Vanuatu Stole My Heart

Monday, January 11, 2016

Greetings All! 

I am flailing from cloud 9 as reality has set in that my vacation is over. I had the best time abroad in Oceania. It's going to take me some time to decipher it all. But I wanted to show some love to the beautiful region of Vanuatu today.

I was originally only supposed to visit Australia: Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast/Surfers, Sydney and Cairns. Apparently Cairns is super popular this time of year, as I soon found myself priced out of the ticket range I was eyeing. A ticket to Vanuatu from Sydney was cheaper, and I'm a sucker for a new place.

I had admittedly only ever heard of Vanuatu from the TV show,  "Survivor". As I started researching more I knew I had stumbled onto a gem. Boy was I right.

Vanuatu is an 83-island chain in modern day Oceania. It is a part of the region known as Melanesia, along with Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands; other neighboring countries include New Caledonia, New Zealand, and Australia (where most of their tourism comes from). Vanuatu's capital is located in Port Vila, in the Efate region . Other notable areas for tourism include Espirito Santo, Tanna and Gaua.

I flew from SYD to VLI on Air Vanuatu. It's the regional, budget carrier, and the 3 hour flight was pleasant. No inflight entertainment, but we were well fed. I would advise anyone considering the region to make sure that their plans are flexible; my flight schedule was altered several times prior to my trip by the airline.

From start to finish, my time in Port Vila, Vanuatu was magical. I was completely enamored by the lush landscape, the tropical blue waters and the preservation of indigenous culture. The more I learned, the more I knew I had not booked enough time here.

I booked Atmosphere Tours for my island tour. Atmosphere is an indigenous owned and operated tour company in Port Vila. I made it a point to support them specifically for this reason. I highly recommend them for their professionalism, passion and knowledge about their country and pre-colonial Oceania in general.

Lots of melanin in Melanesia :)

We began our journey with a cultural demonstration of rites of passage, and revering nature as a means for survival. This was the highlight of the trip and should absolutely be experienced. The fortitude and humility of the original people of this land is both impressive and inspiring. The people have remarkably recovered from Cyclone Pam, and still maintain an attitude of gratitude.

Male rites of passage ceremony

Beautiful indigenous garbs

He peeled a coconut with his bare hands and teeth, no knife!

Fire walk display; family and tradition is huge here.

We also ventured to the Blue Lagoon and a couple of beaches. The water at both beaches and the Blue Lagoon was ice blue and warm. Vanuatu truly has a stunning coastline. We had a local lunch at a beachside eatery, the vegetarian fare was filling and tasty. I lounged on one of the nearby hammocks on the beach afterward; others went and snorkeled for a bit or had tea and relaxed. 
Stunning blue, warm waters at Blue Lagoon.
There's a rope to swing from the deck into the water.
One of several Beautiful beaches

Fake deep pose.
You won't catch me doing many of these.

Coral overruns the beach areas. You will need shoes to walk around.

Still working on my point-shoot skills. Le strug...

We had a quick, fun visit with a gentleman named Ernest. Ernest is 83 years young, and lived through the U.S. occupation of Vanuatu during the second world war. He has maintained an impressive collection of war remnants over the years and has turned much of it into memorabilia.

Remnants of World War II

Mr. Ernest explains where the items come from

Ultra lush terrain in Port Vila
So much greenery :-)
A Port Vila school

We concluded our day at the duty free shops by request of the tour ship passengers, and then I was returned to my home stay. We went around Efate in less than a day, and I am truly smitten with the lush terrain and wonderful people; so much so that I am planning my return later this year.

Bring extra dollars in tips for each site; they are very appreciative of tourism and really go above and beyond to make your experience enjoyable.

Above, you saw a photo of me lounging on the deck of my Airbnb while in Port Vila. The photo does not begin to do the place justice. I seriously could have just lounged around there all day.
Fresh Breakfast from the deck every morning
I could have spent the entire time on this hammock
One last look *sigh*

Here's part of a write-up on Vanuatu that I did for my Nomadness Travel Tribe:
  • No visa needed for U.S. citizens
  • Average temp: 84 degrees 
  • High season: April-October, though any time is good to go. Peak time: Sept and Oct; Australian holidays
  • Rainy/Cyclone season: November-April; Vanuatu is located in the cyclone belt
  • 113 VUV to $1 as of January 2016
  • Easy access to/from Sydney, Aus, New Caledonia and Nadi, Fiji
  • If you need a visa for Australia, you will need an ETA to fly into Vanuatu
  • Malaria tablets are a very good idea

The indigenous people of Vanuatu are called "ni-Vanuatu" or "ni-Van". The local currency is VUV, Vanuatu dollars; they also accept AUD or NZD but prefer their local currency. Tipping is not compulsory, but consider that this region was completely devastated by Cyclone Pam in March 2015. They have recovered tremendously, and are extremely grateful for the tourism they receive. Consider contributing to the donation boxes in their local currency.

