Oceania : Vanuatu
The islands of Vanuatu are grouped into six geographic provinces, the names formed by combining the first syllables or letters of the major islands in each. Roughly north to south:
- Torba (Torres islands, Banks islands)
- Sanma (Santo, Malo)
- Penama (Pentecost, Ambae, Maewo)
- Malampa (Malakula, Ambrym, Paama)
- Shefa (Shepherd group, Efate)
- Tafea (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango, Aneityum)
The British and French who settled the New Hebrides in the 19th century agreed in 1906 to an Anglo-French Condominium, which administered the islands until independence in 1980. European settlers released several saltwater crocodiles on the island, although today's population on the island officially stands at 2 or 3 medium-sized individuals on the Banks Islands and no breeding has been observed. Despite its proximity to Papua New Guinea, crocodiles do not naturally occur on Vanuatu.
The climate is tropical, and almost always warm, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s celsius.
The wet season runs from November to April, and can be very rainy and humid. Cyclones may occur from December to April.
Currency and finance
The local currency is the Vatu (VT), which is worth approximately 1 US cent or 0,7 Euro cents at the time of writing. There are notes for 200 VT, 500 VT, 1000 VT, and 5000 VT, while coins include 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 VT pieces.
Credit and debit cards on the major networks (Cirrus, Maestro, etc) are accepted by many businesses in town.
ATMs are available in Port Vila, and include the Australian banks ANZ and Westpac. The National Bank of Vanuatu has a branch at the airport and is open for all flight arrivals. Otherwise, banking hours are from 8:30am to 3pm.
Tipping is not expected in Vanuatu, nor is haggling or bargaining.
It is strongly recommended not to change money or Traveller's Cheques at the airport, but to wait until you are in Port Vila to change them due to the poor rates and commission charges at the airport.
Telephone service is widely available, including mobile phone service around town. Local SIM cards can be purchased on arrival for around 3000VT. Fax service may be available from your hotel.
Internet access is available from some Internet cafes and from wireless hotspots in the downtown of Port Vila. Hotspots include the café Au Péché Mignon on the main street of town, and another cafe down by the harbourside.
You can send letters and postcards from mailboxes in the streets, however the incoming postal service can be patchy, especially for parcels, so don't rely on people sending you things while you're staying in Vanuatu.
- Vanuatu's main ports are Port-Vila on the island of Efate and Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.
- The Pacific and Orient (P&O) Cruise lines operate regular cruises through Vanuatu waters.
- Tallship Soren Larsen, +64 9 817 8799, [ sails from Fiji to Port Vila and Santo and explores the northern Banks Islands once a year. 2008: Sails from Lautoka to Yasawa island then Vanuatu - 18 nights from 31 Aug-18 Sept.
Subsequent 11 night cruises explore the Banks Islands, then the isolated islands of central Vanuatu, depart from Port Vila via Tanna island to New Caledonia on 19 Oct.
The main international airport is located in Port-Vila with flights to and from:
- New Zealand
- New Caledonia
- Solomon Islands - Solomon Airlines
Within Vanuatu, several air carriers are operating to bring visitors around to several of the islands the country has. These include Vanair (not to be confused with Air Vanuatu), Helikopta Compani, Sea Air and Air Club Vila <ref>Lonely Planet:Vanuatu</ref>
Within Vanuatu, several companies provide boating service between the islands. These include Ifira Shipping Agencies and Toara Coastal Shipping.<ref>Lonely Planet:Vanuatu</ref>
In Port Vila the buses are vans seating about 10 people, which largely traverse the main road and go and stop where you would like them to go. Wave at them to stop one heading in the direction you want to go. They are plentiful within the city and outside the city you can usually arrange for a bus to meet you at a particular time. If one looks full, just wait for the next one. The buses are used by locals, but are very friendly, cheap, and easy to use by tourists. Fare is usually calculated per person. The cost is usually 100 vatu per person anywhere around Port Vila. If you are travelling a longer distance, the fare may rise to 200 - 300 vatu per person.
Taxis are plentiful within Port Vila. Fare is calculated per taxi.
There are three official languages: English, French and Bislama. Bislama is a pidgin language – and now a creole in urban areas – which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the whole population of Vanuatu, generally as a second language.
In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu. The density of languages per capita is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language. All of these vernacular languages belong to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.
