Consisting of 13 principal and approximately 70 smaller islands, stretching over around 1.300 kilometers, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago located in the south-western Pacific Ocean and forms part of Melanesia. It is affordable and accessible and boasts some of the most beautiful sites you will ever see.
You can find fascinating active volcanoes, ancient tribal settlements, lush rainforests, and gushing waterfalls. Its world-class beaches offer opportunities for snorkeling and diving, and the cuisine is something you wouldn’t want to miss. Besides, the Ni-Vans are so welcoming!
With the 83 islands of Vanuatu offering remarkable experiences, choosing which islands to add to your itinerary can get overwhelming. And so, we have put together this guide to help you filter the top places you surely can’t miss. From Tanna and Ambrym to Vanua Lava and Erromango, and many more.
We’ve lived in Vanuatu for many months and could experience this extraordinary country. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and discover 12 great islands in Vanuatu to visit for cherishable memories!
Efate is the most populous island of Vanuatu, being home to almost 66.000 people. Located in the Shefa Province, Vanuatu’s main island, Efate is overloaded with stunning waterfalls and mouthwatering eateries. To get there, you can fly into Baurfield International Airport.
Jump in a car or taxi and circumference the island. Here, you can hike to the magnificent Mele Cascades to end at wrap-around vistas of the waterfalls, dive into the local culture at the National Museum of Vanuatu. Or take a break on the quiet beaches to the north around Undine Bay, with idyllic views of offshore islands such as Pele, Nguna, or Moso.
A visit to Efate is incomplete without experiencing Vanuatu’s capital and largest city, Port Vila. Stroll from Fatumaru Bay on the vibrant main street Kumul Highway and along the harbor promenade through town overlooking the bay and Iririki Island. Be sure to pick a souvenir from its bustling handicraft market while you’re there!
We recommend the village of Pango, south of Port Vila, if you’re looking for a great beach area close to town, also hosting some fantastic restaurants and resorts.
Because Efate is one of the more developed islands in Vanuatu to visit, you may find it pricier than the others as well, especially when it comes to accommodation. However, it’s reasonable compared to other island states (such as French Polynesia) and is well worth the bucks!
2. Espiritu Santo
Located on the westernmost tip of the country, Espiritu Santo is the largest island of Vanuatu and is known for its mountain range, mind-blowing beaches, and dive sites. The best way to get to Santo, as the Ni-Vans call the island, is by taking a 50-minute flight from Port Vila. Santos’ Pekoa Airport is also set up for international arrivals but is currently not used for this purpose.
The island is home to around 40.000 people. Most residents live in the south around the main town Luganville and along the west coast, leaving the east almost uninhabited and remarkably untouched.
You can enjoy a guided tour of the gorgeous Millenium Cave, dive WW2 relicts at the Million Dollar Point, and the SS President Coolidge, the world’s largest and most accessible shipwreck that was sunk by mines in 1942. All sights sit in the island’s southern area.
Get a tan on the pristine white sands of Champagne, Lonnoc, and Port Olry Beach on the west coast, and go swimming in the beautiful Nanda Blue Hole. If you like a bit of adventure, we recommend kayaking to the amazing Matevulu Blue Hole, which you can access from Turtle Bay via a small, meandering creek.
Whether you want to enjoy modern amenities in the island’s larger towns or step back in time in its mountainous interior, Santo has something in store for you! You can also find fantastic places to stay and delicious places to eat at reasonable prices, making it an unmissable addition to your Vanuatu trip.
Tanna is located towards the south of Vanuatu, and you can get there by taking a 45-minute flight from Port Vila.
The island is like stepping back in time, and you can experience things you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Like the permanently active volcano Mount Yasur on the island’s east side, you can go hiking. The 3-hour 4×4 vehicle ride is already an adventure and takes you from the Lenakel across the island through the rough volcanic landscape and lush rainforests.
Also, many people on Tanna still live in tribal villages and according to century-old customs. You can visit them, even join them for a more extended stay and get to know their everyday life and living conditions. Most impressive are the tribes next to the volcano, around Isaka, and the Yakel community in the hills east of Isangel.
Tanna’s northeastern black-sand Louniel Beach is for you if you’re a fan of surfing. For scuba diving in this paradise or snorkeling along pristine reefs, Volcano Island Divers has you covered. And besides the typical dark volcanic beaches, you can also find amazing stretches of white sand around the White Grass Resorts or Port Resolution.
Regarding price levels, the housing in Tanna is priced slightly above average, while both food and transportation are relatively cheap. However, apart from some cozy West Coast resorts, staying with the locals in basic accommodation is less comfortable, but at the same time so much more rewarding. A highlight here is Kelson’s guest- and treehouse, situated next to and overlooking the fire-breathing mountain Yasur – for a unique stay experience.
A tip: Watch the movie “Tanna”, which won awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2015. It depicts the true but tragic story of a Tanna couple who decided to marry for love rather than obey an old tradition.
You can reach Ambrym, a volcanic island in the Malampa Province of Vanuatu, by flying into Craig Cove or Ulei airfields or arriving by boat. It is a secluded island, housing just slightly over 7.000 people.
Ambrym is known for its active twin volcanoes, Mount Benbow and Mount Marum. Hiking those peaks will leave you speechless, for both its incredible moon-like landscape as well as the breathtaking views into the lava lakes.
You can also visit its villages to explore the traditional custom beliefs of Ambrym.
Plan your stay on the island thoroughly to make sure that if taking a tour of its volcanoes, you have an experienced local guide and good hiking and camping equipment at hand. Ni-Van-run travel agencies in Port Vila, Efate, can assist you with this, and they are trustworthy.
