General info for the first-time traveller
Favorite thing: Here's the sort of thing I like to know about a place if I know nothing about it and am about to go ther! (Obviously not comprehensive. ^_^.)
General: Vanuatu is a smallish tropical country in the Pacific, about 2 1/2 hours' flight from Brisbane, Australia. It comprises over 83 islands; the capital Port Vila is on the island of Efate. Vanuatu used to be called the new Hebrides and was co-ruled by the French and British; recently it became independent. The local people are Melanesian and are called the 'ni-Vanuatu'. The official language is Bislama, a pidgin language, but most people also speak English and/or French. The currency is called 'vatu'.
Cost: Vanuatu is not cheap, though not prohibitively expensive. Prices are comparable to Australia, though some things (like taxis) are cheaper. Accommodation, travel between islands, and food, are not particularly cheap, but the markets offer cheap fresh fruit etc. The reason for higher costs are that the things foreigners buy are imported specifically for tourists and ex-pats - the ni-Vanuatu can't afford them and are rarely found in restaurants etc.
Health risks: Not many if you stick to the beaten track. A little danger of wasp stings or dog bites (off the beaten track). Malaria can be a problem if you go beyond Efate. It's actually safe to drink the water in Vanuatu, though I was warned against some of the more disreputable-looking food stalls. (If it looks safe to eat, it usually is. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be fine too, since the water is safe as mentioned.)
Size/population: The population of Vanuatu tend to live in villages scattered throughout the islands; the 'metropolitan centre' and capital, Port Vila, is quite small, like a country town - like, two main streets and a few back streets. If you're expecting something like Kuta in Bali, it's nothing like - the traffic is low, there are no traffic lights, it's quite quiet and low-key.
Fondest memory: Safety: Vanuatu is a relatively safe place. There's some political instability and anti-foreign sentiment, but I think it rarely (never?) translates itself into violence or nastiness against foreigners. That said, take obvious precautions about safety: don't rile the animal and insect life; don't go swimming without finding out if it's safe; if you're a woman don't go around alone at night. I had the recommendation not to, as a woman, take a taxi alone. But I've never heard of anyone having bad experiences here, safety-wise.
Conservatism: Because of the missionary influence, the women dress quite conservatively; a lot of them wear distinctive 'Mother Hubbard' dresses. The rules are different for foreigners - you can wear what you like - but when you're out and about (and not in a resort or something) it's probably polite not to walk around in bikini tops etc.
Weather: Hot and humid; tropical climate. The wet season corresponds to Australia's summer; it's probably more pleasant in the middle of the year. The sun can be quite hot; sunscreen is recommended. People living in Vanuatu tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier than in Australia as both sunrise and sunset are quite early.
Things to do: If you don't like swimming or relaxing, you probably won't want to stay a very long time. The pace is slow and sleepy; take it easy! Snorkelling, scuba diving and going on cruises are popular; there are also traditional village tours, a fantastic active volcano (on Tanna island), various resorts, tours around islands... If you're away from Efate (the island where the capital Port Vila is), you can probably go a long while seeing hardly any other foreigners. There isn't a great deal of good shopping around.
Getting around: Getting around is very easy; buses are prevalent and cheap - they can be flagged down like taxis and they take you where you want to go. Taxis are not much more expensive than buses if there are more than two or three of you.
Vila is the capital of Vanuatu
Favorite thing: Vila is the capital of the state of Vanuatu and this island was inhabited already 1200 BC, because some sceletons of that time were found in Vila in 2004.
Vanuatu consists of 83 islands and 67 of them are inhabited. The total population of Vanuatu is 243.000.
Fondest memory: The currency of Vanuatu is called Vatu (VUV)
In Nov. 2011 the exchange-rate was 1 EUR = 117,15 VUV, equivalent to 100 VUV = 0,85363 EUR.
AUS-Dollars were also accepted by most of the souvenirstands.
Favorite thing: There are a few banks in Port Vila...two ANZ banks, a Westpac Bank and the National Bank of Vanuatu. Banking hours are usually 8 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday (except the Westpac which is 8:30 am to 4 pm). There is also a bank at the airport which is open for all international arrivals.
There are 3 ATM machines in town too...two for the ANZ and one for the Westpac. But just beware, you can't take money out of a savings account using a credit card, even if the accounts are linked...
the big hustle bustle town in Vanuatu
Favorite thing: Port Vila is located around a magnificent natural harbour offering stunning views of Iririki and Ifira islands. It is Vanuatu's international gateway and remains the only town on the island. The airport is but a few miles from town and all major resorts and hotels. Vila is a pretty town.
Fondest memory: Clean and uncluttered, the waterfront area is so unpolluted, visitors are stunned to look down from the seawall and see live corals and tropical fish jumping in shoals accross the lagoon.
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Favorite thing: The best place and rate to change money in Port Vila is "Goodies" on the main road through the town. Goodies is a combined money exchange / souvenier shop located right in the centre of Port Vila itself. They sell handicrafts and also have a small counter for money exchange.
Right next door is a small round shaped restaurant that serves delicious and huge sized hamburgers.
Streets of Vila
Favorite thing: Make sure you set aside some time to wander the streets of Port Vila and look through the shops...and chat to the locals... You'll be glad that you did. :)
We really enjoyed walking in to town from Mangoes Resort...it was maybe a 10 - 15 minute walk but we wandered past some residential areas, a park etc. The school kids loved saying hello and always gave us big smiles. :)
Favorite thing: Independence Park is just up the road from the Post Office in Port Vila. It is a nice big park with play ground equipment for kids and just next to it is a sporting ground where we saw cricket, soccer and rugby being played.
Port Vila Harbour
Favorite thing: The Port Vila harbour isn't ugly like a lot of harbours I have seen... There aren't piles of boats everywhere either for some reason (maybe because we weren't there in the busy season).
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