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Holiday Houses Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

A Local’s Guide to Espiritu Santo Cultural Villages & Vanuatu Culture

 

“Vanuatu is one of the few places on Earth where you can experience a very ancient living culture and contact your deepest roots and connections with the natural world and feel safe and comfortable at the same time.”

Vanuatu Yachting World

* Recently Updated 2024!

Vanuatu culture and heritage is thought to date back over 3,500 years (500 years older than ancient Egyptian civilisation). Successive waves of immigration by both Melanesian and Polynesian peoples has led to Vanuatu being hailed as one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth (84 different islands with over 113 distinct languages and countless local dialects). It also helps explain why Ni-Vans vary dramatically in their looks, size and skin colour!

The good news is that Vanuatu’s incredible cultural history is still alive today (check out our “festivals” page here). Islands like Malekula, Pentecost and Tanna still have many villages and communities living in kastom and practicing ancient cultural rituals, festivals and ceremonies. Espiritu Santo, being the largest island in Vanuatu features a number of local “kastom villages“ that tourists can easily access to get a taste of Vanuatu culture however to see the real deal requires a hike into Santo’s rugged interior. The best place to get information on cultural tours for Santo is Santo Travel in Luganville (click here to visit their website) or Wrecks to Rainforest . Espiritu Santo cultural villages and Vanuatu culture are fascinating and well worth the effort to discover.

Vil Vil Custom Village

Situated in Fanafo, in the mountains about an hour’s drive from the east coast of Santo, activities include the weaving of traditional baskets, mats and custom clothing by the women using the leaves of the Pandanus Palm, and the ancient art of sand drawing by the men. Chief Pulekon ensures his village is still very much living the traditional lifestyle – and this includes kava ceremonies and traditional dance. 

Beterihi Cultural Activity Park

Located just outside of Luganville, the villagers perform traditional dances and ceremonies, wood carving and sand drawing, display WW2 memorabilia, conduct black magic demonstrations and talk about local medicine and healing plants.

Torgor Flower Garden & Water Music Tour

This one hour showcase of traditional custom dances from the Banks Islands starts with a display of  Water Music, performed by the women of the group. Splashing with their hands, they recreate an incredible array of sounds ranging from rain falling to waterfalls and waves. This is followed by the men doing traditional dances from the northern end of the Banks Islands, then a kava ceremony and tasting, and finally a tour of the amazing flower garden. As part of the tour the group supply fresh fruits and refreshments and offer a display of unique handicrafts.

Ransuck Cultural Village

Also called the Fire Walk and Cultural Tour, this village is made up of people from nearby Pentecost Island. The tour includes fire walking, black magic demonstrations, sand drawing, basket weaving and more.

Leweton Cultural Village

This is our favourite cultural village, located near the Showgrounds just outside of Luganville. Fantastic dancing, kava ceremony, the famous water music by the ladies from the Banks Islands, a fire making ceremony and incredible costumes and tam tam drumming. The entire village has been constructed in the traditional way with no nails or other modern tools. They generally do two shows per day, one in the morning and one after lunch.

Pui Lodge and Cultural Tour

Located near the Showgrounds area, just near the cruise ship terminal, the cultural tour includes welcome warrior dance, tam tam drumming demonstration, story telling, traditional dances, introduction to local village wildlife (parrots, pigs, coconut crab, fish, fowl etc), natangora carving and more. (not sure if the show is still happening however the islands feast nights are – check with Santo Travel first).

Vunaspef Wild Food Tour

Operated and run by the same villagers who do the Millennium Caves tour, this 3 1/2 hr cultural tour begins with a 45 min drive up into the mountains to Vunaspef Village. Its about a 15 walk into the village, across bamboo bridges and through lush rainforest.  A local guide then takes you for a walk through the surrounding natural bushland, pointing out some of the plants and their uses – either as food, medicine, or as tools. He will gather crops and fruit along the way which will go towards your wild food lunch. About 20 minutes in there’s a great lookout and this is immediately followed by a short descent to the river. You’ll experience waterfalls, a natural sand beach, shallow rapids and deep clear swimming holes. After a refreshing swim the guide shows you how to catch freshwater prawns from the river, teaches you some survival skills for life in the bush, and show you the many uses of the versatile bush knife. The prawns are cooked in bamboo and served with the other bush foods you have collected on your journey for an incredible bush tucker lunch Vanuatu style!

Jaramaja Village Hike 

Jaramaja prides itself on being a “nagramal village”, a community that shuns the influences of modern society in an attempt to keep its ancient culture and custom alive. It’s very traditional and beautiful. The village is located high up in the mountains on the south coast of Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu, and to reach it requires a 1 hour drive from Luganville on some rough dirt roads and then a 2.5 hour hike up into the mountains. The village is run by Chief Jean Sele. Generally you stay overnight and then hike down the next day. For more information check out my blog HERE or see Mayumi at Wrecks to rainforest.

According to legend, the first people of Vanuatu culture on Santo were thought to be the Lysepsep, a small pygmy-like tribe who lived a reclusive life in large banyan trees and caves. They grew their hair long and wrapped it around their waist to hide their faces. Glen Russell of Butterfly Tours is adamant they still exist today in the deep bush and claims he saw them recently in a place called the Five Rivers in South Santo. He described them as “very short, long hair, long nail, can play magic, their villages or houses never been found”. Interesting…

DID YOU KNOW?

Espiritu Santo and its Vanuatu culture was “discovered” by Spanish explorer Pedro De Quiros in1606. His expedition thought they had discovered the fabled great southern land of Australia and  named the island “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo” (The Australian Land of the Holy Spirit).

Accommodation

We recommend Turtle Bay Beach House holiday complex at Turtle Bay in Santo  for your accommodation base as it is half way to everything and is fully self contained with a free laundry on site. There are a choice of studio cottages, 1 bedroom apartments and 2 bedroom beach houses so no matter the size of your group there is something to suit everyone. Prices start from as little as $45 night pp and include free watersports, free satellite internet and all the mod cons (as well as a giant overwater hammock and overwater deck). Click HERE for more info.