Interesting fact: We’ve often heard that the people of Ambrym are considered black magicians by all other Ni-Vans, and as a result, many avoid the island out of fear. We suspect that this is due to the mystical and inhospitable atmosphere of Ambrym 😉
Another one of the great islands in Vanuatu to visit, Pentecost, is located almost 200 kilometers due north of Port Vila. To get to Pentecost, you can catch a flight on Air Vanuatu that serves the island twice a week or surf its turquoise waters and enter by boat. Pentecost has a population of approximately 17.000 people.
The island is known for its white-sand beaches and underground cave pools. The tradition of land diving, also known as Naghol, was invented in Pentecost. It is called “the mother of bungee jumping”, where men jump from self-built towers made of tree trunks with vines attached to their legs.
And in fact, it is both, a fertility ceremony and a ritual of initiation of young men, that you’d definitely want to see during your stay. Plan your trip between April and June so, the months where it is taking place.
Furthermore, the price levels of Pentecost are average to low. Meaning if you plan to stay for a bit longer, you can enjoy it while working around a budget.
Located in Melanesia, Malekula is the second-largest island in Vanuatu, which resembles the form of a sitting dog. It houses around 26.500 people, and the best way to get there is by taking a flight from Port Vila to Norsup, although boat services are available once a week as well.
Explore the fresh market in the village of Lakatoro, marvel at the black sand volcanic beach in Atchin, and satisfy your inner history buff at the ancient cannibal sites in Malekula’s northern end, also known as the dog’s head.
The two traditional groups on the island are the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas. Which refers to either bigger or smaller penis shields that the men wear, the so-called Namba.
The good part is that Malekula is one of the cheap islands to visit in Vanuatu!
Epi is another one of the great islands in Vanuatu to visit and is located in the Shefa Province. It is very easily accessible, as its two airports are serviced twice a week. You can also enter the island by ship. Its population is only around 5.000, making it a great choice if you’re seeking seclusion.
Epi is believed to be a place of mystery and magic and an adventurer’s paradise. Lamen Bay is ideal for water-based activities, while the Nikaura Marine Protected Area is a great spot to enjoy the best of the ocean.
Additionally, there are some luxury accommodations to stay in Epi, while you can also find reasonable options.
Erromango is situated in the Tafea Province of Vanuatu. The quickest way to get there from Port Vila is by plane and takes 55 minutes. Erromango is one of the most serene islands in Vanuatu to visit, as its population is as low as 2.000 people.
One of the must-see attractions here is Dillon’s Bay; it is ideal for canoeing and snorkeling and offers guided tours. During your stay, you may also want to visit the nearby Mt Yasur and Blue Lagoon Swimming Hole.
As the cherry on the cake, Erromango is a great island to visit if you’re working around a budget.
Gaua is located in northern Vanuatu in the Province of Torba. It is known for its humid weather, strikingly rugged terrain, and 2.500 friendly residents. The best way to get there is surely by flying from Santo or Port Vila.
In Gaua, you can visit Siri waterfall (Vanuatu’s largest waterfall), hike up Mount Garet, or enjoy bonfires with the locals on its stony beaches. The crescent-shaped Lake Letas is a sight to behold!
Because of its northern position, Gaua is less visited by tourists. This factor contributes to low price levels.
Ambae is located in the north of Vanuatu. You can get there by boat as regular boat services are offered throughout the week. Flying into the island is also possible. Ambae is home to 11.000 people.
The Lake Manaro Volcano located here is one of the 7 active Vanuatuan volcanoes (and allows you to hike to the rim of it!). You can also explore Ambae’s villages and sip green tea with the Ni-Vanuatu chiefs.
Because it is a relatively developed island with amenities, the price levels of Ambae are slightly above average.
11. Vanua Lava
Located in the Banks Islands of Vanuatu, Vanua Lava is a beautiful island with 2.600 residents. You can get there by catching a flight from Port Vila, and travel around the island by public transportation or car rentals.
In Vanua Lava, you can explore nature and enjoy the best of sightseeing. There are active volcanoes, dense forests, and gushing rivers. You can also make new crocodile friends and canoe through the island’s beauty.
Airfares to Vanua Lava are expensive, but your overall trip will be average-priced.
Located in the Penama Province of Vanuatu to the east of Santo, Maewo is an off-the-beaten-track island and makes the final contender on our list of 12 great islands in Vanuatu to visit. You can get there by catching a flight from the major islands, such as Efate. Maewo is home to around 3.500 people and sees around 100 tourists yearly.
Here, you can swim in solitude in the canals of the Maewo Moon Cave, get fascinated by its mesmerizing waterfalls (it’s called ‘Waterfall Island’ for a reason!), and share coconuts with locals on the sandy beaches of Maewo.
Because Maewo is not very popular among tourists, you’ll get two benefits: a laid-back and quiet ambiance, plus low price levels!
The Great Islands In Vanuatu To Visit — That’s A Wrap!
If you’re planning a trip to Vanuatu, you surely can’t miss the islands mentioned above. And if you can’t fit them all into one trip, save the rest for later — we’re sure the beautiful archipelago will attract you back!
However, as of February 2022, like many other South Pacific countries, Vanuatu is still closed to visitors due to the pandemic.
So, let’s hope for the best that this amazing paradise is opening up soon again.
Lukim yu! See you in Vanuatu then!
For more photos and video material of Vanuatu, have a look at our Vanuatu web pages.
If you are interested in more details and also other islands, visit the official website of Vanuatu Tourism. You can also find the latest information on Vanuatu travel restrictions there.