Vanuatu: just the name sounded distant and exotic to us when we first read about it in a Lonely Planet guide on a dreary London day. By the time we came to be living in Australia we'd heard about it in a different context, the cruise ship. As lovers of independent travel this could have been quite off putting but we did a little research and found out the cruise ships only pull up to certain places and usually for very short stops.
You can travel to Espiritu Santo perfectly easily independently and we think it's the best way to see the island. Everything is an easy car ride away and you can see many of the major sights in just a few days, leaving the latter part of the week to re-visit your favourites. Be sure to check the current cruise ship schedule with your hotel or guesthouse and just avoid those times.
Espiritu Santo is magical and every bit the island paradise we imagined back in London. Here's a few of our favourite things to do there:
1. Take a morning dip, Champagne beach
This beach is the kind of beach you would travel across the world to find. White sand and turquoise water backed by tropical green jungle.
The water is calm and perfect for swimming, we spotted many rays without even having a snorkel. However, twice a week for a short period of time the cruise ship pulls in, make sure you find out when this is and avoid, then you can have this paradise all to yourself.
We found mornings were perfect for beachside solitude.
2. Take an afternoon dip, Lonnoc beach
Just five minutes down the road from Champagne beach is another equally stunning but less visited beach. We found you could come here in the afternoon and still have it all to yourself. Pretty hard to believe with beaches that are this beautiful.
3. Float in a blue hole, Nanda
There are quite a few blue holes on the island and we tried to visit as many as we could. This one was a little bit unique though as you are able to hire inner tubes and float along the blue in absolute bliss. I will never forget the colour of the water and watching the birds and butterflies flit in and out of the trees as I slowly drifted along.
You really do have to see these blue holes to believe it, there's nowhere else quite like it on earth!
4. Lunch with a view, Port Orly
Very close to both Lonnoc and Champagne beach make Port Orly your stop for lunch. Naturally it's all about the fresh seafood and the lobster was one of the best value meals on the island. To top it all off the view is insane and you can go for a dip while you wait!
5. Snorkel a wreck, Million Dollar Point
You surely already want to visit here just for the name, right? So did we! This is one of the most incredible snorkelling experiences we have ever had and you can literally head off straight from the beach, no guide required. The WW2 wreck is amazingly well preserved and very close to shore so accessible even for novice snorkelers.
The vehicles and equipment belonged to the US military and when the war ended they offered it to the French at a cheap price. When the offer was turned down to stop them acquiring it all for free the US ran it all straight into the ocean.
As well as the myriad of fish that have made the wreck their home you'll see tanks, jeeps, guns and old coca cola bottles!
6. Hire a car and explore the island
Hiring a car is by far the best way to discover this island. It's small enough that with a car for a few days you can explore every pocket and avoid having to take a group tour. There's nothing like having one of those white sand beaches or blue holes all to yourself.
The roads are in good condition and fairly quiet so it's ideal road trip territory!
7. Explore the waterways by kayak
We were looking to do something active and this was the perfect switch up from lazing around on the beach. You can hire kayaks from the hotel on Oyster Island and paddle your way through the jungle until you reach Matevulu blue hole. The scenery was beautiful and it all felt very mysterious cruising under the vine leaves and fallen branches.
The icing on the cake is the blue hole at the end, heavenly!
8. Join the locals and rope swing at Matevulu Blue Hole
If you're looking for a mini adrenaline rush we'd suggest heading off to Matevulu blue hole. Here the locals have tied a rope swing to one of the larger trees on the edge of the blue hole. Take the plunge yourself or watch and laugh while the locals show you just how it's done!
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Have you visited Vanuatu? Or considering it for your next island getaway? Let us know in the comments.