Vacation in Vanuatu
Want to visit the happiest country in the South Pacific? Then a vacation in Vanuatu is the answer. And the reason is Vanuatu’s main asset - its people. Everywhere you go, you’ll encounter chatty, inquisitive locals who welcome you with warm hospitality and genuine friendliness, and are refreshingly not after the tourist dollar. That’s because tipping and bargaining are not practiced in Vanuatu.
No other South Pacific destination shows as many contrasts as Vanuatu. The cosmopolitan capital city of Port Vila, with chic resorts and gourmet restaurants, is a totally different world from the traditional villages that haven’t changed over the millennia. The outer islands of Tanna, Espiritu Santo, Erromango, Malekulam, Ambae, Ambryn and Pentecost are far removed from cosmopolitan Vila and are as exotic as their names.
Efate, the main island of Vanuatu, is where your Vanuatu vacation will begin. It’s where the capital Port Vila, the hub of the islands, is situated and it is the focal point to a majority of commerce and tourism. Other “musts” include climbing an active volcano on Tanna, watching a famous naghol or land diving on Pentecost and exploring great diving sites around Espiritu Santo, including the remains of the ocean liner SS President Coolidge, the world’s largest easily accessible shipwreck. And if you happen to vacation in Vanuatu from September to January, it is the breeding season for the islands’ colorful and unusual bird populations.
The Republic of Vanuatu (Ripablik Blong Vanuatu) is an archipelago of 83 islands that are strung out like a 1,500 mile necklace in the western South Pacific. The islands are located about 2 hours flight west of Fiji and sit just north of New Caledonia. It is exceptionally beautiful (the name means “land eternal”) and while vacation in Vanuatu does not include grand monument tours or shopping mall visits, it does offer the beauty of nature combined with myth, folklore and an incredibly rich culture.
The islands were first settled by the Lapita people around 3,000 years ago during their migration across the Pacific. Espiritu Santo, was first sighted in 1606 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, who thought the island was the great Southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.
During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Spain and other islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labor trade called “blackbirding”. In 1906, France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the islands jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a unique form of government, with separate governmental systems that came together only in a joint court. In 1980, amidst the brief “Coconut War”, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.
Vanuatu has a population of around 250,000. The population (ni-Van) is predominantly rural, with the largest cities being the capital Port Vila, situated on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo. Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity through local regional variations and foreign influence. This arose because villages were separated by large, impassable mountains or rocky coastlines. So your Vanuatu vacation experience will differ not only from island to island but literally from village to village. This will also be reflected in the arts, such as carvings, dancing ceremonies, music and dress.
The most convenient way to explore the islands is by Vanair, a subsidiary of Air Vanuatu. It offers regular services to multiple destinations within the archipelago.