Paradise at Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay Beach House

Turtle Bay Tree House

Holiday Houses Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
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Vanuatu Travel Hacks & TipsEspiritu Santo 

Everything You Wanted to Know About….Food, Kava, Security, Weather, Transport, Internet/Phone Services, Island Time, Language, Water, Creepy Crawlies, Medical Issues, Money Exchange and More!

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Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Weather & Climate

Vanuatu weather can be described in two categories – hot and wet or slightly less hot and dry. It’s a typical tropical climate and there are only a few months of the year when you would actually need long pants or a long sleeve shirt (generally June/July and generally only at night). For up to date daily forecasts of Vanuatu weather click here  or for a more comprehensive weather summary go to our Weather page.



Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Markets/Food/Dining Out

Santo is the organic beef capital of the south Pacific so there is lots of fantastic quality, cheap beef on offer. We recommend Paradise Butchery in town (look for the sign near the main markets). Wong Sze store (behind Air Vanuatu) – it also has an aged beef section while Daming Store (1st right past the market) has a full butchery with occasionally local fish and hand made sausages. The fresh fish market is behind the main market but be advised its whole fish no fillets. Keep in mind many reef fish in Santo have ciguatera which is a toxin and can make you very sick. Eat only deep water fish like snapper, tuna wahoo etc.

There are plenty of stalls selling “lap lap”, the Vanuatu version of takeaway with chicken and grated yam or manioc/taro smothered in freshly made coconut cream, wrapped in leaves and baked in an earth oven under hot volcanic stones. The Chinese restaurant in town (opp. The Espiritu) may look dodgey but the food is great and huge serves and every lunchtime they have a great little hot buffet for around $5.

In terms of groceries, there are plenty of supermarkets and Chinese stores in Luganville, Santo that supply the basics,  including Aussie wine, local and imported beer, spirits and cheese (LCM, Wong Sze Sing, Daming, Unity Shop/Pacific Petrol , Esah etc). Just don’t expect a lot of variety or luxuries like blueberries and strawberries and expect to pay a fortune for imported western veges! The good news is there’s a great local produce market at the south end of town on the left hand side which sells a variety of cheap fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, homemade sweet potato chips and occasionally tomatoes and avocados! 

Our favourite cafe is the Natangora Cafe in town, great food cheap prices and free internet. If you want a bargain meal stop at one of the little huts opposite the vege markets and you can get a huge meal of beef or chicken, rice and vegetables for the grand sum of around $4-5 Australian – its what the Ni-vans do and we have never gotten sick from the food there (as it is prepared daily). It’s nothing fancy but it is filling! There are more of these huts in Unity park behind the markets as well as a traditional Vanuatu fast food/takeaway kitchen near the water run by a group of Ni-Van ladies. If you prefer your food with a view try Deco Stop Lodge on the hill above town.

On the east coast we are lucky to have a large choice of fantastic places to eat and drink. Closest is Turtle Bay Lodge, food is reasonable in price and tasty. They also have a great bar and a beautiful outdoor eating area overlooking Turtle Bay.

Then there is Barrier Beach Resort back down the road towards Luganville about 10 kms. It has reasonable food, a great atmosphere, and is right on the water. If you are heading into Champagne Beach there’s a basic restaurant at Lonnoc Beach Bungalows while in Port Olry there’s a few beachfront restaurants to choose from (our favourite is Chez Louis).

If you stay at self contained holiday accommodation like Turtle Bay Beach House, you can do all your own cooking and put the money towards experiences instead of dining out each day. The main Beach House has a fully equipped kitchen complete with small bench top oven, microwave and large fridge. The cottages are equipped with a kitchenette. There is also a communal electric BBQ guests can use either on the overwater deck or in the BBQ nakamal (in case of rain).[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”SECURITY/SAFETY”][vc_column_text]


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


Santo in general is a very safe place, and the east coast where Turtle Bay Beach House is located is even safer, despite the fact that most people seem to wander around carrying bush knives (machetes!). It was voted the happiest place on Earth by Lonely Planet for a very good reason – people here are generally very happy!

Most thieves in Vanuatu are opportunists, so some simple security precautions will minimise any problems you have during your stay. Firstly lock your rooms when you go out for the day and make sure the main gates are shut. Secondly make sure you put away any money or passports/valuables in a drawer/room safe where it cannot be seen or close the curtains.

When visiting rural villages or schools or churches please dress appropriately, women especially need to cover up in order not to offend or attract undue attention. A sarong is always handy for this. 


