If you’ve read our previous post “Vanuatu Diary” you’ll know that we only had a little over a week in the country, visiting just two islands – Efate and Tanna. This hardly makes us equipped to qualify as experts on Vanuatu, a nation of over 80 islands.
However, we did pick up a few things along the way that some might find helpful when visiting Vanuatu. Here is our modest list of travellers’ tips.
1. Luggage on Domestic Flights
If you plan to visit more islands than just Efate, the main island, where international flights land, you need to be conscious of the luggage allowances on domestic flights. Passengers are allowed a 10kg bag plus 5kg carry on. Given that many international tourists will arrive with 23kg or 30kg checked-in bags this drop in allowance can come as a rude shock if unexpected. It appeared to us that lots of travellers weren’t aware of this until arriving at the Air Vanuatu check-in. It also appeared that this limit was enforced so many people were stuck with hefty excess luggage payments.
We were aware of this before leaving home and packed accordingly light.
Note: There is also a small 200vt ($A2.40) departure tax on domestic flights.
2. There’s No Such Thing as a Free Beach
…or a free waterfall or swimming hole, etc etc.
Across Vanuatu local landowners charge a fee for visits to such sights. Charges can range from a couple of hundred vatu (100vt = $A1.20) for a local beach to 2500vt for Mele Falls just outside of Port Vila. We also heard that a day ticket for Hideway Island, also close to Port Vila, for it’s reputed good snorkelling, costs 4000vt ($A50). Ouch!
Don’t get us wrong, we think it’s reasonable for local people to earn some money from visitors who want to access their land and sights, as long as the charge is not too outrageous. So, it’s a good idea to carry a couple of thousand vatu when out and about as you never know when you might have to pay an entry fee.
It’s also worth mentioning that tipping is discouraged in Vanuatu and is even considered rude as traditional culture places importance on hospitality.
3. Beware Cruise Ships
You may, of course, be reading this as an intending visitor to Vanuatu on a cruise ship. Around two thirds of the country’s annual visitation of just over 300,000 are cruise ship passengers. If this is the case you’ll no doubt be aware that wherever you disembark you’ll be amongst a throng of fellow travellers.
But if you’re going to Vanuatu as an independent traveller, and you don’t want to turn up at one of the country’s popular spots, such as Champagne Beach in Santo, only to be greeted by 2,000 cruise passengers also enjoying the serenity, then use this cruise ship calendar site to help plan your excursions.
4. Consider a Local Sim Card
A lot of budget and even mid-range accommodations either don’t have wifi or only have it in the communal area. In places such as Tanna, if you don’t have a local sim, you’ll be out of phone and internet contact for the length of your stay, unless you’re into paying expensive international roaming charges. We use a Travelsim when overseas, which gives us access to phone calls and internet at reasonable, pay as you go, type prices, but Travelsim does not work in Vanuatu.
What we found was that Digicel and TVL (Telecom Vanuatu) offer free sims available at the international and domestic airports on arrival with various call and data options available at ok prices. Worth checking out. Here is a site we found useful:
5. Australian School Holiday Times Can be Busy
Given its proximity to Australia, school holiday periods can be very busy in Vanuatu. Different states have slightly different timing, though they all overlap to some degree. This can mean higher prices for airfares and accommodation. If you want to travel at this time try to plan well in advance and make bookings to get the best prices and locations.
If you don’t want to compete with the school holiday crowds then check when these are before you organise your trip.
Here’s a site that will give you that information: https://www.education.gov.au/school-term-dates-2018
6. Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear
While many hotels and resorts will loan you a mask and snorkel there’s no substitute for bringing your own. It’s also worth throwing in a pair of flippers, which aren’t always offered with the loan gear.
Vanuatu has a lot of coast on its 80 islands some come prepared to spend some time in the water. A set of reef shoes is also worth bringing.
7. Catch a Local Bus
On Efate (and Santo we believe) there are lots of minivans that operate as local buses. They have the letter B on their number plates. You just need to flag one down and tell them where you want to go. This is a cheaper way to get around than taxis, tours or hire cars, and much more interesting as you get to rub shoulders with local people.
8. Consider the Weather
As we found out, even tropical Vanuatu has a winter. While it wasn’t particularly cold when we were there in late June /early July it wasn’t hot enough to encourage swimming on most days. Daily temperatures were low to mid 20s, often with a strong trade wind blowing.
While we might have been unlucky we did say to ourselves that if we were to return to Vanuatu we’d aim for October or November when its warmer, but before the cyclone season kicks in.
9. Visit a Volcano
Vanuatu has a number of active volcanoes. Apart from Mt Yasur on Tanna there’s Mt Garet (Gaua), Mt Marum and Mt Benbow (Ambryn) and Mt Lombenben (Ambrae).
If you’re from New Zealand, Japan or Iceland you might think – “Volcanoes – big deal”. But if you’re from Australia, the UK or the east coast of North America you may have never experienced a live volcano up closed and personal before. Definitely recommended.
10. Experience Kastom
Kastom is traditional ni-Van culture. There are lots of villages that have kastom tours and there are organised shows put on in many resorts. To get an insight into Vanuatu’s culture and beliefs its worth seeking out a kastom experience. We particularly enjoyed the Ancestors Cultural Tour in east Tanna.
We’re sure that there’s many more travellers’ tips that would help to make a trip to Vanuatu a smooth and enjoyable experience. These are just a few that we picked up on our short stay there.
Probably the best tip we can give you is to smile and say hello to everyone you meet. The people of Vanuatu are some of the friendliest on the planet. You’re bound to get back as big a smile as you give if not more.
Ken and Cally