Port Vila is the harborside capital and main hub of Vanuatu, on Efate island. Its small downtown is home to colorful market stalls selling produce and local handicrafts. The National Museum of Vanuatu, inside the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, displays artifacts such as slit-gong drums and outrigger canoes. The town is a base for diving and trips to Mele Cascades, a multi-tiered waterfall with rock pools in a rainforest.– Wikipedia
Sometimes in life you find a place where you feel an instant connection. A place where you always look forward to returning to, a place where your time there feels all too brief and a place you do not want to leave.
For me, that is Vanuatu. There is something about Vanuatu that goes beyond the physical and spiritual. Perhaps it is the friendly and open people. It could be the majestic scenery. Or the never ending options on how to spend your time in this place. Perhaps it is the unbeatable liquor prices in the Duty Free. Perhaps it is all the above!
Having had the privilege of visiting Port Vila (Capital of Vanuatu) twice, it has become one of our most looked forward to ports on our cruise holidays (and not just because of the unbeatable duty free shopping and alcohol prices!) and a location we would definitely consider for a non-cruise holiday.
Our trip to Vanuatu started two months prior to setting off on our cruise. Cruising many of the Facebook pages relating to cruising we identified a local tour operator that seemed to be the standout private operator in Port Vila.
Mansale Tony of Manusale Bus was an absolute pleasure to deal with and after a number of messages exchanged via Facebook, we selected the options we wanted to explore during the day. On our second visit we opted for a more personalized experience, with Tony arranging our own private driver for the day and activities away from the rest of those that had engaged his services for the day.
No matter what option you choose, each tour starts with a brief stop at the cultural centre for a brief welcome from Tony and an explanation of the history and culture of the country. This was an unexpected start for us on the first trip but a very nice addition, giving some context to the life and history of the people of Vanuatu.
Driving Through Port Vila
Driving through the town of Port Vila, what immediately strikes you is the complete lack of (or appearance of at the very least) road rules or road safety at all! This was emphasized by one of our drivers, having missed his required exit on a roundabout, come to a complete stop, execute a perfect 3-point-turn (yes, in the middle of the roundabout!) and drive the wrong way until he was able to take the correct exit. Another example saw a flatbed truck hurtle past, with a carton of VB Beer being held securely in place by a man standing at each corner ensuring the beers safety as it travelled to is destination. This saw a tremendous roar of approval from all us Aussie males watching this transpire. I shouldn’t be too hard I suppose, I mean – they were all wearing safety hi-vis vests afterall!
Below, you will find a summary of the various activities we have completed in Port Vila.
Now, assuming you have arrived via cruise ship, your first taste of Port Vila will be your way through a local market where locals will be selling various wares. Our advice is wait til the afternoon when you return otherwise you will need to carry around your purchases all day.
When you arrive at the gate to the “wild Port Vila” it can be a little daunting as the gate will be crowded with tour operators and their employees looking for those that do not yet have their day planned or trying to locate those who have booked their services. Just take your time, find your tour operator and all will be well.
I am sure you will be shocked to learn, that the waters of this tidal swimming hole are blue! Ha! Knew you wouldn’t see that coming.
In all seriousness though, the Blue Lagoon is simply put – stunning. The kids simply love this stop and the reason we have made it there twice. A great way to start your visit is with a dip in the cool blue waters of the lagoon. If you dare, enjoy flying off the rope swings and land with a splash. Don’t mind us spectators all watching on with glee to see if you are one of the brave ones to go as high as you can or if you are one of the ones that will slump into the waters with a large splash to emerge with red face and a bashful smile.
Watching the airtime the locals achieve on their swings is something spectacular to watch. But be warned, you will only see this in the warmer months of the year. Go in winter (where it is still warm enough to swim) the locals won’t be enjoying their water activities.
After your swim you will be treated to a morning tea of fresh local fruits including watermelon, bananas, melons, etc.
A not to miss location.
Mele Casscade Falls
A beautiful walk along a creek leading to a waterfall where you can swim and enjoy a nice float in a rubber ring. Unfortunately our kids didn’t feel like another swim on our trip here so we enjoyed our walk and explored some of the smaller rock pools and explored the various areas where to take a seat and enjoy some peaceful time.
Swimming With Turtles
This is a very popular stop for many tour operators so make sure you get here early. Located on a picturesque part of the coast line, this location affords an opportunity to get up close and personal with turtles and starfish. Unfortunately, we will not return to this location as, while it was enjoyable for the kids, I am sure the turtles do not feel the same way.
They are fenced into a pool within the inlet. The water is very murky and many tourists pick them up and handle them. There is also an enclosure with a reef shark in which is by far too small for the creature.
We were fed a very filling BBQ lunch here which was fantastic! Again, once lunch is being served get into it quickly, as the lineup will be huge once the smell of the cooking food starts to waft over the area.
We were lucky enough to get a tour of Tony’s village, where his new house was under construction. The kids loved seeing all the crops of various fruit and vegetables being grown, the well, and a walkthrough of the aforementioned under-construction house. You can see some footage from the village in our video HERE
The Hideaway Island Resort is set on a small island not too far from shore, but also accommodate day travelers. Now, if you are a lover of snorkeling – THIS is the stop you most want to visit. Surrounded by a reef, there is no shortage of aquatic life to keep your eyes on. This is also home to the underwater post office. Why not drop yourself a postcard from one of the most unique post offices in the world? See our video HERE of our time spent on Hideaway Island. This became one of our favourite spots in Port Vila and will definitely return.
On the “mainland” opposite Hideaway Island, provides a relaxing lunch and drink right on the sand. Good range of food and drinks available.
Down Town Port Vila
If you get the opportunity, definitely take a walk down the main street. It is definitely an experience and many pubs or shops to stick your head into to help the local economy. A little word of advice though, don’t touch the lizard. Now, while this sounds like something your mother may have told you growing up lest you go blind, this actually refers to various vendors in the street with green lizards available for touching or taking photos. Be warned, after you touch or take a photo – you will be hard pressed for some money. Also, do not accept “favours” such as directions – as again you will be expected to pay for the assistance.
If Port Vila is a port on your cruise, save all duty free shopping for here. Can anyone say $12 bottles of Bundaberg Rum??? If you have read other posts on this blog, I honestly swear I am not an alcoholic – but at the prices in Port Vila you can afford to be. Your duty free bottles will be sealed and you will hand them in at the ship, for collection on the last morning of your cruise before you disembark.
Some of the best shopping you can do on your South Pacific Cruise can be done here.
There is so much more to discover in Port Vila and we can not wait to adventure here again. However, there is one last tip, especially if you have arrived via a cruise ship. The sunsets are simply breath-taking. When you arrive back on your ship, take up a position at the rear of the ship and take in the sunset as it takes place over the bay. Then enjoy the sale away as you bid farewell to this pacific paradise and begin the countdown until you visit this wonderful place and people again.