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Money Exchange

There are a number of banks in Luganville that change money, try ANZ or BRED bank, but you are better off at the black market exchange run by the Chinese Stores – they are faster and more efficient than the banks and give you the same or better rates! Try Pacific/Unity Petrol station at the beginning of town or the large drive in Chinese store opposite the vege markets (with Digicel sign outside). It’s always better to change your money in Vanuatu you will get a better rate. Sometimes there is a money exchange office open at the airport (but its hit and miss). We recommend you get some Vatu out on arrival so you can take care of taxis, trips etc. Most establishments charge a whopping 5% fee for use of a credit card and many don’t take them full stop. In other words, cash is king and usually a better deal in the long run.


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


Internet on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu is slow and expensive. In town there are a number of cafes on the main street which provide free internet provided you buy something from them. There is also an internet/computer centre at the back of town (ask at one of the shops for directions).

When you stay at Turtle Bay Beach House you get to have free satellite internet which is very reliable (except when it rains) and is the best you can get on the island. Turtle Bay Lodge up the road, also has satellite internet – they will let you use it if you buy a drink or food there – ask for the password. There are two phone services on Santo, TVL and Digicel. Coverage is good in town and along the east coast. You can buy cheap Sim cards in town from any of the grocery shops and then simply load up on credit at little TVL or Digicel stands all over the island.  

At Turtle Bay Beach House the best phone service is via TVL. The nearest Digicel signal is at Turtle Bay Lodge. There are two phone services on Santo, TVL and Digicel. Coverage is good in town and along the east coast. You can buy cheap Sim cards in town from any of the grocery shops and then simply load up on credit at little TVL or Digicel stands all over the island.


Locals vary dramatically in their ability to understand English. Most speak 4 languages – a little English, a little French, Bislama (Pigeon English), their own native language and maybe one other dialect. Generally, you will get by with English and a smattering of basic bislama but keep in mind that Ni-Vans (local Vanuatu people) do not like saying NO or admitting they have no idea as to what you are asking. The only clue you will have is their eyebrows…if they go up and they smile at you with a vacant look in their eyes then you can be sure they have no idea what you’re talking about – best to say “thank yu tumas” walk away and ask someone else. To learn some basic bislama click here


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


Thanks to the humidity and weather, everything you wear will get smelly and wet very quickly. Bring lots of light clothes that dry quickly. Most large resorts and hotels have a laundry on site and will wash your clothes for you for a small additional fee. Smaller tourism bungalows can organise clothes washing – just ask the owners and they will have the staff wash your clothes for you. There are no laundromats in Luganville. 

For any guests staying at Turtle Bay Beach House you’ll be happy to know there is a fully set up laundry area on site that is free to use. Staff can also wash your clothes for you for a small additional price. Save water and wash only full loads! Water is a precious resource here in Vanuatu.


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Medical, Mossies and Creepie Crawlies

You’ll be happy to know there is nothing deadly or dangerous in Vanuatu with regard to the wildlife. There are no poisonous snakes or spiders and no crocodiles or nasty stinging jellyfish so you can breathe easy. The nearest thing are giant “milpeds” – centipedes that can give you a nasty bite so if your’re in the bush make sure to shake out shoes and clothes every morning.

Cuts are a different story – they can be very dangerous! In Vanuatu cuts can get infected very quickly, especially coral cuts. Treat all cuts immediately with hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, antibiotic cream or betadene. Normal antiseptics like dettol don’t work well here. Otherwise sepsis may set in. If it starts looking nasty hit the strongest antibiotics you can find. People die from sepsis here all the time. You don’t need a subscription – just go to the local pharmacy and ask for the right ones.

There are occasional outbreaks of dengue or malaria in Santo and the outer islands but its rare – check with the local medical centre on arrival if you have concerns (or click here for the latest travel advice) . If you are near the beach at sunrise or sunset you may get bitten by midges (small flies that bite), so cover yourself with insect spray or aloe to avoid lots of itchy red dots the next day! And if you do have a medical emergency, don’t panic, there are fantastic Western trained doctors, nurses and paramedics in Luganville (Medico Santo and Pro Medical – Ph. 115) and as well as a local hospital.


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


Kava is made from the kava root and tastes like dirty grass, it numbs your lips and has a mild narcotic effect. If you really want to try kava like the locals head down to BP Wharf in Luganaville for a kava bar with a view (they also have great pizza there). Or at Turtle Bay head north towards Jackies Blue Hole (about 4km) and look for the red light and shop on the left (there is a boules court here as well where you can play patonque or bowls). Kava is served in “shells” and costs around 50 or 100vt a half shell or full shell. Take a beer chaser with you and some fruit (it helps with the aftertaste)! Be warned – this is a local hangout so its basic and the drinkers have a nasty habit of spitting everywhere after they drink the kava. Every Wednesday there is a large get together at Seahorse Kava Bar at Suranda (look for the Horse Ranch sign) its a great opportunity to chat with locals and get the low down on what to do and see. For a more personalised and in-depth description of drinking kava read Andrew Gray’s travel blog here .


