Paradise at Turtle Bay
Turtle Bay Beach House
Holiday House Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
A Local’s Guide to the Top 10 Things to Do Espiritu Santo
1. Swim in a Blue Hole
There are a number of blue holes on Santo, including Riri Blue Hole, Jackies or Nanda Blue Hole, and Matevulu Blue Hole. All of these are located near Turtle Bay Beach House at Turtle Bay, about half way up the east coast of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. You can drive there but we suggest paddling up the Matavulu crystal river to gain the full 3D experience. It’s like going up the Amazon! Kayaks are available from Turtle Bay Lodge for rent or you can stay at Turtle Bay Beach House and paddle their free kayaks up to the blue hole. There is an entry fee per person for swimming at these spectacular freshwater springs (around 1000vt pp/half price for kids) but it’s well worth it. The sheer beauty of Santo’s blule holes is why its on our list of top 10 things to do Espiritu Santo!
2. Float down a river at Millennium Caves or Mt Hope
Millennium Caves is an absolutely amazing full day adventure – but it’s also not for small children, the unfit or those without an adventurous heart or mind. This is a jungle trek/cultural experience/caving/canyoning adventure all rolled into one. It’s starts in the mountains about an hour above Luganville where you walk, float, climb and swim for 3-4 hrs through a landscape that looks like it should be on the cover of a National Geographic magazine. Book direct with the Millennium Caves office or via Paradise Tours Santo. If you want a more family friendly version of Millennium Caves, try the Mt Hope Waterfall tour. You get to float down a gentle river through limestone slot canyons, jump off boulders, climb up a waterfall and trek through a rainforest. It’s a half day tour. Book via Heritage Tours. Both adventures are on our top 10 things to do Espiritu Santo Vanuatu.
3. Snorkel and Sunbake at Champagne Beach/Lonnoc Beach
Take a picnic lunch, take your snorkelling gear and prepare to be dazzled by two beautiful, natural white sand beaches. Champagne and Lonnoc Beach are located on the east coast of Santo about 30 minutes north of Turtle Bay Beach House (look for the sign). Lonnoc Beach is free to use – we suggest heading into Lonnoc Eco-Beach Bungalows which has a restaurant and having lunch or a drink there while enjoying a snorkel on the reefs just offshore. Farther along the same road is Champagne Beach (named after the champagne-like fizz the powder white sand makes when a wave rolls in!). It’s going to cost you 1000vt pp to enter this area. Once there, take a stroll along the beach, do some snorkelling on the reefs off the beach and enjoy lunch or a drink at the beachside restaurant. As an aside visit the nearby secret blue hole (about 1.4km after the Champagne Beach turn off). Look for the steep descent sign!
4. Experience Custom and Culture at a Traditional Village
A visit to Santo and Vanuatu is not complete unless you have immersed yourself in the local culture. There are lots of nearby kastom villages to choose from, many offering kava ceremonies, traditional dancing, the famous water music, island feasts and more. Of these, Leweton Cultural Village is our favourite. If you want to experience more of an adventure, try taking a tour to some of the villages in Fanafo (up in the mountains) or check with Wrecks to Rainforest booking agency in Luganville for their overnight trekking tours to remote kastom villages. An amazing cultural experience not to be missed on your list of things to do Espiritu Santo.
5. Go Island Hopping
Espiritu Santo is surrounding by a ring of 35 mini-islands so the choice of islands to visit is huge. If you want a real adventure and a taste of what the real Vanuatu would have been like 50 years ago head over to Malo Island for the day or night (make sure the weather is calm). A local taxi boat ride over to the island from Malo Landing (25 mins south of Luganville) will cost you around $30 AUD return. There is a great little tourist bungalow near the boat landing. Go snorkelling, visit the blue hole, see the caves and wildlife, wander around the nearby village. Alternatively, for a more mainstream experience, catch the free ferry from Luganville across to Aore Island and snorkel at Aore Island Resort or visit the caves at Freshwater Plantation on Aore via Starfish Kava Bar landing. Finally take a boat trip to Mavea Island for the day (it’s just near Turtle Bay Beach House ) using a local transport boat at Riri Village (look for the Oyster Island turnoff).