Several island areas of Vanuatu are inhabited by the indigenous and have been untouched by colonial influence. Since their independence from France and Britain, they have been intent on making sure the local economy works for the people. I made it a point to support the tourist companies that are indigenous owned, the money earned goes back into the community. Foreigners do not own land in Vanuatu anymore; they may lease it for a term not to exceed 30 years (the life span of a coconut tree). In spite of this claim, European and Chinese infiltration are evident around the island. They have received permission to build in several different regions around Port Vila. There are varying opinions on this, but ultimately the people have to sign off on it. A casino is currently being built near the cruise port.

Must Do in Port Vila:

  • Blue Lagoon- swing from the rope into the beautiful blue, fresh water lagoon. It is nice and warm, and usually not real crowded.
  • Mele Cascades- STUNNING ice blue pool at the end of a gorgeous waterfall. Make sure you take a guide here, as the path can be steep and slippery. 
  • Ekasup Cultural Village: see cultural demonstrations from indigenous people. Learn survival skills and how nature has given us everything we need to sustain. This was a highlight of the trip.
  • Visit Ernest at his WWII memorabilia site. He is 83 years young, and has collected several remnants from the U.S. occupation of Port Vila during the second world war. He also has an impressive Coke bottle collection from many regions around the world. More over, he is the griot of the area, and is passionate about his island nation's history-good and bad. Culture junkies will love the wisdom the elder imparts. Sometimes his grandson gives the spiel since he is technically retired. We were lucky enough to see him in person.
  • Dine at Au Fare. French influence is still prevalent here. This quaint little café sits on the ice blue bay  (extraordinary photo ops), has an expansive menu and some of the best cocktails I've had anywhere on Earth. It is off the main road slightly in the cut; follow the signs and head toward the water.

  • Vanuatu Cultural Center; this is mostly geared toward the cruise ships patrons but those that did this and came with us to Ekasup thought they were similar, with some credence given to Ekasup. All of the earnings from Ekasup go back into the indigenous community, so my vote is for them.
  • Vila Market: everyday except Sunday. Colorful, VIBRANT, home of the best deals. Can get quite crowded if cruise ships are docked. Not much haggling happening here, things are already extraordinarily cheap. Truly an experience!
  • You can snorkel pretty much anywhere in Vanuatu. They have very few sharks in their waters compared to neighboring islands. Coral is everywhere, so take care to bring water shoes even just to walk the beach.
Transportation: "catching a ute" (hopping on the back of a pickup) is the most popular method of transport here. Yes they overload them, and yes they drive crazy. You can rent a car fairly easy here; they drive on the left. Petrol is very expensive. You can also hire a car.

Passing a "ute"; reminded me of my time in Tobago.
Get into that lush greenery again <3
Helpful links: 

Lonely Planet write-up

Trip Advisor overviews: 

Runoko Rashidi-this brother has traveled the world extensively, and is a great resource on the cultures of original peoples in general.

Sidenote: Vanuatu is famous for its coconut oil production. I got an AWFUL sunburn in Melbourne, and slathered some of their coconut oil on it since the aloe vera was taking its time healing it. It is everything! You can get some from the local ladies in the village markets.

I have visited several countries on 6 continents, and this was by far the hands-down, absolute best locale I've visited thus far. The time went by way too fast. The people were amazing, I felt right at home.

Should you ever find yourself near Melanesia, give Vanuatu a try. I am planning my return to Vanuatu to spend time in Tanna (Mt. Yasur volcano) and Espirito Santo (Blue Hole, Millennium Cave) in September of this year.

I have a detailed photo/video story on my Instagram about my time in Vanuatu, and all that I learned about their history and cultural norms.

Cheers <3

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  1. I am coming with you next time! It looks ah-mazing! Keep them coming!

    1. Next time is September, shorty...via Sydney (also amazing).

  2. This place sounds magical and the blueness of the water takes my breath away. This is the second time I've heard of Vanuatu in the past two weeks, both times it has been mentioned with rave reviews. I hope to visit one day!

    1. Magic is the PERFECT way to describe it. Thanks for reading!

  3. Jealous is not the word ! Need a passport

  4. Beautiful pictures...makes me want to visit tomorrow!

  5. I've always been so curious about Vanuatu, so thanks so much for sharing this detailed guide...bookmarking it! I went to Oz back in 2007 and would love to return with my husband. When we do, I'd definitely squeeze in some time in Vanuatu. I may have missed it, but how long were you there? How long would you recommend? The beaches and the Blue Lagoon are stunning, and I love Ernest's makeshift museum.

    1. Hi Dana,

      I was supposed to be there five days, but Air Vanuatu cut my trip short with a flight cancelation, so I was only there two days. I'll be back in September (from Sydney again) for 9 days.

  6. I might be putting Vanatau on my bucket list after reading this. I was blessed enough to visit the Marshall Islands last year, which aren't too far away and would love to visit more of the Pacific Islands. They have a more complicated history with the US but it's interesting to see how we interact with cultures around the word.

  7. What a beautiful island. I love the fact that you made purchases from locals. Seems like you gain a lot of knowledge. I will check Vanuatu out for travel. Thx for sharing!

  8. Wow! This trip looks amazing! I love looking at the Blue Lagoon! It looks so dreamy! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Looks like you had a beautiful time. I have a desire to also visit Australia. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hope your next adventure is extremely enjoyable.

  10. It looks amazing! I wanted to go, but was limited to Australia/NZ due to time and money constraints. I will definitely make a way. Great post!