|Port Vila, Vanuatu - Friendly, Warm and Welcoming Locals
Eighty- three, lush volcanic Melanesian Islands sitting in the South Pacific Ocean, largely untouristed, with locals living out life as they have for hundreds of years. Sure the majority now dress like westerners and not in their traditional clothing, and the capital city of Port Vila has a lot of foreign owned businesses bringing in the western culture, restaurants and shops. However, overall the country is largely untouched by the Western world, especially on the outer islands. The small country speaks more languages per capita than anywhere else in the world. With only about 200,000 inhabitants, they speak over 100 different languages with each tribe having their own language. Vanuatu is truly a unique destination and one that many had never heard of until the popular Survivor TV series put them on the map in our modern world.
Like most people, we found the country to be magical. The locals are by far the nicest we have met to date on our trip. They are genuinely friendly, warm and welcoming in their soft-spoken manner. It is no wonder most people that visit Vanuatu love their experience. The country has something to offer anyone, from a few high-end resorts for honeymooners and those looking for a vacation getaway to a plethora of options for the adventure traveller who wants to get off the beaten track and see South Pacific life as it has been for hundreds of years. Vanuatu is a wonderful destination.
Port Vila by many guidebooks is referred to as one of the most attractive towns in the South Pacific. Perhaps that had set our expectations a little high, but in not time, we too had warmed up to it, with its few cafes, shops and some excellent dining in a quaint atmosphere set around the harbour in Vila Bay and Iririki Island. Our time in Port Vila was split into two parts by a trip out to the island of Tanna in the middle (see the following entry). Unfortunately, when we first arrived, the rains for New Caledonia had seemed to follow us. In fact, the island experienced record rainfalls over a 2-day period as it poured so hard like nothing we had ever seen before. We were now in the lush, green South Pacific and the rain itself was an incredible experience, albeit a little bit of a wet one when you are trying to explore a new destination.
Upon our return to Port Vila after our amazing journey to Tanna, we spent one night back out at the little motel where we were previously staying and then moved for three nights to the Meridien Port Vila Resort. Here we thoroughly enjoyed staying in a resort atmosphere and spent our days lounging by the pool, kayaking the lagoon and enjoying the facilities like we were on a winter vacation at a Caribbean resort. The resort itself was not up to the same standards as the Meridien Noumea where we had just come from, but it was certainly an enjoyable and relaxing experience before we moved on to our next destination - Auckland New Zealand, for a brief 3-day visit.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR PORT VILA, VANUATU
1. Vanuatu was at one time colonized by both the French and British at the same time. Very unique and incredibly hard to imagine how they got along sharing the country, however, as a result locals speak either French or English or both along with the native language from their tribe. English seemed to be a little more dominant in the tourism sector at most hotels, restaurants and shops.
2. For half the time we were in Port Vila, we stayed at the Meridien Port Vila which was a nice resort located on the lagoon. The rooms were looking a bit tired and in need of a make-over but staff were typically friendly and all sports activities were included for free for guests - including golf and even club use.
3. For the size of the city and the relative small amount of tourism Vanuatu receives, Port Vila is a very nice little city with a fair number of shops, restaurants, a few night clubs and a safe and comfortable feel. Indeed many refer to it as 'The Jewel of the Pacific' when comparing it to other South Pacific cities.
4. The Ni-Vanuatu (ie. Indigenous Vanuatu people) are perhaps the most friendly people we have met anywhere in the world. They were not very extroverted, but so incredibly kind, warm and friendly. Just say hello and strike up a conversation with anyone you meet.
5. An excellent restaurant we enjoyed many times on our stay is called the Waterfront. Here they have the best steaks, ribs and seafood set in a unique open air atmosphere. There is good live entertainment every night and a small dance floor if you are so inclined.
6. Port Vila is not a destination to head to if you are looking for a perfect beach. There are some nice beaches around the island but Port Vila resorts are not known for having the best beaches in the South Pacific.
7. To reach some of the nicer beaches take a day-long sailing trip or bus tour around the island that stops at different beaches. The sailing trips are geared for snorkellers and there is also some great diving in the area for those that love to spend more time under the water.
8. Port Vila is a great base to use for exploring the other islands in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is an excellent country for people that are into adventure travel. Outer islands offer unique cultural activities, active volcanoes, world-class wreck and reef diving and all of this in a setting that has very little tourism and with some of the nicest people in the world.
9. Public transportation is very easy in Port Vila. If the license plate has a red 'T' on it they are a registered Taxi and the fare for anywhere around the city area is 1,000 Vatu or about $10 Canadian. If the license plate has a red 'B' on it they are a bus - however the buses are all just mini-vans. The cost for taking a bus anywhere within the city limits is only 100 Vatu or about $1 Canadian. Any bus will take you exactly where you want to go, but it drops off anyone that got on the bus before you first. Therefore, it may end up taking you some time to get to where you are going. Always try to flag a bus down that is heading in the general direction you are going to help shorten the time. Often we were the only ones or the second passengers to get off the bus finding it a quick and cheap way to get around.
10. Vanuatu is not a cheap destination and therefore does not attract too many budget travellers. Food and accommodations are much more expensive than their neighbouring islands of Fiji yet cheaper than the more expensive New Caledonia.