There are two market areas along the foreshore in Port Vila. The main market sells mostly food, and you can find all kinds of local produce there. Further north, near the beach, there is a row of grass-roofed market stalls that sell clothing, bags, sarongs, and other items.
The woven grass bags and mats are widely available and very attractive.
There are many restaurants and eateries in Port Vila, ranging from up-market places catering to tourists and expats, to more low-key establishments. The approximate cost of lunch would be around the 1000-1500 vatu range, depending on where and what you eat. Some examples of prices:
- sandwiches, around 450-600 VT
- bacon and eggs, 750 VT
- burger with fries or salad, around 1000 VT
- main meal, eg steak or seafood, 1200-2000 VT
- large, fresh-squeezed juice, around 500VT
The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this either manioc (kasava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake. The best place to pick up some of this is at the food market in the town centre and should cost you about 100 vatu ($1.20AUD).
This is a variation of lap lap with the the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.
Vanuatu's meat is renowned in the region. At the airports you will see signs reminding you to pack the 25kg of meat permitted to other nearby island nations. The reason the meat's so good is that it's all naturally grown, with no feedlots or other problems of westernised mass production. The result of this is that the steaks are very good indeed.
Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travellers have experienced a hangover from its consumption.
Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travellers to try.
Kava is served in a "shell" or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It's handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterwards, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant.
Alcoholic beverages are also widely available. Resorts, bars, and restaurants serving tourists have a wide range of drinks available. The local beers are called "Tusker" and "Vanuatu Bitter".
There is a choice of all levels of accommodation.
- Le Lagon is the most popular and largest of the resorts. It has been operating for over 30 years. It offers substantial discounts for children, as as a result there are lots of kids here during the Australian school holidays.
- Iririki Island is an exclusive resort situated in Port Vila's harbour. It used to be "adults only" but since 2006 it has areas that allow children. A ferry runs back and forth to the main downtown area.
- Erakor Island Resort is situated on an island in the lagoon, close to Le Lagon. A free ferry takes you to and from the island.
When visiting other islands or villages outside of the cities, there are many small guest houses that charge around 2000 VT per night and offer full service (meals, laundry, etc).
Many of the motels in Port Vila and Luganville also fall into the budget category, with prices around 2000 VT per night. There are a number of websites which list such motels.
Note that budget accommodation in Vanuatu will probably mean shared bathroom facilities, and cold water only.
There are many charitable organisations and NGOs operating in Vanuatu, and a strong community of volunteers in the area. If you are interested in volunteering in Vanuatu, the following organisations place volunteers there:
Many people from overseas work in Vanuatu, either running their own businesses or employed by others.
Generally speaking, work permits are only available for positions where there are not enough ni-Vanuatu to meet demand.
Port Vila is, on the whole, a very safe and friendly environment. You are unlikely to encounter any trouble unless you do something extremely provocative.
There are no seriously poisonous snakes, spiders, or insects on Vanuatu, however there are various poisonous aquatic animals that you should beware of if you are swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the area. The most dangerous of these is the stonefish. Saltwater crocodiles are present, so the likelihood of an attack is minimal.
It is advisable to be immunised against Hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever before visiting Vanuatu.
Malaria is endemic within some areas of Vanuatu, but not Port-Vila. If you are venturing outside the resort areas, check with your doctor before you travel.
Tap water in Port Vila is clean and potable, but is best avoided elsewhere. Doctors used to treating common traveller problems are available in Port-Vila. Any more serious problems may require some form of medical evacuation.
Be careful of any small cuts, scratches, or other sores you receive while travelling in Vanuatu. As in most tropical areas, small sores can easily become infected if you don't practice proper hygiene. Most of these things require common sense.
Throughout Vanuatu, and especially outside of Port Vila in the villages, life is strongly influenced by "kastom" -- a set of traditional customs and taboos that apply to all kinds of matters. Be aware of this, and respect locals' requests with regard to "kastom".
When visiting villages, women should dress modestly, wearing clothes that cover the shoulders and knees.
Christian religion is very strong. It seems common to invite and welcome visitors to attend local church services on a Sunday
Vanuatu has GSM mobile coverage in Port-Vila and GSM mobile phones roam seamlessly.
You can buy special visitor SIM cards from TVI , which offer considerable discounts over roaming charges. Available at any post office.
This page was last edited at 08:20, on 25 March 2009 by Ian Sergeant. Based on work by Peter Fitzgerald and David, Wikitravel user(s) Texugo and Morph, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.