Dramatic Seascapes and Small Treasures
In the heart of the South Pacific, the postcard-perfect islands of Vanuatu deliver lush green landscapes, clear tranquil waters and an interplay of dramatic reef topography and WW-II wrecks seasoned with brilliantly colored marine life. Reefs and wrecks are scattered all across this expansive archipelago, but the epicenter of underwater activity is Espiritu Santo, where the intact hull of the 653-foot SS President Coolidge rests within easy swimming distance of shore. The largest diveable wreck in the hemisphere is worth at least a dozen dives but is just one of many underwater adventures that include a submerged field of vintage war ordinance, and offshore sites visited by sharks and other pelagics.
- Best for: All divers, especially wreck and history enthusiasts
- Best season to visit: Year round
- Weather: In summer (November to March), daytime highs can reach 90 near the coast, with passing rain showers and higher humidity. May to October is the dry season, with winter temperatures averaging in the mid 70s and sometimes dropping into the 60s
Things to Do
- • Kayaking
- • Sailing
- • Surfing
- • Kiteboarding
- • Cultural villages
- • River cave treks
About Diving in Vanuatu
The waters of Vanuatu are home to the full range of marine flora and fauna that are typical of the south-central Pacific. Islands are surrounded by fringing coral reefs set in calm water, with walls and pinnacles farther from shore, and muck-bottomed bays that hide invertebrates. The added attraction that sets this destination apart are the wrecks, primarily the SS President Coolidge, but also the unique cache of war ordinance submerged at Million Dollar Point, along with several additional historic wrecks from the same era. Water temperatures remain in the low to mid 80s throughout most of the year, dipping into the 70s from August to October.
Diving in Vanuatu Tips
All dives on the Coolidge are made from shore as guided dives. A limited number of dive operations have access to this site, so make sure you book accordingly. No special wreck training is required when in the company of the highly experienced guides who lead the dives, but it might be worthwhile to take a wreck specialty course before you travel to maximize your enjoyment of this site.
Best Places to Dive in Vanuatu
The wreck of the SS President Coolidge is a given, and worthy of several dives. Look for cryptic critters hidden among the scuttled war material at Million Dollar Point. Sunlight streaming through clear water reflects from a white sand bottom to illuminate the broken remains of the USS Tucker. Bokissa North and Cindy's Reef provide shallow, colorful respites from the wrecks. The wall at Tutuba Point hides deep caves. The Star of Russia will add a clipper ship to your wreck diving resume.
What to Pack for Diving in Vanuatu
Locals use 3mm wetsuits year round, but some divers might want an extra layer for August to October trips. Most wreck dives have ample ambient light, but a compact, the tight-beam light will help bring out details. Add a compact camera with a wide lens for hero shots on the wrecks.
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Diving in Vanuatu
The Vanuatu Island group includes some 82 islands stretched across 450 miles of open ocean, but only two islands, Espiritu Santo and Efate, have a diving infrastructure. Most international flights arrive at Port Vila on Efate. Though many divers catch a transfer flight on to Santo-Pekoa airport on Espiritu Santo, there are local sites on Efate worth a layover if time permits. The big ticket item is the Star of Russia, a 300-foot clipper ship that remains largely intact. The area offers several other wrecks of interest, walls, coral bommies and a site with a fast forest of staghorn coral. An island-hopping flight of less than an hour brings divers to the port town of Luganville on Espiritu Santo Island. From there, the region's most famous dive site is literally just down the road. The 653-foot luxury liner SS. President Coolidge was converted to a troop carrier during World War II. While entering the harbor at Luganville, the ship struck a mine and began taking on water. The captain was able to beach the boat and the more than 5,000 troops aboard evacuated to shore. The hull later filled with water and slipped below the waves, coming to rest on the sloping bottom just yards from shore. Today, the wreck lies on its side, with the bow rising to 60 feet and the stern dropping to below 200. The wreck is accessed from a shoreside entry point on Canal Road, where divers can gear up and follow a guideline the short distance to the bow. The wreck's size and position allow for a range of dive profiles from easy swims around the shallower sections to interior penetrations and deep, staged decompression dives on the stern. The operators that have access to this wreck employ highly-experienced guides to lead all excursions, and there are more than 20 different tour routes that carry divers into and through cargo holds, a swimming pool, dining rooms and mechanic spaces, where artifacts from munitions and guns to jeeps and abandoned personal effects are on display. Dives end at a shoreside coral garden that adds interest to safety stops. The second famous dive site on Espiritu Santo is also in the harbor. When the US Military departed the island at the end of the war, they jettisoned large caches of supplies and military ordinance into the bay, creating the site now known as Million