Think you’ve “done” Vanuatu? If you didn’t make it out of Port Vila it’s time to go back and give it another crack. Espiritu Santo – the largest island in the nation’s group – steps spectacular up to a whole other level. With world renowned diving, stunning beaches and a pot full of history it’s well worth the extra flight to get there.
Don’t have a lot of time?
Check out what you can do in just 24 hours on Santo.
We arrived into Santo’s main centre, Luganville (which incidentally, was built by American soldiers during World War II) just in time for an early evening ferry ride out to Aore Resort. Coconut cocktail in hand, we cruised slowly out past the port with its picturesque array of boats and local kids playing, and headed across the lagoon to Aore Island. A quick and relaxing 15 minute ride, this ferry operates five times a day to coincide with flights, diving trips, and other tours.
The main purpose of our visit (apart from a sumptuous BBQ dinner) was to witness a water music performance. Liberally dosed with mozzie repellant we made our way down to the beach for a warrior’s welcome while the grass-skirted women waded out into the lagoon. While the sky darkened and the lights of Santo sparkled on the horizon like fairy lights, the women began drumming the water with their hands, faces lit with the joy of their music. Every single person standing on the beach was mesmerised for the full performance. It was, quite honestly, awe inspiring.
Up early the next morning we jumped in the van and made our way out to Champagne Beach. Turning off the palm-lined promenade of a road onto an innocuous dirt track, we made our way across some farmland, paid a small fee to the local family who owns it (500 vatu – approx. $5 NZD) and pulled up under the trees. What greeted us was a wide crescent-shaped beach of pure white sand, an expense of the prettiest aquamarine ocean I have ever seen… and not another (human) soul in sight. Heaven. Even more heavenly were the champagne and pastries we were served for breakfast.
FACTS: Champagne Beach is an easy 45 minute drive from Luganville. There are several tour operators who can run you out there, or you can hire a car and do it at your own pace. There are sheltered BBQ/picnic areas, plenty of shade and even toilet facilities available at the beach.
THE BLUE HOLES VANUATU
Heading back to town we made a detour to the Blue Holes. Espiritu Tourism Association describes these as “one of the true wonders of the world” and I can’t say I disagree. Tucked away in the tropical jungle, the pools owe their colour and clarity to natural limestone filtration and pure depth.
There are three pools – all are within a short drive of each other on the East Coast of Santo. We went to Matevulu, the largest of the three, which is reportedly 17m deep. Jump off the platform, climb the tree for the rope swing or just wander in slowly – you won’t want to leave these refreshing little oases.
FACTS: As for Champagne Beach the holes are accessible via tour or independently. They’re all maintained by local families so expect to pay a small fee to use them (again, around 500 vatu / $5 NZD). The facilities differ at each hole, but most have toilet/changing facilities at the very least. It pays to wear reef shoes, as there are some sharp shells embedded in the coral around the edge of the pools. Read more about them here
Back into town for lunch and that was it for our exploration of Santo, but there’s plenty more to do if you have the extra time. In particular, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the diving.
I’m not a diver but if I was going to learn (I’d have to get over my claustrophobia first!) this would be the place I’d do it. The history geek in me is dying to check out the perfectly preserved SS President Coolidge – a cruise ship come troop transport that sank coming into Santo Harbour. The authorities here have a really strict no looting law, so diving the Coolidge is like going back in time. There are guns, cannons, personal items, even chandeliers! Not to mention the sea life that have made their home there.
Along the same lines is Million Dollar Point. The story behind this one is that when the Americans left Vanuatu at the end of World War II they dumped EVERYTHING they weren’t taking with them into the sea. There are literally millions of dollars worth of diggers, trucks and bulldozers piled all on top of each other just off the coast to create one of the most unique dive sites in the world.
HOW TO GET THERE
Espiritu Santo is a quick 45 min domestic flight from Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital and major hub. Air Vanuatu also offer direct flights to Santo from Brisbane, Australia.
WHERE TO STAY
There are several resorts scattered around the Luganville area from very basic cabin-style accommodation right up to boutique resorts. There are also a handful of holiday houses and apartments available.
DISCLAIMER: I was hosted in Vanuatu by Vanuatu Tourism and Air Vanuatu. All opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not influenced by either party. This post may contain affiliate links for products I love. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Anita | Burgess Travellers
Anita Burgess is in the business of making memorable family moments. Soccer mum, travel broker & writer, she’s happiest with a camera in her hand and the sand between her toes. Find insider travel tips and inspiration for your memorable moments on her blog, Burgess Travellers, or get in touch if you’re ready to make your holiday happen.