Paradise at Turtle Bay
Turtle Bay Beach House
Holiday House Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Espiritu Santo Islands
A Local’s Guide to the Best Offshore Espiritu Santo Islands
Being the largest and most diverse of the Vanuatu islands, Espiritu Santo boasts dozens of smaller islands scattered around its coastline, some quite accessible, some a little harder to reach but many of them are well worth the time to explore. On the east coast alone there are more than 35 offshore islands. Here’s an insider’s guide to a few of the best Espiritu Santo islands.
Tangoa Island, South Santo
Located a 40 min drive south of Luganville (or about 5-10 minute drive past Tuffintari Waterfalls), Tangoa Island sits just off the coast adjacent to a village and a long black sand beach. The beach is interesting in its own way and the village here has some shops and nakamals where you can find food and drink. Reynald the custom owner of Tuffintari Waterfall does tours to Tangoa so you can combine both activities in one day.
If you don’t want to do a tour you can find your own way to the beach and ask the locals to take you out to the island via wooden dugout canoe for a hundred vatu as it’s only around 50m across the channel. You can walk around it in less than half an hour or so. The island itself has a large village on one half while the other half is owned by the church and is relatively empty. There’s only one beach on Tangoa (black sand) but you can catch a boat across to nearby Elia Island where there is some amazing snorkelling on the coral reef there. Check out a video of the area HERE. Wrecks to Rainforest organises official tours to both Tangoa and Elia Island.
Malo Island (formerly St. Bartholemew Is) is not quite as accessible as Aore Island but its quite beautiful in its own way and if you want to see what Santo used to be like 50 years ago (even more laid back, untouched and relaxed) then Malo is your go-to authentic island experience. It’s the largest island off Santo (180km2) and is famous for its coconut chocolate and vanilla plantations. There are no official tours that go here, but there are plenty of water taxis that leave on a daily basis from San Michel Landing (10 mins south of Luganville) and Malo Landing at Noniban (about 15 – 20 min drive south of Luganville). Water taxis are cheap if you share with the locals (or you can charter one for around 3000vt return). Take your mountain bikes as there are great riding trails here (the ring road is great). Alternatively you can rent a 4WD and driver for the day to do a tour around the island.
There are a couple of bungalows available you can stay overnight at (and this is highly recommended) including Pantanus (or Pandanus) Guest House at Avuntari (leave from Noniban) and the bungalows just near Small Nanuku village (leave from San Michel). Both bungalows can organise food and tours to the magical blue hole on Malo, the giant cave near Avuntari, the Avuntari Mission, snorkelling and swimming at Malo Kili Kili and Malo Pass, ancient archeologocal sites, tropical bird breeding sites and even a short hike up to Malo Peak. Contact Vuro (“Voo–ro”) or Vomalehi at Pantanus Bungalows on 7727672 or contact Santo Sanma Tourism Office. They have three beautiful bungalows surrounded by a stunning gardens. For more information on Malo Island click HERE
Aore Island is the closest of the Espiritu Santo islands to Luganville, the main town. Boat ride across is only 5-8 mins. It’s quite large at 58 square km, mostly flat around the coastline with a central limestone platea around 100m high. You can catch a free ferry across to Aore Island Resort every morning and afternoon provided you enjoy lunch there. At the resort they have mountain bikes you can rent out to explore the island. There is a ring road that goes north and south, that is great for mountain bike riding (alhtough It doesn’t connect all the way through). If you want to be a more independent rider, you can hire mountain bikes from Deco Stop Lodge and catch a water taxi over to Aore (look for one behind Santo Hardware). Ambui Bay and Benier Bay on the west side of the island both offer spectacular white sand beaches and some nice snorkelling (if you dont want to ride you can catch a water taxi here). The southern end of the island (at the mission opposite Ratua Island) is also beautiful. Other places worth a visit are Freshwater Plantation with their batcave and lookout and Aore Coffee (see our page HERE).
Ratua Island is a gorgeous little island just off the south coast of Aore Island (you can literally swim to it from Aore across a shallow channel). There’s actually a cluster of islands here, all just as beautiful as eachother and its renown for having a superabundance of turtles and fish life thanks to the area being a marine reserve and sanctuary. The island is dominated by Ratua Island Resort, a high end private resort boasting hand-crafted teak wood villas reconstructed from 200-year old traditional houses in Java and Sumatra (14 Indonesian villas plus luxury safari tents). The resort was severely damaged by Cyclone Harold in 2020 but has been painstakingly rebuilt and at the time of writing is being relaunched in Mar 2024.
Ratua Island Resort does allow a limited number of day guests to visit the island and they do pick ups from their jetty in Luganville (next to Smugglers Restaurant).They can also organise lunch out on the island as well as horse rides. They have kayaks for use on the island and its worth paddling along the channel between Aore and Ratua to check out the turtles. The snorkelling out the front of the resort is fantastic. As are the walks around the 146 acre island. Alternatively you could charter a taxi boat to take you out to this area (its about a 40 min boatride in a fast banana boat) and just stick to the uninhabited parts of the island(s). Ask at BP wharf area.
What used to be a beautiful island resort with 16 beachfront bungalows is now a bit of an abandoned wreck but the island is still amazing and the snorkelling is out of this world. Essentially Bokissa (also Voisa or Abokisa) is a 175 acre private island featuring the most amazing tropical rainforest and pristine beaches about 10 km (6 mi) south of Espiritu Santo.
There’s a great ring walk around the island through the rainforest and of course there is the spectacular marine sanctuary and coral reefs out front.You can get there via a short taxi boat ride from the southern end of Tutuba island or you can pick up a water taxi from Luganville (back of Santo Hardware) or Million Dollar Point. Maybe check with the chiefs in the village at the southern end of on Tutuba for access to the island first.
