By Telma and Thomas | 8 June 2016 | Vanuatu | Travel Guides

Our Vanuatu travel guide will show you how to visit Efate on a budget, useful tips and things to do around Port Vila. Like other islands in the South Pacific, you can live like a local when it comes to places to eat and finding cheap accommodation. What will break your budget is the domestic flights in between the islands.
Exploring Vanuatu is doable and it can be done on a backpacker’s budget but there will be a lot of compromising, haggling and walking.

This volcanic archipelago, located to the east of northern Australia, is made up of more than 80 islands, most of them of volcanic origin. And that was one the reasons why we chose to visit Vanuatu, because of its volcanic activity in some of the islands. We had read about Mt Yasur, and thought that standing on the edge of an active volcano would be pretty cool.

So if, like us, you are up to a Pacific Island Adventure, you will have fun!

port vila iririki island

Port Vila’s beautiful harbour. The centerpiece is Iririki Island

Port Vila Travel Guide

Port Vila is a small cosmopolitan town. The main street, Lini Highway, is where you will find shops, cafes, restaurants, the central market, some historic sites and the cultural center. A lot of the activities and tourist attractions are outside the city.

  • Taxis – Always ask a local first about the prices before any agreement with the driver
  • Shop for fruit and vegetables at the market and avoid the overpriced charges at the local supermarkets
  • Always check the expiry date on food products to avoid food poisoning (yes it happened to us!)
  • Visit the Information Centre for heaps of useful ideas, but don’t join a tour. Unless is a tour that includes flying, or going into the sea (diving, boat trip)

people at port vila market

Getting Around Port Vila:

  • If not sure which it’s taxi or a bus, look at the number plate: B Bus / T Taxi
  • It is very safe walking around town during the day. At night, due to the lack of street lights we wouldn’t recommend
  • Outside Port Vila, the destruction from the 2015 Cyclone is still visible
  • Digicel SIM Card costs 1000vt/USD$9/GBP£7 + 1GB of Data for 30 days at 1000vt/USD$9/GBP£7
  • A restaurant meal costs around 2000vt/USD$20/GBP£15
  • Bus – Around town fares are at 150vt/USD$1.5/GBP£1. Within reasonable distances in between villages, prices may vary up to 250vt/USD$2.50/GBP£2 
  • Nothing is free. Expect to pay or ‘donate’ for simple things as asking for directions, go to a beach or asking for some tips around town
  • Vanuatu is located on the junction line of two continental tectonic plates, on the Pacific Rim of Fire. While in Port Vila we experienced two earthquakes! It was rather scary.

what to see and do in port vila

How to Visit Efate Island on a Budget

Efate is home to the capital city, Port Vila. Here is where people connect to other islands of the country. But before anything else…a round-island trip of Efate is a must.
The island can be explored in two days. Well, realistically you can do it in one, but that would be rushing around, something that we dislike and would not recommend.

In order to have a real feel of the place we have put together a sample itinerary below.

Efate Itinerary

Day 1

  • Mele Cascades
  • Tanna Coffee
  • Black sandy beach
  • The Beach Bar for lunch

Mele Cascades – 2000 vt/USD$20/GBP£15 per person
The water flowing from these rock pools is so clear that you would almost be tempted to drink from it! On the way to the waterfall, there are some gradual inclines to climb, but no real steep hills.

water at mele cascades

Tanna Coffee – from 300vt/USD$3/GBP£2
Our experience was rather disappointing because we were really looking forward to taste the coffee.
Online and at the door it says “business hours until 13.30”, but when we arrived at 12.20 the lady refused to serve us coffee because it had been a very quiet morning so they had decided to wash the coffee machine, therefore they were no longer serving coffee.
No comments. Wasn’t even worth it. We left.

Black-sand beach
We “found” this beach by mistake, after being turned down at Tanna Coffee…. And thank goodness! Look at this!
Black-sand beaches are most commonly found near areas with volcanic activity and consist of tiny fragments of basalt which gives it its dark appearance.

beach port vila

Hideway Beach Bar for lunch – one meal 2500vt/USD$23/GBP£18

travel around efate

How to Travel Around Efate – Day 1:

  • Get the local bus from Port Vila town and tell the driver to drop you at the Cascades. Agree on the price first, which should be around 300vt/USD$3/GBP£2 per person. If he refuses to accept that price, walk away and approach other drivers. There are plenty of people in town willing to negociate.
  • Do not join a tour, or request a tour guide at the Cascades, it is not worth it. From the entrance to the waterfall is literally a 10-minute walk, you will not get lost. On the way up there are hidden cascades, so do take your time taking pictures or even go for a swim.
  • Once you are done with the Cascades, walk down to Secret Gardens and to Tanna Coffee. In between places it’s around a 20-minute walk.
  • Go for a stroll at the “black sandy beach”, before stopping for lunch at The Beach Bar and make sure you order the steak.
  • Book half-day for this itinerary. Not only you will save a lot of money but also get a real feel of the local life.

Day 2

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Eton Village & Eaton Beach
  • Air strip (Tanoliu Village)

Blue Lagoon – 500vt/USD$5 /GBP£3
It’s simply surreal and you don’t want to miss it. The colours of the lagoon are ridiculously beautiful.

efate attraction

World War II Museum is closed on Sundays. Ask the driver to take you to the field, and you can see the Air Strip.

efate tourism

How to Travel Around Efate – Day 2:

  • Avoid going on Sundays. People are most likely to be in church, and there is no school. Also on Sundays there are cruise ships docking in town, so it can be very crowed at the Blue Lagoon.
  • Do not join a tour, negotiate a fair price with a bus driver, around 6000vt/USD$60/GBP£45, that will cover costs for petrol and his time. A tour will set you off at 7500vt/USD$72/GBP£55 per person. Believe us you will regret it, because it’s really not worth it.  There is only one main road, you either go north or south. A bus driver can take you easily.
  • The land is still recovering from category 5 Cyclone Pam, and the damages are still visible.
  • If you are planning of visit the local villages and schools, buy some sweets from town. It’s just a simple gesture and the children will love it.

efate mele cascades

Other suggestions or questions? Tell us in the comments below.

the best of vanuatu itinerary

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

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