Introduction - Originally named New Hebrides, Vanuatu is an island nation spread over 83 islands in South Pacific. The main administrative island is Efate island, home of Vanuatu capital Port Vila, the largest town in Vanuatu. The largest island is Espiritu Santo, mostly known as Santo island. Its centre Louganville is the largest town on the island and also the second largest town in Vanuatu. The islands are an adventure enthusiast's paradise and the geologically active archipelago is a natural playground of colourful reefs, bubbling volcanoes and lush jungle. Visitors can drive up to the crater of Yasur, cited as the most accessible active volcano in the world, sea kayak round the islands' shorelines, explore underwater WWII relics, or hike and bike through coconut plantations and tropical rainforest. Port Vila, the national capital on the island of Efate, buzzes at the centre of Vanuatu's tourist trade, all colonial and cool, with a view for every restaurant, and hotel beds that float you out over lagoons. If you've come on a package deal, you're just starting your adventure. Stay on when it ends to discover a few of the unique things that are Vanuatu, and to try out the sporty options, like abseiling down a waterfall, parasailing over the glorious harbour, zapping out of a cave of stalactites through a ravine on a blow-up float-ring, turning nature-child for the night on a tiny offshore island. The rest of the island offers a rugged coastline and verdant, green countryside, bisected by rivers and waterfalls, sporting sandy bays and tranquil lagoons where tropical fish dart among the coral reefs. On the other islands it is possible to play at being Robinson Crusoe, leaving footprints on beaches seemingly untouched by man.
Area: 12,200 km2
Languages: The three official languages of Vanuatu are English, French and Bislama (a pidgin language). A further 113 indigenous languages are used by local people in the islands.
Passport and Visa: No visa is required for stays of 30 days or less for the following nationals: Commonwealth countries, EU countries, Fiji, Japan, Norway, Philippines, South Kore, Switzerland and USA. n order to acquire a visa, essentials are a passport valid for 4 months as well as a return/onward ticket and /or sufficient funds to cover the stay. A total period of 4 months is available in monthly extensions. Other nationals must apply in writing at their nearest Embassy or in by contacting Immigration Department in Vanuatu.
Health and Safety: There has been an increase in the number of dengue fever cases in Vanuatu. Malaria prophylaxis is highly recommended because malaria is also common in the region. It is vital to take precautions against mosquito bites because dengue fever is prevalent. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended, as well as typhoid immunisation for those planning to consume food outside of the better hotels and restaurants. Urban tap water is safe to drink, but elsewhere drink only bottled or purified water, and ensure food is well-prepared and well-cooked, and served piping hot. Medical facilities on the islands are basic but adequate for routine treatment. More serious cases require evacuation to Australia or New Zealand. Scuba divers should be aware there is one decompression chamber on the islands, at Port Vila, and sea rescue services are not comprehensive. There have been fatal shark attacks in the island waters and it is best to seek local advice before swimming. Comprehensive travel health insurance with evacuation cover is strongly recommended. Most visits to Vanuatu are trouble-free; the greatest threat to a visitors' safety comes from nature in the form of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The islands have experienced more than 40 earthquakes in the past two years, some measuring over seven on the Richter scale. Tourists have been injured, even fatally, by volcanic activity on the islands, and visitors are advised to be cautious and heed the advice of local guides when making expeditions to view active volcanoes. The tropical cyclone season normally runs from November to April. The crime rate is low, but is increasing. Take precautions against burglary and street crime, especially at night. Foreigners, especially women, have been attacked in isolated locations and it is advisable not to visit remote areas or beaches alone.
Religion: Mostly Christian, the principal religions are Presbyterian (36.7%), Anglican (15%), Roman Catholic (15%), indigenous beliefs (7.6%), Seventh-Day Adventist (6.2%), and Church of Christ (3.8%).
Social conventions: A handshake is the preferred form of greeting; there is a traditional handshake that most Ni-Vanuatu men perform with each other that involves the fingers and a snap – most will gladly teach it to visitors if they want to learn. A kiss on each cheek is usually exchanged between women who know each other; a handshake is exchanged between women who aren’t as familiar. Older women (called Mamas, whether you’re related or not) usually give a kiss on each cheek to younger males or females (if familiar or a special guest), otherwise, a handshake between genders is typically the accepted greeting. Local traditions and customs should be respected, and this includes not wearing very revealing clothing away from the beaches and hotels. Ask permission before taking photographs of local people. Be aware that land-ownership is a sensitive issue in Vanuatu, and those who venture onto someone's land may be asked to pay a 'visitor fee'. The Polynesian herbal 'feel-good' drink, kava, is widely drunk by the locals, particularly at cultural ceremonies.
Clothing: A wide range of clothing is found among the Ni-Vanuatu. In the cities, Ni-Vanuatu wear modern, Western-style clothing. Those living in villages often combine Western clothes with local forms of dress. Women often wear fiber skirts without a blouse or top. Men may wear a traditional loincloth or a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
Climate: Vanuatu's climate is hot and sunny all year round (day/night average temperature is Jan 24/30; July 20/27) with higher rainfall and humidity from December to April and consequently more mosquitoes and cooler temperatures in the winter months from June to October when a light jumper may be required. There's the outside chance of a tropical cyclone hitting Vanuatu from December to April.
Best time to visit: Like most other Pacific Islands, November to March are the stay away hot and humid times with possibilities of cyclones. April to October, the winter months are the best times to visit the islands.
Money: Vatu (VUV) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of VUV5,000, 1,000, 500 and 200. Coins are in denominations of VUV100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Australian Dollars are also accepted in some shops and restaurants. MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, American Express and Diners Club less so. Fees may apply for using credit cards for payments (3% to 5%). There are ATMs accepting most international cards at the airport, outside the Westpac and ANZ Banks and outside supermarkets. Banking hours are generally weekdays between 8am and 4pm.
Currency Exchange: Money can be exchanged at the National Bank counter at the airport, at the ANZ or Westpac banks, at Goodies souvenir shop or 7/11 in Port Vila. Resorts also exchange money but the rate will be lower than banks/money exchange outlets. Duty-free shops, restaurants and hotels in Vila should have no difficulties with credit cards, or cash and travellers cheques in major international currencies. However, the few hotels outside the capital may only accept Australian or US dollars. Take plenty of Vatu to rural Vanuatu as you won't be able to change foreign currencies or access any accounts.
Currency restriction: There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency, but amounts over VUV1,000,000 or equivalent must be declared upon arrival.
Getting around towns and cities: All major islands are connected to the capital by air – visitors fly in on a 20-seater plane. Some of the outlying islands can only be accessed by boat. Minibuses carry upto 14 passengers run in Vila, Luganville, Santo and Malekula. They work out cheaper than cabs, which run on Luganville and Vila. For the more remote islands with few metal roads, hire taxi. These are plentiful and are metered, costing around 100VT per km, although a fixed rate can be agreed on. Local buses are plentiful (look for a ‘B’ on the number plate). They drop door-to-door so you may get a ‘scenic route’ depending on where other passengers are going. The fare anywhere around Port Vila is 150 vatu per adult. Major car hire operators have offices in Port-Vila. Cars, 4-wheel drive vehicles and jeeps are available. A current driving licence from your country is acceptable. Normally drivers need to be 25 years or over. Some resorts have pushbikes for guest use. Vanuatu Ecotours offers mountain bike tours. Scooters may be hired from a company located near the markets
Ambulance - 112
Fire - 112
Police - 112