6. Dive the Coolidge
Espiritu Santo has one of the world’s best wreck dives on its doorstep, the SS President Coolidge, as well as some amazing reef dives around the nearby outer islands. This wreck dive makes our top 10 things to do Espiritu Santo not only because of the sheer size of the wreck and its accessibility but also its fish and wildlife. We suggest trying the night dive and experiencing the lantern fish for an out of this world experience. There are several companies based in and around Luganville who specialise in the Coolidge wreck. Try Allan Power Dive Tours | Espiritu Santo | PADI Dive Center or Jack Power at Pacific Dive
7. Fishing or Spearfishing the Deepwater Dropoffs
Espiritu Santo is renown for its world class fishing and spearfishing. Every large gamefish is on offer thanks to huge drop offs and deepwater channels within throwing distance of inshore fringing reefs. Add to that a multitude of easily accessible seamounts, deep canyons and 30+ offshore islands and it all adds up to fishing heaven. There are a range of fishing boats to suit all budgets– from small local operators like Fabrice Moderan’s Island Fishing Santo and Bob’s Boat Charters and Game Fishing to bigger more professional boats like Ru Robbertson’s Pacific Reef Sportfishing. You can also hit up the locals to go out in their boats as a cheaper option but keep in mind you will have to pay for the fuel, and its BYO fishing gear and safety equipment as they will have none.
8. Day Trip to Port Olry
Port Olry is a sleepy, picturesque fishing village located at the top of Santo’s beautiful east coast. It’s about a 40 min drive north of Turtle Bay Beach House. We recommend finding a beachside restaurant (Chez Louie’s is one of them), ordering a fresh lobster or local fish and diving into the crystal clear waters off the gorgeous white sand beach. If you want a little more adventure you can either walk to the nearby island at the north end of the beach at low tide (good snorkelling on east side off island) or organise a boat/canoe ride over to the larger island (Elephant Island) and doing the walk up to the lake there if you are feeling fit. There is some good snorkelling off this outer island and a nice beach to relax on. You can take a picnic lunch over. A fantastic day trip and one of our favourite top 10 things to do Espiritu Santo.
9. Visit a Waterfall in South Santo
Drive 40 mins south of Luganville on a rough dirt across rickety bridges and through beautiful rural countryside to reach Tuffuntari Waterfalls (look for blue posts and a sign just after the school). This place is a hidden treasure – it’s at a junction where two rivers meet, one warm and one cold! Wonderful crystal clear water, fish to feed, a refreshing swimming hole and that amazing waterfall over limestone cliffs! Cost is around 500vt each payable to custom owner on arrival. Nelson (one of the guides) is eager to please and very knowledgeable about the area. Take a picnic lunch and make a day of it. For something different walk/swim from the waterfall to the ocean (its about 35-40 mins one way). And if you have time after the waterfall, visit Venui Plantation and stay overnight at one of their beautiful cottages or visit the island of Tongoa and it’s nearby village and black sand beach (it’s a short outrigger canoe ride over to the island from the mainland village). A great day out and that’s why it makes out top 10 list of things to do Espiritu Santo.
10. Horseriding on the Beach
Santo Horse Adventures offers the chance to experience horseriding in truly magical surroundings. And best of all Megan, the owner spends a lot of her time at The Ranch rehabilitating horses from all over Santo. So in a way you are giving back at the same time you are having an adventure. The rides start at the Ranch, where you swim with your horse along a flowing fresh water creek to a secret “Blue Hole”. Then you climb steadily through the countryside to arrive at breath taking view of east Santo and surrounding islands before slowly descending to the rain forest and a white sandy beach.
We always recommend Turtle Bay Beach House as your accommodation base while on Espiritu Santo because its halfway to everything and is fully self contained so you can cook for yourself and is great value for money. Spend more of your money on experiences and less on expensive resorts and restaurants by staying at Turtle Bay Beach House.