Truly undiscovered tropical paradises may no longer exist, but Vanuatu comes close. Few places feel more relaxed. Aside from the occasional cruise ship, tourism has largely overlooked this 83-island archipelago between Fiji and Australia. It entered the American consciousness briefly during World War II, when it hosted a large military base, and again as the setting of James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” famously adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein into a musical. Otherwise Vanuatu has stood more or less removed from the world, its vibrant culture and extraordinary landscapes a secret to all but a few. One might expect Vanuatu to be difficult to reach, but it’s relatively simple to add into an itinerary. It takes under three hours to fly from Fiji to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, which also has nonstop connections to New Zealand and Australia.
At the end of World War II, the U.S. forces in Vanuatu dumped their unwanted materiel into the ocean. The beach nearby became known as “Million Dollar Point,” referring to the approximate value of the equipment abandoned just offshore. With only fins and a snorkel, it is easy to explore the site. I inspected the hulls of two boats, a Jeep, the remains of what appeared to be a small tank and countless other unidentifiable pieces of wreckage, all colonized by tropical fish, anemones and coral. But there’s no need to leave Ratua Island for world-class snorkeling. A Technicolor reef is just off the pier.
I loved the many activities available on Ratua Private Island, such as horseback riding and snorkeling, but I deeply regretted not allowing time to visit the dramatically active volcano on Tanna and the traditional villages and blue holes on Espiritu Santo.
June to September is the ideal time for a visit. December to April is the rainy season. There is little temperature variation year-round.
Vatu (VT). Fluctuating rate valued at VT117.4 = US$1.00 as of August 2019.
None. U.S. Embassy is located in New Guinea, (675) 321-1455.
Passport (valid for six months beyond end of stay). Visit travel.state.gov, and for travelers’ health information, cdc.gov.
To phone hotels in Vanuatu, dial 011 (international access) + 678 (Vanuatu code) + local numbers.
Fifteen hours ahead of New York (EST).