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


Santo has no Government funded public transport. There are only privately run “transports” – mostly mini-vans and utes (they have “PT” or B on their license plates) that run at random times and pick up and drop off passengers as and where required. So if time is an issue, then local transports are not a good option. On the east coast around Turtle Bay these transports only run regularly in the early morning and later afternoon. Cost is around 300vt for a trip into town one way from Turtle Bay. Alternatively there are privately run taxis, most of which have a TAXI sign on their roof. None of the taxis on Santo have a meter and trip costs vary dramatically depending on how much they think you can pay! We recommend Juby or Tusty (see our Things to Know Before you Go page for contact numbers). A trip into town from the east coast by taxi costs 2000vt one way. Direct airport run is 3000vt or airport pick up with side trip into town to do shopping/money exchange is 3500vt.  A full day tour (car + driver ) costs 12,000vt for up to 6 pax. Alternatively if you want to hire a car check out Turtle Bay Lodge just up the road, they hire Quad bikes and small cars. Also Luke at Santo Paradise Tours. And if you are after a scooter try Deco Stop Lodge in Luganville. Remember they drive on the right in Vanuatu, the opposite side of the road to Australia and New Zealand![


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Drinking Water

Generally, most of the water in Santo is safe to drink as it is filtered through limestone underground resevoirs or collected from rainwater tanks. Most rural villages also have rainwater tanks or access to clean drinking water if you ask them. The water at Turtle Bay Beach House is supplied by two 5000L tanks at the rear of the house (covered in bamboo) as well as an underground bore.  It is pumped to the house via a small electric pump located in the laundry shed. The rainwater is generally safe to drink. There is a filter attached to pump as well as the cold water tap in the Beach House for those who prefer to be extra safe. Alternatively, you can buy drinking water from town. Turtle Bay Tree House features three 5000L water tanks at the side of the house and also has an underground bore. There is a filter attached to the cold water tap in Apt 1. 


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips

Island Time

There are two types of island time in Vanuatu. The first is the actual clock time, which is generally 1hr ahead of the Australian east coast (except during daylight saving) and 1hr behind New Zealand. Then there is Vanuatu island time, which can vary dramatically from clock time. Maybe it has something to do with the Vanuatu weather? To a Ni-van, time is a very flexible thing, so our number one tip when visiting Vanuatu is to switch to island time. Everything takes longer here and is less efficient than other countries. They call it the V-factor. So if your lunch is late, your tour bus is late, or the service in the shops is not quite up to scratch just smile and relax, maybe have another beer or wine and enjoy being on holiday – don’t stress!! Santo is a beautiful and special place if you just give it a chance and the locals will respond better to a laugh than a complaint.


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


A registration is required for recreational drone use in Vanuatu. ALL camera equipped drones operated by foreign visitors and non-indigenous ni-vanuatu MUST be registered with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. There is no distinction between ‘recreational / personal use’ on holiday or ‘commercial use’ by professionals for small drones (under 25 Kgs).(What Is Recreational Drone Use?) . Cost of a permit is $130 US  Click here to purchase a permit, or contact the local aviation authority. (What Is Commercial Drone Use?). If you try to sneak your drone in you may find it will get confiscated by Customs at the airport.

General Vanuatu Drone Laws

Drone use is allowed in Vanuatu, but there are several drone laws that need to be followed when flying in the country. Operators must ensure that they follow the following drone laws when flying in Vanuatu,

  • Do not fly your drone over people or large crowds

  • Respect others privacy when flying your drone

  • Do not fly your drone over airports or in areas were aircraft are operating

  • You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions

  • Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas including government or military facilities. Use of drones or camera drones in these areas are prohibited.

  • Do not fly your drone higher than 400 feet

  • Do not fly your drone farther than 4km


Vanuatu Travel Hacks & Tips


The best kayaking on Espiritu Santo is along the protected east coast. Turtle Bay Lodge hire kayaks and SUPS at Turtle Bay where you can paddle to the surrounding islands or two blue holes. If you stay at Turtle Bay Beach House you have free use of kayaks and SUPs as part of your accommodation package (see our facilities page HERE) .

At Lonnoc Beach there are a number of bungalows run by locals that also have kayaks they would be happy to rent you for a small fee and at Port Olry Chez Loui Restaurant have a few old kayaks your can rent to paddle across to Dolphin Island. For something different try out the jet ski tours on Aore Island (contact them on Facebook HERE )Or head to Aore Island Resort. on their free ferry and hire snorkelling gear, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Test your balancing skills on the top of the clear blue water and float along in the island breezes!