Dollar Point. Divers can swim over the remains of jeeps, bulldozers and cranes, and scour the bottom for historic relics that run the gamut from crates of combat boots to vintage soda bottles. Corals now grow on the discarded machinery, and fish and crustaceans hide among the rubble. Another warship from the same era that also ran afoul of a harbor mine is the 375-foot USS Tucker, which had the distinction of being the first US Navy destroyer fabricated from stainless steel. Today, the hull lies broken in half at depths of 60 to 70 feet. The ship is rich in coral growth and marine life and is surrounded by very clear water, which allows sunlight to penetrate and reflect off the surrounding white-sand bottom. To round out the wreck diving experience, there is the purpose-sunk coastal freighter, the MV Henry Bonneaud, which was scuttled nearby Bokissa Island at a maximum depth of 130 feet. Also in deeper water is the Tui Tawate, an oceangoing tug that went down in the Segond Channel, and now sits upright in 150 feet of water, with the superstructure rising to 100. Also in the mix are several World War II fighter aircraft. There's more to Espiritu Santo than wrecks. Around a number of smaller islands, fringing reefs are covered in numerous varieties of staghorn corals and large plate corals. In all, the waters of Vanuatu are home to more than 300 species of coral—a greater and more colorful assortment than are found in more eastern areas of the tropical Pacific. Reefs are also home to more than 700 varieties of fish, including a range of colorful tropicals, along with interesting invertebrates. Farther from shore, divers will find walls and seamounts covered in soft corals and visited by tuna, grouper and sharks
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry/Exit Requirements: All U.S. citizens are required to present a valid passport that is valid for 6 months beyond your date of entry into Vanuatu. No visa is required for stays less than 30 days. Proof of onward or return tickets may be required and your passport should contain at least 1 blank page for Vanuatu entry stamp. All persons leaving Vanuatu pay a departure tax of $32 U.S. which should be included in your international ticket.
No immunizations are required for entry into Vanuatu. We would always suggest that you check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at cdc.gov.
Culture and Customs
The colorful reefs of Vanuatu are more than matched by the topside scenery. On a number of the larger islands, dormant volcanic peaks soar to heights of a mile or more above coastal jungles and white sand beaches. On other islands, lava still flows from some of the most active volcanoes on the Pacific Rim. Outside some cities and large towns, there are few paved roads, and in many areas no roads. Large interior areas of islands such as Espiritu Santo remain wild or are home to traditional villages where family groups farm and fish the old way, and honor traditions that predate the arrival of European influences. In addition to English and French, which are widely spoken, islanders communicate in Bislama, a pidgin language that combines Melanesian grammar with predominantly English phrases. It serves as a common means of communication between island groups with more than 100 indigenous languages and dialects still spoken in different areas of Vanuatu. Historic isolation has created interesting cultural differences between northern and southern island groups, along with including Pentecost Island's unique tradition of land jumping. Known as the Nagol ceremony, this exhibition of bravery involves jumping from a 100-foot-high tower of lashed saplings, with vines tethered around the jumper’s ankles to arrest their fall just above the ground. It's a feat that makes bungee jumping look tame. More sedate are the kastom tanis celebrations, where the rhythms of drums and slit-gongs set the tempo for grass-skirted dancers. A later addition to the local music scene is the string band, which combines voices with the sounds of guitar, ukulele and bush bass.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in Vanuatu is 220/280 volts, 50 cycles, so an adapter will be needed for US visitors. The outlets used are a 3 pin flat prong similar to those in Australia. The country code for Vanuatu is 678. Check with your cell phone provider for international plans for text, data and phone. Wifi is available at many hotels.
The tap water is safe to drink. The water in Port Vila has a high calcium level and may show white specks. If you are feeling cautious, bottled water is readily available for purchase.
Language & Currency
Bislama, English and French are the official languages. The local currency is the Ni-Vanuatu Vatu or Vatu (VUV), symbolized locally as VT. Check the current exchange rate here.
Vanuatu utilizes Vanuatu Time or VUT which is 11 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+ 11 GMT). They do not observe Daylight Savings Time and are located west of the International Dateline.
Location, Size and Population
The Republic of Vanuatu encompasses over 80 islands over approximately 1,300 kilometers. The islands are east of Australia, northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and south of the Solomon Islands. They have a total land area of 4,700 square miles. The 4 largest islands are Espiritu Santo, Malekula, Erromango and Efate. Efate is the main island where the capital Port Vila is located.
The population of Vanuatu is 270,470 (2016).