After our recent stay on Espiritu ‘Santo’ Island I have been reminded how wrong it can be to make assumptions about a country until you explore it for yourself. I avoided going to Bali for years because I assumed it was only about drunk Aussies doing their worst for international relations – yes, that happens, but only in a small part of the island. I also assumed Vanuatu was a destination reserved for the luxury resort crowds but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Yes, Vanuatu has some world class accommodation, but as a nation of 83 islands, over 80% of communities are still living in unadorned, traditional ways.
Located in the beautiful South Pacific, only a few hours by plane from our home in Australia, the Republic of Vanuatu has a history that dates back to 2000 BC. Originally plundered by the Spanish, then the British and French, many of the islands were used as a military base during World War 2. The Ni-Vanuatu people finally reclaimed their archipelago in 1980. While the French and English languages have remained, the national language of Bislama blends together a musical mash of the two that sounds as chilled as the tropical vibe. What I find really interesting is the density of indigenous languages across the islands of Vanuatu – the highest of any nation in the world – where the 113 known languages average only 2,000 speakers per language!
As the largest island, ‘Santo’ feels surprisingly uninhabited. The local food market in the main town of Luganville feels sleepy and uncrowded – a place where locals bring their crops to sell in natural, hand woven baskets. If the idea of fresh tropical fruits, seafood and island grown beef appeals, you won’t be disappointed with the cuisine. I assumed the French might have left a culinary legacy but we didn’t really see any evidence of that on this island.
The main town of Luganville doesn’t win any prizes for urban style, but the natural beauty of the island quickly unfolds as soon as you hit the one paved road that hugs the length of the East coast. Travelling through vast coconut plantations and old growth forests, it’s easy to see how important agriculture and tourism are for this diverse island nation.
Vanuatu has also been recognised in the top ten ethical travel destinations for 2017 – due to their efforts to actively improve the state of their people, government and environment – all the more reason to spend your hard earned holiday funds supporting some of the sustainable tourism efforts of the warm hearted Ni-Van people.
We would definitely jump at the chance to go back!