Diving in Vanuatu
Vanuatu is made up of more than 83 islands, with myriad dive sites off Espiritu Santo and Port Vila, people come from around the world to spend a week diving just one mega-wreck, the 665-foot long SS President Coolidge. Most local dive shops recommend 10 dives on the wreck as a minimum. There are about 20 different planned tours through this incredible wreck. But, if your tech dive certified for Tri-mix then entire world of the Coolidge opens up to you. Read more about technical diving
This wreck was a luxury liner until conscripted in WWII as a troop transport ship. Many of the regal touches from her days as a luxury liner remained even after refitting. On October 26, 1942 the Coolidge entered Segond Channel on Espiritu Santo, not realizing it was protected by mines. The ship struck two before she could be warned off. Taking on water the captain ran her aground, 5,340 men walked ashore, and then the Coolidge slid down the slope into the deeper water of the channel fully intact, with all the accoutrements of daily life at sea during WWII.
Diving the ship, which rests in 65-feet at the bow and 240-feet at the stern, is like taking a tour through a time capsule. Typewriters lay on the sand, jeeps and a GM truck are in the hold, medicine lines the cabinets of the doctors office, the galley is complete with plates, pots and pans, helmets, ammo, rifles, gas masks and a soda fountain are just a few of the artifacts you’ll find throughout the ship. Favorite routes include the Lady, a ceramic figure of a Lady and a Unicorn; the Captain’s Bathroom, the Doctor’s Office and the Galley.
Getting advanced certifications is highly recommended to fully enjoy this incredible wreck. Be prepared for lots of deco time and high digits on the depth gauge, but such a well-preserved snapshot of the sailors life is worth it.
Although overshadowed by the Coolidge, Santo has numerous dives that would otherwise become iconic at other destinations. Million Dollar Point comes with a great story, and, well, millions of dollars in wartime machinery. The island trader Henry Bonnard, the destroyer USS Tucker and a newly discovered aircraft compliment the Coolidge nicely. And dense coral reefs, such as Bokissa North Reef and Tutuba Point showcase a lush seascape, that includes healthy stands of hard coral, abundant marine life and wonderfully clear water.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
All U.S. citizens are required to present a passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. All persons leaving the Vanuatu pay a Government Departure Tax, which is usually included in your airline ticket.
Vaccinations are not required for entry into Vanuatu. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at
Culture and Customs
Several different cultures mingle in Vanuatu. Overall, Melanesian cultural systems form the strongest bond in traditions, festivals, coming of age ceremonies, and the hierarchy in the Kastom Villages strewn through the archipelago. But, each island seems to have developed its own brand of identity. On Tanna, life is dominated strongly by superstition. This island also has Mount Yasur, which has been continuously erupting for the last 800-years and the Tannese believe Yasur to be the origin of the universe, and where a spirit goes after death. The island is also home to the famed cargo cult, the John Frum cult. On Pentecost Island, each year the yam festival is marked by young men tying vines to their ankles, climbing a rickety tower, and plummeting to the ground. Called the NGol, the closer they get with their heads without dying the better the crop. It’s the original bungee jumping. Kava, a very strong drink made from the root of the pepper plant, is drunk socially. On other islands, firm beliefs in ancestral spirits and magic define daily life. It’s recommended to read up on this diverse destination before traveling. Read more about Vanuatu
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
Electricity in Vanuatu is 220/280 volts, 50 cycles, so an adapter will be needed for US visitors. The country code for the Vanuatu is 678 and direct dial service is fast and clear. Check with your service provider for long distance/roaming information and costs. Internet service is sporadically available at the larger hotels and resorts, and at Internet cafes in the larger cities.
Bottled water is recommended throughout the island nation.
Language & Currency
Bislama, English and French are the official languages. The local currency is the Vatu (BVUV), check the current exchange rate
History, Art, and Culture
Austronesian people first populated Vanuatu, coming to the island about 4,000 years ago. Sandlewood brought the first rush of immigrants. The French and British took over administration jointly in 1906, forming a unique government. But, mostly, each of the inhabited islands is ruled by traditional methods that originate in ancestor spirits, magic, and “kastom” life that relies on the land and sea for sustenance. Ancestor spirits are represented in many forms of woodcarving, for which the islands are famous. Bowls, weapons, masks, slit drums (called tam tams) and fertility carvings are the most common. Woodcarving can be seen everywhere, even on telephone poles in Port Vila.