrance fees of 1000 VUV
83 Islands Distillery $17 Tour fees of 2000 VUV.
Underwater Post Office $43 Entrance fees of 2000 VUV; Snorkeling gear of 1000 VUV and diving fees of 2000 VUV.
Blue Lagoon $17 Entrance fees of 2000 VUV.
Lunch $30 Stonegrill Restaurant
Gas $13 Total gas of 1530 VUV.
Domestic Airport Tax $3.20 Two-way fees from VLI to TAH and back.
Mount Yasur Volcano $75 Entrance fees of 8000 VUV and transportation fees of 1000 VUV
Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge $21 One night. Bungalow 1600 VUV. Breakfast included.
Dinner in Tanna $8 Dinner of 1000 VUV at Tanna Volcano View Treehouse Lodge.
Tanna airport pick-up/drop-off $42 Costs 5000 VUV two-way.
Groceries $6 800 VUV for water, chips.
Total Costs $975.20 Per person
Travel On The Dollar