The main town on Espiritu Santo is Luganville. In fact, it’s the second largest city in all of Vanuatu with just over 16,000 people. It has a physician working there full time, grocery stores, ferries to other islands, a large hardware store and anything else you may want (within reason, this is still a small island in a developing nation). But there are restaurants and hotels and it even boasts an international airport. A paved road up the island was made in 2010 and is frequently traveled. If you’re fortunate enough to find someone driving north bound, the going rate seems to be 500 vatu ($5 US) for a ride any distance in the back of the pick up. Going to Luganville looks easy, not as sure how to meet a car going northbound other than stand on the side of the road and wave.
Their major industries here, aside from tourism, are copra and cattle. Copra is dried coconut, usually used for coconut oil. Their cattle industry is very much an all organic beef. Certainly no hormone injections or GMO fed cattle here. One of the things we are most often asked for at the outer islands is rope for the cattle. Seems to be less of an issue on this island with a large hardware store and cars to access it. Many of the cattle are free range, but if you want to keep the cow nearby, a rope is a lot cheaper than a large fence.
Luganville itself is not the most beautiful place to visit, if you get up here, definitely get out to other places, but like with any larger town, it’s very functional. If you are staying close to Luganville, you can take a taxi for a day up the island. The going rate is 12000 vatu ($120 US). You get the same price for a big van or a small junky car, so choose selectively for your adventure. Typically they take you to Million Dollar Point, a Blue Hole, maybe Champagne Beach, then up to Port Orly and back down. Plan on also paying entry fees at the locations also and bring food unless you plan on eating in a small local restaurant along the way.
If you’re in Luganville and want to snorkel and enjoy the waters, Aore is a much more pleasant atmosphere with cleaner waters and nicer beaches. It is a short ferry ride which will cost you about $5 US each way. You can catch ferries on the dock behind Santos Hardware. There are many resorts out there if you choose to stay out on the island.
Million Dollar Point
This is a fascinating place from a historical standpoint. America occupied Santo during WWII to fight off the Japanese offensive. They built many things that are still present today – bunkers, roads, and an airport. At the end of the war, they determined that they were not going to try to allocate resources to picking up all of their heavy equipment, just their men. The French and British, our allies, governed the islands. America offered the sale of their equipment to them for 6 cents on the dollar. They, on the other hand, figured that they had the Americans over a barrell and refused to ‘purchase’ the equipment. They way they saw it, it would be abandoned and they could get it for free. The Americans, so as to not be manipulated or forced into a losing deal, spent two days pushing all of their equipment off the point just north of Luganville. That point can now be walked and snorkeled to find relics. Old coke bottles are incorporated into the reef systems. Some things were scavenged by locals, things that were not destroyed. But it’s a fascinating point to see some WWII relics!! It’s a short taxi ride from Luganville.
The SS Coolidge was a troop ship. It struck a mine and sank in shallow waters just outside of Luganville. Because of it’s location in shallower waters, it is now one of the most accessible WWII ship dive sites. So if you’re a diver and/or a WWII buff, this is an excellent opportunity!
Santo is made up of volcanic rocks and limestone and the island has created some interesting geologic features. As the fresh spring water filters through many layers of limestone, these gorgeous deep blue holes are created. There are three popular blue holes naturally occurring on Santo, including Riri, Matevulu, and Nanda. According to locals, they are all good. They are all 500 vatu per person ($5 US) to attend. We decided to go to the Matevulu hole. We took the dinghy up the river for about 30 minutes. 2/3 of the way up, there was a cool vine that we could climb, swing and stand on. It was a beautiful trip up the river. On our way down, we passed some kayaks coming up from the Oyster resort. Other than looking a little tired, it looked like an excellent way to get up there. When we arrived, we negotiated. They let the kids in for 250 vatu and the littlest (5 years old) in for free. We had an excellent time, the water is super clear, it’s fresh, cool and refreshing. There is a wooden platform which has a mild shift when people walk on it. At the end of the platform is a rope swing with a nice range and good drop. You can also swim across to a large banyan tree with a long rope extending from a very high branch. There is an underwater ladder and you can climb up the tree or on broken rungs of a manmade ladder up to a platform. It looks and feels high. It’s a great ride and if you tuck up your legs you can make it across the water and swing back up for a big splashdown. There are picnic tables too if you bring food for lunch. Plan on mosquitos unfortunately, this much fresh water can’t go without mosquitos.
Campagne beach gets its name from the cool spring water bubbling up under your feet through the soft white sandy beach. It’s a fascinating phenomenon. And when the air temperature of 86 degrees is the same as the water temperature, these springs make for a cool and refreshing place to swim and cool off. There is also sea grass, which attracts sea turtles. The mountains behind the town are steep, tall, and covered in green foliage making for a majestic backdrop to the crystal clear, bright blue waters of the bay.
This French speaking village has the largest beach in Vanuatu. It’s super soft white sand and gorgeous views. At low tide, you can walk across the sandy land bridges to two separate private island reserves. The coral is moderate for snorkeling, but in the shallows of the bay, we found an old steam engine shipwreck that made for an excellent snorkel! At low tide, you can see the round part of the steam engine above the water line. I have been unable to find any further information about it at this time.
If you wish to stay in Port Orly, there are cute little treehouse bungalows that are just set back from the beach as well as another resort, so some cute local accommodation options.