The Ni Vanuatu, the original Melanesians that populated Vanuatu have retained many of their "Kastom" ways of life, including woven cloth money and drinking the most powerful and potent kava on earth. The people of this 83-island nation also still participate in customs unique to the world, such as N'gol, where men in villages on Pentecost Island jump from rickety towers with vines tied to their ankles for the annual Yam Festival. The closer to the ground, the better the harvest — the origin of bungee jumping. But, divers come to dive, and there's one dive at Espiritu Santo that could occupy your dive life — the 199-meter/654-foot SS President Coolidge. Divers travel from around the globe to Vanuatu just to explore this particular wreck. In 1942, this ex-luxury liner, which was converted to a troop transport, went down after hitting a friendly mine, and lies intact and upright in 20 to 70 meters/65 to 240 feet of water. You can explore almost all of it. And, although divers come for the Coolidge, there are lots of other incredible wrecks off Espiritu Santo, and some pristine reefs to explore, as well.
When to go:
Vanuatu's two seasons are the cold (dry) season from May to October, and the hot (wet/cyclone) season from November to April.
Marine Life Seasons:
Humpback whales migrate here during their calving season (late July to mid October).
When to Get the Best Deals:
November to April.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, a rain-jacket from November to April, small medical kit.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/79°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/78°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Vatu (VT); Credit card are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
None required, but anti-malarial drugs are recommended. Check with the CDC recommendations.
What to Eat:
You'll find a mixture of French, Asian and Pacific cuisines in the islands. Traditional foods center around root crops, tropical fruit and coconuts, such as laplap - mashed yams or taro wrapped in taro leaves, soaked in coconut milk with pork, chicken or fish added, then it's all grilled. For the adventurous, try the pigeon, fruit bat or snails.
What to Drink:
If you dare, wander into a local kava hut, but be warned, it's very strong in this part of the world. Vanuatu Brewing produces a few local beers, with Tuskers being the best known. There is a micro-brewery in Port Vila that brews Nambawan beer. Resort area bars are generally well stocked.
See Mt. Yasur on Tanna, an volcano that has been active for 800 years; See the N'gol do their death defying jumps on Pentecost each April; visit a Kastom Village and drink kava with the locals; sea kayak, and explore the artifacts from WWII strewn throughout the islands. Wood carvings are particularly notable here and great examples can be found in the markets of Espiritu Santo and Port Vila. Visit the Mele Cascades on Efate; and do the cave and river trek on Santo.
Customs and Culture:
There is a firm belief in ancestral spirits and superstition dominates many people's beliefs, especially on the more remote islands. A cargo cult, the John Frum cult, exists on Tanna Island. Tipping and bartering are not practiced. Men drink a potent form of kava each night.
N'Gol land diving, April, Pentecost Island; John Frum Day, Tanna, January; Toka Festival, Tanna Island, September; Unity Day, Port Vila, November.
Electricity and Internet:
220-230V/60Hz. Internet common in hotels and tourist areas
Drink the water?
Bottled water is recommended.
Bislama; English and French are widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
Seen in the pilot houses and other dark areas of wrecks.
Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
Striking in appearance with orange-and-black stripes and frilly venomous spines, these fish remind one more of a tiger than a lion.
These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.
This angelfish is a vibrant orange with neon purple stripes and tail.
A striking black angelfish decorated with a pattern of concentric white circles radiating forward from its tail.
These small schooling fish brighten the reef with pinks and oranges.
These flat-faced, frilly fish tend to hide beneath branching corals on the sand.
Several varieties can be found. One hot spot for them is the safety stop site after diving the Coolidge.
This enormous baleen whale, growing up to 15 meters/50 feet in length, feeds on small plankton, and migrates annually to breed in warm waters. Vanuatu is officially designated as a whale sanctuary.
Top Dive Spots
SS President Coolidge, Espiritu Santo:
This luxury liner served as a US troopship during World War II and sank off the coast of Espiritu Santo after hitting a mine. Divers can swim through numerous holds and decks, looking for guns, cannons, jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies left by some of the soldiers, as well as a beautiful porcelain statue of The Lady, chandeliers and a mosaic tile fountain. The wreck is now encrusted in coral and home to turtles, barracuda, lionfish, and a host of reef fish.
The Cathedral, Port Vila:
This immense cavern off the Pango peninsula reaches a depth of 23 meters/75 feet, with shafts of light creating dramatic effects. Swim through to the back and up a chimney to a large pool on the surface inside the reef, then back to the outside and along the wall.
Star of Russia, Port Vila:
Built by the designers of the Titanic, this iron-hulled, three-mast square-rigger lies at the bottom of Port Vila harbor with her hull fully intact.
Hideaway Wall, Port Vila:
This site features a drop-off to 45 meters/150 feet and a colorful wall of intact plate corals, with nooks and crannies that house lobsters and other invertebrates.
This site boasts enough caverns to make a multiple-dive day (or day and night). With wide entrances and well-lit chambers, several of these caverns are connected by swim-throughs lined with lace corals, allowing divers to enter the system through one cave and leave through another. Outside the caverns are steep walls, contoured by shelves of table corals.
MV Aloara, Port Vila:
In 2001 this 30-meter/100-foot retired island trader was intentionally sunk near the popular Coral Gardens, and the denizens of the reef have been making themselves at home.
MV Bonzer 111. Port Vila:
Now resting in 18 meters/60 feet of water near Clown Colony, this 21-meter/70-foot retired tug boat hauled timber for a Malaysian logging company until it was decommissioned and offered to Hideaway Island Marine Sanctuary to serve as a dive wreck.
Million Dollar Point, Espiritu Santo:
The US Navy dumped tons of valuable machinery and supplies here after World War II. From the shore down to 30 meters/100 feet, divers can find corals and fish that have taken up residence among bulldozers, cranes, engines, large trucks, and discarded machinery.
Chails Reef, Espiritu Santo:
This highly protected dive site ensures calm waters, very little current and clear visibility. Enjoy a spectacular variety of coral, and look for crayfish, turtles and sharks.
Tutuba Point, Espiritu Santo:
This site includes caves, chasms, swim-throughs, crayfish, and an abundance of hard and soft corals.