The wreck of the M.V. Henry Bonneaud sits on the outer edge of the Bokissa Island coral reef and is only a few minutes from the Bokissa wharf in 30-40m of crystal clear water; it makes for an incredible night dive because hudnreds of small flashlight fish hover in the companionways and cabins of the sunken ship.
Bokissa coral reefs are truly special; marine biologists and underwater photographers say there are literally hundreds of species of fish, hard and soft corals that live in this protected marine sanctuary.
Tutuba Island is a long thin island located about a 10-15 min boatride off Million Dollar Point. Taxi boats regularly take locals to Tutuba village from this area on a daily basis. The local inhabitants speak the Tutuba language and according to the Lonely Planet guide, there are many “golden beaches” lining Tutuba’s west coast. By far the best beach is at the southern end of the island – its spectacular white sand and overhanging palm trees make for magical pictures and it has some great coral reef just offshore for snorkelling. Check with the chief of the village to make sure its ok to swim and play. It’s only a short jump over to Bokissa Island from this area to check out other beaches and reef as well (see our Bokissa Island summary).
Tutuba is renown for its dive sites. Tutuba Point has caves, canyons and swim throughs. It is situated on the northern end of Tutuba Island with lots of hard plate corals. Depth starts at around 6m down the wall to over 30m, and due to its location you never know what will pass by and the visibility can be mind blowing! Plenty of crayfish frequent this site. Another dive site called Two Sticks is situated on the open side of Tutuba, this site has clean water and plenty of gully’s to swim up. The coral is very healthy and you will see passing schools of dogtooth tuna and barracuda. There are also all the usual tropical species. Watch a vide of Tutuba diving HERE. Both Pacific Dive and Aore Adventure Lodge run dive day trips to Tutuba Island.
Turtle Bay Islands
There are around half dozen islands that surround the inner lagoon of Turtle Bay. Locals often refer to the area as “the bay of islands”and it contains some of the prettiest Espiritu Santo islands to explore. Quite a few of the islands are privately owned, such as Oyster Island, Malwepe Is (Chicken Is,), Malvanua Is.and Molono Is. however there are still plenty of remote beaches and reefs you can access via kayak.
One of them is Honeymoon Beach on the eastern side of Oyster Island. Look for the two sticks in the water and the blue lagoon area in front of the beach. There’s some nice snorkelling off of the NW side of Molono Is and a plane wreck to discover in fairly shallow water in the channel between Molono is and Oyster island. There’s also part of a plane wreck in shallow water off the small beach to south of the entrance to Matevulu River (just near the hut) and in the channel in between Malvanua Island the small island to the south of it.
If you’re a keen paddler and the weather is good you can also paddle across to Dany Island (about 30 mins away opposite Turtle Bay Beach House) where there is excellent snorkelling however they will hit you up for 1000vt pp to land on the island. In addition there are two crystal rivers leading to two blue holes to explore, Riri and Matevulu, which offer exceptionally beautiful kayaking. It will cost you 1000vt pp to enter the blue holes and swim in them.
Base yourself at Turtle Bay Beach House to properly explore this amazing area. Not only do they offer free kayaks and SUPs but they provide weekly accommodation that is excellent value for money.
Mavea Island is quite a large offshore island located around 5 km off the east coast of Espititu Santo (just near Turtle Bay). You can actually kayak across to Mavea in under an hour if you are staying at Turtle Bay Beach House. Mavea has some beautiful white sand beaches and coral fringing reef all along the western side of the island. The prettiest beach is on the NW end of the island and you can get a water taxi from Riri village (ask for Johnny or Quenster) for around 6000vt return (boat takes around 8 people). There’s a walk from the beach to a nearby flying fox bat colony and a walk up the hill to a giant banyan tree in the middle of the island (near the Vodaphone tower) that is huge!!
Mavea has some interesting WW2 planewrecks on it and a cave with a mysterious face carved into the stone. Near the village at the southern end of the island is an area of reef renown for harbouring dugongs on a regular basis. The population of the village is about 250, and some speak the rare Mavea language, which is rapidly dying out. Mavea used to be a live fire island during the war (the Americans evacuated all the residents and practiced bombing runs on it) and you can still find live bombs there (just ask the locals to show you). Try calling Max on 7719865 for a tour of the village and planewrecks at the southern end of the island.
Just to the south of Mavea Island lies another large offshore island called Ais (Aese) Island. It’s unihaibited but it has some beautiful rainforest on it and some great beaches (especially the one on the NW tip). There are old ruins here from WW2 and some great snorkelling. Island Fishing Santo often do snorkelling tours around this area and they are fantastic. You can also kayak here if the weather is good (check out our kayak blog HERE) . Max the boatdriver for Mavea island might be able to take you out here if you ask him nicely (see Mavea Island summary above).
This is a large, uninhabited island directly opposite Champagne and Lonnoc Beach (aptly named Elephant Island). You can get to Elephant Island by hiring kayaks from Lonnoc Beach Bungalows or organising a boat ride over (it’s about 4.5km offshore). There’s some great snorkeling on the SW corner of the island but no outstanding beaches to speak of.
Port Olry Islands
At the sleepy village of Port Olry (20 mins north of Lonnoc) , it’s possible to walk/wade across to a small island directly offshore (approx. 200m) at low tide. There’s some good snorkeling on the far side of this island, and if you’re lucky you’ll see some turtles and dugongs. Another larger island called Thion Island (or Dolphin Island) sits just nearby but is only accessible via kayak (or you can hire a boat and guide from the locals). There’s a beautiful white sand beach and a short walk that leads up to a freshwater lake. In the distance you can see Sakau Island to the north. It’s possible to get to this uninhabited island by boat. Ask some of the locals at Port Olry to take you there.